As promised, here is a Hank Crawford transcription. An old adage is that if you want to emulate your musical idols, listen to their idols. Many of the modern blues/funk/R&B greats, like David Sanborn or Maceo Parker cite Hank Crawford as one of their early influences, and you can hear why on this track.
This is a pretty straightforward I-IV-V blues progression. Hank take about nine choruses, and I love the progression and how he builds the solo. My only criticism is that the pitch is a little off in spots (but so is mine, so, glass houses and all that).
The feel is solid 12/8 (eighth-note triplet subdivisions of each 4/4 beat), but I prefer to write it in 4/4. I find that many intermediate students struggle to read 12/8. It’s easier to read in 4/4, and if you listen and play along, you can feel the swing subdivision.
I ran across this track while falling down a YouTube rabbit hole recently. I had heard it before, but not in a long while. I knew that it had to be my next project!
I’ve seen this track credited to both Fathead and Hank Crawford. I assumed that it must be Hank Crawford, but I was wrong. Hank plays Baritone on the track, but Fathead is playing Alto. I have a Hank Crawford box set with excellent liner notes, and confirmed it. My next transcription will be some Hank Crawford for sure!
This track is actually very difficult, both to transcribe and play. It’s relatively slow, which makes the subdivisions and the double-time sections even trickier. Fathead plays with the time quite a bit, stretching passages across beats and barlines – laying back at times, and then squeezing in as many notes as he can in a subdivision.
The melody itself is a master class is sound and phrasing. Fathead takes the first chorus, and then everyone else takes half choruses for their solos. Fathead returns with a blistering 8-bar solo, then the last 8 bars of the melody to finish it out.
It’s been a long time since I posted any Maceo Parker solos. Obviously I don’t have much of a plan with this blog, I post whatever strikes my fancy any given week. I realized that I had a backlog of Maceo solos that I transcribed a long time ago but never posted. Honestly, the ones that I haven’t posted are too intimidating to record, like this one!
The title of this track is deceptive – Basic Funk! I guess it’s true, it’s all basic stuff, but it’s a LONG solo to play – almost nine minutes and nine pages with little more than a bar or two to rest here and there.
The tempo is slow, right in the pocket. There isn’t any one part of the solo that is particularly tough, but it’s full of very intricate syncopation that makes it hard to sight read, and it’s too long for me to memorize all of those nuances, even after listening to it a bunch.
There isn’t much of a melody or form to speak of. Maceo comes in with what feels like the melody, but quickly transitions to filling in around the background figures. You can’t really tell where the ‘solo’ starts. When the band is playing, Maceo fills in. When they give him space, he runs with it. There are a few breakdowns and key changes, but really it’s just a long blow for Maceo! Not that there’s anything wrong with that…
I apologize for the video quality on this one. For some reason I had terrible problems getting the audio and video to sync up. I think the framerate on the video was off just enough that the drift over the course of the nine-minute track caused things to get out of whack. I chopped up the audio to sync it back up, but the video is a lost cause.
Funny story – I was walking around the mall recently (don’t get me started on who thought it was a good idea to put an outdoors mall in Seattle), and I heard this song coming over the PA system. I never really paid much attention to the music at the mall, but I certainly dug this tune.
It hit me that I haven’t posted any Art Pepper on this blog yet! I’m not sure why. He’s a killer player – kind of a cross between Paul Desmond and Sonny Stitt for me. I love his warm, dry tone, and the voice-leading in his lines is always so beautiful.
This is an old standard with some beautiful changes. I hardly ever hear anyone play it, so it feels fresh. It’s a moderate tempo, so most of the solo feels very relaxed and laid back, but then he breaks in to a double-time lick in the middle of the first chorus and you realize how fast the tempo is! It’s amazing how cleanly he plays it.
After the melody, he plays two solo choruses, then turns things over the piano and bass players for solos. He comes back in to trade 4’s with the drummer for a chorus and a half, and then plays an abbreviated melody with a tag to close it out.
Here’s another Tommy P. solo from the latest TOP album. This is one of my favorite songs on the album to listen to, the groove is so funky. I love the background vocals, and I’m pretty sure that’s Chuck Hansen dropping the low notes on Bass sax as well!
