As I mentioned, it’s Tenor month! So I thought I’d get things kicked off with a bang and start with a Lenny Pickett solo. It’s only one page, but he packs a lot in there…
Lenny Pickett is well-known for a few things. He burst on to the scene while still in his teens as the tenor soloist for Tower of Power, where he made his mark with his virtuostic use of ‘extended’ techniques like altissimo and circular breathing.
He left TOP in the 80’s and eventually landed on Saturday Night Live where he’s been sax soloist (and eventually, musical director) ever since. You can hear his amazing playing over the opening and closing credits.
Fortunately, he collaborated with TOP on this album, which has some great soloing on it. Both of the solos open with a straight tone that then adds a flutter tongue effect (where you roll your tongue while playing).
In the fourth bar of the second solo he uses an alternate fingering for middle E (in the staff). This is a signature move for him, and I’m just guessing that he’s closing the low C key to achieve this effect. If anyone knows of a better alternate fingering, I’d love to try it!
There are several spots where he quickly alternates between low B and altissimo B – a three octave spread!
Then there are the altissimo runs. Starting cold from altissimo E and walking down – three different times in the same track, and slightly different each time. This is a real challenge for me to pull off at all, but he makes it sound completely effortless and musical at the same time.
I’m still on the Prince train, and I don’t see any sign of it slowing down any time soon! This time it’s the live NPG version of the incredible ballad “Nothing Compares 2 U”.
The liner notes don’t actually say, but I’m reasonably certain that the sax soloist is Brian Gallagher again. I read somewhere that it was Kathy Jenson (from the Hornheads), but I’m pretty sure that’s not true. I’m only familiar with her as an Alto/Bari player, and not tenor.
I really wish I could do this one justice. It’s a monster of a solo! The 5th bar is what really killed me, so I mercifully cut out the worst of the audio from my track and ducked the rest. But I got back on track the next bar. I can (barely) hit that high F#, but I can’t get up and down from it nearly as gracefully as Brian can. It’s amazing how fluidly he does it.
Interestingly enough, Candy Dulfer hits the exact same concert E her solo. It just fits. It’s high on Alto, but much easier to play than on Tenor (for me).
This is another solo that’s virtually impossible to read – you have to listen carefully and slow it down to really internalize the rhythms. The lines that he creates are so ornamented and intricate that there’s no other way.
I can’t believe that we lost Prince this week. I’m still in shock over it. So I process the loss of this artist like I always do: by immersing myself in their music. I could write for pages about what his music meant to me, but I’ll save that for another time.
I wanted to find a suitable sax solo from his catalog for the blog. Prince worked with many great horn players over the years (Maceo, Candy Dulfer, the Hornheads), but he doesn’t often feature saxophone solos on his studio recordings.
I was familiar with the tenor solo on Sexy MF, but I had always assumed that it was Kenni Holman (from the Hornheads) playing it. But when I did my research, I found out that it was Brian Gallagher, who also passed away very recently at far too young of an age.
The track (and solo) are very funky, with a hard driving rhythm. When Doctorfunk was in the studio working on our album “Second Opinion“, we were having a hard time getting the track for my song “Better Get Hip” to come together. Jeff Tamalier, our producer, told the guys to think of the groove from Sexy MF. They didn’t even have to listen to it. Everyone knew exactly the type of feel and energy this track captured. I’m sure that you can hear the influence if you listen back to the track. I hope we did it justice!
Because Prince was so protective of his copyright (and because the lyrics are so explicit), I kept the volume on the original track very low, just loud enough to hear the solo in context. There is a radio-friendly edit of the track, but it doesn’t include the sax solo. I also age-restricted the video on YouTube just to be safe.
Recently, I was able to participate in a group effort to transcribe another amazing solo saxophone performance by Chris Potter. This time it was Cherokee done in 10 keys over almost 13 minutes.
Steve Neff was one of the key contributors and describes how the effort came about on his blog.
My contribution was chorus 5, spanning pages 11-12 below. Big thanks to all who were involved in the effort, especially Steve. Due to a family emergency, I threw two pages of rough notes and rhythms over to him in email and he was able to proofread and combine with the rest of the choruses.
Although these solos are amazingly complicated, they aren’t as hard to transcribe as you’d think. Chris is such a clean player that the lack of rhythm section makes it easy to hear each and every pitch if you slow it down enough. The hard part is taking those pitches and making them into something readable. Since there is no frame of reference for time, you have to make a lot of subjective judgment calls.
I’m mirroring the finished work below for ease of viewing on the web. And no, I won’t be posting my own video of me playing along because this is way above my skill level at full speed!
Even though I’m a saxophonist, I’ve always been drawn to Jaco Pastorius’ music, especially his solo bass work. Fortunately, there are many recordings of this work, but this track is perhaps the most famous (and rightly so). And it’s certainly my favorite.
Many of his solo performances involved looping and other effects, but not this track. It’s just beautifully written, with intricate harmonies and rhythms. It occurred to me one day as I was listening to it that Jaco made all of this amazing music with just four strings. Four voices. What would it sound like to perform this piece on four different instruments?
So I set out to arrange it for SATB saxophone quartet. The arrangement process was pretty straightforward. I didn’t add or remove anything from Jaco’s performance. I just de-constructed it into four distinct parts. I slowed parts of it down considerably to let the harmonies breathe more, and make it more playable. I also made the creative choice to dictate the length of the many fermattas through the use of held notes and time signature changes where needed. This reduces the need for conducting.
It also allowed me to put together a click track so I could perform all four parts myself. This was no small feat. I’ve played the piece with a live quartet, and it’s very difficult to play (especially the alto and bari parts). The rhythms have to be perfect, and you have to work hard to both pay attention to, and ignore the other players at the same time!
The result is the video below. Although I don’t normally like to do this, I did make some edits to fix some of the bigger mistakes that I made. My goal was to represent the arrangement in the best light that I could.
The piece is so beautiful and it truly defies classification – is it Jazz? Classical? Other? I think that it would be a great choice for a recital piece, or for any small ensemble performance.
The PDF contains the score with the four transposed parts. Feel free to contact me if you want copies of the parts themselves, or if you’d like it re-arranged for different instruments.
If you end up performing it, send me a video, I’d love to hear it!
Tenor Sax! I’ve done a ton of killer Tenor transcriptions, but the problem is, 99% are filled with altissimo passages that I can’t pull off. Tenor is the horn that I have the fewest number of hours on (by a huge margin), and my altissimo chops just aren’t there. But this solo doesn’t have any (which is actually surprising for Alexey since he has monster high chops).
Alexey is a local Seattle guy, but he’s a world-class sax player. I’ve played alongside him in Doctorfunk for over ten years and it’s a real treat hearing him solo night after night. This solo is a typical example of his playing – very technical, but clean and fluid. Great harmonic ideas – nothing too outside, but nice use of chord extensions and intervals to provide color.
Since this CD is hard to find, I’m providing a YouTube link as well.