Lenny Pickett – Knock Yourself Out

Since I’m unable to play for a few months due to my jaw surgery, I figured that this would be a good time to share solo transcriptions that I’ve done, but cannot and will not ever be able to play well enough to record (to my standards). This is definitely one of those solos!

It’s an epic live Lenny Pickett solo from Tower of Power’s peak lineup in the late 70s. The main solo is nine minutes long, almost 300 measures, and it has some amazing technical feats that I’ll never be able to duplicate. Crazy high altissimo, long passages of circular breathing, as well as some incredibly agile intervallic jumps.

But it’s also filled with some very funky playing, with a lot to learn from. When it comes to transcribing, I’m a bit of a completionist. I feel compelled to transcribe every note, even if I know I’ll never work up that passage.

I could spend weeks trying to learn to slide up to some of those dog-whistle pitches, but I know that the time would not be well spent. It’s not the type of playing that I aspire to do, so even if I could learn it (which is doubtful), I don’t see the benefit.

So when it comes to my practice time, I’m a true pragmatist. I look at a solo like this and I pick out the sections that I feel will benefit my playing the most, and I focus on learning those. Make no mistake – there’s a lot of great material in this solo to learn from!

One thing that I haven’t been able to figure out is the false fingering that LP uses on middle E (pages 8-11).

This is a no-brainer on notes like Bb-C# (finger the low note and overblow the octave) or F and above (finger an octave + a fifth  below and overblow to the second partial). But notes like D, Eb, and E don’t really change timbre when you simply overblow the octave. I suspect that he’s doing some combination of closing lower tone holes while also opening higher ones, like the F palm key. He switches very fast between the alternate and normal fingering quite a bit, so it must be something that’s fairly easy to do. I don’t think he’s putting his knee in the bell to drop the pitch of an F 🙂

If anyone has any theories on this fingering, please let me know! None of my experimentation has come up with anything fruitful.

Lenny Pickett - Knock Yourself Out

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Lenny Pickett – Business is Business

If you’re a fan of Tower of Power, but don’t know about Strokeland, go fix that right now, I’ll wait. www.strokeland.com

This is another killer Lenny Pickett solo. And what a great song! I just love a good hard-swinging 12/8 feel. I used to be intimidated by them, but it’s just 4/4 with a heavy triplet feel. Notating and reading it can be tricky sometimes if you don’t do it often, but it never gets old to play over.

I definitely got tripped up on some of the rhythms and a few of the high parts, but I’m amazed at how much easier the upper register has become for me just in the past few weeks since I started tenor month. This ‘practicing’ trick is useful!

Also, how great is Huey Lewis at this style of music?! I was already a fan, but now I want to hear more of him in this style.

Lenny Pickett - Business is Business

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Skip Mesquite – You Got to Funkifize

Funkifize is one of Tower of Power’s most famous songs, and this is the definitive recording. The tenor solo is short, but iconic. For years I assumed that this was Lenny Pickett, and then I learned that it was actually Skip Mesquite, the original lead tenor player for TOP.

Sadly, Skip passed away a few years back, but his work will live on forever.

The opening is the hardest part – a cold start on altissimo E, held out pure and clean for three bars before devolving into a wash of overtones. With these high solos, I have to hear myself, so I only use one earphone, which makes it harder to match pitch with the soloist.

The fourth bar is one of those effects that I think is impossible (and impractical) to duplicate exactly, but I did my best to approximate what’s going on.

The rest of the solo is straightforward, and super funky!

I don’t know the full back story behind how Skip left Tower and Lenny came on board, but it’s clear from this recording that Lenny Pickett didn’t invent the style from thin air, he was heavily influenced by those who came before him (as is always the case).

If you want to better understand your heroes, listen to who they listened to!

Skip Mesquite - You Got to Funkifize

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Lenny Pickett – The Educated Bump, Pt. 2

I have to admit that this solo is a bit beyond me, but the completionist in me couldn’t post Part 1 without at least attempting Part 2.

The name of the game with this one is Placement. The high notes need to go HIGH and everything else needs to stay low! It’s easy to just psych yourself up for the high notes and rely on the brute forve method to belt them out with a lot of air, firm embouchure, and a fast airstream. But if you overdo it, EVERYTHING goes up high!

