I’ve been listening to a lot of Bob Seger lately. Although I grew up surrounded by his music in the 70s and 80s, it was always just part of the scenery, and not a big musical influence on me. But he’s one of my wife’s favorite artists, so I got into him more deeply through osmosis later in life. I was fortunate enough to see him on tour 5-10 years ago. Alto Reed (yes, that’s his name!) was playing with him then, just as he has been for decades.
A friend of mine had the good fortune to open for some of their recent dates and was telling me a bit about the tour recently. It made me pull out some of those old records again. So much good stuff! There aren’t a ton of sax solos, but the stuff that’s there is iconic, so I’m going to try to get through some of it here.
The first track I had to tackle was “Old Time Rock and Roll”. It was made famous by the movie “Risky Business” (which I was too young to see when it first came out) – featuring a relatively unknown actor named Tom Cruise, dancing in his underwear.
It’s a hard-driving rock/blues track. The solo is only eight-bars, but it’s a perfectly-crafted rock solo. Five licks in total, with a nice use of space. He stays in the upper register, which makes sense since it cuts through the mix better. The hardest part is the high Ab, but other than that it’s relatively easy to play. You have to get past the fact that it’s in the key of Ab (concert Gb/F#). It’s one of those keys that saxophone players have nightmares about. But if you play in rock bands, it’s all too common. Alto Reed handles it deftly, as easily as if it were A!
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.
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.
If you’ve never heard this live Rufus and Chaka Khan record, stop what you’re doing right now and go get it! It’s one of my all-time favorites!
Both Chaka and the band are in top form here, and it’s great to hear what the horn section adds to these tunes. I believe Jerry Hey did the horn writing, so it’s no surprise there.
This tune is a beautiful duet, and Ernie Watts turns in a masterful 16-bar solo. I love the phrasing, how he sets up and executes these perfect four-bar ideas that build to a logical conclusion that ties right back in to the tune.
Obviously, the ‘black ink’ through bars 9-10 are the most difficult. But as with many passages, the faster it is, the better it lays on the horn. The tricky part here is how Ernie changes it up in the second bar. I don’t know exactly what he’s doing on the horn, but he’s overblowing the line to hit a higher harmonic. My suspicion is that he’s essentially playing the same line, but adding the front ‘fork’ key in the left hand to facilitate the overtone. When done quickly, it’s a cool effect and very tasteful.
Happy birthday Stevie Wonder! Instead of waiting to celebrate these legends after they pass, I figure I should be celebrating them NOW while they are still with us.
So I grabbed this Stevie Wonder solo off of the famous Chaka Khan track “I Feel For You”. The song was written by Prince, so my Prince tribute streak is still intact 🙂 I love both versions of this song – Chaka’s version, which is probably much more well known, as well as Prince’s original studio recording.
But this track features an absolutely burning solo by Stevie Wonder on the chromatic harmonica. This track has peak 80’s production values: heavy reverb, delay, etc. so it can be hard to pick out what’s going on under the wash of effects, but Stevie’s playing is great. The harmonica has quite a range and really gets up there. I obviously took some parts down an octave, and arguably should have attempted a few more in the lower octave, but there’s no way to get better at your high chops without spending the time working stuff like this out.
The PDF contains the harmonica parts for the whole track, but the video only contains the solo.
More Prince. More Candy. Same CD box set as the previous two transcriptions.
This is such a beautiful song! Most people associate it with the 1990 Sinead O’Connor recording (and music video), but of course Prince wrote it. He originally recorded it with ‘The Family’ in 1985. It was hard to find that recording, and not worth the effort (for me), although some people swear that the original is the best recording.
Rumor has it that Prince did a studio recording of his own that was never released. Maybe it will see the light of day eventually? Until then, I’m only aware of his two live recordings – this one, and the more famous one that he recorded with NPG. I’ll try to work up that solo too, but my tenor high chops may not be up for it.
Candy really kills it on this solo. The third bar of the solo is pure genius the way she builds such connects such complex (and yet simple) ideas so fluidly – and nails it! I probably spent about an hour shedding that bar alone and still can’t play it as smoothly as she did.
And just try to play that high part at the end in one breath like she does. I like to think I get some pretty big air (I play a LOT of bari), and I couldn’t make it through both measures in one breath. But she pulls it off somehow!
