Still more lazy thoughts from this one…

Friday Forgotten Song: Superwoman by Noel Pointer

Cover version (AKA cover song, or simply cover)
– a new performance or recording of a contemporary or previously recorded, commercially released song or popular song.

Forty years ago, teens roiling in the caldron that was my high school were listening to a variety of tunes. The tumult of the 60s music scene continued its impact back then. Some artists born of this period carried over with similar success. The ones that stood the test of time, though, evolved their music going into and throughout the 70s. Stevie Wonder for one. The wunderkind began his career at a young age and had early pop/soul hits with the Motown Record label. Yet, it was his Music of the Mind album which really started to separate him from the pack. It wasn’t, as was the practice of the studio, a collection of singles, B-tracks and covers of other original song. This LP was presented by Stevie as a statement piece. As Wikipedia details what stood out about the work:

“Wonder’s lyrics dealt with social, political, and mystical themes as well as standard romantic ones, while musically Wonder began exploring overdubbing and recording most of the instrumental parts himself.”

One particular song showcased the changes and directions the artist began to explore very well: the almost jazzy and unexpected Superwoman (Where Were You When I Needed You). Reportedly, the song tells of Stevie’s then wife, Syreeta Wright, who sought a career and stardom on her own. At least, as told by an interested third-party in the song. The track is divided into two parts — the first recounts Mary’s striving for her dream of success, while the second part wonders why didn’t she come back when he thought she would. It remains one of the singer/songwriter’s notable tunes, and is hardly a forgotten song. But, that is not what I’m spotlighting here.

As I mentioned last year, a bit after this stretch in the mid-70s, I entered my jazz fusion period as a music listener. Along with the saxophone and keyboard artists I referred to, the most intriguing instrumental pairing of all with this jazz, funk, and R&B approach with music, in my mind, was the violin. Along with likes of Jean-Luc Ponty, it was another music prodigy, Noel Pointer, which drew and centered me on this fusing of rhythms and the amplification to the time-worn and honored, though now very much electrified, string instrument. At age 13, Pointer debuted with his solo of Vivaldi with the Symphony of the New World Orchestra and proceeded to make a name for himself:

“He began playing jazz on the violin while a student at New York City‘s High School of Music and Art. While attending college at Manhattan School of Music, Pointer earned a reputation as a New York session musician. By age 19, his experience as a free-lance musician had included steady work in The Apollo Theatre Orchestra, The Unlimited Orchestra, The Westbury Music Fair Orchestra, The Radio City Music Hall Symphony, The Love Unlimited Orchestra (US Tour), The Dance Theater of Harlem Orchestra, The Symphony of the New World Orchaestra, and the pit orchestras of several Broadway shows, including Guys and Dolls and Dreamgirls.”

Out of the seven albums in his too short career, it was his second, Hold On, that still warms my heart. I think it showcased the performer’s talent like no other. The title track was funky and fun, while “Stardust Lady” showed off Pointer’s surprising vocal skills and range. The violinist didn’t forget his classical roots by incorporating the cut, “Cappriccio Stravagante”, among the jazz fusion mix. Even Patti Austin, another frequently played vocalist from my time in this light jazz variant, showed up for a wonderful duet in “Staying With You”. Even so, among the album’s tracks it was his rendition of that pivotal Stevie Wonder song from that earlier LP that got the most play with me.

While it’s solely an instrumental, Superwoman under the jazz violinist’s interpretation remains a different piece entirely without obliterating Wonder’s infused feathery melody (and one that masked its lyrics’ serious tone). Even without words, the sound from Pointer’s bow elicited a voice-like quality to the number, still. It’s almost mournful in this rendering, yet his version of the song remains surprisingly upbeat and unusually hopeful. Given that 1978 was a most painful time for me, I found surprising solace listening to this cover song that year. Given its healing and collaborative nature, music has that tendency to unknowingly help the listener. I probably replayed his tune more than I ever did with the original song for this very fact.

