Suzi Stern is a gifted and innovative jazz vocalist from the Austin, Texas area. While she has quite a range of recordings available, I discovered her work through the 2000 album ‘Inside Stories’, which I found while searching for vocal versions of rarely-sung instrumental tunes. While the album contains a number of jazz vocal standards, such as ‘Sweet Lorraine’ and ‘It Might As Well Be Spring’, it also includes a number instrumental tunes adapted to voice through Stern’s vivid and well-written original lyrics. Her version of ‘So What’ reimagines Miles Davis’ tune as a conversation, with Stern as the voice of an impassioned activist addressing a politically disengaged man who speaks only through the two-word title, which Stern occasionally attaches to the chordal ‘answer’ figure (as Eddie Jefferson does in his version.) During the head statement, Stern exhorts her companion to ‘take your sister by the hand to change this world’. Stern’s lyrics then use Miles Davis’ first two choruses of solo to develop an argument for engagement rather than detachment, particularly on environmental issues: ‘you can’t deny that if you don’t care, there’s no one else to save us…it’s up to you and me, the birds and bees are at stake here.’
After singing two choruses adapted from Miles Davis’ solo, Stern moves into a more improvisational third chorus where she also transitions from lyrics to scat syllables as seamlessly and deftly as Ella Fitzgerald in her version of C Jam Blues with Count Basie or Betty Carter in her version of ‘Sometimes I’m Happy’ with Geri Allen, Dave Holland and Jack deJohnette. (She does this on a number of other tunes on Inside Stories as well, including ‘Blue in Green’ and ‘Sweet Georgia Bright’.) I’ve transcribed the third chorus which begins with this transition. Stern makes use of a wide and original variety of scat syllables, including a number using the letter ‘v’. Her sense of pitch is remarkable, particularly on the bridge with its more continuous eighth notes and wide intervals. I hope you enjoy studying this more modern interpretation of ‘So What’ as much as I have. I encourage you to also refer to the post on my original tune based on ‘So What’ called ‘Now What?’, which includes a link to a scale outline of the tune.