I was saddened to hear about the loss of Walter Becker, one of the founders of Steely Dan. I’ll admit, I have more of an academic appreciation for Steely Dan than true passion. It’s not music that I sit and listen to often, but when I do, I can recognize the craft that went in to its creation. No band has bridged pop, rock, and jazz so beautifully. The horn arrangements are always great, and they have worked with some of the best sax players ever.
This is one of the classic Steely Dan sax solos – by Pete Christlieb. I met Pete when he was the guest artist at my high school’s jazz festival one year. Of course I didn’t know much about him at the time, and I certainly wasn’t hip to Steely Dan back then. But he was a hell of a tenor player and left a big impression on me.
I’ve had this transcription on the shelf for a while. I should have posted it before my surgery. I spent a few days trying to work it back up, but my high chops aren’t where they need to be to pull it off. Maybe in a few months?
Update: I finally posted the video. It’s not perfect, but then, they never are!
Like most Steely Dan songs, the changes are pretty intimidating, but Pete plays beautifully over them. Picking out chord changes by ear is my weakness, so I cross-checked a few sources until I found chords that seem to match.
Finishing off the track from last week’s post – here’s the tenor solo from People Get Ready. I’m pretty sure that this is Tim Garland. He’s actually credited on the liner notes.
A nice 16-bar funk solo over (concert) C. Pretty straightforward tonally. I like how he plays the major and minor third against each other in bars 3. Nice use of the 13 in the next bar to give some tonal contrast, and he leans on the 9 a few bars later. With the exception of a few 9s and 13s, he sticks pretty closely to the blues scale. throughout.
I fly for work a fair amount, and this week I luckily found myself upgraded to first class! I posted on Facebook that I had been ‘bumped up to first class’ and a musician friend of mine replied with the album cover to this CD. He got the reference!
For those of you who aren’t familiar, Doc Kupka (founding member and baritone sax player for Tower of Power) started his own record label a few years back called ‘Strokeland Records‘. Doctorfunk was fortunate enough to be one of the early bands distributed by the label. Doc’s own ‘Strokeland Superband‘ also records for the label of course.
One of the things that I admire about Doc is the fact that despite all of the success he’s had with Tower of Power, he still has more to give. He writes A LOT, and if stuck to TOP 100%, he wouldn’t be able to get his own music out there as much as he wanted. So he started Strokeland. Doctorfunk even recorded a few of his songs on our first CD. He wants to get his stuff out there. Strokeland is a vehicle for that. So if you haven’t checked it out – go do it!
The Superband recordings are great. He uses different vocalists for every tune – whoever fits the music best. It’s amazing to hear Huey Lewis on this stuff, he was made for it! Fred Ross sings on this track. And Lenny Pickett takes a sax solo. If you’re putting together a funk/soul super band, who else are you going to get to take the sax solos?
This one is pretty short, an eight bar bridge over the four chord. Some pretty high stuff in the last few bars but otherwise fairly approachable. This is on my list to work up when I’ve recovered from my jaw surgery. I’m coming up on five months now and playing is still nearly impossible. But I’ve still got my transcriptions…
Years ago, I got a copy of a rare bootleg of TOP playing live in-studio at a radio station. The sound quality wasn’t great, but the playing was. It was early 70s, with the classic lineup, including Lenny Pickett.
Then a few years ago, they officially released those recordings as ‘The East Bay Archives’, a re-mastered 2-CD set. The sound quality still isn’t great, but I still recommend picking it up. There’s only so much they can do given the quality of the source material. The audio cuts out entirely in two spots during the solo. Some sound engineer must have been messing with something and hit a button that he shouldn’t have (twice).
This solo give us the chance to check out Lenny’s approach to Funkifize. I transcribed the original Skip Mesquite solo here a while back.
It’s a 24-bar solo, and the first 12 bars are pretty approachable from a technical standpoint. He uses that false-fingering on middle E that he likes so much for about two bars. It drives me crazy that I can’t figure out exactly what he’s doing there.
The next 12 bars get a little more interesting, jumping up to the upper register, with a climb at the end that slides up to a double-A. Crazy!
Since I’m still unable to play due to my jaw surgery recovery, I might as well break out the Brecker transcriptions!
Actually, this may be the only one I’ve done. I’m certainly no Carl Coan! Brecker’s stuff is impossibly hard to transcribe and play, and this solo is no exception. So I’m sure that it’s full of mistakes, but it’s the best that I can do.
I can play the first half reasonably well, but things get crazy in the second half (in typical Brecker fashion).
I recommend learning the first part if you can. It’s quite approachable, and has some great ideas. The first eight bars are a master class in developing an idea.
The next four bars play with rhythm and space, and then the next four bars add some interesting harmony and layer in some intervals to provide some contrast.
Brecker does an amazing job on this harmonically simple song. He brings in such rich ideas. He had such breadth and depth in his playing, it’s a tragedy that we lost him so prematurely.
