Andrew Fisher Quartet to play Stevie Wonder tribute concert

Published 5:30 pm Wednesday, May 11, 2016

Photo by Joshua Nowicki

Photo by Joshua Nowicki

By Kelsey Hammon


BENTON HARBOR, Mich. — When Andrew Fisher was growing up, if songs like “Higher Ground” or “I Wish” came on the radio, it wasn’t uncommon for his family to stop what they were doing and dance.

These memories are perhaps why Fisher’s love for Stevie Wonder started at such an early age. Those early years dancing and singing to the R&B icon helped foster a love of lyrics that are able to convey honest human emotion, which Fisher uses as the vocalist for the neo soul, R&B, jazz and funk band the Andrew Fisher Quartet.

This Friday, the music legend that made his family dance turns 66 years old. To celebrate Wonder’s legacy and recognize the music that has inspired them since their youth, the AFQ will play a tribute concert — and what better way to pay tribute to Stevie Wonder than with the gift of music?

The concert will start at 7 p.m., Sunday at The Livery, 190 Fifth St. in Benton Harbor, Michigan. Admission is free and there is no cover charge to attend.

“Stevie Wonder wrote very personal lyrics,” Fisher said. “That’s the thing about Stevie Wonder — the lyrics are so real is the best way to put it. It is a human perspective on life, love and everything in between.”

In addition to Fisher, AFQ includes drummer Eric Oliphant of South Haven, Michigan; keyboardist Bruce Anderson of Benton Harbor and bassist Dustin Lowe of Three Oaks. all of whom grew up listening to Wonder as young musicians.

While the band typically peppers Wonder numbers into their regular jazz or jam sessions, creating a tribute to Wonder offered a chance for the band to further explore the sound of their idol and have a blast on stage playing the tunes they have always loved.

But putting together a tribute for Wonder posed one interesting challenge: How do you represent a singer’s legacy as diverse as Wonder’s in a single set? For this concert, the members of AFQ dug deep into exploring all eras of Wonder’s music.

“Up until now I never realized that his work as a musician went back that far,” Fisher said.

Given that Wonder has been writing and creating songs since he was 11 years old, the band had an immense amount of material to choose from. This Sunday, listeners can expect to hear a sample of all eras of Stevie Wonder. Starting with some of the pieces from his childhood days as “Little Stevie” to music from his Motown and funk days to his lesser known reggae tunes and everything in between, and of course, one of the band’s long time favorites “I Wish.” For this concert specially, the band has also invited several guest musicians to join the jam.

And though they might not have believed it possible at first, exploring Wonder’s music made the band love Wonder’s sound even more.

For his part, drummer Eric Oliphant found that the tribute project gave him a chance to further learn from Wonder’s brilliance as a musician. Fisher said that as Oliphant worked on putting together charts for the show he was able to dissect the sound he too had grown up with and the opportunity aided the drummer’s growth as a musician.

Another thing that listeners can expect Sunday is lots of improvisation and fun with the sound. A trait AFQ identifies as quintessential Wonder is the ability to play songs created to never sound exactly the same. This provides an opportunity to recreate some of Wonder’s work in a voice that is all their own.

“The best aspect of Stevie Wonder is that he left almost all of his music open for improvisation and soloing, allowing himself and others to play in the moment, which is what we are all about,” Fisher said.

And if you’ve ever listened to AFQ, a band whose sound is traditionally steeped in neo soul, R&B, jazz and funk roots then you know they are truly experts at this.

When asked what his reaction would be if Wonder happened to drop by The Livery for his own tribute concert, Fisher’s voice had a hint of “Superstition.”

“I will pass out. There is no way that I would be able to maintain consciousness,” Fisher said with a laugh.  “That would be insane.”

Fisher’s final hope for the tribute concert is that the band will also have the opportunity to inspire others to find a passion for Stevie’s music. The Livery’s family atmosphere allows for a wide age range of listeners and Fisher said he hopes that just as Stevie has inspired his own life as a musician that someone else out there will feel inspired too.

“That’s the power of Stevie Wonder,” Fisher said. “Even still teaching us how to be better artists and musicians.”