Paul Desmond – So smooth, so dry. So many metaphors have been used to compare his sound to various foods or alcoholic beverages. He is so unique and special, and this is one of his best known solos.
His playing is deceptively simple on this tune, which defies the level of complexity introduced by the 5/4 time signature. It lays so well you would think it’s in 4/4.
Funny story – As I was editing the solo for upload it dawned on me that the solos are just over the vamp. I’ve played this song so many times over the years and every rhythm section I’ve played it with plays the form over the solos – bridge and all!
I love me some Kenny Garrett! He’s probably my favorite jazz Alto player on the scene today. It’s like Maceo Parker and John Coltrane had a musical baby.
Kenny has a beautiful, bright, clear sound with a very percussive attack, much like Maceo, but he generally plays music that is much more harmonically and technically complex (which you’d expect given their respective genres).
This is an especially interesting track because it shows Kenny playing over a one-chord funk/fusion groove. I love how he plays with the major seventh in the 4th and 5th bars. He really doesn’t stray too far from the blues scale, but when he does, the alterations really pop.
I think that I’ve got most of Kenny’s solos from this period with Miles transcribed, so I’ll be working them into the mix over the next couple months.
Wayne Shorter was in Seattle last week for the Earshot Jazz Festival, and I missed it! I was so bummed, and he was on my mind, so I went through my archives and dug up this gem of a performance.
It’s a duet from a live performance with Bobby McFerrin and I love it. They play off of each other beautifully, taking turns walking bass lines for each other while the other player solos. That’s right – you not only get to hear Wayne Shorter blow a great solo, you get to hear him walk a bass line. How often does that happen?
The solo uses the full range of the horn to great effect. How often do you go from low Bb to high F# (and every note in between) in one solo?
The solo is definitely tough to play. I only dust off my soprano once a year, and it shows. The recording itself is off by about 25 cents, so I had to shove my mouthpiece way in, making my normal intonation struggles on soprano even worse. Overall I rate myself about a D on this one, but it was a good challenge for me.
Here’s a video of the performance, recorded for the VHS release (which I had!) The description indicates that Bobby didn’t know that this duet was going to happen, which is ridiculous. Of course it was planned, arranged, rehearsed, and executed beautifully. The video cuts out a section, so be sure to check out the full track.
This is the very first solo that I ever transcribed! I was probably 16? I don’t know how or why I chose this solo, but I’m glad that I did. It’s a killer track. A beautiful ballad with a bunch of super-clean bebop runs. For a recording that is over 60 years old, it sounds great (at least the Alto does).
I had this album on vinyl, and transferred it to cassette tape so I could transcribe it on my boom box (which had no pitch or speed controls). I listened to this solo for hours and hours before I even started the process. I listened to it in my sleep every night! I realize now that this is all a bit of overkill, but I didn’t know any better at the time.
For fun, I’m including a scan of my original handwritten transcription:
Unfortunately, this was page 1 of a notebook that is almost 30 years old. The cover and first page were torn off and lost years ago. So all that survived was the third page of the solo.
I had fun re-transcribing it, and it came back very quickly since I learned it pretty well back in the day. I was surprised to see how accurate my original transcription was. Given my inexperience and the primitive tools that I had to work with, I think I did a pretty good job!
The solo itself is a lot of fun to play. The bebop lines are hard, but not impossible. They generally lay pretty well on Alto, and I realize that I still find myself using some of the licks to this day on a regular basis. Nailing all of them 100% in one take proved to be a challenge, which only gives me that much more respect for the guy who improvised the solo in the first place. What a master!
P.S. About the chords…I lifted them from a fake book, so they may not exactly match what the rhythm section was doing on this recording. Transcribing chord changes has always been my achilles heel. Unlike solos, where there is a single line that is very clearly right or wrong, chord changes are more subjective and open to harmonic interpretation (at least to me). I’m working at it. If anyone has any advice, I’d love to improve in this area!
What a blow! This is a long track with a lot of playing. It’s one of those transcriptions that’s not that hard to write down, but it’s really hard to duplicate the performance since it’s so raw and full of energy. The sax+drum solo builds so well. The chromatic walk up during the saxophone solo is especially tough to replicate with all of the inflections, but I did my best.
I love this track though. This is probably my favorite track from my favorite Maceo album. I especially love the a capella horn section ending. I’ve played this arrangements in bands before and it’s a ton of fun to do live.
I started this project as a way to force myself to practice more. One of the side benefits that I’ve found is that listening to recordings of yourself practicing is very enlightening! This is one of those DUH things that every teacher tells you, but you never really internalize until you try it.
Listening to this track makes me realize how much I need to work on my pitch! Some (but not all) of this is due to the fact that I make the recordings with headphones in so I can hear the soloist well. But they also block out my own sound making it harder to match pitch. I think I’ll experiment with just one earphone in to see how that works.
I’ll admit, this post is a bit of filler…but it’s because I’ve got a really meaty post coming up next!
This track isn’t really a solo, it’s more solo fills and backgrounds around the vocals. But there’s still some cool stuff in it. The ending really shows the power of simple repetition. If you commit to it, it really works. Most players don’t have the discipline to play the same line more than once or twice. They feel that they have to get creative with it. And they end up overdoing it and distracting from what the rest of the band is laying down.
But for me the best part of this track comes around 0:30 seconds in (on my YouTube video). Maceo is in the middle of an 8-bar break, and he fills in with a single note. Again it shows the power of understatement and confidence.
It reminds me of a story of the artist Giotto, who demonstrated his mastery through simplicity and minimalism, rather than elaborate technique:
“…when the Pope sent a messenger to Giotto, asking him to send a drawing to demonstrate his skill, Giotto drew, in red paint, a circle so perfect that it seemed as though it was drawn using a compass and instructed the messenger to give that to the Pope.“
The year was 1988. I stopped by the record store after school with my friends, like we often did. I didn’t have a specific idea of what I wanted to get. Somehow I stumbled upon a cassette tape of “James Brown’s Funky People”, and decided to pick it up. I’m not even sure why. As a white kid growing up in the affluent suburbs of Chicago, the only exposure I had to James Brown was in Rocky IV. It wasn’t until years later that I would understand the cultural and musical impact that he had. But my friend Jonny gave a nod of approval when he saw my choice and I bought it.
This was my first exposure to Maceo, and I knew right away that I had found something special. As much as I loved Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley, they didn’t connect with me as musical mentors in the same way that Maceo did. I could relate to him somehow.
This was the first Maceo solo that I transcribed. It’s still one of my favorites. There’s so much rich material – classic Maceo. There are some really tricky passages in this solo, all these years later I still struggle with some of them. But it’s been a real treat dusting this one off and getting it back under my fingers again.
Phil Woods passed away this week, so I thought it would be fitting to take a break from the Maceo transcriptions and share one of his most iconic solos.
While he was a jazz legend, I chose this pop recording since it is so famous. When was the last time you heard a saxophone solo in song on the top 10 chart for pop/rock? The 70s were a different time…
This solo deserves the praise that it gets. Phil didn’t dumb down his playing for a pop audience, or resort to gimmicks. He just played a simple, beautiful solo that has some great jazz lines in it, and subtle use of dissonance, tension, and harmony.
I had the pleasure of seeing Phil Woods live only once. It was around 1990, shortly after his phenomenal appearance on David Sanborn’s amazing “Night Music” show. I saw him at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago. What a player.