Lenny Pickett – Bumped Up to First Class

I fly for work a fair amount, and this week I luckily found myself upgraded to first class! I posted on Facebook that I had been ‘bumped up to first class’ and a musician friend of mine replied with the album cover to this CD. He got the reference!

For those of you who aren’t familiar, Doc Kupka (founding member and baritone sax player for Tower of Power) started his own record label a few years back called ‘Strokeland Records‘. Doctorfunk was fortunate enough to be one of the early bands distributed by the label. Doc’s own ‘Strokeland Superband‘ also records for the label of course.

One of the things that I admire about Doc is the fact that despite all of the success he’s had with Tower of Power, he still has more to give. He writes A LOT, and if stuck to TOP 100%, he wouldn’t be able to get his own music out there as much as he wanted. So he started Strokeland. Doctorfunk even recorded a few of his songs on our first CD. He wants to get his stuff out there. Strokeland is a vehicle for that. So if you haven’t checked it out – go do it!

The Superband recordings are great. He uses different vocalists for every tune – whoever fits the music best. It’s amazing to hear Huey Lewis on this stuff, he was made for it! Fred Ross sings on this track. And Lenny Pickett takes a sax solo. If you’re putting together a funk/soul super band, who else are you going to get to take the sax solos?

This one is pretty short, an eight bar bridge over the four chord. Some pretty high stuff in the last few bars but otherwise fairly approachable. This is on my list to work up when I’ve recovered from my jaw surgery. I’m coming up on five months now and playing is still nearly impossible. But I’ve still got my transcriptions…

Lenny Pickett - Bumped Up to First Class




Lenny Pickett – You Got to Funkifize

Years ago, I got a copy of a rare bootleg of TOP playing live in-studio at a radio station. The sound quality wasn’t great, but the playing was. It was early 70s, with the classic lineup, including Lenny Pickett.

Then a few years ago, they officially released those recordings as ‘The East Bay Archives’, a re-mastered 2-CD set. The sound quality still isn’t great, but I still recommend picking it up. There’s only so much they can do given the quality of the source material. The audio cuts out entirely in two spots during the solo. Some sound engineer must have been messing with something and hit a button that he shouldn’t have (twice).

This solo give us the chance to check out Lenny’s approach to Funkifize. I transcribed the original Skip Mesquite solo here a while back.

It’s a 24-bar solo, and the first 12 bars are pretty approachable from a technical standpoint. He uses that false-fingering on middle E that he likes so much for about two bars. It drives me crazy that I can’t figure out exactly what he’s doing there.

The next 12 bars get a little more interesting, jumping up to the upper register, with a climb at the end that slides up to a double-A. Crazy!

Lenny Pickett - You Got to Funkifize




Lenny Pickett – Sparkling in the Sand

More flute!

One of the things that impresses me about Lenny Pickett is that he’s not just a virtuoso on one instrument (the tenor saxophone), he’s also a prolific doubler.

He’s got amazing tone and technique on the flute, and in this recording he really gets to stretch out and show off his flute chops. I’ve seen TOP a number of times, and I’ve always wished that they would incorporate more flute in the horn section. It fits so beautifully in to the classic soul ballad sound.

This track is no exception. For me, it’s the epitome of a sould ballad. Powerful lead vocal with beautiful backing vocals, soaring horns, and a bubbling rhythm section underneath. The solo section slips into a double time latin feel that’s just perfect.

This a live recording, and they execute it brilliantly. Well done guys!

Lenny Pickett - Sparkling in the Sand




Lenny Pickett – Oakland Stroke (Bass Day)

Here’s the last ‘Bass Day’ transcription. It has the same lineup as the previous ones, featuring the quartet of LP, DG, JT, and Rocco. This video looks somewhat ‘official’, perhaps a sponsor of DG? But please support Rocco by buying the DVD from the link below.

Here’s the YouTube video:

This is a pretty straightforward interpretation of the song, just with a smaller ensemble. There’s a quick presentation of the melody, then an eight bar drum solo. Then there’s a sixteen-bar sax solo by LP, which is actually pretty approachable from a technical standpoint. There’s no crazy altissimo, just two Gs and a Bb. There’s a four-bar stretch of alternate Es, which continues to elude me in terms of which alternate fingering he’s using.

I’m still recovering from jaw surgery, so no video from me this week (and for many more weeks), but I may come back and record one for this solo since it’s not that difficult.

Here again is the GoFundMe link to benefit David Garibaldi and Marc Van Wageningen’s recovery:


Lenny Pickett - Oakland Stroke (Bass Day)




Lenny Pickett – What is Hip? (Bass Day)

Here’s another ‘Bass Day’ video featuring the quartet of LP, DG, JT, and Rocco. This time I was able to find a bootleg video on YouTube, but since it doesn’t look ‘official’, please support Rocco by buying the DVD below.

