Another tough week for me – I’m counting down the days to my impending jaw surgery, and yesterday they put braces on my teeth which will hold things in place after the surgery. Needless to say, it’s a bit of an adjustment to play saxophone now! But I’ll have to re-learn how to play completely after surgery. I’ll probably have to take 3+ months off from playing entirely following the surgery. I’ll have my jaw wired shut for 6+ weeks as it is! I’m not looking forward to it. But I promise to keep posting transcriptions. I just won’t be playing them for awhile.
I just finished up a killer Bob Mintzer solo, but it’s going to take me a long time to learn, so I may not get it posted before my surgery. So, back to my Maceo archives! Can you tell that I’m going alphabetically? 😉
This is a fun, up-tempo solo. It has kind of a jazzy, funky, almost latin flavor to it, but it swings! The solo isn’t too technical, but as with most Maceo solos, the rhythms can be tricky. The main solo isn’t too hard, but I messed up the timing of some of the fills over the ride out.
What a week this has been! I promise I won’t talk politics. Usually practicing, and especially transcribing serves as a good escape from whatever is going on around me, but this week was particularly tough to focus on anything and be productive. Still, onward and upward!
This is a fairly obscure recording from the J. B. Horns. It’s around the time that Maceo struck out on his own, but before he had really broken through as a solo artist.
The thing I like the most about this track is the horn section work. It’s great practice to play along with the J.B.s and really get in to the mindset of these lines. Nice and short, crisp articulation, tight cut-offs, dynamics, and controlled lip falls. Lots to get right (or wrong!)
The solo is over a one-chord groove. Slow and funky. The solo sticks almost entirely to the blues scale, with the 13th thrown in for color in the sixth bar. Very tasty.
Maceo to the rescue again! This week has been crazy – traveling cross-country with a bad head cold all week, busy at work, and gigs this weekend. I was able to scrape together one hour to practice this week, so here is the result, a transcription from my archives that I spent a few minutes working up…
Margie is a Ray Charles song that Maceo performed on the Roots and Grooves set, which is basically a Ray Charles tribute show recorded with a live big band. Maceo sang on many of the tunes, like this one, so we only hear him play over the solo.
It’s a tasty solo – not too hard to get the basic mechanics right once you sit and listen to the rhythms, but there’s a lot of nuance to pick out if you can devote the time. I maybe hit 50% of it, but it was the best I could muster this week. Hopefully I can shake this cold and get back in to the swing of things shortly.
It’s 4th down, 15 yards to go, far outside of field goal range – time to punt! It’s been a crazy busy week for me between work and gigs. I had planned on serving up another Marc Russo solo this week. I found another old transcription in one of my high school notebooks and cleaned it up. It was missing a page so I re-transcribed half of it. I planned on practicing and recording it today. Then I had a three-hour chops-busting gig last night, with another one tonight.
I looked through the Marc Russo solo and realized that it went up to a double altissimo G, so I decided to save my lip for the gig tonight and pull something easier out of the archives.
So – back to Maceo! A slow 16-bar blues. It pops up to a high Ab briefly, but other than that it’s pretty easy to play once you figure out all of the ornaments and grace notes. Just take it slow.
I may return to the Marc Russo solo next week, we’ll see how my chops are feeling!
Back to Alto for a bit. My recent Bob Mintzer transcriptions led me back to the Yellowjackets, which led me to dig up some of my old Marc Russo transcriptions from high school. I found this in one of my hand-written notebooks from about 1988 or so, and cleaned it up and brought it in to Finale.
These transcriptions are where I really cut my teeth (or more accurately, my LIP) on altissimo. Even more than David Sanborn, he is my go-to guy for alto sax altissimo. He incorporates it so beautifully into his playing.
Overall, his sound is smoother than what I personally go after, but it’s a great exercise to try and emulate. It takes a fantastic amount of control and discipline. On this track, he’s got to sell a very simple melody, and he does it beautifully with a clear, bright, round tone that is very pure. I’d have to play this style for weeks to really get it in to my head, but it was a good challenge to dive in to this week.
Obviously the hard part is the altissimo on this solo – all the way up to high D right before the fade. I really have to visualize this note to hit it. Playing along with the track (LOUD in my ears) is a big help because Marc’s intonation is spot-on. The run up to the high D (E-G-B-D) was tough, I was focusing so hard on the D that I missed either the G or the B every time. I need to slow this one down and work it out some more, but my lip only lets me do it in small doses. It’s like doing heavy squats for your lip! Then you have to be strong enough to hold the high D without shaking, and bend it back down to the B and control the line all the way down to the octave below. Good luck!
I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without posting a single sax solo from Tower of Power! My primary gig with Doctorfunk is practically a TOP tribute act. But I play Bari sax in that band because my tenor chops aren’t strong enough to pull off many sax solos in that book. That hasn’t stopped me from transcribing a ton of Lenny Pickett solos over the years, but playing them well enough to post here is another matter…
This album is really interesting – rather than playing original material, they went back and covered a bunch of classic soul tunes. This is the first track on the album – an absolutely killing version of a classic Stevie Wonder song. Tom plays an alto solo, which is also rare for a TOP album.