Perhaps, because the classically trained violinist was born in 1954, like me, I connected with him. Noel Pointer, who would also succeed later as a record producer, played with the Blue Note, United Artists, Liberty, and finally the Shanachie record labels. His last CD, Never Lose Your Heart, came out in 1993. He died from a stroke on December 19, 1994 at the too young age of 39. Though Stevie Wonder’s song has been covered many times, by various artists and stylists down through the decades, I think this one was the most unusual and unique. At least for me. So, it is for this reason — plus the fact he kept me going with his music through a time I needed the uplift — I sincerely hope this artist and his version of the song are not forgotten.

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19 Responses to “Friday Forgotten Song: Superwoman by Noel Pointer”

  1. Marianne

    Music has helped me get through more than one difficult time in life. It’s truly amazing the power it has.

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Marianne :-). And yes, music truly does have that power. Thanks for stopping by, reading and leaving a comment, my friend.

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  2. Arlee Bird

    How did I ever miss this artist? I am in your generation and was listening to much of the same music. As one who plays violin, I was always on the look-out for rock and jazz violinists and yet I don’t recall ever hearing about Neil Pointer. Thanks for introducing me to him. Now I’ll have to seek out more of his music.

    Looks like you have some fine material on your blog. I’ll have to check out some more.

    Lee
    Capturing a life on video
    Wrote By Rote

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome, Lee. Great that you stopped by and enjoyed the post. Noel Pointer was a talented artist and should have had a longer, more substantial career, but it was good one. Let me know how you like his music. I’ll be by check out your weblogs, as well. Many thanks.

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  3. Ronan

    Hey Michael, this sounds like a weird halfway point between elevator music and Studio Ghibli’s back catalog of quirky if hit and miss soundtracks. Hope I didn’t cause offense with that jibe Michael, I guess that kind of music just isn’t my bag 🙂 Great post nonetheless, I’m actually listening to the song as I type, so I gotta get credit for that, right? Cheers Michael, hope you had a good weekend. Oh by the by, while I’m here, thought anymore about that guest post of yours on Filmplicity and when you’d like to do it? Thanks.

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    • le0pard13

      Jazz fusion was an interesting mix of light jazz and R&B music, but it wasn’t for everyone. So, no offense that it’s not your bag. I appreciate you reading the piece and offering your thoughts. Thanks for the comment, as always.

      p.s., busy home/work weekend, but it was good. Thanks for the well wishes, my friend. Let’s shoot for the first week in February for the upcoming guest post at Filmplicity. Going out of town soon for the job and will be pressed to get out what I have committed to for January.

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      • Ronan

        Great! I look forward to that. Also hope to get your thoughts on an issue I’m I’m preparing for a post later in the week, more on that later (I’ll email you). Cheers Michael! p.s. The words Jazz fusion don’t fill me with confidence. I’m just reminded of that scene in Spinal Tap when Harry Shearer breaks into that experimental blues/jazz odyssey… to mixed reviews 😉

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  4. Eric

    Great post. Jazz is a musical weakness for me, as I am not very familiar with it and its various subgenres, but I really enjoyed this song. Thanks for sharing!

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    • le0pard13

      Yeah, there are a number of sub-genres and they’ve varied in popularity through the years. Glad you enjoyed this song. Thanks for reading & commenting, Eric.

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  5. Anonymous

    I had the pleasure of meeting and seeing Noel play local clubs in L.A
    Yrs ago !!! At the last concert on Redondo beach pier in l. .A It seemed that he was on a very spiritual. Journey. At that time – between sets he would speak about scriptures From the bible , some people in the audience didn’t. Have patience for that & would shout to shut up and keep playing ……… I felt very sad for him — I was just cleaning out the garage and came across all my classic. Albums & was curious to see what ever happen to Noel ????
    I. Will always have found memories
    Arleen

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    • le0pard13

      Welcome! Great that you got a chance to meet the artist, and sad that some in audience didn’t see that what he shared was very much apart of his performance and artistry. Noel Pointer left us far too soon. Many thanks for the read and sharing your experience in your comment. 🙂

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