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.
Stevie Wonder - Boogie On Reggae Woman - 1
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.
Tim Garland - People Get Ready
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!
BNH - People Get Ready
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…
Lenny Pickett - Bumped Up to First Class
Years ago, I got a copy of a rare bootleg of TOP playing live in-studio at a radio station. The sound quality wasn’t great, but the playing was. It was early 70s, with the classic lineup, including Lenny Pickett.
Then a few years ago, they officially released those recordings as ‘The East Bay Archives’, a re-mastered 2-CD set. The sound quality still isn’t great, but I still recommend picking it up. There’s only so much they can do given the quality of the source material. The audio cuts out entirely in two spots during the solo. Some sound engineer must have been messing with something and hit a button that he shouldn’t have (twice).
This solo give us the chance to check out Lenny’s approach to Funkifize. I transcribed the original Skip Mesquite solo here a while back.
It’s a 24-bar solo, and the first 12 bars are pretty approachable from a technical standpoint. He uses that false-fingering on middle E that he likes so much for about two bars. It drives me crazy that I can’t figure out exactly what he’s doing there.
The next 12 bars get a little more interesting, jumping up to the upper register, with a climb at the end that slides up to a double-A. Crazy!
Lenny Pickett - You Got to Funkifize
This is a solo that I worked up during my binge of Prince music after his death. Prince produced this album, and pretty much discovered Sheila E.
I wasn’t familiar with Larry Williams or his music prior to this. I had to do some digging to find out who played the solo. But it’s clear from his web site that he’s a top-flight session player who has played with just about everyone!
There’s a lot going on in this track. It opens with just sax and rhythm. Larry plays very ‘out’ for a pop track, with lots of chromatic substitutions and overtones. There are some very cool chromatic runs in this section, which takes up the first page.
The second page is the solo that happens after the vocals. Great use of altissimo, and more overtone runs as well. But some really iconic licks in there around bar 12-16 of the main solo.
After the solo there is an extended four-minute drum break. It’s hard to believe that a pop single ran over 9 minutes long! There’s some amazing percussion work by Sheila E here. I didn’t transcribe all of the sax licks in this. For the most part, it’s just re-stating the melody lick. But there is a bit more towards the end. I was mostly in to the solos themselves.
Larry Williams - Glamorous Life
Update: Adding a version transposed for Bb clarinet by request!
Larry Williams - Glamorous Life (Bb)
Since I’m still unable to play due to my jaw surgery recovery, I might as well break out the Brecker transcriptions!
Actually, this may be the only one I’ve done. I’m certainly no Carl Coan! Brecker’s stuff is impossibly hard to transcribe and play, and this solo is no exception. So I’m sure that it’s full of mistakes, but it’s the best that I can do.
I can play the first half reasonably well, but things get crazy in the second half (in typical Brecker fashion).
I recommend learning the first part if you can. It’s quite approachable, and has some great ideas. The first eight bars are a master class in developing an idea.
The next four bars play with rhythm and space, and then the next four bars add some interesting harmony and layer in some intervals to provide some contrast.
Brecker does an amazing job on this harmonically simple song. He brings in such rich ideas. He had such breadth and depth in his playing, it’s a tragedy that we lost him so prematurely.
Michael Brecker - Candy
One of the things that impresses me about Lenny Pickett is that he’s not just a virtuoso on one instrument (the tenor saxophone), he’s also a prolific doubler.
He’s got amazing tone and technique on the flute, and in this recording he really gets to stretch out and show off his flute chops. I’ve seen TOP a number of times, and I’ve always wished that they would incorporate more flute in the horn section. It fits so beautifully in to the classic soul ballad sound.
This track is no exception. For me, it’s the epitome of a sould ballad. Powerful lead vocal with beautiful backing vocals, soaring horns, and a bubbling rhythm section underneath. The solo section slips into a double time latin feel that’s just perfect.
This a live recording, and they execute it brilliantly. Well done guys!
Lenny Pickett - Sparkling in the Sand
Time for some flute! This was the first flute solo I ever transcribed. I’ll admit that I probably bought this album ironically back in High School because of the smurfs on the cover, but when I listened to it, I realized that it was the real deal. There are so many good tunes on this album, including one of my favorite Chick Corea compositions – Samba Song.
Joe Farrell’s playing on this tune is beautiful. He plays tenor on the album as well, and I’m a big fan of his sax playing too, but I have to say he’s probably my biggest influence on flute. Without even listening to the track, you can tell how masterfully he builds the solo from beginning to end. Just look at the page to see how the register gradually moves up and the density of notes increases as he builds. And of course when you listen to it you’ll hear how masterfully it’s executed.
I was hoping that one positive side effect of my jaw surgery would be a lot of down time from the saxophone that I could channel in to my flute playing. Alas, that was not to be. I wasn’t prepared for the fact that my lower lip would be 100% numb for 6+ months! While I’ve started to slowly pick up the saxophone again, I can’t make a note on flute because I can’t feel where it is on my lip. If I play in front of a mirror I can get a note out, but it’s frustrating to say the least.
Joe Farrell - Friends
Here’s the trumpet solo from Bring the Funky back. To me, this is the centerpiece of the whole song. The whole tune is a driving, up-tempo funk feel – opening with a fade into an organ solo, and then in to a guitar solo.
But after the guitar solo, the rhythm section breaks down to a floating feel that feels very loose even though the time never actually stops. Greg comes in with a harmon mute, playing around with the different tonalities that the keys are laying down.
Then after 24 bars of the breakdown feel, the band comes back in and kicks it back in to high gear. Greg loses the mute and goes for broke over the last eight bars.
He does a great job of building through to the end of the chorus, a very cool solo! I should transcribe more trumpet solos. The nature of the instrument leads to a different set of ‘comfortable’ patterns, so playing transcriptions from other instruments is a good way of stretching your comfort zone.
Greg Lyons - Bring the Funky Back Pt. 2