I’ve known and loved this album since it came out, but I hadn’t listened to it recently. I showed up for a gig a few weeks ago and this track was playing as I walked in, but I didn’t hear the beginning of the track, I just heard the alto solo. I really dug it, and actually thought it was Candy Dulfer at first. But then the vocals came back in and I recognized the song.
This is basically a 16-bar blues in concert Ab. The first eight are straight blues scale, but then at the change he throws in some nice bebop lines, leading up to a nice tasteful altissimo run. I tried switching to my short/front altissimo fingerings for the G/Ab this time. Still a little flat on G, but they worked better for the line I think. I still need to work on my altissimo over the break.
This is the last track on the Close-Up album, track #10: Camel Island. For some reason I could have sworn that Sanborn had recorded this track before Close-Up, but after a little searching, I guess I was wrong. This song seems to have stuck around as one of his go-to classics, and I can see why. It has a very funky groove that is hard to categorize. Hints of jazz, latin, funk, and it manages to swing at times. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘fusion’ label, but I guess it is accurate.
This track is definitely challenging to play, but I also feel as though it’s attainable. There are a couple of tricky altissimo passages, and some fast flourishes, but overall I felt good about my performance. I’m breaking in some new reeds, and my lip was killing me from all of the altissimo or I would have done a few more takes to pick up a few of the lines that I messed up. It’s a real challenge finding reeds speak throughout the full range of the horn. For a transcription like this where you need to hit (and hold!) an altissimo D twice, you need a stiff reed, but it can’t be too hard or you’ll kill yourself playing everything else (like I did on these takes).
I noticed that my altissimo G is really flat on this one. I was using the long fingering almost exclusively (LH 1-3, RH 1 + SK 1). I’m used to that one being more stable (even though I still missed it in a few spots). On my new Conn, the short fingerings are more reliable, but my brain is accustomed to decades of avoiding them.
I like to think that the quality of the transcriptions on the back half of the album (all of which I did recently) are noticeably higher quality than the front half of the album (which I did in high school). Let me know what you think!
Continuing through the Close-Up album, this is track #9: You Are Everything. This is a beautiful soul ballad originally recorded by the Stylistics in 1971. Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye also released a version in 1974.
The great thing about transcribing an entire album is that it commits you to completing every track on that album. if I were picking and choosing, I would definitely have skipped a few because they were too hard. This is one of those tracks!
Ballads are always toughest to transcribe and play because of the intricacies of the timing. The subdivisions get really small. Unless you’re an excellent reader of complex rhythms, there’s no other way to learn it than to listen over and over, slow it down, and feel it. On faster songs I can just sight read and get by most of the time, but not on this stuff.
In addition to the rhythms, there’s a ton of hard altissimo as well as some tricky double time runs. I could definitely use a few more hours in the woodshed with this transcription. But I’m committing to putting out a new solo every week, which means some are less baked than others.
My schedule has been crazy this summer with a ton of travel and gigs, so I’m squeezing in transcriptions wherever I can!
P.S. I’m trying out the suit jacket look this week. I might stick with it for all future videos. I remember reading articles in the Saxophone Journal by both Lenny Pickett and David Liebman where they discussed the benefits of always wearing the same thing. That leaves you with one less thing to think and worry about (and more time for practice). If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me 🙂
Continuing through the Close-Up album, this is track #7: Pyramid.
This track was a lot of fun both to transcribe and to play. It’s a nice medium tempo tune with a funky pop-feel to it. The melody is laid back and beautiful with lots of sustained notes in the upper register.
This is a classic ‘guitar key’ song, with tons of sharps. Again, I didn’t really dig into the chords. He pretty much sticks to a G# ‘blues’ scale, mixing pentatonic and chromatic lines.
The double time runs are a lot of fun to play – they actually lie pretty nicely. That’s always the nice thing about transcribing for the horn that the solo was played on. I bet the lines are impossible to play on trumpet!
Lots of altissimo in this solo as well, including uncomfortable notes (for me) like G# and A#. Of course he goes up and down across the break very fluidly.
I was really worried about recording this one since it’s one long blow with no real breaks (I could barely turn my pages). It actually came together easier than I expected. I got about 80% on the first take, and 90% on the second take, so I called it good after that 🙂
I can see where the track name came from – this solo is TOUGH! The melody is pretty straightforward (although there is a high G at the end of the A section), but the solo is anything but straightforward…
He plays a lot of figured that play off of the second and fourth sixteenths of the subdivision, giving some of lines almost a latin feel to them. Things start to get crazy in the ninth bar of the solo where everything is in the upper register. Fast syncopated, with large interval jumps all combine for some very tough passages (for me).
I realized after I posted the PDF that I didn’t really put down any chord changes once I got the key center figured out. For some reason these changes are very hard for me to hear, maybe it’s the timbre of the synths. I’ll keep working at it and post an update.