We lost another music legend this week. This time, Maurice White, the founder of the band Earth, Wind & Fire. The impact that he has had on the music industry is immeasurable. He created so many classic songs that will live forever. In over 10+ years of playing with Doctorfunk, we’ve hardly played a gig that didn’t have at least one EWF song in the set list. They are definitely in the top five all-time great horn bands.
So when I heard of Maurice’s passing, I did what I always do: I listened. Then I got out my horn to play. I’ve had Don Myrick on my to-do list for a while now, so I figured there was no better time than today to tackle his most iconic solo.
And what a solo! Although the track is considered one of the ‘smoother’ songs in the EWF catalog, the Alto solo is anything but smooth. It’s only 24 bars long, but it’s filled with meaty bebop-inspired lines that are quite challenging to play. Picking them out of the lush mix was no small feat either! But it was worth it in the end to me, I can finally cross this song off of my bucket list!
I’l have more Don Myrick in the future as well – what an inspiration!
If you’re not hip to the Brand New Heavies, stop reading this right now and go check them out, because they are amazing. They are typically classified as ‘Acid Jazz’, which basically means that they play funk and hip-hop inspired music with some jazz influence as well. I continue to hope that this genre will go more mainstream since there is so much good music there, but it’s also accessible to a broad market.
The more recent BNH work leans more heavily into the hip-hop genre and seems to be losing it’s instrumental roots. I assume this is due to label pressure and a desire to cross over, but it’s unfortunate because some of the early albums were amazing. Brother Sister is one of the best, and this track kicks it off.
I didn’t really know Ray Gaskins outside of this performance. I’ve been checking him out on YouTube lately. He’s got his own thing going on, both vocally and playing the sax. He seems to be pursuing a smooth jazz angle, and more power to him. He’s a great player, and I love this solo!
I only recorded the solo, but the PDF includes the entire track. I totally botched the altissimo section at the end – he’s so fluid over the break, and I don’t know how he gets between the G and Bb so smoothly!
Hello 2016! For the my first post of the year, I wanted to dig down deep into my Maceo collection again. This is a track that I believe was recorded in 1974 by ‘Maceo and the Macks’, but you may find it on various compilation CDs (as I did) under the JB’s, James Brown, or Maceo himself.
The solo itself is classic Maceo in many ways, but it also has an uncommon amount of high altissimo. I’m experimenting with different fingerings for the high G to find one that works best in these situations. The ‘short’ fingerings are not very stable for me, so I end up using the ‘long’ fingerings more often than not.
I’m also experimenting with alternate Bb fingerings. Again, the ‘long’ fingering works best for me, but is harder to use in fast passages, which makes me suspect that Maceo has a ‘short’ fingering that works well for him. The alternate ‘A’ fingerings work great for me, but I haven’t found the equivalent for Bb yet. Any suggestions?
I decided to reach down into the archive for a ‘deep track’ this week. So deep, you may have trouble finding the recording! An Amazon link to the CD (but no MP3 download) is above. You may have to look under either Maceo, Pee Wee Ellis, Fred Wesley, the JB’s, JB Horns, etc. to find the CD. But it’s worth it! You may find it listed as “Pee Wee, Fred, and Maceo”.
Those post-James Brown recordings are super funky to me, and capture an important time period right before Maceo struck out on his own as the solo artist we know him to be today.
The transcription covers the entire track, but my video is only the alto solo.
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.
What a blow! This is a long track with a lot of playing. It’s one of those transcriptions that’s not that hard to write down, but it’s really hard to duplicate the performance since it’s so raw and full of energy. The sax+drum solo builds so well. The chromatic walk up during the saxophone solo is especially tough to replicate with all of the inflections, but I did my best.
I love this track though. This is probably my favorite track from my favorite Maceo album. I especially love the a capella horn section ending. I’ve played this arrangements in bands before and it’s a ton of fun to do live.
I started this project as a way to force myself to practice more. One of the side benefits that I’ve found is that listening to recordings of yourself practicing is very enlightening! This is one of those DUH things that every teacher tells you, but you never really internalize until you try it.
Listening to this track makes me realize how much I need to work on my pitch! Some (but not all) of this is due to the fact that I make the recordings with headphones in so I can hear the soloist well. But they also block out my own sound making it harder to match pitch. I think I’ll experiment with just one earphone in to see how that works.
I’ll admit, this post is a bit of filler…but it’s because I’ve got a really meaty post coming up next!
This track isn’t really a solo, it’s more solo fills and backgrounds around the vocals. But there’s still some cool stuff in it. The ending really shows the power of simple repetition. If you commit to it, it really works. Most players don’t have the discipline to play the same line more than once or twice. They feel that they have to get creative with it. And they end up overdoing it and distracting from what the rest of the band is laying down.
But for me the best part of this track comes around 0:30 seconds in (on my YouTube video). Maceo is in the middle of an 8-bar break, and he fills in with a single note. Again it shows the power of understatement and confidence.
It reminds me of a story of the artist Giotto, who demonstrated his mastery through simplicity and minimalism, rather than elaborate technique:
“…when the Pope sent a messenger to Giotto, asking him to send a drawing to demonstrate his skill, Giotto drew, in red paint, a circle so perfect that it seemed as though it was drawn using a compass and instructed the messenger to give that to the Pope.“
The year was 1988. I stopped by the record store after school with my friends, like we often did. I didn’t have a specific idea of what I wanted to get. Somehow I stumbled upon a cassette tape of “James Brown’s Funky People”, and decided to pick it up. I’m not even sure why. As a white kid growing up in the affluent suburbs of Chicago, the only exposure I had to James Brown was in Rocky IV. It wasn’t until years later that I would understand the cultural and musical impact that he had. But my friend Jonny gave a nod of approval when he saw my choice and I bought it.
This was my first exposure to Maceo, and I knew right away that I had found something special. As much as I loved Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley, they didn’t connect with me as musical mentors in the same way that Maceo did. I could relate to him somehow.
This was the first Maceo solo that I transcribed. It’s still one of my favorites. There’s so much rich material – classic Maceo. There are some really tricky passages in this solo, all these years later I still struggle with some of them. But it’s been a real treat dusting this one off and getting it back under my fingers again.