In this article we’ll be discussing a classic Stevie Wonder track, “Isn’t She Lovely.” We’ll take a look and a listen to this tune and cover some of the basic keyboard necessities to get started playing this song. One of the things about Stevie Wonder tunes that makes them ripe for cover by jazz artists are the chords. Not only does Stevie use lots of extensions in his harmonies (things like 9ths, 11ths, and 13ths) but he also uses lots of chord progressions that are very frequently encountered in the jazz language. It is very common to see ii-V-I progressions in Stevie Wonder tunes.
Isn’t She Lovely: Checking Out the Original
One of the first steps in learning any tune is to become deeply familiar with the original. We do this for a number of reasons, but perhaps most importantly for the following: first, simply by listening we can start to memorize things like form, tempo, meter, intro, endings, etc. We don’t need to be at our instrument to memorize those aspects of the song. Secondly, we want to be able to accurately play the original before we start embellishing or stylizing it as our own.
Check out the original here. It’s also important to note that Stevie played keyboards, drums, and harmonica on this track, in addition to the vocals.
Isn’t She Lovely: Learning the Chords
The chords of the song are fairly easy. By now (having listened to and investigated the song a bit) you should know that it’s in the key of E major. And you should also know that there are really only 2 sections, an ‘A’ and ‘B’ section. In the ‘A’ section the chords follow the following progression: vi, V7/V, V7sus, I.
Plugging those chords into the key of E major we have the following: C# minor 7, F#7, B7sus4, E major 6.
You probably heard that there are multiple keyboard tracks on the tune (if not, go back and listen for them again). The two keyboards are playing different voicings of the same chords. As a single keyboard player playing this tune in a live situation you have a couple options if you’re trying to get as close to the original as possible: combine the parts into one hybrid part (easiest), or split your keyboard into two zones, one for each keyboard sound (more involved). For most players option 1 is most common, so here are the chords for the ‘A’ section:
Isn’t She Lovely: Rhythmic Comping
There is some very particular rhythmic comping going on all over this tune. We think it’s much easier to internalize this rhythmic comping by listening as opposed to reading off sheet music. For the complete breakdown of what’s going on and demonstration check out the complete video lesson of this tune which also includes improvisation tips.
Isn’t She Lovely: Jazz Covers
There are lots of jazz covers of Stevie Wonder tunes for the reasons we mentioned above. Now that you’ve checked out the original a bit you may have greater appreciation for the creative liberties taken by others when covering this tune. Start by checking out this version by a great jazz pianist, Aaron Goldberg.