The written transcription covers most of the song until the time stops. I’m only uploading the main solo to YouTube so I don’t run afoul of the copyright filters.
Slow songs are always the hardest to notate and read, so I really suggest listening closely to the recording as you’re trying to learn it. That’s always the best way anyway, but on ballads it’s almost impossible to do any other way.
We lost another great recently. This time Glenn Frey. He is most famous for his work with the Eagles, but he also had a successful solo career in the 80’s while the Eagles were broken up. If you haven’t watched the Eagles documentary, stop what you’re doing and watch it. It’s three hours long, but the opening scene where the band warms up their vocals on “Seven Bridges Road” is amazing. I’ll always remember Glenn Frey talking about how he learned the craft of songwriting. He lived above Jackson Browne, and heard him get up every morning and work through every detail of “Doctor My Eyes” on the piano until it was perfect. Over and over. Glenn Frey summed up “the secret” as elbow grease, and it’s the truth.
I grew up listening mainly to jazz music, so I wasn’t a big Eagles fan until much later in life. But you couldn’t escape the sound of Miami Vice in the 1980’s, and this song featured prominently on it’s soundtrack. So this is a song that I heard a great many times on television and radio growing up. It’s a classic pop sax anthem, and another guilty pleasure to transcribe and play!
The sax player is Bill Bergman, one of those killer players who you’ve heard everywhere, but you may not know their name or work. I didn’t realize that he’s a fellow Strokeland recording artist, both as a member of Jack Mack and the Heart Attacks, but also as a solo artist. I found a great video of Bill telling the story behind this recording.
There’s not a lot of soloing in this track. The signature lick is the three-note opening line: a half-step down followed by a major third. The melody is built around that motif. But there are some nice pop licks thrown in for good measure. There are simple chord changes throughout, but I lazily just called it all C#-7 in the PDF. This one is all about the sound – sing it out!
There are a bunch of sax solos in the genre that I’ll continue to work up over the coming months.
More Don Myrick! Why not? This track is perhaps his most well known work among the general populace. After all, this reached #1 on the pop charts, and had a music video that Don appeared in.
There was a lot of saxophone in pop music in the 80s, which made it a great time to be a player. Even though I was heads-down on jazz 95% of the time, it was a nice feeling seeing your instrument enjoy a prominent place in pop culture and the music industry in general.
So I have a soft spot for these sorts of solos, even though they aren’t in my wheelhouse of jazz/funk. They’re not super meaty, but they are a fun, guilty pleasure to play. Expect more to come!
This song is a ballad, which always makes the transcription tougher. I obsess over the rhythm trying to notate it as accurately as possible. The solo has a very rubato feel overall, so it’s best to listen and try to feel it as much as possible. Above all else, solos like this are a great way to work on your sound. Listen to how Don sells every note. Beautiful!
From time to time, I get asked to do studio projects for people. Over the years, I’ve done a few collaborations with The Fascination Movement. One of those tracks has been released, it’s called “In Code”:
While reflecting on the loss of David Bowie this week, I went back and listened through some of his work. When I got to this track, I couldn’t believe that I had never worked on it before! It’s such an iconic track for both Bowie and for Sanborn’s playing throughout.
I’ve heard people complain about Sanborn’s playing on this track – not that it’s bad, but that it’s too prominent throughout. I have to disagree somewhat, but I understand where they are coming from. I can’t fault David for this though, they probably just had him play over the whole track a few times in the studio, and then it was out of his hands. I would have done the same thing, assuming that they would use only a few bits and pieces here and there.
But there’s a lot of great playing on this track, and the transcription process also gives me plenty of time to sit and listen carefully to Bowie’s performance as well, and marvel over the energy and conviction that he delivers the vocals with.
The PDF covers the entire track – to the best of my ability…the saxophone is often low in the (busy) mix, and panned far to the left. So it can be hard to decipher exactly what’s going on, and even who’s playing what at times.
For the video, I included the opening solo, the second solo at the key change, and the ride out starting where the band comes back in after the long hold (midway through page 3 of the PDF). David’s altissimo work is flawless here. I’ve got to figure out how he does the A-G#-F# transition so smoothly. I’ve also got to work to get that high F# split tone back. I used to transcribe a lot of Sanborn in my college days (I’ll post some here soon) and I haven’t been playing enough of that style to keep it up.