Double tribute this week – Clarence Clemons and Aretha Franklin together! This is from her 1985 hit ‘Freeway of Love’. I’ll be honest, I’m not a big fan of this song in particular, but the performances by both Aretha and the Big Man are memorable. Aretha was trying to go mainstream with this pop/rock number, and she had some commercial success with it. But it doesn’t have the substance that her early work did.
Clarence is in his element here, belting out a throaty growl that commands attention. I can’t pull off the growl like he can, so I just went for an edgy tone. When I try to growl, I have a tendency to sing the pitches that I’m playing, which doesn’t give the right effect. it gives me cognitive dissonance to try and vocalize a different pitch for some reason, but I should work on it. I suspect Clarence is just vocalizing a steady low pedal tone to compliment his already edgy sound.
This solo doesn’t get too high (altissimo Bb), but once again, it spends a lot of time crossing the break, which is my Achilles heel. My high G is not as stable and strong as it needs to be, and has a tendency to crack, which you hear in the ride out.
But it’s a good workout – be sure to use lots of air! You need it for the sound, and to sustain those long phrases, especially the last phrase that closes the intro.
Some of the bent notes are so pronounced that I wrote them out. I can’t quite pull them off the same way he does though with nothing but lip. He’s got killer control of the horn!
Shortly before his death in 2011, Lady Gaga invited Clarence Clemons to work with her on her Edge of Glory single. He recorded the video with her just days before he suffered a stroke. I understand that there was some controversy around the making of the video, but I kind of like it – it’s simple, and you get to see Clarence hanging out in the background doing his thing.
The song is a straight forward dance track, with a four-bar chord progression A-E-F#-D, but the solo is over a bridge that has a less-defined key center. It seems to float around, mostly A-ish.
The solo is 24 bars, and it pretty simple to play. Use lots of air on the high F#, he holds it for a while! The sax is pretty low in the mix, so it can be hard to hear at times. There’s another solo later in the track, but it’s even lower in the mix, so you can barely make out parts of it. I didn’t include it for that reason.
Continuing on the Clarence Clemons kick…This is a short solo from the end of “Dancing in the Dark”. It’s very laid back and mellow, pretty easy to play. As usual, beautiful tone and delivery by Clarence.
The whole solo is in the key of Db, and happens over the fade at the end of the track. Clarence sticks to a major pentatonic throughout, so everything fits beautifully as you’d expect.
More Clarence Clemons from Born to Run, this time – Jungleland. One of his most famous solos.
For me, the biggest challenge with this one is AIR and PITCH. These are long phrases, so being able to consistently support with an even tone and solid pitch requires lots of air. I clearly don’t do enough long tones at this end of the horn!
I like how restrained this solo is – it’s so melodic and simple. A lot of players would be tempted to fill the space with a ton of notes. The big man keeps it right down the middle. He soars on the high notes and doesn’t stray too far harmonically. It’s a bit repetitious, but it builds nicely.
I realize that I haven’t posted any solos from the Big Man, Clarence Clemons, yet. Sadly, he passed away in 2011. I never saw him perform live (or Bruce Springsteen for that matter), although I grew up on their music. This track was released when I was four!
I admit that I took Clarence for granted, and under-valued his contribution to the instrument. This was years ago when I was a big jazz snob. I was aware of him, but since he was playing pop/rock, I wrote him off as insignificant. Big mistake on my part!
Of course one of the great things about Bruce Springsteen’s music is that he played with a real band, one that stayed together for a long time. Although he was the front man and singer/songwriter, he wrote and arranged for the unique voices in his group – including Clarence.
Clarence Clemons has such a huge sound and presence – no one else could have contributed such iconic solos. And this is the type of solo that I can only reproduce to a point. Clarence had a special power to his sound, a growl that was always there, even when it wasn’t fully unleashed. I can’t duplicate that, and if I tried, it just wouldn’t be authentic. So I do my best and hope only to get close.
The solo on Born to Run is pretty challenging in the first few bars. The articulation is fast and clean – hard to keep up with at times. The expression that he adds with the subtle falls and bends are hard to reproduce without going overboard. It’s a master class in striking the balance between restraint and reckless abandon.