Michael Brecker – Ease on Down the Road #2

The Wiz is probably my favorite musical of all time. The music is just amazing. Or course Diana Ross and Michael Jackson stand out, but the backing music is also worth a listen. In case you didn’t notice, that’s Michael Brecker blowing on all of those tracks!

He’s using some kind of auto-wah effect. The technology was probably a lot different in the 70s, but I’ve done my best to replicate the effect with the EHX Riddle: Q-Balls.

I set it on the high-pass filter mode, and pretty much turned every knob to its most sensitive settings, but with the start/stop knobs set around ’10 and 2′ respectively (clock face settings).

The solo itself is pretty short and sweet, but very funky. He sticks to the blues scale almost exclusively. He makes great use of repetition. Bar three calls back to bar one. Bar six calls back to bar five. The peak of the solo is a run that doubles (perfectly) up the octave leading up to the altissimo b5. That run is still super tough for me. I can nail it at 80% speed, but didn’t have time to work it all the way to 100% this week. I spent too much time futzing with the new pedal!

Michael Brecker - Ease on Down the Road #2




Electro-harmonix Riddle: Q-balls

I got a new thing! I’ve got a few transcriptions that I’m working on that have a specific effect applied, and it seemed like a fun excuse to dive in to the world of electrified sax effects.

So I picked up an Electro-harmonix (‘EHX’) Riddle: Q-Balls pedal. Although it’s squarely marketed at guitar players, it’s pretty versatile, and is pretty effective for saxophone as well.

What does it do? I’m glad you asked! It’s an envelope filter. It takes the input (your sound) and modifies it in different ways depending on what settings you choose. It’s kind of like a ‘wah’ pedal, but instead of moving a pedal, it modifies each note automatically.

EHX makes a similar pedal, the Q-Tron, which is a bit cheaper. However, after some research, I decided to go with the Q-balls pedal because it has more configuration options. This makes it more flexible, but also more complex to learn. I have a feeling I’m going to stick to just a few settings on the pedal, so it may be that the additional flexibility is lost on me, or maybe I wouldn’t be able to get the sound I need out of the Q-tron. I have no plans on getting one, so I don’t plan on doing a comparison any time soon.

So let’s dive in to some of the settings and what they do. The picture is the settings that I landed on after about an hour of experimentation.

From left to right:

  • Blend: This is the mix of the wet/dry signal. I went with 100% wet. I’m replicating a pretty specific effect which isn’t subtle, so I went all the way.
  • Mode: There are three ‘pass’ filters – low, medium, and high. This drives what frequency range the pedal operates on. Even with Tenor Sax, I found I had to use the HP mode or the effect was negligible. I suspect Alto would be the same. Maybe Bari would warrant the medium pass, I’ll have to experiment.
  • Attack/Decay: The next two knobs determine how dynamic the effect is with respect to note changes, attacks, and releases. I went with the most sensitive settings.
  • Start/Stop: This is where the most experimentation happened. Since this is a filter sweep, the start and stop knobs determine the frequency range (pitch) that the effect starts and stops on. So you need to match the starting range to the range that you’re predominantly playing in (where you want the effect to be the most dramatic). Stop gives you different sounds if you set it above vs. below the start knob. The distance between the two determines how wild the effect will be.
  • Q/Sensitivity: I didn’t play around with these much. I just went with the ‘all-in’ settings since anything less seemed ineffective.
  • Bypass switch: Turns the effect on and off
  • Distortion: Boosts the signal like crazy!

I’ll continue to play with the pedals and the settings, I’m sure I’ll learn much more about how to get exactly the sound I’m looking for. I’ll post a video shortly.

A quick word about saxophone effects – there is a steep learning curve! Adding even a single effect to your sound complicates your life greatly. You have to first figure out how to get a line-level signal from your mic to the pedal. Then you need to be able to monitor the pedal output, as well as amplify it for the audience somehow.

The thing to remember is that these effects are not for you, they are for the audience. You will never hear what they hear. When you’re playing, the acoustic sound of the horn resonates through your head in a very powerful way, so no matter how hot your in-ear monitors are, you’re never hearing the 100% wet signal, it’s always mixed in with the acoustic sound of your horn. So it’s important to record and listen back until you get things really dialed in.

Similarly, when it comes to live playing, these aren’t going to be very useful in intimate settings where there is little or no amplification. If your sax isn’t prominent in the house mix, the effect is lost.

All that said, effects can be a lot of fun to tinker with. Just don’t lose sight of the music. Make sure that you’re using these effects in a musical way to augment ideas that are interesting, not just as a gimmick.



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Lew Del Gatto – Peter Gunn Theme

Here’s the last solo from the Peter Gunn Theme that I’m going to post, maybe the last Blues Brothers solo, we’ll see (for awhile).

Lew plays a great solo on this track. I don’t feel as though I quite replicated his sound on this one. He’s got a really strong upper register with a hint of growl to it. I never really solo on bari, I pretty much just play low, punchy notes. So this is good for me to work on.

I love how in-the-pocket his playing is in the first part of the solo. Really authoritative and driving. He does a couple trills at the end to wind things down. Nice and simple but effective.

