Kenny Garrett – Amandla

Well, I didn’t finish off this album in 2015 like I had hoped, but maybe with a little luck I’ll finish it in January of 2016!

Believe it or not, this is probably one of the hardest solo transcriptions I’ve ever done. Much of the track has a ‘half-time’ feel that floats. There’s nothing to grab on to, but the time is there – rock solid. It’s a brilliant arrangement!

This is one of those situations where you don’t really appreciate the track until you transcribe it and really have to dig in to what’s going on. The changes on this song are so beautiful, and the feel that is created by the rhythm section is so amazing.

I did my best to capture what I felt was going on time-wise, but I’m sure others might have a different interpretation. If so, I’d love to hear it! For a change, my performance of the solo was based more on feel than on reading the rhythms strictly (and I still didn’t get close enough for my taste).

But check this track out – Kenny’s playing is amazing, with some beautiful lines and rhythms. The PDF starts with his main solo, and continues through the end of the track. After the piano solo, he fills in around the melody as Miles plays, and then trades with Miles as the tune rides out. can you imagine trading with Miles Davis??

Kenny Garrett - Amandla




P.S. My first post with the new Alto mouthpiece!

New Alto Mouthpiece!

Yesterday I got a new Alto mouthpiece in the mail! I’ve been playing RPC mouthpieces on Tenor and Bari for a few years now, but for some reason I never made the switch on Alto.

I’ve grown increasingly unhappy with my current Alto mouthpiece – a Lakey 7*3, which I’ve been playing for about five years. It’s got a nice edge to it, and it projects well, but the sound is a bit shrill and thin for my taste. It’s also difficult to control. The pitch is squirrelly and I find it hard to control. it doesn’t squeak, but notes will randomly ‘crack’, playing a different partial/overtone than what’s intended. I’ve never had that problem with any of my previous mouthpieces.

Anyway, I got a ’90B’ mouthpiece from Ron Cohelo. Ron is a great guy. He hand-makes each mouthpiece to order. With each mouthpiece, he has taken the time to talk to me at length about my approach and concept for that horn, what I’m going for, what I’ve tried, reed preferences, the works. He works alone, so the process can take awhile, but it’s worth it.

The new mouthpiece will take some getting used to, but my initial impressions are very positive. It still projects well, and can get a nice bright sound without sounding shrill and thin. But overall it sounds warmer. It’s also much more stable and centered. The pitch has been excellent, and I haven’t had any control problems.

That said, I’ll have to work with it for a while to get comfortable again. I’ve got to find my altissimo notes on this new mouthpiece. I’ve also got to experiment with some reeds. I had been playing 2.5 ‘green box’ Vandoren Java reeds with the Lakey, but these feel too soft now. Ron sent a few different strength Rico Jazz Select reeds to try, and they all worked well. But so far my preference with the new mouthpiece has been for 2.5 ‘red box’ Java reeds.

I’ve also noticed that my Francois Louis ‘pure brass’ ligature doesn’t work well with the shape of the Alto RPC (which is odd because it works fine on Tenor). I can’t seem to tighten it enough to keep it from slipping. Luckily, Ron provides a simple (he calls it ‘cheap’) ligature with the mouthpiece. But it works surprisingly well! Maybe ligatures are over-rated…they just need to keep the reed in place after all.

BTW, I don’t get any endorsements for mouthpieces or reeds from any of the manufacturers I mention here or on my gear page. These are just my honest opinions 🙂


Portrait of Tracy – SATB Sax Quartet arrangement

Even though I’m a saxophonist, I’ve always been drawn to Jaco Pastorius’ music, especially his solo bass work. Fortunately, there are many recordings of this work, but this track is perhaps the most famous (and rightly so). And it’s certainly my favorite.

Many of his solo performances involved looping and other effects, but not this track. It’s just beautifully written, with intricate harmonies and rhythms. It occurred to me one day as I was listening to it that Jaco made all of this amazing music with just four strings. Four voices. What would it sound like to perform this piece on four different instruments?

So I set out to arrange it for SATB saxophone quartet. The arrangement process was pretty straightforward. I didn’t add or remove anything from Jaco’s performance. I just de-constructed it into four distinct parts. I slowed parts of it down considerably to let the harmonies breathe more, and make it more playable. I also made the creative choice to dictate the length of the many fermattas through the use of held notes and time signature changes where needed. This reduces the need for conducting.

It also allowed me to put together a click track so I could perform all four parts myself. This was no small feat. I’ve played the piece with a live quartet, and it’s very difficult to play (especially the alto and bari parts). The rhythms have to be perfect, and you have to work hard to both pay attention to, and ignore the other players at the same time!

The result is the video below. Although I don’t normally like to do this, I did make some edits to fix some of the bigger mistakes that I made. My goal was to represent the arrangement in the best light that I could.

The piece is so beautiful and it truly defies classification – is it Jazz? Classical? Other? I think that it would be a great choice for a recital piece, or for any small ensemble performance.

The PDF contains the score with the four transposed parts. Feel free to contact me if you want copies of the parts themselves, or if you’d like it re-arranged for different instruments.

If you end up performing it, send me a video, I’d love to hear it!

Portrait of Tracy (SATB)




David Sanborn – Young Americans

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.

David Sanborn - Young Americans




Ray Gaskins – Have a Good Time

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!

Ray Gaskins - Have a Good Time




Maceo Parker – Parrty Pts. 1 and 2

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?

Maceo Parker - Parrty Pts. 1 and 2




December 2015 Playlist

December 2015

November 2015

October 2015

September 2015