My playing hiatus due to jaw surgery continues, so no video this week. Instead I’ll be posting transcriptions from the archive.
This is one I did way back in high school. I learned altissimo by playing along to transcriptions of Marc Russo and David Sanborn, and a little help from some books like Ted Nash’s
Top Tones” and David Liebman’s book “Developing a Personal Saxophone Sound” (for overtones, etc.)
I dusted this one off a few weeks ago to clean up the transcription and get ready to post it. I forgot how HIGH it went – double G! D is pretty much my limit these days, although I somehow managed to play this back in high school. I had a very different setup those days, and apparently much harder reeds and tolerance for pain.
I started to work this one up, and I was hoping to get a video posted before my jaw surgery. But once the braces went on, I could barely play anything taxing, they just shred my lips with anything that requires any pressure. So I don’t know when (or if) I’ll ever get back above that high D again. For the kind if playing that I do, I don’t ever go that high, so although I appreciate the value of being able to do it, I realize that my practice time is better spent focusing on more immediate needs with tangible benefits.
That said, Silverlake is a beautiful track. Kind of a ballad that breaks into a funky latin/fusion feel for the solo. There are a few bars that sounds like he switches to soprano, so I indicated that in the transcription (while still notating for alto).
More Bob Mintzer solos from Mint Jam! I was hoping to get this solo done and recorded before my jaw surgery, but alas that was not to be. I got the transcription done and I was working it up, but it’s a pretty hard solo and wasn’t where it needed to be for me to record it. I’m confident I can work it up some day, but it will be a few months before I can play again, so I’m just posting as-is.
This is definitely the hardest solo I’ve transcribed from Mint Jam to date. Both in terms of the transcription and the performance. Lots of very fast passages, as well as some tricky altissimo.
There’s a lot of complexity in what the rhythm section is doing, and Bob plays off of it very well. For all that is going on, the track still manages to swing – what a killer band!
I plan on continuing to work through this album while I’m laid up. There’s an EWI track that I might even be able to work on while I recover, before I can play sax.
Back to Alto for a bit. My recent Bob Mintzer transcriptions led me back to the Yellowjackets, which led me to dig up some of my old Marc Russo transcriptions from high school. I found this in one of my hand-written notebooks from about 1988 or so, and cleaned it up and brought it in to Finale.
These transcriptions are where I really cut my teeth (or more accurately, my LIP) on altissimo. Even more than David Sanborn, he is my go-to guy for alto sax altissimo. He incorporates it so beautifully into his playing.
Overall, his sound is smoother than what I personally go after, but it’s a great exercise to try and emulate. It takes a fantastic amount of control and discipline. On this track, he’s got to sell a very simple melody, and he does it beautifully with a clear, bright, round tone that is very pure. I’d have to play this style for weeks to really get it in to my head, but it was a good challenge to dive in to this week.
Obviously the hard part is the altissimo on this solo – all the way up to high D right before the fade. I really have to visualize this note to hit it. Playing along with the track (LOUD in my ears) is a big help because Marc’s intonation is spot-on. The run up to the high D (E-G-B-D) was tough, I was focusing so hard on the D that I missed either the G or the B every time. I need to slow this one down and work it out some more, but my lip only lets me do it in small doses. It’s like doing heavy squats for your lip! Then you have to be strong enough to hold the high D without shaking, and bend it back down to the B and control the line all the way down to the octave below. Good luck!
More Bob Monster solos from Mint Jam! This track has a bluesy, almost gospel feel to it.
The tune itself is pretty intricate. It’s a little down-tempo, which is always makes it harder since there are so many subdivisions. The form took awhile to figure out. The solo is basically ABABABCDD. I was able to find a lead sheet online that helped make sense of it (also why the chord changes are so detailed!)
The transcription wasn’t too hard to do, but learning it turned out to be way harder than I expected. The solo itself only has a few really tough parts (I’m looking at you high notes), but it is long with a bunch of medium difficulty stuff, which makes it hard to get one continuous take with no mistakes.
I had so much fun doing the last Bob Mintzer transcription I decided to do another. I’m a huge fan of his playing. And I also love the Yellowjackets! I was big into them in High School and have a bunch of Marc Russo Alto transcriptions in my notebooks somewhere. I need to find those.
This track is probably my favorite Yellowjackets recording. It was recorded live, so it doesn’t have that ‘over-produced’ feeling that many of their albums do (sorry, just my opinion).
This track has a really funky groove and Bob’s playing is just killing on it. I wish I had a few more hours to woodshed this and get it more solid. It’s a lot of fun to play.
This is the last track on the Close-Up album, track #10: Camel Island. For some reason I could have sworn that Sanborn had recorded this track before Close-Up, but after a little searching, I guess I was wrong. This song seems to have stuck around as one of his go-to classics, and I can see why. It has a very funky groove that is hard to categorize. Hints of jazz, latin, funk, and it manages to swing at times. I’ve never been a fan of the ‘fusion’ label, but I guess it is accurate.
