‘Sesame Street’ Music Director Reinvents Kids’ Tunes With His Own Quintet

Well, there’s Lin-Manuel Miranda and Tony Award-winning orchestrator Bill Sherman, with whom he worked on the horn arrangements for the play “In the Heights.” There’s Celia Cruz and Eddie Palmieri, the Latin music giants he played for as a touring jazz musician.

In the past 12 years since Fiedler became musical director of “Sesame Street,” his neighborhood has also included Elmo, Cookie Monster and Abby Cadabby.

Fiedler will be at Linda on Sunday afternoon with “Open Sesame,” a multimedia presentation, which shows how music is produced for the iconic show, and a live performance that takes beloved songs from its history and brings them into the world of improvisational jazz.

It would seem like a concept that could easily go wrong or worse, sound corny. But Fiedler has found a way to bring these two parts of his career together.

“My goal, and sometimes it’s more successful than others, is to make recognizable melodies, rhythm, textures and harmonies, and then transform them,” he explained. “That way you can give the listener a way in, and then when you take them out far enough, they’re still with you.

“We play ‘Rubber Ducky, You’re the One’ and you start with this melody that everyone recognizes, then get aggressive with it, go ahead and make it happy,” Fiedler continued. “I hope people like it, but if they don’t, that’s okay.”

Taking recognizable melodies and musical themes and turning them into something new was the main reason Sesame Workshop contacted Fiedler. In 2008, the company hired Sherman to conduct the music for a cover of “The Electric Company”. He enlisted Fiedler for help and when Sherman was propelled to “Sesame Street” in 2010, Fiedler joined him.

Fiedler gathered key insights early on from the producers and puppeteers who had been with the show since its debut in 1969. One: the music should be happy. His mission became to maintain that while bringing a greater sonic palette to the show.

“Sesame Workshop wanted to enlarge the show on the sound and musical level”, he recalls. “At the time, the band only had two horns and they wanted to grow, but didn’t know how. They just didn’t want it to be vaudeville or old times anymore.

“We started using a full big band, strings to serve the music the way it was needed,” Fiedler added.

This means that Fiedler must “wear many hats stylistically”. He’s been given timecodes and track length guidelines for the segments and has free rein to figure out what he thinks will work best. In the past, this has meant arranging the theme music for the “Elmo: The Musical” segment; for the new season, he sets up the orchestration of a new segment called “Elmo and Tango’s Mysterious Mysteries”. He is also tasked with working with celebrity musical guests, a task that requires him to tastefully incorporate their personalities and genres into the “Sesame Street” format.

“Some artists need more tweaking than others,” Fiedler said. “We had (country star) Brad Paisley and he wanted to play his own guitar stuff, which isn’t something we normally do, so we had to incorporate that into the orchestration and he did. masterfully crafted. When I was arranging for Janelle Monae, I had to ask, “What’s the right decision about this,” because she uses so many different styles in her own music. The orchestration must work.

While “Sesame Street” is, for lack of a better term, his day job, Fiedler also pursues an active career as a jazz musician. He plays with a trio, a quintet and the Big Sackbout quartet. In 2019, he made his first foray into bringing together jazz and “Sesame Street” with the album “Open Sesame”. When he comes to the Linda on Sunday, it will be to support a follow-up album called “Blue and Fuzzy.”

“Even from the start, I thought it would be cool to do some weird recreations of the songs from ‘Sesame Street’,” Fiedler said. “I didn’t want anyone to think I was trying to hustle the ‘Sesame Street’ angle, but after nine years (on the show) I obviously wasn’t doing this as a gimmick.

“I wanted to make it more songwriting-centric, reflecting the way I want to create and improvise,” he continued. “Given the amount of material to work with, I wanted to mix it up a bit and have this eclectic project.”

“Open Sesame” by Joe Fiedler
When: 3 p.m., Sunday, November 21

Where: The Linda, 339 Central Ave., Albany

Tickets: $18 to $22 For more information: www.thelinda.org

While at first glance it might seem odd to take material ostensibly designed for children and incorporate it into a larger musical landscape, it also reflects how Fiedler approaches his role on one of the most popular shows. famous of all time.

“I try to keep the music non-kiddie,” he said. “Even for children’s shows, I design them for everyone who listens. Both as a songwriter and a performer, my goal is to always serve the music as best I can.