Here’s one more Charles Neville track, this time on Tenor. I have a soft spot for this tune because an old band of mine used to play it in college. It’s super funky.
It’s a super short solo, only eight bars. The interesting thing is that he plays the entire solo in the bottom octave of the horn, which you almost never see in pop music. It doesn’t usually cut through the mix, so guys are always trying to play higher and higher to stand out. It takes a fair amount of control to play down low with control and nuance. He’s almost subtoning in spots, but the sound never cracks.
I included some of the backing lines in the transcription, but not in the video. It’s basically a two-bar phrase played over and over, sometimes repeated, sometimes not. There’s a key change at the bridge, but that’s just chorded in a section, no individual parts stand out.
The key is C# minor on the verses and solos, and Charles sticks strictly to the minor pentatonic. Always a safe choice, and it works here.
Charles Neville passed away this week, and has become my custom, I’m honoring him this week with a transcription of one of his most famous solos from the Neville Brothers hit Yellow Moon.
I love the Neville Brothers, and have been lucky enough to see them live a few times over the years. What an amazing feel, great songs, and of course, Aaron Neville’s voice is one of a kind.
I’ll be honest, I’ve not been a huge fan of Charles Neville as a saxophonist. Specifically, I always feel like he’s trying to play ‘outside’, but never quite pulling it off. Some players, like Maceo, never play outside. They don’t need to. Others, like David Sanborn, do it rarely, but when they do, it has a huge impact. And then there are players like Chris Potter for whom it is a higher art form, woven seamlessly in to the fabric of everything that they do. For me, playing outside the changes can add beautiful color, contrast, texture, and tension. But you have to do it with intention. The real payoff comes with the resolution, when you bring it all together. But it’s a fine line, and if it doesn’t feel intentional, or doesn’t resolve properly, it can cross that line and just feel like wrong notes.
In this solo, Charles is playing chromatically almost the entire time. That can also be used to great effect to build tension, which he does in this solo. I think he pulls it off well in this solo, although there are a few note choices that are questionable to me.
This track starts with a four bar solo before the vocal, and eight bar solo over the verse changes in the middle, and then another longer solo over the fade at the end – the same verse changes. I’ve included all three sections. You’ll need A LOT of air to get through the first solo. It’s basically two four bar phrases, and I could barely make it through each in one breath. There’s an interesting delay effect applied to parts of the solo, which makes the chromatic lines sound particularly dissonant. I chose not to emulate that in my performance because it can make it hard to hear what’s going on.
I’ve been listening to a handful of Neville Brothers recordings this week, and the one thing that strikes me most about Charles’ playing is his tone. He has such a bright, pure tone on Alto that I almost mistake it for soprano sometimes. That’s hard to pull off without sounding shrill on Alto. I guess that’s one of the things that makes the Neville Brothers sound so interesting – Aaron Neville’s has such a tender, lilting quality to it, Charles’ sax playing is clear and bright, yet the rhythm section is funky and dirty. Contrast works.
Shortly before his death in 2011, Lady Gaga invited Clarence Clemons to work with her on her Edge of Glory single. He recorded the video with her just days before he suffered a stroke. I understand that there was some controversy around the making of the video, but I kind of like it – it’s simple, and you get to see Clarence hanging out in the background doing his thing.
The song is a straight forward dance track, with a four-bar chord progression A-E-F#-D, but the solo is over a bridge that has a less-defined key center. It seems to float around, mostly A-ish.
The solo is 24 bars, and it pretty simple to play. Use lots of air on the high F#, he holds it for a while! The sax is pretty low in the mix, so it can be hard to hear at times. There’s another solo later in the track, but it’s even lower in the mix, so you can barely make out parts of it. I didn’t include it for that reason.
Continuing on the Clarence Clemons kick…This is a short solo from the end of “Dancing in the Dark”. It’s very laid back and mellow, pretty easy to play. As usual, beautiful tone and delivery by Clarence.
The whole solo is in the key of Db, and happens over the fade at the end of the track. Clarence sticks to a major pentatonic throughout, so everything fits beautifully as you’d expect.
More Clarence Clemons from Born to Run, this time – Jungleland. One of his most famous solos.
For me, the biggest challenge with this one is AIR and PITCH. These are long phrases, so being able to consistently support with an even tone and solid pitch requires lots of air. I clearly don’t do enough long tones at this end of the horn!
I like how restrained this solo is – it’s so melodic and simple. A lot of players would be tempted to fill the space with a ton of notes. The big man keeps it right down the middle. He soars on the high notes and doesn’t stray too far harmonically. It’s a bit repetitious, but it builds nicely.
I realize that I haven’t posted any solos from the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, yet. Sadly, he passed away in 2011. I never saw him perform live (or Bruce Springsteen for that matter), although I grew up on their music. This track was released when I was four!
