Sonny Stitt – Can’t We Be Friends?

Throwback Thursday!

This is the very first solo that I ever transcribed! I was probably 16? I don’t know how or why I chose this solo, but I’m glad that I did. It’s a killer track. A beautiful ballad with a bunch of super-clean bebop runs. For a recording that is over 60 years old, it sounds great (at least the Alto does).

I had this album on vinyl, and transferred it to cassette tape so I could transcribe it on my boom box (which had no pitch or speed controls). I listened to this solo for hours and hours before I even started the process. I listened to it in my sleep every night! I realize now that this is all a bit of overkill, but I didn’t know any better at the time.

Sonny Stitt - Can't We Be FriendsFor fun, I’m including a scan of my original handwritten transcription:

Unfortunately, this was page 1 of a notebook that is almost 30 years old. The cover and first page were torn off and lost years ago. So all that survived was the third page of the solo.

I had fun re-transcribing it, and it came back very quickly since I learned it pretty well back in the day. I was surprised to see how accurate my original transcription was. Given my inexperience and the primitive tools that I had to work with, I think I did a pretty good job!

The solo itself is a lot of fun to play. The bebop lines are hard, but not impossible. They generally lay pretty well on Alto, and I realize that I still find myself using some of the licks to this day on a regular basis. Nailing all of them 100% in one take proved to be a challenge, which only gives me that much more respect for the guy who improvised the solo in the first place. What a master!

Sonny Stitt - Can't We Be Friends




P.S. About the chords…I lifted them from a fake book, so they may not exactly match what the rhythm section was doing on this recording. Transcribing chord changes has always been my achilles heel. Unlike solos, where there is a single line that is very clearly right or wrong, chord changes are more subjective and open to harmonic interpretation (at least to me). I’m working at it. If anyone has any advice, I’d love to improve in this area!

Maceo Parker – Shake Everything You’ve Got

What a blow! This is a long track with a lot of playing. It’s one of those transcriptions that’s not that hard to write down, but it’s really hard to duplicate the performance since it’s so raw and full of energy. The sax+drum solo builds so well. The chromatic walk up during the saxophone solo is especially tough to replicate with all of the inflections, but I did my best.

I love this track though. This is probably my favorite track from my favorite Maceo album. I especially love the a capella horn section ending. I’ve played this arrangements in bands before and it’s a ton of fun to do live.

I started this project as a way to force myself to practice more. One of the side benefits that I’ve found is that listening to recordings of yourself practicing is very enlightening! This is one of those DUH things that every teacher tells you, but you never really internalize until you try it.

Listening to this track makes me realize how much I need to work on my pitch! Some (but not all) of this is due to the fact that I make the recordings with headphones in so I can hear the soloist well. But they also block out my own sound making it harder to match pitch. I think I’ll experiment with just one earphone in to see how that works.

Maceo Parker - Shake Everything You Got




Maceo Parker – Youth of the World

I’ll admit, this post is a bit of filler…but it’s because I’ve got a really meaty post coming up next!

This track isn’t really a solo, it’s more solo fills and backgrounds around the vocals. But there’s still some cool stuff in it. The ending really shows the power of simple repetition. If you commit to it, it really works. Most players don’t have the discipline to play the same line more than once or twice. They feel that they have to get creative with it. And they end up overdoing it and distracting from what the rest of the band is laying down.

But for me the best part of this track comes around 0:30 seconds in (on my YouTube video). Maceo is in the middle of an 8-bar break, and he fills in with a single note. Again it shows the power of understatement and confidence.

It reminds me of a story of the artist Giotto, who demonstrated his mastery through simplicity and minimalism, rather than elaborate technique:

“…when the Pope sent a messenger to Giotto, asking him to send a drawing to demonstrate his skill, Giotto drew, in red paint, a circle so perfect that it seemed as though it was drawn using a compass and instructed the messenger to give that to the Pope.

Maceo Parker - Youth of the World




Maceo Parker – Soul Power ’74

The year was 1988. I stopped by the record store after school with my friends, like we often did. I didn’t have a specific idea of what I wanted to get. Somehow I stumbled upon a cassette tape of “James Brown’s Funky People”, and decided to pick it up. I’m not even sure why. As a white kid growing up in the affluent suburbs of Chicago, the only exposure I had to James Brown was in Rocky IV. It wasn’t until years later that I would understand the cultural and musical impact that he had. But my friend Jonny gave a nod of approval when he saw my choice and I bought it.

This was my first exposure to Maceo, and I knew right away that I had found something special. As much as I loved Charlie Parker and Cannonball Adderley, they didn’t connect with me as musical mentors in the same way that Maceo did. I could relate to him somehow.

This was the first Maceo solo that I transcribed. It’s still one of my favorites. There’s so much rich material – classic Maceo. There are some really tricky passages in this solo, all these years later I still struggle with some of them. But it’s been a real treat dusting this one off and getting it back under my fingers again.

Maceo Parker - Soul Power '74




Phil Woods – Just the Way You Are

Phil Woods passed away this week, so I thought it would be fitting to take a break from the Maceo transcriptions and share one of his most iconic solos.

While he was a jazz legend, I chose this pop recording since it is so famous. When was the last time you heard a saxophone solo in song on the top 10 chart for pop/rock? The 70s were a different time…

This solo deserves the praise that it gets. Phil didn’t dumb down his playing for a pop audience, or resort to gimmicks. He just played a simple, beautiful solo that has some great jazz lines in it, and subtle use of dissonance, tension, and harmony.

I had the pleasure of seeing Phil Woods live only once. It was around 1990, shortly after his phenomenal appearance on David Sanborn’s amazing “Night Music” show. I saw him at the Jazz Showcase in Chicago. What a player.

RIP Phil – you’ll be missed!

Phil Woods - Just the Way You Are




Maceo Parker – Uptown Up

This is a relatively easy track to play. It’s a great song to practice for tone and phrasing. The melody is so simple and strong, and Maceo delivers it with such authority! The solo is in the pocket right from the start – I just love the opening line. I can’t say that I’m a huge fan of the rap breakdown at the end, but I understand what Maceo’s trying to do by getting his material to appeal to a more modern audience.

Maceo Parker - Uptown Up




Maceo Parker – Rabbits in the Pea Patch

This is a fun track to play. A little more difficult than last week, especially those quick pops up into the altissimo register! I need to work on my intonation and consistency up there. This is a long track, with several sections and key changes along the way, so I let myself do 3-4 takes and pull the best sections from each take. Still, there are plenty of mistakes to find. I never promised perfection on this blog!

Maceo Parker - Rabbits in the Pea Patch




Maceo Parker – Blues for Shorty Bill

This is a nice, relatively easy transcription to play (despite my mistakes). It’s often one of the first transcription assignments that I’ll give students who are new to jazz saxophone transcription. It’s well-recorded, and not too technical. It’s also loads of fun to play, but as you can see from my flubs, it’s harder than it sounds 😉 But it’s a great transcription for working on phrasing and delivery. The lines are simple, but Maceo really sells them!

Maceo Parker - Blues For Shorty Bill