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.
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!
I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Seger lately. Although I grew up surrounded by his music in the 70s and 80s, it was always just part of the scenery, and not a big musical influence on me. But he’s one of my wife’s favorite artists, so I got into him more deeply through osmosis later in life. I was fortunate enough to see him on tour 5-10 years ago. Alto Reed (yes, that’s his name!) was playing with him then, just as he has been for decades.
A friend of mine had the good fortune to open for some of their recent dates and was telling me a bit about the tour recently. It made me pull out some of those old records again. So much good stuff! There aren’t a ton of sax solos, but the stuff that’s there is iconic, so I’m going to try to get through some of it here.
The first track I had to tackle was “Old Time Rock and Roll”. It was made famous by the movie “Risky Business” (which I was too young to see when it first came out) – featuring a relatively unknown actor named Tom Cruise, dancing in his underwear.
It’s a hard-driving rock/blues track. The solo is only eight-bars, but it’s a perfectly-crafted rock solo. Five licks in total, with a nice use of space. He stays in the upper register, which makes sense since it cuts through the mix better. The hardest part is the high Ab, but other than that it’s relatively easy to play. You have to get past the fact that it’s in the key of Ab (concert Gb/F#). It’s one of those keys that saxophone players have nightmares about. But if you play in rock bands, it’s all too common. Alto Reed handles it deftly, as easily as if it were A!
Here’s another Brecker solo from the Wiz. It’s from the first “Ease on Down” rendition, when Michael Jackson and Diana Ross first find the yellow brick road and start dancing across the bridge. For some reason, the solo is heard in the movie, but noton the soundtrack! On the soundtrack recording you just hear the rhythm track with no solo. I don’t know why they did it that way, since the other soundtrack recordings seem to be identical to what is used in the film.
Once again I’m using the EHX Riddle: Q-Balls to replicate the auto-wah effect that he used. I’m using mostly the same settings as the previous post, although I turned the ‘Q’ knob down a bit to about the 3 o’clock position. I also realized after the fact that I had some reverb on in the effect chain. Next time I’ll kill that – it’s too much!
He plays an eight-bar solo, and then doubles the horn line for two bars before the vocals come back in. He sticks pretty closely to the minor pentatonic blues scale, but also juxtaposes the major and minor third (or sharp nine) against each other a lot.
Just like the other solo, he does a killer altissimo run at the peak of the solo. I confess I had to punch that one in, I’m sure you can hear the edit on the recording 😉
I’ve been traveling for work, so no video this week. I wanted to finish up the Poppy Girls solo, and I knew that the back half was going to be too technical for me to play anyhow. So I’m posting the remainder of the solo this week (both parts in one PDF for your convenience)
My business trip was extra long, and I wanted to keep making progress, so I worked up a little hotel room rig that would allow me to keep transcribing on the road. These days I pretty do about 90% of my transcribing on the piano instead of the saxophone anyways, so I’m used to not having my horn handy. It’s quicker for me, and quieter for my family 🙂 This also lets me transcribe straight in to Finale and I generally work in concert key as a result.
For this week I went old school and did my transcribing by hand. I picked up a little pocket-sized book of staff paper at a fancy paper store in San Francisco. I put Transcribe! on my laptop, and a little virtual piano app on my tablet. Transcribe! has a built-in piano but it sounds awful and since I don’t have a touch-screen laptop, it’s not very convenient.
All of this worked pretty well, with the only real problem being that I had two sound sources and no way to mix them. The tablet speakers are good enough, but the laptop speakers are terrible, and you really need good quality sound to pick out the pitches. At one point I had one earphone from each in each ear. I’m not quite sure how to solve this without making it complicated, but it worked well enough.
So here’s the full Poppy Girls solo. The second part is pretty involved (it’s three pages and the first part is only one page). Lots of hard altissimo and technical runs. I did some spot-checking after transferring from my notebook to Finale, but there may be some typos along the way, please forgive me!