Wrapping up Tenor Month with part 2 of Barkan the Blues!
Part 1 ends where the piano solo comes in after rehearsal mark ‘Q’. Sonny picks up in bar 3 of section ‘R’ after the piano solo and blows for two choruses before jumping right into trading fours with the drummer for two more choruses (sections ‘T’ to ‘W’).
The drummer takes a chorus at ‘W’ and Sonny is back in with the head at ‘X’. At ‘Y’ it sounds like he’s going to play the head again, but really they go into a four-bar vamp/tag that carries them through the end of the tune. I did my best to pick up the changes that they are using on the turnaround, but it’s likely wrong!
This was a fun one to transcribe and play! I’m glad I toughed it out to the end. Although this concludes tenor month, I think I’m going to try to mix it up more in the future.
I should probably do a bari month at some point as well…
I wanted to end Tenor Month on a high note with a nice meaty solo. I’ve done a lot of short solos lately, so I picked something long. 5 pages, 16 choruses, 200+ measures of up-tempo Bb blues.
This is a Sonny Stitt solo that I used to listen to a lot in High School. I had it on cassette tape! I remembered the track vividly, but I couldn’t remember the name or the album it was from, so I scoured his catalog looking for it and finally tracked it down. But I love this track because it’s so in the pocket and straight ahead. I read a review that trashed it, but I have to disagree.
This wasn’t hard to transcribe, and not too hard to play…at 200bpm. But he plays it at 230bpm, which is definitely out of my comfort range! I spent hours ‘shedding some of those lines and a few still got away from me. And after all of the altissimo work I’ve been doing lately, I missed the one high G!
One of the things that I love about Sonny Stitt is how he played both Alto and Tenor, something which you rarely see. And he has his own sound on each horn. That makes sense to me because I definitely approach things differently when I’m playing each different horn.
I’m going to try to finish the back half of this tune next week, but it might take longer. He blows a few more choruses, trades with the drummer, re-states the head, and blows some more. It’s as long as the first half! Tenor month may continue into October…
I have so much to say about this track! No, there is too much, let me sum up. I’m oddly obsessed with Jaco Pastorius. I listen to him more than I listen to some saxophone players. I wore this album out several times over. I had it on vinyl back in the day before it was released as a two-disc set.
I’ve always loved this track in particular, and this amazing solo by Bob Mintzer. I’ve met Bob a few times, the first was when he worked with my high school band. We commissioned a big band piece of his and he performed the premiere with us. I love his writing as much as I do his playing and have played many of his charts over the years.
I wanted to switch gears for the back half of tenor month and do a new transcription, something I had never worked on before. This fit the bill perfectly. The transcription flowed really easily since I knew the solo so well. But it’s quite hard for me to play!
I love Bob’s playing on this track – his sound is big and soulful. The solo is funky, yet has some beautiful jazz lines and phrasing at the same time.
As always, I get hung up on the altissimo, especially the stuff right over the break. But it’s getting easier. I really have to relax and try less hard (if that makes sense) to make it work.
If you’re a fan of Tower of Power, but don’t know about Strokeland, go fix that right now, I’ll wait. www.strokeland.com
This is another killer Lenny Pickett solo. And what a great song! I just love a good hard-swinging 12/8 feel. I used to be intimidated by them, but it’s just 4/4 with a heavy triplet feel. Notating and reading it can be tricky sometimes if you don’t do it often, but it never gets old to play over.
I definitely got tripped up on some of the rhythms and a few of the high parts, but I’m amazed at how much easier the upper register has become for me just in the past few weeks since I started tenor month. This ‘practicing’ trick is useful!
Also, how great is Huey Lewis at this style of music?! I was already a fan, but now I want to hear more of him in this style.
Funkifize is one of Tower of Power’s most famous songs, and this is the definitive recording. The tenor solo is short, but iconic. For years I assumed that this was Lenny Pickett, and then I learned that it was actually Skip Mesquite, the original lead tenor player for TOP.
Sadly, Skip passed away a few years back, but his work will live on forever.
The opening is the hardest part – a cold start on altissimo E, held out pure and clean for three bars before devolving into a wash of overtones. With these high solos, I have to hear myself, so I only use one earphone, which makes it harder to match pitch with the soloist.
The fourth bar is one of those effects that I think is impossible (and impractical) to duplicate exactly, but I did my best to approximate what’s going on.
The rest of the solo is straightforward, and super funky!
I don’t know the full back story behind how Skip left Tower and Lenny came on board, but it’s clear from this recording that Lenny Pickett didn’t invent the style from thin air, he was heavily influenced by those who came before him (as is always the case).
If you want to better understand your heroes, listen to who they listened to!
I have to admit that this solo is a bit beyond me, but the completionist in me couldn’t post Part 1 without at least attempting Part 2.
