Here’s the second Chris Farr post. It’s a transcription of one of his Eastman Endorsement videos. I’ll be honest – it makes me want to try an Eastman sax! Of course I’m not on the market for a new horn and don’t have the money for one, but that’s never stopped me before! 🙂
This is an acapella solo, and there’s so much to love about it. Tenor Madness is such a staple jazz blues song that beginners all learn on (I know I did), but he turns it inside out. The solo starts simply enough – melodic and lyrical. He outlines the changes beautifully, and keeps increasing the complexity with each chorus. The voice leading is beautiful, and then he gradually starts adding substitutions that break the barlines and patterns. I’ve never been able to pull off this kind of vertical playing very well, but he nails it.
There are no real pyrotechnics. No altissimo or flashy technique, just beautiful harmonic progression phrased perfectly.
One of the things I love about writing this blog is finding killer players that I’ve never heard of. If you’re not familiar with Chris Farr, listen up – this will be the first of two transcriptions of his playing.
The Roots first landed on my radar back in 2010 when they opened John Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity”. They killed it. I immediately bought the CD they did with John Legend, which has stayed in my listening rotation ever since.
I had it on the other day, and got really in to the sac solo on Compared to What. I had to do some digging, but I’m 99% certain it’s Chris Farr. He’s an Eastman endorser and saxophone instructor in Philadelphia (hometown of the Roots).
The solo is super funky. It opens with a lengthy hemiola that was a little tough to notate, but I think I got it. Chris has a beautiful sound with a lot of character. And the altissimo at the end is so smooth!
By request – Here’s the solo from the end of “C Jam Funk”, the track that rolls over the credits of the film “My First Name is Maceo”. The track is also on the accompanying CD. It’s a long track, but a short solo – 16 bars, starting around 10:30.
The movie/album came out in 1994. I actually have it on VHS tape, but I don’t have anything that plays it anymore! Fortunately, the whole thing is on YouTube. The quality isn’t great, but it’s from 1994…
It’s a hybrid concert/documentary, with both on stage, rehearsal, interviews, and behind-the-scenes footage. It’s Maceo and his band doing what they do best. Super funky music and great playing all around. There are great guest stars, including the Rebirth Brass Band and George Clinton.
This track is an up-tempo funk groove. The solo is short, and pretty tough rhythmically. As the name implies, it’s all over one chord.
Here’s one that I’ve had on my to-do list forever. It’s a slow ballad, which always makes for the toughest transcription jobs. The fast passages get in to really minute subdivisions to fit everything in, which makes it difficult to notate, and to play. As a bonus, it’s in 6/8!
I love Maceo’s delivery on this one though, his tone is so beautiful. The melody is sparse and haunting, but the track builds and builds. When Maceo finally lets loose in a flurry of notes, it’s well-deserved.
Rather than trying to read all of the subdivisions, I suggest just listening to it a bunch and trying to internalize the timings. I limited myself to one take on the melody and one take on the solo, but I wish I had a few more to listen and play through.
A few notes on the transcription – during playback I realized I left out one bar where he’s holding the low C. Just keep holding! Also I forgot to add the chords, although it just alternates between the one and four, so it’s not super complex.
Another duet – this time Maceo and Candy Dulfer from the great ‘Life on Planet Groove’ album. I’ve been working on this one for awhile. It was a monster to transcribe. Duets are hard enough because you can’t always tell who is playing which part. But this track also had Fred Wesley and Pee Wee Ellis, so at times there were four horns improvising at the same time!
I chose to focus on just Maceo and Candy’s parts. The song is really a feature for Candy. She’s the only one who takes a full solo. She and Maceo trade off on the melody, which is beautiful. Maceo fills in a little behind her, and she also fills in around the chorus parts when the other horns come in.
I’m including both parts separately as well as in ‘score’ form if you want to see how the parts line up together. They play off of each other beautifully, finishing each others’ ideas at times (which also makes it extra hard to figure out who’s playing what).
Both parts have tough sections to play. For Maceo, it’s more about the rhythms. Candy’s solo has some altissimo (up to high B), and some particularly fast runs.
On the video, I limited myself to one take for each part, so there are definitely parts I’d like another crack at. I stopped the video at the part where Maceo introduces Candy. She (and the others) solo more after that, and I included as much as I could in the written transcription, but it gets pretty chaotic to follow.
Overall, it’s a great solo by Candy, with beautiful playing by everyone all around. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!