Lew Del Gatto - Peter Gunn Theme




Lou Marini – Peter Gunn Theme

Continuing on my Blues Brothers kick with another “Blue” Lou Marini solo. This is short, but its a doozy! I transcribed this back in high school. It played an integral role in the development of my upper register, which I’m now learning all over again. I almost posted this with no video, but I decided to tough it out and work it up (as best as I can right now).

The first part of the solo is very cool. The timing is amazing to me, it’s way behind the beat, but somehow keeps it together without dragging. Lou relies on the 9th and 13ths a lot for harmonic color.

The last four bars are pretty tough for me right now. High Ab has always been the hardest altissimo note to hit consistently. The best fingering I can come up with is LH:1,3 + RH: 1, middle side key, and D# key. For B and C# I overblow D and E respectively.

The hardest part I have with my surgery recovery is control. Keeping the note from getting away from me and going too high is the challenge. The numbness makes it hard to get the feedback I need. But it’s a work in progress. A month or two ago I couldn’t get above high F at all.

Lou Marini - Peter Gunn Theme




Tom “Bones Malone” – Peter Gunn Theme (Bone)

More Blues Brothers. Another Tom “Bones” Malone Bone solo, transposed for Tenor.

Bone solos are interesting to play on saxophone. The slide makes glisses and bends such a natural part of every note, and it’s different than the way a lip bend works on the saxophone. Check out the last measure. Since it’s too fast to do a lip bend, I went for the 1-2 RH key alternate fingering for A to flatten the note instead of playing it straight down to G#

This song is pretty simple – one chord with the same driving background riff the whole time. Everyone takes 16 bars. I’ll post some of the other solos over the coming weeks as well.

We’re definitely in a ‘guitar’ key. Tom sticks pretty much to the minor pentatonic scale with the occasional flat 5 and 13 for color.

Tom Malone - Peter Gunn Theme




Lou Marini – Sweet Home Chicago

More Blues Brothers! This time, a solo from the legendary “Blue” Lou Marini. Lou is such a distinctive player. His sound and his approach are instantly recognizable. For someone who is so highly regarded as a Blues/R&B player, his approach is much more ‘outside’ than you would expect (harmonically)

This solo is no exception. It opens with a minor third trill from the 5 to the flat 7. He bends up from the flat 5 to create tension. I chose to write it out, because it’s very even in time, and transitions so smoothly into the next line, I struggled find any other way to notate it. How many of us have started an idea with a trill like that only to get stuck with no way out of it? Lou shows how it’s done here, developing an idea and building it into a phrase that leads into the four chord.

The four chord of the first chorus is a good example of his harmonic approach, which is built on the extensions. He’s playing a line around the 5th and 7th, so it’s firmly rooted in the chord, but the other notes are the 9th and 11th.

The feel is also very different from Tom Malone’s solos, which are very on top of the beat. Lou plays with the time quite a bit and often sits on the back end of the beat.

This is another transcription that will have to wait for a video from me. My high chops are out of commission while I’m recovering from surgery, and Lou does a lot of very tricky altissimo work right across the break, which is hard for me to pull off accurately right now.

Lou Marini - Sweet Home Chicago




Tom “Bones Malone” – Sweet Home Chicago (Bone)

Continuing on the Blues Brother theme…this solo is definitely by Tom “Bones” Malone. My first trombone solo on this blog! I transposed for Tenor since the range is fairly similar.

I love the 12/8 feel on this one, it really swings hard. Harmonically, it’s a little more complex. While he relies a lot on the pentatonic scale, he uses a lot more 9s and 13s on this solo.

I love the transition from the end of the first chorus in to the start of the second chorus. It’s a great example of building on a simple theme. He takes it up an octave at the top of the chorus to kick the solo into the next gear. The lick over the four chord on the second chorus is great. There’s so much gold to mine in this solo!

Tom Malone - Sweet Home Chicago (bone)




Pete Christlieb – Deacon Blues

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.

Pete Christlieb - Deacon Blues




Lew Del Gatto – Sweet Home Chicago (Bari)

For my first post back after surgery, I decided to go with an old favorite. As a kid growing up in Chicago in the 70s and 80s, few movies had a bigger impact on me than the Blues Brothers. This song in particular touches my heart, and the playing on it is great, so what better place to start?

This solo really swings, and I really love how he utilizes the full range of the horn. I play a lot of bari and use a lot of air, but I really struggled in spots to drive the whole phrase through to the end with the power that I needed. These are long phrases!

Harmonically, the solo is super straightforward, which is one of the things I love about it. C# (concert E) is a real ‘guitar key’, not always fun for an Eb transposing horn player to get around in, but he plays it beautifully with simple pentatonics, and very sparing use of the flat five for emphasis.

Update: I’m updating this post to credit Lew Del Gatto with the solo. Lew attributes the solos to himself in his bio (https://www.lewdelgatto.com/bio) and this is backed up by the fact that he was in the SNL house band (where the Blues Brothers originated) in the early days. Discogs.com gives him a vague credit of ‘horns’ on the track (citation)

Lou Del Gatto - Sweet Home Chicago (bari)