I’ve been really getting in to the new Tower of Power album – The Soul Side of Town. Tommy P takes a million solos on it, and this is the first one, right out of the gate.
It’s only four bars, but it’s a killer! The altissimo isn’t too high, but he gets around pretty fast. The way he crossed the break in the first bar is amazingly clean. He sticks to the blues scale, and does a trill on the last note, which was unexpected but cool.
This track is very much in the style of ‘Oakland Stroke’, opening and closing the album with a (mostly) instrumental jam. Burning solos by my pal Roger Smith on the organ as well! I’ll work on the closing track next, it’s got a longer solo.
And now for something totally different! By request, here is the guitar duel from the Eagle’s Hotel California. This is probably their biggest hit, if not one of the biggest hits of all time from any band!
This is the first time I’ve attempted a guitar transcription here. It’s super-tough to match the phrasing and technique. Saxophone and guitar are both very expressive instruments, but in very different ways, which makes for a challenge.
The range also makes it tough. The Joe Walsh solo spans almost three octaves. I’d like another shot at that high Ab that I missed 🙂
I did my best to notate the articulation. I’m not a guitar player, but it sounds to me like not every note is picked, some are played by sliding the left hand from one fret to another. The more I could match the articulation, the closer I got to the feel of the guitar part.
In this song, Don Felder plays first. He takes an eight-bar solo and then Joe Walsh takes eight bars. Then they trade two bars each, and then they duet the rest of the way out.
I understand that Don Felder recorded an instrumental demo to pitch to the band, which included both solos and the duet. Don Henley made them stick to those solos for the final recording, although the key changed.
I spent so much time shedding the solo parts that I totally neglected the arpeggios at the end. I figured I’d just read them, but the key threw me in a few spots – oops!
Quick transcription this week – by request, here is David Bowie’s Alto solo from ‘Sorrow’. Nice and short, only eight bars. He establishes a simple theme in the first two bars, repeats it in the second, varies it up a fourth on the key change, and then re-states to end the solo.
David Bowie was an amazing vocalist, performer, and writer. He’s not known as an influential saxophonist, but I commend him for playing the parts himself to fulfill his musical vision.
This is actually a cover of a song originally recorded by The McCoys in 1965, and again by the Merseys in 1966. Neither have this instrumental part. The McCoys version uses harmonica instead. Bowie covered this in 1973 on the album Pin Ups, which is all cover music. I found a live recording on YouTube from the Serious Moonlight tour in 1984 where there is a much longer saxophone solo played no by Bowie but by Steve Elson (I think)
Another Grace/Leo duet. It’s a short one this week. Leo plays the bass part. Grace accompanies him in the beginning, then drops out until her solo. It’s only four bars, and for some reason my fingers kept getting tangled up in the first phrase. She comes back in with the accompaniment, and they finish it off with an altissimo ‘freak out’ before the big last note.
Big thanks to Derek Brown of the BeatBoXSAX channel. He posted a great video tutorial on the ‘overtone gliss’ technique, which is what Leo uses a lot, including the end of this video.
I’ve got to work on it a lot more, but it helped me get the basic concept and tongue position worked out, which had me a bit stumped before.
I’m off to New York for a few days, maybe I’ll get lucky and catch Leo in the subway (although I think he’s too big for that now)! I should get back to Seattle just in time to catch Grace at the Jazz Alley. I’ve never seen her live, so I’m not sure what to expect. I’m guessing it will be a bit more reserved than this video is! I don’t know how the two of them play what they do while dancing in the streets of New York and jumping up and down. I have a hard enough time playing standing still! More power to them…
It’s a long holiday weekend in the US, so I thought I’d slip in a bonus post.
More Grace/Leo duets. This time a short one. I’m pretty sure that this one is 100% composed, with no improvisation. It’s not terrible hard to play, although it moves quickly, and the alto gets up to a high Bb at the end. Other than that, it’s pretty straight forward.
I’ve got a few more in the series that I’m going to try working up. They only get harder (and longer) from this point onward, so it might take a while. I’m pretty excited to see Grace Kelly at Jazz Alley in Seattle in a few weeks also!
Another Grace/Leo duet from the same YouTube series. This time Grace plays soprano, which gave me a real workout. My soprano chops are not where they need to be. I just don’t play enough of it. Some day when I’m rich I’d like to buy a nice soprano – any suggestions? My Mark VI just isn’t cutting it for me. I got suckered in by the Mark VI mystique! As I get older, I’m particularly over playing a straight soprano with no neck strap. My body can’t take it!
This has been the toughest transcription of the series by far. In bar 13-14 Grace plays a crazy double time figure that I can’t really wrap my head around. I broke it down as well as I could but it just doesn’t capture what she’s doing. It sounds like she’s double-tonguing and using some alternate fingerings. What I came up with is close, but not nearly the same.
Leo plays the bass role in this one again, but he gets some solo licks in as well. He’s got some amazingly dexterous altissimo for a bari player! I play a LOT of bari, but it’s all horn section work in the lowest octave. So I like to think that I do pretty on the bass parts, but my upper register isn’t as solid. And I’ve never invested the time in altissimo on bari. My setup certainly isn’t optimized for it. These videos have inspired me to give it a shot, but I’m going to have to experiment with some different reed options I think.
The timing on these videos is super tough. They’re playing on the street while dancing around, so the time flexes quite a bit. My solution is to just listen and play along a ton until I feel where to push and where to lay back to stay in sync. Still, I ended up fixing a few timing issues in the video where I got off.
