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.
It feels good to have finished this whole album. I definitely learned a lot, and it was a great way for me to break in my new Alto! I can definitely hear and feel a difference in my playing from the first track to the last, and hopefully you can as well.
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 🙂