I admit that I took Clarence for granted, and under-valued his contribution to the instrument. This was years ago when I was a big jazz snob. I was aware of him, but since he was playing pop/rock, I wrote him off as insignificant. Big mistake on my part!
Of course one of the great things about Bruce Springsteen’s music is that he played with a real band, one that stayed together for a long time. Although he was the front man and singer/songwriter, he wrote and arranged for the unique voices in his group – including Clarence.
Clarence Clemons has such a huge sound and presence – no one else could have contributed such iconic solos. And this is the type of solo that I can only reproduce to a point. Clarence had a special power to his sound, a growl that was always there, even when it wasn’t fully unleashed. I can’t duplicate that, and if I tried, it just wouldn’t be authentic. So I do my best and hope only to get close.
The solo on Born to Run is pretty challenging in the first few bars. The articulation is fast and clean – hard to keep up with at times. The expression that he adds with the subtle falls and bends are hard to reproduce without going overboard. It’s a master class in striking the balance between restraint and reckless abandon.
This week I’m adding a transcription requested by one of my students. This is another win-win situation, because he gets a free transcription of a song that he wants to work on, and I get content for my site that I wouldn’t have selected otherwise.
While I’m not a huge fan of ‘Smooth Jazz’, or Dave Koz in particular, it’s still great material to work on. The playing on this track is not technically very difficult, but it’s executed flawlessly. It takes a great degree of control and discipline to execute every note so consistently.
There isn’t a lot of improvisation in this track. It’s mostly an A-B-C structure where Dave plays the melody (either solo, or in harmony with other horns). At the bottom of the second page there is a breakdown section where Dave solos a bit more freely around the melody for a bit. Other than that, it’s mostly fills in and around the repeated melody lines.
I didn’t transcribe the harmony parts – I just went for what sounded like the main tenor line.
Fun trivia fact: Brian Culbertson is listed as co-writer. He and I are around the same age, and went to a jazz summer camp when we were in high school. He’s a great bone and piano player himself, and has a successful solo career as a smooth jazz artist. Well done Brian!
P. S. Bonus Content! Here is the (somewhat) simplified version of the transcription – for ease of sight-reading. It leaves out many of the grace notes and ornaments, but is basically the same transcription.
Sorry for the dry spell, looks like I got this one out just in time for the holidays! This Wynton Marsalis album is my go-to Christmas tradition. It’s a beautiful album, with very cool arrangements of the classic Christmas Carols. I’m pretty sure my family gets sick of me dragging it out every year, but I love it!
This is really the first time I heard Wessell Anderson. I’m really only familiar with his work in Wynton’s bands. He has such a beautiful sound, so round and full! He reminds me of a modern-day Cannonball Adderley. I really need to check out more of his catalog.
His playing on the melody is beautiful, pulling the time back just the right amount. His solo really swings, with a lot of very cool lines in it.
You may notice that I’m back to my Mark VI on this video. I haven’t played it singe I got my Conn, but I finally sent the Conn to the shop for a much-needed overhaul. I had a weird feeling that I might pick up the Mark VI and fall back in love with it instead of the Conn, but no. Although I much prefer the ergonomics of the Mark VI, the Conn outplays it by a mile! I’ve got to re-learn how to play the Mark VI I think since the Conn will be on the disabled list for awhile…
I wasn’t sure what I was going to post this week. Then, as I was sitting in the barber’s chair this morning getting a haircut, I heard this old Ray Charles song on the radio. That was pretty unusual, because it’s not a “Ray Charles” kind of barbershop (are there any?)
Regardless, I heard the track and knew instantly this would be my project for the day. I’ve heard the track a hundred times at least, and I love the solo by David “Fathead” Newman. I should have known it was him, but I’m embarrassed to say that I had to look it up to find out.
The solo itself is pretty short, and technically easy to play. The hard part is getting Fathead’s sound and style. It’s kind of a major blues, but without the traditional blues changes. The only tricky part might be the ninth bar where he’s playing the trills from high D. Most people I know play this by adding one of the right hand side keys. On my horn, the E (topmost) side key in the right hand gives the best effect – like a minor third trill.
I’ve been a huge fan of the piano player Michel Camilo since I heard his (US) debut album in the 80s. I’ve followed him ever since, even though he didn’t usually play with horn players. When he did, it was typically someone very technically proficient, like Paquito D’Rivera.
So when this big band album came out a few years back, I got really in to it. I loved the tenor solo on the title track. There’s so much to love about it – the tone is so smooth and pure. The technique is so clean and flawless. The altissimo is so clear and controlled. The solo builds beautifully and is filled with so many great ideas, and is so well executed.
I didn’t know who Ralph Bowen was, but I wanted to find out. Check this guy out, he’s a monster player!
No video for this one this week. I’ve been playing through it slowly, and can pull everything off in isolation, down tempo – but I’m a long way from putting it all together at full speed. Maybe that will be a project for me over the holidays if I get some time off of work. It’s going to be a real stretch!