For some reason, my camera had some auto-focus issues at the beginning – sorry about that! I also think I figured out why the audio for the last two videos was panned hard left. Hopefully that’s fixed now, and I’ll try to fix the existing videos if I can.
I’m posting the two parts separately this time, instead in score form. Let me know if you have a preference for these duets?
This one is pretty short, with no improvisation. Just 24 bars. But it’s a fun syncopated melody a four bar AABBAA form. Grace has a lot more fun bending the notes in the B sections than I did, I should have played that up more.
I’ve seen a few other transcriptions online, but different people have different ideas about what they are playing. I hope mine is accurate, but if not, please call me out so I can fix it!
I really should spend more time notating the articulations, but my tendency is just to listen for that and feel it. In this case, the A sections are all very short and punchy with the B sections more lyrical and connected.
I’ve been binge-watching videos by these two on YouTube lately. They are so much fun! I’ve enjoyed watching both of these artists separately, and I love the collaborations they’ve been putting out, so I figured it would make good material for the blog.
I first became aware of Grace a few years ago. She was somewhat of a ‘child prodigy’ and I heard her on the radio talking with Phil Woods, who seemed to be somewhat of a mentor to her. She has established credibility as a straight-ahead jazz saxophonist, but isn’t defined or limited by that label – she’s branched out in to all kinds of musical endeavors.
Leo became famous for his crazy dancing while busking around NYC. Videos of his performances quickly went viral. Many people we wrote him off as a joke, but if listen, yoully quickly hear that he can really play! As a bari player, I have a real appreciation of what he can do – even when standing still! I can’t imagine playing some of that stuff while pulling off those crazy dance moves at the same time. People used to say similar things about Lenny Pickett back in the day. If YouTube had existed then, imagine the things we’d see…
In most of these videos (there are many, and I’m working as fast as I can), Leo lays down a bass/ostinato part while Grace solos. But he also gets some licks in as well.
The performances are short and sweet. They are surprisingly tight (even when they are dancing through traffic in times square!) but they also manage to feel loose and spontaneous somehow. I’d love to see the background behind these – how much prep is done, what is planned vs. spontaneous, etc.
Most of all, these videos are a ton of fun. Jazz musicians are often considered dull and stuffy. Or, they are looked at as sellouts. I don’t appreciate either label. These two are the rising generation of musicians who are taking the music in to the modern age and embracing the social channels as outlets to connect with their audience. And I’m loving it!
Here’s one more Charles Neville track, this time on Tenor. I have a soft spot for this tune because an old band of mine used to play it in college. It’s super funky.
It’s a super short solo, only eight bars. The interesting thing is that he plays the entire solo in the bottom octave of the horn, which you almost never see in pop music. It doesn’t usually cut through the mix, so guys are always trying to play higher and higher to stand out. It takes a fair amount of control to play down low with control and nuance. He’s almost subtoning in spots, but the sound never cracks.
I included some of the backing lines in the transcription, but not in the video. It’s basically a two-bar phrase played over and over, sometimes repeated, sometimes not. There’s a key change at the bridge, but that’s just chorded in a section, no individual parts stand out.
The key is C# minor on the verses and solos, and Charles sticks strictly to the minor pentatonic. Always a safe choice, and it works here.
Charles Neville passed away this week, and has become my custom, I’m honoring him this week with a transcription of one of his most famous solos from the Neville Brothers hit Yellow Moon.
I love the Neville Brothers, and have been lucky enough to see them live a few times over the years. What an amazing feel, great songs, and of course, Aaron Neville’s voice is one of a kind.
I’ll be honest, I’ve not been a huge fan of Charles Neville as a saxophonist. Specifically, I always feel like he’s trying to play ‘outside’, but never quite pulling it off. Some players, like Maceo, never play outside. They don’t need to. Others, like David Sanborn, do it rarely, but when they do, it has a huge impact. And then there are players like Chris Potter for whom it is a higher art form, woven seamlessly in to the fabric of everything that they do. For me, playing outside the changes can add beautiful color, contrast, texture, and tension. But you have to do it with intention. The real payoff comes with the resolution, when you bring it all together. But it’s a fine line, and if it doesn’t feel intentional, or doesn’t resolve properly, it can cross that line and just feel like wrong notes.
In this solo, Charles is playing chromatically almost the entire time. That can also be used to great effect to build tension, which he does in this solo. I think he pulls it off well in this solo, although there are a few note choices that are questionable to me.
This track starts with a four bar solo before the vocal, and eight bar solo over the verse changes in the middle, and then another longer solo over the fade at the end – the same verse changes. I’ve included all three sections. You’ll need A LOT of air to get through the first solo. It’s basically two four bar phrases, and I could barely make it through each in one breath. There’s an interesting delay effect applied to parts of the solo, which makes the chromatic lines sound particularly dissonant. I chose not to emulate that in my performance because it can make it hard to hear what’s going on.
I’ve been listening to a handful of Neville Brothers recordings this week, and the one thing that strikes me most about Charles’ playing is his tone. He has such a bright, pure tone on Alto that I almost mistake it for soprano sometimes. That’s hard to pull off without sounding shrill on Alto. I guess that’s one of the things that makes the Neville Brothers sound so interesting – Aaron Neville’s has such a tender, lilting quality to it, Charles’ sax playing is clear and bright, yet the rhythm section is funky and dirty. Contrast works.