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.
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.
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!