A potent take on the tunes of ‘Sesame Street’

Joe Fiedler, musical director of the iconic public television show, performs at Next Stage with his sextet Open Sesame

PUTNEY — Joe Fiedler, Emmy Award–nominated music director and staff arranger for the famed children's show Sesame Street, will perform at Next Stage Arts on Friday, Nov. 19 with his project Open Sesame. The sextet will perform music from the group's two releases, which explore diverse arrangements of classic Sesame Street songs.

“The musical director of Sesame Street performing at Next Stage!” Keith Marks, executive director of Next Stage Arts, said in a news release. “We are continuing to reach out and bring the best and brightest talent to the area.”

In 2019, trombonist Joe Fiedler released Open Sesame, packed with inventive jazz readings of material drawn from his longstanding “day job” at Sesame Street. The effort was equally beloved by lay listeners and the jazz world alike. DownBeat praised the music's “diverse aesthetic,” in which Fiedler blends “elements of funk, rock, free-jazz and New Orleans polyphony into a potent mix that gives depth and texture to the lighthearted compositions.”

When Fiedler and the band toured the music, including a stop at Dizzy's Club Coca-Cola with guest luminaries Wynton Marsalis and none other than Elmo himself, the realization set in that the project would be no one-off.

“I have these songbooks from the Sesame Street office,” Fiedler says, “and if you whip through the first 30 tunes, absolutely everyone knows them. But there are six or seven thousand songs they've done over the past 50 years, with plenty of gold in there to do a second album for sure.”

The sextet is comprised of Fiedler on trombone, Steven Bernstein (of Sex Mob fame) on trumpet, Jeff Lederer on tenor/soprano sax and clarinet, Sean Conly on bass, and Michael Sarin on drums, plus guest vocalist Miles Griffith.

The New York Times has pinpointed a “feeling for a rugged but jaunty experimentalism” in the music of Fiedler, an adventurous improviser and bandleader as esteemed in New York jazz circles as he is in the Afro-Caribbean and pop scenes.

Fiedler had the opportunity to play trombone on Lin-Manuel Miranda's show In the Heights (not long before Hamilton's runaway success).

Tony Award–winning orchestrator Bill Sherman was on the gig and took to Fiedler, bringing him on board the newly revived children's show The Electric Company. After three seasons, Sherman and Fiedler made the transition in 2009 to Sesame Street.

From playing 350 gigs a year on the freelance circuit, Fiedler officially became a Sesame Street music director, working on what would become hundreds of song arrangements and thousands of underscoring cues (and still climbing). His latest small-group CD, Open Sesame, grapples with the legacy of the storied show of which he's become an integral part.

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