So this solo is a great exercise in control. You’ve got to get up and down from the high notes gracefully without losing control on the sensitive notes like G and G#.

Once you make it to the one chord, you’re pretty much home free (although I managed to crack the high A-Ab). Pay attention to the articulation and phrasing – he really sells the simple eight note lines with articulation. There’s some nice triple tonguing during the fade as well.

I may have exhausted my collection of ‘achievable’ (for me) Lenny Pickett solos, but we’ll see. Tenor month isn’t even half over yet. I should have paced myself better…

Lenny Pickett - The Educated Bump, Pt. 2

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Lenny Pickett – The Educated Bump, Pt. 1

This track is almost the opposite of Oakland Stroke. It’s another instrumental jam, but this time it’s a slow groove. There are no difficult technical passages, but the altissimo in this one is killer!

Twice he walks down altissimo F-E-D, which is definitely pushing the limits of what I can pull off. But it’s great practice. My old nemesis altissimo G also figures prominently in this track as well when the band goes to the four chord.

I’m working on part 2. I have it transcribed, but it’s a bit harder to play than part 1 so I need some more time in the woodshed before I’m ready to post it.

Lenny Pickett - The Educated Bump, Pt. 1

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Lenny Pickett – Oakland Stroke

More Lenny Pickett as Tenor month continues…

This is a short one, but a fun solo to play. Only eight bars, and it really moves. If you’re looking to learn Lenny Pickett solos, this is an excellent one to start with. It’s pretty straight forward, and only goes up to altissimo G. Just slow it down and take it bar by bar.

I’ve been struggling with altissimo G on tenor. I can play almost a full octave above that much more consistently, but G eludes me. I’ve tried a bunch of different fingerings with no luck.

I found a blog post by Donna Schwartz that had some good general advice for altissimo which I’ll sum up as:

  • Pre-visualizing the note in your head/ear by listening to it and singing it
  • Priming your embouchure by singing the pitch into your mouthpiece and then playing.

These help me a lot for the upper register (above altissimo D), where you absolutely have to have the pitch in your ear to hit it. But the G was still problematic.

Then I discovered that my front ‘fork’ key was opening the palm key F too high. I adjusted the screw to lower it as much as I can and the G speaks much easier now. I’d like the key to be even lower, but that’s a job for my sax tech the next time I see him.

Once you’ve checked out the tenor solo a few times, go back and listen to the rhythm section a few times. It’s mind blowing to hear how intricate the Tower of Power grooves are, especially at this tempo. My band has played this groove a bunch, and every time we have a new keyboard player work with us, we spend at least an hour in rehearsal on this groove. You can’t just blindly comp on a feel like this. Every instrument has their part to play, and they all fit together perfectly like a puzzle.

Lenny Pickett - Oakland Stroke

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Lenny Pickett – Soul Vaccination

Tenor month continues with more Lenny Pickett…

Another classic solo from an early Tower of Power album. Soul Vaccination is one of their signature tunes, and this is a great solo. It’s actually fairly easy to play up until the last two bars if you can slow things down and break down measures 7-10.

I still struggle to figure out what Lenny is doing with the false fingerings over middle E. In bar 7, he’s clearly going down to D#, but I don’t think that’s what he’s doing in bars 8 and 10. I’m using a combination of D#, alternate # (with the low C key added), and dropping the octave key. But I’m not exactly achieving the same effect that he is.

Lenny pulls off the last two bars super cleanly. I cracked the high G a bit but I was happy that I could get up there at all! He does a bit of a shake on it, which I think is just done with the embouchure (like vibrato).

Note: The pitch on the recording that I have was off by at least 50 cents. I compensated for it in my app so it would be correct. I tried adjusting my horn to play where it was, but it throws the horn out of balance too much when I push it too far. The video I posted uses the original (unaltered) track, so I post-processed my performance to match it. Don’t be surprised if you have a hard time matching your pitch to the original track!

