After climbing to the peak of the music industry with back to back top 5 albums in 1974 and 1975, Stevie Wonder was considering quitting music and leaving the country because he, like so many artists throughout history, wasn’t happy with how the government was running the country. Wonder ended up staying put and capitalizing on his recent success by releasing a double album in 1977 that paid tribute to many of the musicians he looked up to during his life.
Sir Duke is a tribute to the one and only Duke Ellington, one of the greatest musicians, band leaders, pianists, and composers of all time. I have always wondered where the name came from and honestly felt a bit silly that I never guessed the origin. Wonder pays tribute to a few more musicians in the second verse,
“But here are some of music’s pioneers
That time will not allow us to forget
For there’s Basie, Miller, Sachmo
And the king of all Sir Duke
And with a voice like Ella‘s ringing out
There’s no way the band can lose!”
This sequence is the big tutti horn lick that comes after the chorus. It is made of a B major pentatonic scale with a few extra chromatic pitches. As you play this, strive to create a long melodic line that sustains intensity all the way through to the rests. When I am thinking LINE, the technique never seems to get in the way, and my musical product sounds easier.
This song is in a funky motown style, so give the 16th notes a subtle swing. Listen to the recording to sharpen your mental picture. I find singing along to the horn lines really helps me internalize the feel.
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