Life-changing albums: Stevie Wonder's 'Hotter Than July'

Bassist Avishai Cohen talks about the album that changed his life, Hotter Than July, by Stevie Wonder. Interview by Brian Glasser

When I was 10 or 11, we got a tape cassette player in the car. That was where I heard my brother’s tape copy of Stevie Wonder’s Hotter Than July. The groove, the infectiousness, totally consumed my emotional state and being. My memory is that I’m sitting in the car alone while the car is parked at our house, checkin’ it out myself. That’s my memory – of being alone. We had a cassette player in the house, so I guess I was in the car so that I could be on my own – I don’t totally remember.

I was playing piano already, having my go at music in whatever way; and this record was a revelation – I was washed with information that was vital. I took a liking to the whole thing as one big chunk of happiness. Later on, when I was further down the road as a musician, I picked certain tracks that I thought were funkier or that blew my mind, wondering how he came up with them. Funnily enough, the cassette tape, when I was in New York in my early twenties, was the best place to go back and forth and really research something on the album – more than the CD and the vinyl.

Since I was young, I’d loved music – but this album changed me and shaped me. I can hear my passion for music lying in there – not all of it, but a big chunk of it. It’s how I like music to be! Really, it’s been my biggest inspiration. Stevie possesses it all. He is my ultimate type of musician to try to be like. As much as I love Coltrane or Miles, or whoever – and they are the highest order of musicianship – this is nothing less than that and even more in some ways: the way he sings and arranges, the way he writes music that is so particular to him, that is what washed over me most. A genius doesn’t need to prove himself – he just needs to be himself, or herself. That’s what it is in this case: it just oozes out of the recording. Stevie is way beyond – it’s as if he sees or hears more than everyone else. It’s like a natural thing – a fountain.

“Stevie has a hybrid kind of homegrown, self-taught thing that is very particular to himself; and that has always been my goal”

As a result of that, I think, it sounds like it’s all Stevie – even the parts he doesn’t play. That’s very inspirational for me. I’m going in that direction myself, now more than ever. I’m doing lots of stuff at home – recording, collaborating, or brewing stuff. To me, he’s a very ‘home’ kind of person – there’s one source for everything. I feel close to that concept right now.

In my own career, it’s not that I’ve tried to access him – there’s never much consciousness in my process of writing, for instance. It’s the opposite: I forget any facts, facts are no longer interesting. It is the flow – based on your experience in life and emotional experiences that are burned into you. They are your source, where you operate from, not knowing specifically what it is. You’re just responding to an energy inside. I suppose what I’m trying to say is that Stevie has a hybrid kind of homegrown, self-taught thing that is very particular to himself; and that has always been my goal.

The cool thing is that, with the years as I develop and change and mature, this record still goes with me and it’s one of my favourite records to listen to – and to learn from still. I use YouTube or Spotify or anything that gives me fast access to it. It’s so familiar that it doesn’t matter what kind of system or source brings it to me – when I hear it, the information is right there immediately, doing the same thing it always has done. This is the great thing about recorded music!

So I check it out often, as an old friend and a future inspiration. Of course, I know every bassline – put that record on now and I could play through the whole thing! Not because I’ve practiced it, but because I’ve heard it so many times…

This article originally appeared in the November 2018 issue of Jazzwise. To find out more about subscribing, please visit:

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