I have a hard time coming up with my list of ‘favorites’ for anything – movies, music, you name it. But if I were stranded on a desert island and could only take one album with me, it would be Maceo’s ‘Life on Planet Groove’. I can listen to it anytime, anywhere, and never get tired of it!
This is a short solo from ‘Got to Get U’. It’s just eight bars over one chord. It’s simple, and relatively easy to play. The tempo is slow, and you can really hear the sixteenth note subdivision coming through in every part. It’s so strong that it’s sometimes hard to tell if Maceo is actually playing every subdivision, or if I’m just feeling it.
The first three bars are almost entirely played with the one, flat 3 and the flat seven (he plays the fifth once). That makes it all the more powerful when he leans on the ninth on the downbeat of the fourth bar. Back to the 1, b3, and b7 for the next two bars until he leans on the 4 (or 11, whichever you prefer). The next figure re-introduces the 9th, and also throws in the 6th (13th) for good measure.
So for a one-chord funk groove, even though Maceo sticks primarily to the minor pentatonic, he uses all of the notes in the scale for added color. Ironically, the one note that he doesn’t play that you might expect him to is the flat five. He doesn’t need it!
There are a couple more great solos on this album that I want to try and work on before the end of 2018, but they are much more involved. Wish me luck!
Back to M-A-C-E-O! This is a transcription that I’ve had on the shelf for a long time. Every time I pulled it out to record, I always struggled to sight read it. It’s not technically difficult, but the rhythms are crazy hard to right read. Finally I broke down and just practiced it for an hour! I broke down each phrase, and took it slowly until I could feel it.
The track is a classic James Brown tune. The recording is from a 1994 video, right around the time that Maceo was starting to come in to his own as a solo artist. It features the classic JB horns lineup of Fred Wesley on Trombone and Pee Wee Ellis on Tenor. The band is killing!
The more Maceo solos I transcribe and learn, the more I realize what an amazing ‘escape artist’ he is. I often run in to short phrases that seem to fall on the wrong foot, or don’t quite turn out how you intended. We all get these. When I run in to these phrases in my own playing, they knock me out of the zone too easily. It can take awhile for me to recover and get back in to the groove. But Maceo has this akido-like ability to turn these phrases around and roll right through them in to the next phrase.
The hits keep on rolling in! This is another one of those all-time famous saxophone lines in pop music. And the story behind it is fascinating
If you believe Wikipedia, George Michael came up with the sax line first, and wrote the song around it. He got some local sax player from the pub to lay down a demo, and then when he went to record the real thing, he churned through multiple top-flight studio musicians, none of whom could live up to the vision that George Michael had in his head.
Finally, it came to Steve Gregory, who had the idea to play it down a half-step, and then speed it up to match the pitch. Bingo – that did the trick!
Steve did it for practical reasons. Like me, he plays a Mark VI, which doesn’t have a high F# key, making the opening bar extremely awkward to play. F#-E-B is a tough transition. On my horn, I play high F# with the first finger in each hand, left hand on the fork F key. From here, the transition to E that makes sense is to put down 2-3 in the left hand and lift up the right hand. Not too bad, but then the transition to B requires you to slide your first finger from the fork F key down to the B key. That’s hard to do smoothly, as you will hear in my video! No matter what horn you prefer, I would bet money that if you are a saxophone player touring with George Michael, you run out and get a horn with a proper high F# key for this tune.
It’s a bright sounding passage, so it can be hard to tell if it’s alto or tenor without listening closely. It would definitely be easier to play on Alto, but I wanted to try the ‘real’ thing, which I guess doesn’t even exist because of the studio magic involved in the original recording.
I’ve been on a bit of a pop kick lately, and I’m setting a goal for myself to transcribe and record some of those legendary sax parts from pop songs over the years that keep getting requested over and over again.
This one tops most lists, and rightly so. I distinctly recall hearing this on the radio when I was growing up in 1978, There’s no doubt that it’s one of the songs that got me hooked on the saxophone sound early on. It’s definitely fun to be able to play it after all these years.
Like most pop songs, it’s all about sound and delivery. It’s not terribly technical otherwise. I realized that I transcribed the UK version, which has the same parts, but a slightly different roadmap. Just beware if you’re working up an arrangement with your band. The sax part comes back in a third time during the fade on the UK version, but I didn’t record it since it’s the same part.
I’m trying out a new alto mouthpiece for the first time in this clip (I’ve had it a few hours). I’ll post more about that later. Until then, let me know what you want to hear and play next?