This solo is super tough for me to play. I had a really hard time with the pitch on this track. I had to adjust the tuning about 20 cents to get it to lock in, which then made it harder to play. The break on the first bar is a good example. I’m pretty sure that he’s going for the tri-tone, but the pitch on the top note is between the F and F# to my ear. I doubt he’s playing F#, so I’m guessing the F is just high.
Aside from the pitch, there’s a lot of altissimo across the break, which is always tough for me. And then he really goes for it at the end up to the double F#!
Page tow of the transcription is more of a solo over the ride out as the track fades. It’s a long fade so I didn’t bother to record that part.
Double tribute this week – Clarence Clemons and Aretha Franklin together! This is from her 1985 hit ‘Freeway of Love’. I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of this song in particular, but the performances by both Aretha and the Big Man are memorable. Aretha was trying to go mainstream with this pop/rock number, and she had some commercial success with it. But it doesn’t have the substance that her early work did.
Clarence is in his element here, belting out a throaty growl that commands attention. I can’t pull off the growl like he can, so I just went for an edgy tone. When I try to growl, I have a tendency to sing the pitches that I’m playing, which doesn’t give the right effect. it gives me cognitive dissonance to try and vocalize a different pitch for some reason, but I should work on it. I suspect Clarence is just vocalizing a steady low pedal tone to compliment his already edgy sound.
This solo doesn’t get too high (altissimo Bb), but once again, it spends a lot of time crossing the break, which is my Achilles heel. My high G is not as stable and strong as it needs to be, and has a tendency to crack, which you hear in the ride out.
But it’s a good workout – be sure to use lots of air! You need it for the sound, and to sustain those long phrases, especially the last phrase that closes the intro.
Some of the bent notes are so pronounced that I wrote them out. I can’t quite pull them off the same way he does though with nothing but lip. He’s got killer control of the horn!
Sadly, we lost the Queen of Soul recently. As is my tradition here, I honor them in the best way that I can, by highlighting the parts of their catalog that resonate the most with me as a saxophone player.
I found myself on a cross-country airline flight shortly after Aretha’s passing, and I fired up one of her ‘greatest hits’ collections on my phone. Listening back to songs I had heard and played dozens of times, I was struck by how well they have stood the test of time. Dozens of masterpieces, each one more powerful than the next. Not just her singing, but the compositions, the arrangements, the background vocals, the horn parts, the rhythm section – it was all genius of the like we will never see again.
Saxophone solos don’t figure prominently in many of her works, but there are a few. I decided to work up the King Curtis solo from “Respect”. Fun fact – the chords are from one of my favorite Sam and Dave songs: “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”.
The key is a killer for saxophone: Ab/G#! I battled with Finale to try and make the accidentals and key signature readable, and finally gave up. I ended up re-spelling everything as sharps because it insisted on writing triple flats instead of naturals when there were accidentals. So it’s a mess, but the notes are correct.
The rhythm was super challenging to notate, and really, you just have to listen to it and feel it as well as you can. I got it as close as I could while still being readable.
After the rhythm, the hardest part for me to play was the high Ab/G#s. That’s always been my worst altissimo note on any horn. I used the ‘long’ fingering of 1+3 (LH), 1 + side C (RH). If you have a better fingering on Tenor, please share. He does wide jumps each time, so it was hard to get the note to speak.
I think I’ll tackle Blue Lou Marini’s Alto solo from “Think” next (from the Blues Brothers Soundtrack). It’s low in the mix in spots, and of course filled with killer altissimo throughout, so wish me luck!
Here’s the sister track to the previous post – the last track of the album. It’s the same song, another take, with the sax solo in the middle this time. They changed the name of the track for some reason.
It’s an eight-bar section, all over the F# pentatonic minor blues scale. It’s really just four licks. I love the F#-C lick (tonic to flat five – using the tritone). I also like how percussive the articulation is, you really need to spit it out!
I’ve been really getting in to the new Tower of Power album – The Soul Side of Town. Tommy P takes a million solos on it, and this is the first one, right out of the gate.
It’s only four bars, but it’s a killer! The altissimo isn’t too high, but he gets around pretty fast. The way he crossed the break in the first bar is amazingly clean. He sticks to the blues scale, and does a trill on the last note, which was unexpected but cool.
This track is very much in the style of ‘Oakland Stroke’, opening and closing the album with a (mostly) instrumental jam. Burning solos by my pal Roger Smith on the organ as well! I’ll work on the closing track next, it’s got a longer solo.