I’ll keep digging through my L.P. solos to see if there are any more that I can work up. I definitely have a bunch that are just beyond me right now (Knock Yourself Out, Squib Cakes, Ebony Jam, etc.), but we’ll see if I’m braver by the end of the month…

Lenny Pickett - Soul Vaccination

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Lenny Pickett – Only So Much Oil In The Ground

Tenor month continues with more Lenny Pickett!

This is probably one of my favorite Tower of Power songs of all time. It’s also one of my favorite LP solos. Doctorfunk used to perform this one, but it’s in a bad range for our singer. I definitely miss playing it.

This solo really moves. It’s amazing to me that he was able to pull off some of these lines at that speed. I broke the solo down and practiced it at 50% speed for about an hour before speeding up. At 50%, it feels do-able, and then you listen to it at full speed and your
head just spins.

Take a minute to appreciate the arc that he creates in just 16 bars. The first five bars are pretty laid back – funky and in the pocket. building to a mean growl, and then closing the phrase in the six bar with a faster run. Then he puts the pedal to the metal for the next six bars closing with a crazy altissimo run. He winds it down for two bars, and then caps it off with double-time bebop runs over the changes for the last two bars.

There are a lot of signature licks here: Lots of repeated notes alternating against false fingerings, with quick pops up the octave and right back down. Once again, there are some killer altissimo licks. All the way up to high E, but this time at breakneck speed!

It kills me that he was only 20 when he recorded this.

Lenny Pickett - Only So Much Oil In the Ground

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Lenny Pickett – Come On With It

As I mentioned, it’s Tenor month! So I thought I’d get things kicked off with a bang and start with a Lenny Pickett solo. It’s only one page, but he packs a lot in there…

Lenny Pickett is well-known for a few things. He burst on to the scene while still in his teens as the tenor soloist for Tower of Power, where he made his mark with his virtuostic use of ‘extended’ techniques like altissimo and circular breathing.

He left TOP in the 80’s and eventually landed on Saturday Night Live where he’s been sax soloist (and eventually, musical director) ever since. You can hear his amazing playing over the opening and closing credits.

Fortunately, he collaborated with TOP on this album, which  has some great soloing on it. Both of the solos open with a straight tone that then adds a flutter tongue effect (where you roll your tongue while playing).

In the fourth bar of the second solo he uses an alternate fingering for middle E (in the staff). This is a signature move for him, and I’m just guessing that he’s closing the low C key to achieve this effect. If anyone knows of a better alternate fingering, I’d love to try it!

There are several spots where he quickly alternates between low B and altissimo B – a three octave spread!

Then there are the altissimo runs. Starting cold from altissimo E and walking down – three different times in the same track, and slightly different each time. This is a real challenge for me to pull off at all, but he makes it sound completely effortless and musical at the same time.

Lenny Pickeet - Come On With It

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Tom Politzer – You Met Your Match

I can’t believe I’ve gone this long without posting a single sax solo from Tower of Power! My primary gig with Doctorfunk is practically a TOP tribute act. But I play Bari sax in that band because my tenor chops aren’t strong enough to pull off many sax solos in that book. That hasn’t stopped me from transcribing a ton of Lenny Pickett solos over the years, but playing them well enough to post here is another matter…

This album is really interesting – rather than playing original material, they went back and covered a bunch of classic soul tunes. This is the first track on the album – an absolutely killing version of a classic Stevie Wonder song. Tom plays an alto solo, which is also rare for a TOP album.

I’ve known and loved this album since it came out, but I hadn’t listened to it recently. I showed up for a gig a few weeks ago and this track was playing as I walked in, but I didn’t hear the beginning of the track, I just heard the alto solo. I really dug it, and actually thought it was Candy Dulfer at first. But then the vocals came back in and I recognized the song.

This is basically a 16-bar blues in concert Ab. The first eight are straight blues scale, but then at the change he throws in some nice bebop lines, leading up to a nice tasteful altissimo run. I tried switching to my short/front altissimo fingerings for the G/Ab this time. Still a little flat on G, but they worked better for the line I think. I still need to work on my altissimo over the break.

Tom Politzer - You Met Your Match

 

Enjoy!

@SDartSax