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!
Continuing on the Bob Seger theme…this is one of his most famous songs, with an iconic Alto sax intro.
Alto Reed tells the story about how that intro came about here. Here’s a written account from Wikipedia:
Tom Weschler allegedly helped inspire Reed to create the opening melody. During recording, Weschler told Reed: “Alto, think about it like this: You’re in New York City, on the Bowery. It’s 3 a.m. You’re under a streetlamp. There’s a light mist coming down. You’re all by yourself. Show me what that sounds like.” With that, Reed played the opening melody to “Turn the Page”.
There’s no real improvised solo on this song. The parts he came up with are simple and clean. They’re not busy or flashy – very musical, and in service of the melody. Too many players try to draw attention to themselves, and they end up detracting from the song. Not here!
The saxophone is pretty low in the mix in spots, making it hard to hear at times. As I usually do, I transcribed on piano and then played on saxophone. Sometimes when I do that, I’ll make adjustments based on how it sounds when I play it on sax vs. piano. In this case, the concert A at the bottom of the triplet figure sounded like a concert B to me when I was on the piano. But on sax, the A definitely felt better. So that’s what I have here.
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!
By request, here is the transcription of Candy Dulfer’s Alto solo from the 1990 Knebworth concert with Pink Floyd. Requests like this are a win-win: You get the content you’re looking for, and I discover new material that I wouldn’t have otherwise run across!
I was unfamiliar with this performance until one of my readers turned me on to it. I was unaware that Candy had worked with Pink Floyd, and this has clearly been out there for a while! The only source material I could find was a YouTube link. The quality isn’t great, but it’s good enough.
This one was really tough to transcribe and play. There aren’t any particularly hard technical passages – it’s all about the rhythms. I clearly don’t work in 6/8 enough! It’s also slow, which makes everything harder because more notes are getting squeezed in to a single beat, so you have to subdivide like crazy (in 6/8)! Halfway through, the time doubles up to a 12/8 feel. You can try to feel it in 4/4, just don’t lose that triplet.
Candy has lot of cool lines as usual, and plays back and forth between the flat five (sharp eleven) and the natural five, giving it a nice bluesy feel overall.
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!
Here’s another Michael Brecker solo from The Wiz. This one is an extended solo in two parts. I’m still working on the second part (which is much longer and harder), but I want to queue this up before I leave the country for a few weeks!
This is basically The O’Jays “For the Love of Money”. An extended solo over the groove with no melody. Super funky!
Once again, I’ve done my best to replicate the effect with the EHX Riddle: Q-Balls. This time I dialed back the ‘stop’ knob just a bit because I felt like I was getting too many high partials in the tone.
I barely had time to work this one up, and I totally botched the high part (what else is new)! The opening develops an idea sliding down from the 7th to the 3rd, playing with the time. There’s the usual pentatonic runs throughout, but he also plays around with the b5. Right before the big run up he does a cool rhythmic pattern between the 7 and the root.
It’s nice to hear a funk solo where Brecker can really stretch out. He develops the ideas rhythmically really well.
I’ll probably just post the full transcription when I’m done with no video. I can already tell that it’s out of my league! Michael Brecker man…
The Wiz is probably my favorite musical of all time. The music is just amazing. Or course Diana Ross and Michael Jackson stand out, but the backing music is also worth a listen. In case you didn’t notice, that’s Michael Brecker blowing on all of those tracks!
He’s using some kind of auto-wah effect. The technology was probably a lot different in the 70s, but I’ve done my best to replicate the effect with the EHX Riddle: Q-Balls.
I set it on the high-pass filter mode, and pretty much turned every knob to its most sensitive settings, but with the start/stop knobs set around ’10 and 2′ respectively (clock face settings).
The solo itself is pretty short and sweet, but very funky. He sticks to the blues scale almost exclusively. He makes great use of repetition. Bar three calls back to bar one. Bar six calls back to bar five. The peak of the solo is a run that doubles (perfectly) up the octave leading up to the altissimo b5. That run is still super tough for me. I can nail it at 80% speed, but didn’t have time to work it all the way to 100% this week. I spent too much time futzing with the new pedal!
Here’s the last solo from the Peter Gunn Theme that I’m going to post, maybe the last Blues Brothers solo, we’ll see (for awhile).
Lew plays a great solo on this track. I don’t feel as though I quite replicated his sound on this one. He’s got a really strong upper register with a hint of growl to it. I never really solo on bari, I pretty much just play low, punchy notes. So this is good for me to work on.
I love how in-the-pocket his playing is in the first part of the solo. Really authoritative and driving. He does a couple trills at the end to wind things down. Nice and simple but effective.