The name of the game with this one is Placement. The high notes need to go HIGH and everything else needs to stay low! It’s easy to just psych yourself up for the high notes and rely on the brute forve method to belt them out with a lot of air, firm embouchure, and a fast airstream. But if you overdo it, EVERYTHING goes up high!
So this solo is a great exercise in control. You’ve got to get up and down from the high notes gracefully without losing control on the sensitive notes like G and G#.
Once you make it to the one chord, you’re pretty much home free (although I managed to crack the high A-Ab). Pay attention to the articulation and phrasing – he really sells the simple eight note lines with articulation. There’s some nice triple tonguing during the fade as well.
I may have exhausted my collection of ‘achievable’ (for me) Lenny Pickett solos, but we’ll see. Tenor month isn’t even half over yet. I should have paced myself better…
This track is almost the opposite of Oakland Stroke. It’s another instrumental jam, but this time it’s a slow groove. There are no difficult technical passages, but the altissimo in this one is killer!
Twice he walks down altissimo F-E-D, which is definitely pushing the limits of what I can pull off. But it’s great practice. My old nemesis altissimo G also figures prominently in this track as well when the band goes to the four chord.
I’m working on part 2. I have it transcribed, but it’s a bit harder to play than part 1 so I need some more time in the woodshed before I’m ready to post it.
This is a short one, but a fun solo to play. Only eight bars, and it really moves. If you’re looking to learn Lenny Pickett solos, this is an excellent one to start with. It’s pretty straight forward, and only goes up to altissimo G. Just slow it down and take it bar by bar.
I’ve been struggling with altissimo G on tenor. I can play almost a full octave above that much more consistently, but G eludes me. I’ve tried a bunch of different fingerings with no luck.
I found a blog post by Donna Schwartz that had some good general advice for altissimo which I’ll sum up as:
Pre-visualizing the note in your head/ear by listening to it and singing it
Priming your embouchure by singing the pitch into your mouthpiece and then playing.
These help me a lot for the upper register (above altissimo D), where you absolutely have to have the pitch in your ear to hit it. But the G was still problematic.
Then I discovered that my front ‘fork’ key was opening the palm key F too high. I adjusted the screw to lower it as much as I can and the G speaks much easier now. I’d like the key to be even lower, but that’s a job for my sax tech the next time I see him.
Once you’ve checked out the tenor solo a few times, go back and listen to the rhythm section a few times. It’s mind blowing to hear how intricate the Tower of Power grooves are, especially at this tempo. My band has played this groove a bunch, and every time we have a new keyboard player work with us, we spend at least an hour in rehearsal on this groove. You can’t just blindly comp on a feel like this. Every instrument has their part to play, and they all fit together perfectly like a puzzle.
Another classic solo from an early Tower of Power album. Soul Vaccination is one of their signature tunes, and this is a great solo. It’s actually fairly easy to play up until the last two bars if you can slow things down and break down measures 7-10.
I still struggle to figure out what Lenny is doing with the false fingerings over middle E. In bar 7, he’s clearly going down to D#, but I don’t think that’s what he’s doing in bars 8 and 10. I’m using a combination of D#, alternate # (with the low C key added), and dropping the octave key. But I’m not exactly achieving the same effect that he is.
Lenny pulls off the last two bars super cleanly. I cracked the high G a bit but I was happy that I could get up there at all! He does a bit of a shake on it, which I think is just done with the embouchure (like vibrato).
Note: The pitch on the recording that I have was off by at least 50 cents. I compensated for it in my app so it would be correct. I tried adjusting my horn to play where it was, but it throws the horn out of balance too much when I push it too far. The video I posted uses the original (unaltered) track, so I post-processed my performance to match it. Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time matching your pitch to the original track!
I’ll keep digging through my L.P. solos to see if there are any more that I can work up. I definitely have a bunch that are just beyond me right now (Knock Yourself Out, Squib Cakes, Ebony Jam, etc.), but we’ll see if I’m braver by the end of the month…
This is probably one of my favorite Tower of Power songs of all time. It’s also one of my favorite LP solos. Doctorfunk used to perform this one, but it’s in a bad range for our singer. I definitely miss playing it.
This solo really moves. It’s amazing to me that he was able to pull off some of these lines at that speed. I broke the solo down and practiced it at 50% speed for about an hour before speeding up. At 50%, it feels do-able, and then you listen to it at full speed and your
head just spins.
Take a minute to appreciate the arc that he creates in just 16 bars. The first five bars are pretty laid back – funky and in the pocket. building to a mean growl, and then closing the phrase in the six bar with a faster run. Then he puts the pedal to the metal for the next six bars closing with a crazy altissimo run. He winds it down for two bars, and then caps it off with double-time bebop runs over the changes for the last two bars.
There are a lot of signature licks here: Lots of repeated notes alternating against false fingerings, with quick pops up the octave and right back down. Once again, there are some killer altissimo licks. All the way up to high E, but this time at breakneck speed!
It kills me that he was only 20 when he recorded this.