This track is definitely challenging to play, but I also feel as though it’s attainable. There are a couple of tricky altissimo passages, and some fast flourishes, but overall I felt good about my performance. I’m breaking in some new reeds, and my lip was killing me from all of the altissimo or I would have done a few more takes to pick up a few of the lines that I messed up. It’s a real challenge finding reeds speak throughout the full range of the horn. For a transcription like this where you need to hit (and hold!) an altissimo D twice, you need a stiff reed, but it can’t be too hard or you’ll kill yourself playing everything else (like I did on these takes).
I noticed that my altissimo G is really flat on this one. I was using the long fingering almost exclusively (LH 1-3, RH 1 + SK 1). I’m used to that one being more stable (even though I still missed it in a few spots). On my new Conn, the short fingerings are more reliable, but my brain is accustomed to decades of avoiding them.
I like to think that the quality of the transcriptions on the back half of the album (all of which I did recently) are noticeably higher quality than the front half of the album (which I did in high school). Let me know what you think!
Continuing through the Close-Up album, this is track #9: You Are Everything. This is a beautiful soul ballad originally recorded by the Stylistics in 1971. Diana Ross and Marvin Gaye also released a version in 1974.
The great thing about transcribing an entire album is that it commits you to completing every track on that album. if I were picking and choosing, I would definitely have skipped a few because they were too hard. This is one of those tracks!
Ballads are always toughest to transcribe and play because of the intricacies of the timing. The subdivisions get really small. Unless you’re an excellent reader of complex rhythms, there’s no other way to learn it than to listen over and over, slow it down, and feel it. On faster songs I can just sight read and get by most of the time, but not on this stuff.
In addition to the rhythms, there’s a ton of hard altissimo as well as some tricky double time runs. I could definitely use a few more hours in the woodshed with this transcription. But I’m committing to putting out a new solo every week, which means some are less baked than others.
My schedule has been crazy this summer with a ton of travel and gigs, so I’m squeezing in transcriptions wherever I can!
P.S. I’m trying out the suit jacket look this week. I might stick with it for all future videos. I remember reading articles in the Saxophone Journal by both Lenny Pickett and David Liebman where they discussed the benefits of always wearing the same thing. That leaves you with one less thing to think and worry about (and more time for practice). If it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for me 🙂
Continuing through the Close-Up album, this is track #7: Pyramid.
This track was a lot of fun both to transcribe and to play. It’s a nice medium tempo tune with a funky pop-feel to it. The melody is laid back and beautiful with lots of sustained notes in the upper register.
This is a classic ‘guitar key’ song, with tons of sharps. Again, I didn’t really dig into the chords. He pretty much sticks to a G# ‘blues’ scale, mixing pentatonic and chromatic lines.
The double time runs are a lot of fun to play – they actually lie pretty nicely. That’s always the nice thing about transcribing for the horn that the solo was played on. I bet the lines are impossible to play on trumpet!
Lots of altissimo in this solo as well, including uncomfortable notes (for me) like G# and A#. Of course he goes up and down across the break very fluidly.
I was really worried about recording this one since it’s one long blow with no real breaks (I could barely turn my pages). It actually came together easier than I expected. I got about 80% on the first take, and 90% on the second take, so I called it good after that 🙂
I can see where the track name came from – this solo is TOUGH! The melody is pretty straightforward (although there is a high G at the end of the A section), but the solo is anything but straightforward…
He plays a lot of figured that play off of the second and fourth sixteenths of the subdivision, giving some of lines almost a latin feel to them. Things start to get crazy in the ninth bar of the solo where everything is in the upper register. Fast syncopated, with large interval jumps all combine for some very tough passages (for me).
I realized after I posted the PDF that I didn’t really put down any chord changes once I got the key center figured out. For some reason these changes are very hard for me to hear, maybe it’s the timbre of the synths. I’ll keep working at it and post an update.
Continuing through the Close-Up album after my long detour into Prince’s catalog, this is track #6: Pyramid.
This track is an excellent workout for playing altissimo smoothly over the break. The opening line of the melody is a four-note motif starting on altissimo G and descending to F#, E, and down to B. There’s a variation which goes G-A-F#-E as well.
These figures happen no fewer than eight times in this track. I can play these figures reasonably well, but not well enough that I would write a tune built on them that I would have to record and play live hundreds of time! Although doing so would certainly be a forcing function for learning it better…
He plays an E minor pentatonic/blues scale pretty much exclusively throughout the track, but there are a couple of lines in this solo that really knock me out. I love. In the eight bar of his solo, he does a beautiful chromatic turnaround from the B7 to the E-7. Interestingly, he repeats the same pattern (not transposed) as a passing phrase over the D in the sixth bar of the second solo.
I also love the A-G-E-D 12 over 8 pattern that he uses to build into the climax of the first solo and again at the end of the fade. The rhythmic play works so well because he executes it perfectly!
FYI, this is the first transcription that I’ve done off of this album in over 25 years! The ones I posted previously were done when I was back in high school and only given a cursory once over as I transferred them from paper to Finale. That’s as far as I had transcribed into the album at the time. So from here on out these are all fresh! Hopefully you’ll notice an improvement in the quality of the transcriptions from old to new. If not, that either means I was perfect to begin with, or I haven’t learned anything in the past 25 years 🙂