Adam Interviews Sesame Street Musical Director
Many of us still carry around tunes we picked up watching Sesame Street when we were kids.
Now, a whole new generation is taking in a whole new set of music.
As Sesame Street’s musical director, Joe Fiedler has a hand in a lot of the new music.
This weekend, Fiedler combined his role with his love of jazz trombone when he played jazzy versions of Sesame Street at Rochester’s Bop Shop Records.
Before the gig, Fiedler talked with Adam about his career and time spent on Sesame Street:
Adam: As the years wore on you became seemingly omnipresent in the jazz world in New York City, how did you move from that world onto Sesame Street?
Fiedler: I was always writing and taking on projects on the side. With the trombone I’d play 350 to 400
gigs a year and was touring constantly and that was my main source of income and my main motivation. In the Heights, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s first hit musical, was coming to Broadway and they wanted to use some musicians who were authentic to the Latin scene and I had made my living, because there’s no such things as making a living playing the jazz trombone, so I played with many big name Latin bands … And they called me out of the blue and asked if I’d be interested in doing this, so I said OK. So I did the whole run of In the Heights actually on Broadway and through that one of the orchestrators was a guy named Bill Sherman who won the Tony for best orchestration for In the Heights. (Bill Sherman was hired to work on PBS’s The Electric Company and hired Fiedler to write horns for him. Sherman was then asked to run the music department for Sesame Street.) He brought me on as a team, he said why don’t you take the two of us because our skill sets are really different but really complementary, and we went together almost 10 years ago now.
Adam: This is a machine in a way, you really have to pump out a lot of material.
Fiedler: Every week, I show up at the studio with a stack this big, it’s many songs a week and many underscoring cues, 40-45 sessions a year to do a complete season. It’s not that we’ll do a complete episode, we’ll do certain segments first like the main part of the show when Elmo and Big Bird are walking around from the stoop, they call that the street stories all first then we might do different segments at different points during the year depending on when the editing happens. We have an 8-piece band that’s a steady band so after all these years and after all these recording sessions we know, I know, their strengths, so I write to everyone’s strengths and I know what I do well and don’t because I still play the trombone for the recordings as well and everyone gets the routine and you get into the studio and it’s lighthearted and you laugh a lot, but it’s work and we crank it out, but it’s beautiful.
Adam: On that note, while you have your nose to the grindstone, are there any moments when you think I’m influencing kids?
Fiedler: I co-wrote the theme song, there’s a new segment called Monster Foodies, this is just from last season, Cookie Monster and a newer puppet called Gonger. All the music is this New Orleans style jazz band music so I’m really proud of that. And then there was another segment called Super Grover 2.0 and I wrote this epic superhero music for that and those 2 really stand out as my favorites.
Adam: How was it that your skill set blended so well with this type of work?
Fiedler: Probably my greatest strength is my diversity… I don’t know another jazz musician who’s played with Cecil Taylor on the far left of the jazz spectrum and Wynton Marsalis on the far right I would say and almost every stop in between. And a focused work ethic. I could sit and grind out the cues like a lot of guys can’t do and that’s not necessarily that my cues are better or worse, but the ability to just turn them out is just, I don’t know how I do it, it just kind of rolls out of me that way.