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.
Continuing on my Blues Brothers kick with another “Blue” Lou Marini solo. This is short, but its a doozy! I transcribed this back in high school. It played an integral role in the development of my upper register, which I’m now learning all over again. I almost posted this with no video, but I decided to tough it out and work it up (as best as I can right now).
The first part of the solo is very cool. The timing is amazing to me, it’s way behind the beat, but somehow keeps it together without dragging. Lou relies on the 9th and 13ths a lot for harmonic color.
The last four bars are pretty tough for me right now. High Ab has always been the hardest altissimo note to hit consistently. The best fingering I can come up with is LH:1,3 + RH: 1, middle side key, and D# key. For B and C# I overblow D and E respectively.
The hardest part I have with my surgery recovery is control. Keeping the note from getting away from me and going too high is the challenge. The numbness makes it hard to get the feedback I need. But it’s a work in progress. A month or two ago I couldn’t get above high F at all.
More Blues Brothers! This time, a solo from the legendary “Blue” Lou Marini. Lou is such a distinctive player. His sound and his approach are instantly recognizable. For someone who is so highly regarded as a Blues/R&B player, his approach is much more ‘outside’ than you would expect (harmonically)
This solo is no exception. It opens with a minor third trill from the 5 to the flat 7. He bends up from the flat 5 to create tension. I chose to write it out, because it’s very even in time, and transitions so smoothly into the next line, I struggled find any other way to notate it. How many of us have started an idea with a trill like that only to get stuck with no way out of it? Lou shows how it’s done here, developing an idea and building it into a phrase that leads into the four chord.
The four chord of the first chorus is a good example of his harmonic approach, which is built on the extensions. He’s playing a line around the 5th and 7th, so it’s firmly rooted in the chord, but the other notes are the 9th and 11th.
The feel is also very different from Tom Malone’s solos, which are very on top of the beat. Lou plays with the time quite a bit and often sits on the back end of the beat.
This is another transcription that will have to wait for a video from me. My high chops are out of commission while I’m recovering from surgery, and Lou does a lot of very tricky altissimo work right across the break, which is hard for me to pull off accurately right now.
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.
For my first post back after surgery, I decided to go with an old favorite. As a kid growing up in Chicago in the 70s and 80s, few movies had a bigger impact on me than the Blues Brothers. This song in particular touches my heart, and the playing on it is great, so what better place to start?
This solo really swings, and I really love how he utilizes the full range of the horn. I play a lot of bari and use a lot of air, but I really struggled in spots to drive the whole phrase through to the end with the power that I needed. These are long phrases!
Harmonically, the solo is super straightforward, which is one of the things I love about it. C# (concert E) is a real ‘guitar key’, not always fun for an Eb transposing horn player to get around in, but he plays it beautifully with simple pentatonics, and very sparing use of the flat five for emphasis.
Update: I’m updating this post to credit Lew Del Gatto with the solo. Lew attributes the solos to himself in his bio (https://www.lewdelgatto.com/bio) and this is backed up by the fact that he was in the SNL house band (where the Blues Brothers originated) in the early days. Discogs.com gives him a vague credit of ‘horns’ on the track (citation)
It was Stevie Wonder’s birthday again this week, so I figured I’d work up a transcription of one of his harmonica solos again. Boogie On Reggae Woman is a classic funk groove, and Stevie plays two solos.
These are incredibly hard for me to notate because I try to be super precise in capturing what’s happening. Virtually every note is ornamented in some way – usually with a bend on the entrance or exit of the note. Sometimes it’s a clear grace note while other times it’s a bend.
I read about this solo from a harmonica player’s perspective here: http://www.harpsurgery.com/boogie-on-reggae-woman-harmonica/
You can see from the tab transcription on this page that it’s much simpler to read the tab notation for something like this, especially with dedicated shorthand for bends.
Stevie plays a diatonic harp on this track, which is very rare for him (he almost always plays chromatic). You would think that simplifies the transcription, but it doesn’t. He is such an expert at bending notes that he clearly plays notes that are not found on the diatonic harp. I slowed the recording way down to be sure!
I was hoping to have both solos done, but time got away from me this week, so I’ll post the second half later.
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 was listening to some old Brand New Heavies this week, and heard this track. I was really in to this CD in college, and transcribed the alto solo. It’s short, but it really burns. It’s pretty straight-forward: blues/pentatonic over C with some chromatic runs. But I love the sound and the attack.
As I was getting ready to post this week, I realized I didn’t know who the alto player was! They aren’t credited on the liner notes. The sax credits I see are Tim Garland or Jim Wellman. I suspect Tim Garland takes the tenor solo on this track. The alto solo comes in right before the fade at the end.
I don’t think it’s the same player laying down both solos. The alto player is definitely on the leading edge of the beat, whereas the tenor player is more in the pocket. That said, I play pretty differently on Alto vs. Tenor, so maybe that’s irrelevant.
If you know who the soloists are on this track, help me out so I can give credit where credit is due!
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…