July 25, 2024


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Sesame Street musical director reinvents kids tunes with own quintet: Video, Photo

Jazz trumpeter Joe Fiedler brings multi-media show to The Linda in Albany. Who are the people in jazz trombonist Joe Fiedler’s neighborhood?

Well there’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tony Award-winning orchestrator Bill Sherman, who he worked with on horn arrangements for the play “In the Heights.” There’s Celia Cruz and Eddie Palmieri, the Latin music giants he’s played for as a touring jazz musician.

For the past 12 years, since Fiedler became musical director of “Sesame Street,” his neighborhood has also included Elmo, Cookie Monster and Abby Cadabby. 

Fiedler will be at the Linda on Sunday afternoon with “Open Sesame,” a multimedia presentation, which showcases how music is produced for the iconic show, and live performance that takes beloved songs from its storied history and brings them into the world of improvisational jazz.

It would seem like a concept that could easily go awry or worse, sound cheesy. But Fiedler has found a way to bring those two parts of his career together.

“My objective, and sometimes it’s more successful than others, is to make the melodies recognizable, the rhythm, textures and harmonies and then morph it,” he explained. “That way you can give the listener a way in, then when you take it pretty far out, they’re still with you.

Taking recognizable melodies and musical themes and turning them into something new was the primary reason Sesame Workshop reached out to Fiedler. In 2008 the company hired Sherman to helm the music on a revival of “The Electric Company.” He brought in Fiedler to help and when Sherman was bumped up to “Sesame Street” in 2010, Fiedler joined him.

Fiedler picked up key insights early on from producers and puppeteers that had been part of the show since its 1969 beginning. The primary one: the music should be joyful. His mission became to maintain that while bringing a larger sonic palette to the show.

“Sesame Workshop wanted to make the show bigger sonically, musically,” he recalled. “At the time the band had only two horns and they wanted to expand, but didn’t know how. They just didn’t want it to be vaudevillian or old timey anymore.

That means Fiedler needs to “wear many hats stylistically.” He’s given time codes and track length guidelines for segments and has free rein to come up with what he thinks will work best. In the past that meant arranging the musical theme for the “Elmo: The Musical” segment; for the new season, he’s putting together orchestration for a new segment entitled “Elmo and Tango’s Mysterious Mysteries.” He’s also responsible for working with the celebrity musical guests, a task that requires him to tastefully incorporate their personalities and genres into the “Sesame Street” format.

“Certain artists need more tweaking than others,” Fiedler said. “We had (country star) Brad Paisley on and he wanted to play his own guitar tracks, which isn’t something we normally do, so we had to incorporate that into the orchestration and he did it masterfully. When I was doing the arrangement for Janelle Monae, I had to ask, ‘What’s the right move on this,’ because she uses so many different styles in her own music. You have to make the orchestration work.”

While “Sesame Street” is, for lack of a better term, his day job, Fiedler also maintains an active career as a working jazz musician. He plays with a trio, quintet and the four-piece Big Sackbut. In 2019 he made his first foray into bringing jazz and “Sesame Street” together with the album “Open Sesame.” When he comes to the Linda on Sunday it will be in support of a followup LP entitled “Blue and Fuzzy.”

“I wanted to make it more writing-centric, reflective of how I want to create and improvise,” he continued. “Given how much material there is to work with, I wanted to mix it up a little and have this eclectic project.”

jazz trombonist Joe Fiedler (Provided)