Second Opinion was all original material, with the exception of this song. Yes, it’s that “Back in Black”, by AC/DC.
We thought it would be fun to throw in one cover song, but to do something really different, that we could put our own stamp on. We had done that on the first album with “I’m a Man” by Spencer Davis, and it went over really well.
There’s some debate about where the idea came from. My wife is a huge AC/DC fan, and we had seen them live around the time we were gearing up for the album. I think she might have suggested it to me, and I brought it to the band. We were already working with Jeff on the material at that point, so we were getting pretty close to going in to the studio.
The rhythm section guys recorded their tracks before we had any horn parts, which was pretty unusual for us. So they did a rough arrangement, and then when the horns went to do their parts, Jack wrote stuff to fit. So we never played this one live until after the album was done. But it goes over very well live – we usually close a set with it.
It starts off slow, just drums, and it’s pretty down-tempo. Most people don’t recognize the song until the lyrics come in, and some people still don’t until the chorus hits. By that time, everyone is on-board and singing along!
Alexey plays a very cool solo here. He pushes the harmony a bit to create tension. The fast runs at the end are tough to transcribe, but I think they are pretty close. And then of course he takes it way up high to end the solo!
Promises is another tune from Doctorfunk’s album “Second Opinion”. This one was written by Jack Halsey, our lead trumpet player, horn arranger, and musical director. It’s a slow funk groove with a great feel to it.
Alexey Nikolaev turns in another great solo on this one, with both fills around the verses as well as a feature solo as well. I love the intervallic work he does during the solo, both up in the altissimo range, but also down to the bottom end of the horn. It really gives the solo some nice contrast and feels unexpected.
When we recorded “What’s Up Doc?”, we had a fairly long ride out at the end. The band was vamping over the groove and the background vocals.
We decided to have Bob blow a tenor solo over the ride out. Alexey had the feature solo during the tune, but rather than have him play a second solo, it felt like a good opportunity to give Bob some time.
Bob and Alexey are both killer players, and I’ve learned a ton standing next to them night after night. But they are also diametrically opposed. While Alexey’s strength comes from his technical prowess, Bob is all style and delivery. Although he’s a tenor player, he reminds me a lot of Maceo Parker in that regard.
It turns out, this is exactly what the tune needed to fill the void at the end. Not pyrotechnics, but soul. And Bob delivers. He starts off very reserved. Finding the gaps and filling them in tastefully. The phrasing is beautiful, and he builds some nice lines as the song vamps and fades.
Bob left Doctorfunk a year or so ago when he had to undergo the same jaw surgery that I’m now recovering from. He comes and sits in with us occasionally, so it’s great to know that recovery is possible, and that I should be able to play again. Bob’s my hero!
What’s Up Doc? is a song I wrote as a tribute to Doc Kupka, of Tower of Power fame. As a baritone sax player, he’s obviously been a huge influence on me, and he’s also provided tremendous support to Doctorfunk over the years.
We worked with Jeff Tamalier (former TOP guitarist) to produce this album, and he continued to work with Doc through Strokeland records. Jeff had Doc record a bunch of his witty sayings to pepper in throughout the recording which make it even more fun.
This is Alexey Nikolaev’s tenor solo from the album. When I wrote the tune, I knew I wanted a tenor solo reminiscent of classic Tower of Power and Lenny Pickett. I didn’t even have to tell Alexey this, the first time he played the solo (and every time since then), he’s nailed it every time, and this recording is no exception.
I was in the studio when he recorded it. He did a few takes just to give us a few options to choose from at mix time, but they were all perfect. He’s a real pro, and a monster player, as you can tell from the solo!
The solo comes roaring out of the gates at the break over the bari walk up (hey, that’s me!) I like how Alexey builds tight four-bar phrases. The second four really knock me out with his use of chromatic bebop-flavored lines and precise rhythmic delivery. The ending is off the charts!
If you’ve never heard this live Rufus and Chaka Khan record, stop what you’re doing right now and go get it! It’s one of my all-time favorites!
Both Chaka and the band are in top form here, and it’s great to hear what the horn section adds to these tunes. I believe Jerry Hey did the horn writing, so it’s no surprise there.
This tune is a beautiful duet, and Ernie Watts turns in a masterful 16-bar solo. I love the phrasing, how he sets up and executes these perfect four-bar ideas that build to a logical conclusion that ties right back in to the tune.
Obviously, the ‘black ink’ through bars 9-10 are the most difficult. But as with many passages, the faster it is, the better it lays on the horn. The tricky part here is how Ernie changes it up in the second bar. I don’t know exactly what he’s doing on the horn, but he’s overblowing the line to hit a higher harmonic. My suspicion is that he’s essentially playing the same line, but adding the front ‘fork’ key in the left hand to facilitate the overtone. When done quickly, it’s a cool effect and very tasteful.