Crunch the numbers on Stevie Wonder and you’ll wind up with some impressive figures. There’s the slew of top ten hits, Grammys, and other accolades, sure, but there’s also the fact that Wonder was signed to Motown when he was only 11 years old. And the fact that Wonder’s sprawling, double-length magnum opus, 1976’s Songs In The Key Of Life, was released when he was only 26.
Then there are the numbers for Wonder UNCOVERED, the newest installment in the late Alverno Presents’ rebooted UNCOVERED series. Curated by Tarik Moody (88Nine Radio Milwaukee) and David Wake (De La Buena), the show—set for Friday, April 14 at Turner Hall Ballroom—will feature more than 40 musicians reinterpreting the massive Songs In The Key Of Life. It’s arguably the biggest UNCOVERED show yet.
The lineup isn’t the only thing that’s super-sized. Unique to Wonder UNCOVERED is its two-curator approach. “This is a bigger album than most, so it made sense to have two people,” Moody says. “I know a little about music, but Dave’s role of taking my ideas sonically…Dave Wake is an amazing music arranger and director. Probably an underrated talent in this city as far as what he can do.”
“Tarik and I have never really worked together. We’ve observed each other, though, and have a mutual respect,” Wake says.
Both Moody and Wake are UNCOVERED veterans. The former took on Marvin Gaye’s Here My Dear in 2014, while the latter served as musical director for Jordan Lee’s Quincy Jones show in 2015.
“Since childhood, my father was a really big Stevie Wonder fan, especially this album,” Wake says. “He passed away in 2004, but it’s always been in the back of my mind. The night of the Quincy Jones show, right after the show, my sister came up to me and was like, ‘You know what the next one needs to be, right?’ That night we were at Transfer and Tarik and I were sitting at the bar talking. Tarik was like, ‘I really want to do Stevie Wonder! I want to do Songs In The Key Of Life!’ It just kind of fell into place.”
“For some reason I decided I wanted to do another one. I don’t know why,” Moody laughs.
Together, the collaboration that has emerged between Moody and Wake is similar to that of a film director and a composer. “I hear a song and I’m like, ‘Dude, wouldn’t it be cool to do it this way?’ And Dave’s like, ‘Alright!'” Moody explains.
Working with the space of Turner Hall—as opposed to UNCOVERED’s former home at Alverno’s Pitman Theatre—Moody and Wake promise a free-flowing concert with plenty of surprises. “It’s a real challenge of moving from Pitman,” Wake says. “The idea of Pitman, where you have a captive audience and you have people sitting down, and an album like this…We’ve been very conscious of the fact that Turner is not like that, so we’ve had to utilize other devices to get people’s attention, so they’re not at a show talking during a real delicate number.”
Important to the UNCOVERED shows is that they are reinterpretations of an artist’s work—not cover or tribute shows—and are often focused on a specific piece. “To me, picking an artist and their most critical album is more challenging,” Moody says. “I could pick my favorite [songs] if I just did an artist. Here, it’s like, ‘This song isn’t a favorite, so how do I turn it into a favorite?’ ‘Sir Duke’ is not my favorite track, just because I heard it so much as a kid. But the way we’ve done it here, it makes me so happy”
As to why Moody and Wake landed on Songs In The Key Of Life, the answer is simple: “It’s Stevie Wonder’s perfect album to me,” Moody says.
Wonder UNCOVERED takes place Friday, April 14 at Turner Hall Ballroom. The show begins at 8 p.m. Tickets are $22.50 at the door, or can be purchased in advance. The show will feature (deep breath): Thane, Q The Sun, Adi Armour, Mark Waldoch, Juan Tomas Martinez Paris, B-Free, Holly Haebig, Donna Woodall, D’Amato, Siren, Adam James (Phantom Channel), Taj Raiden, Kavon Cortez-Jones, Johanna Rose, Amanda Huff, Dan Wadadli Reed, Olen Franklin, Ethan Bender, Angie Swan, Carlos Adames, Carl Nichols, Isaiah Joshua, Russell Rossetto, Greg Garcia, Ernie Brusubardis IV, Viktor Brusubardis, Alida LaCrosse, Mitch Shiner, Rob Weiss, Bumbac Joe, Tony Ayala, Running Rebels, Dawn Barnett, Natasha Coe, Martina Patterson, Danielle Burrell, Jeff Bray, Laura Wake Bray, and Maya O’Day.