Sadly, we lost the Queen of Soul recently. As is my tradition here, I honor them in the best way that I can, by highlighting the parts of their catalog that resonate the most with me as a saxophone player.
I found myself on a cross-country airline flight shortly after Aretha’s passing, and I fired up one of her ‘greatest hits’ collections on my phone. Listening back to songs I had heard and played dozens of times, I was struck by how well they have stood the test of time. Dozens of masterpieces, each one more powerful than the next. Not just her singing, but the compositions, the arrangements, the background vocals, the horn parts, the rhythm section – it was all genius of the like we will never see again.
Saxophone solos don’t figure prominently in many of her works, but there are a few. I decided to work up the King Curtis solo from “Respect”. Fun fact – the chords are from one of my favorite Sam and Dave songs: “When Something Is Wrong With My Baby”.
The key is a killer for saxophone: Ab/G#! I battled with Finale to try and make the accidentals and key signature readable, and finally gave up. I ended up re-spelling everything as sharps because it insisted on writing triple flats instead of naturals when there were accidentals. So it’s a mess, but the notes are correct.
The rhythm was super challenging to notate, and really, you just have to listen to it and feel it as well as you can. I got it as close as I could while still being readable.
After the rhythm, the hardest part for me to play was the high Ab/G#s. That’s always been my worst altissimo note on any horn. I used the ‘long’ fingering of 1+3 (LH), 1 + side C (RH). If you have a better fingering on Tenor, please share. He does wide jumps each time, so it was hard to get the note to speak.
I think I’ll tackle Blue Lou Marini’s Alto solo from “Think” next (from the Blues Brothers Soundtrack). It’s low in the mix in spots, and of course filled with killer altissimo throughout, so wish me luck!King Curtis - Respect
- Artist: King Curtis
- Album: Aretha Franklin – I Never Loved a Man the Way I Love You (1967)
- Track: Respect
- Instrument: Tenor