What is Hip starts around 1:50 in to the video

This time, LP has to cover the vocal melody in addition to the horn/organ parts – quite a feat but he handles it well in addition to turning in a fantastic solo. This is a tune that traditionally only has an organ solo on, so it’s nice to hear a horn player stretch out on it. I also love the way LP takes it up and up and up at the end!

Here again is the GoFundMe link to benefit David Garibaldi and Marc Van Wageningen’s recovery:


Lenny Pickett - What is Hip (Bass Day)




Lenny Pickett – Squib Cakes (Bass Day)

I apologize in advance since I don’t have a video to refer you to for this transcription. When I transcribed it I was able to find a recording on YouTube, but it has since been taken down. There’s a link to a DVD at the end, which I highly recommend.

The recording was taken from a ‘Bass Day’ performance in 2004 featuring Rocco (legendary Tower of Power bass player). Bass Day is a showcase for bass players, so the performance does not include the full ten-piece Tower of Power band. Instead it’s a quartet performance of some of their songs. I have transcriptions of several that I’ll post in the coming weeks.

LP is the only horn player, so it’s interesting to see which parts he chooses to play to represent the missing band members. The rhythm section include Rocco on bass (of course), David Garibaldi on drums, and Jeff Tamelier on guitar.

I’ve talked before about the special chemistry of the funk rhythm section and this concert shows it beautifully. Even without the organ, the interplay between guitar bass and drums creates a powerful groove for Lenny to solo over.

LP plays some section parts, and then takes a long solo. Actually it feels like he plays two full solos since he brings things to a logical conclusion with a long high note mid-way in to page three. But the rhythm section is still grooving so he re-groups  and starts a second solo after briefly re-grouping. It feels like a pretty loose jam so I’m not surprised it wasn’t more carefully orchestrated.

I’ve seen Rocco and Garibaldi play together many times and they both seem to go almost into a trance or meditative state when they play. There is very little communication between them – they are so locked in and can generally anticipate each others’ next move.

On a related note, you may have heard the news recently that David Garibaldi and bass player Marc Van Wageningen were both struck by a train on their way to a TOP gig on January 12. A GoFundMe campaign has been set up to help them with medical bills:


Lenny Pickett - Squib Cakes (Bass Day)




Lenny Pickett – Squib Cakes (Direct – Track #8)

Here’s the alternate take (previously unreleased) of Squib Cakes, this time from 1981’s Direct album. You may also find it as Direct Plus (re-released in 1997).

This is the same arrangement as the main track (transcription here). It starts off rubato with very loose time, and in fact the rhythm section drops out completely for an out of time cadenza.

It’s interesting to hear LP’s take on these two tracks. You can hear him experimenting with very different ideas and themes within the same framework. I can’t really say I have a preference for one take over the other. When you’re just looking at the sax solo, I find them both interesting in different ways.

I’ve got one more Squib Cakes transcription up my sleeves…stay tuned!

Lenny Pickett - Squib Cakes (Direct - Track #8)




Lenny Pickett – Squib Cakes (Direct – Track #3)

As promised, here’s another LP transcription of Squib Cakes, this time from 1981’s Direct album. You may also find it as Direct Plus (re-released in 1997). This was Lenny’s last album with the band.

The squib cakes arrangement is quite a bit different here. After the trumpet solo, the band breaks down for an extended rubato saxophone solo that is almost completely out of time. The keys keep some pads going to provide some harmonic color for Lenny to play over for the first eight bars. Then he plays an extended cadenza with no time or chords. Keys come gently back in for a few bars until Lenny breaks into time and sets up the solo.

This time, the feel is swing with Lenny playing with much more a jazzy approach for about eight bars. Things start to build to a pedal section for the next eight bars which transitions into more of a funk feel. The last eight bars are the normal funk groove that we’re used to. Lots of high notes here!

An alternate take was released with Direct Plus. I’ll be posting that soon

Lenny Pickett - Squib Cakes (Direct - Track #3)




Lenny Pickett – Squib Cakes (Back to Oakland)

One more solo before the end of the year, Lenny Pickett again. This is another classic solo with a lot of great stuff to learn. I worked up most the solo, but he loses me on the last four bars. I just can’t get that high with any control!

I’ve got several other transcriptions of different Squib Cakes solos, so maybe I should post a series where we can compare and contrast the different approaches?

I love the intro to this solo. He comes out of the stop-time section beautifully and sets up a great opening line that digs right in to the groove. The first four bars of the groove are solid and in pocket, heavily rooted in pentatonics.

The next four bars transition to a more chromatic approach, witha  bar of alternate fingerings that set up the transition to the next four, which starts to climb to the upper register.

Back in to some pentatonic licks and finally the last climb…up, and up, and UP!

Lenny Pickett - Squib Cakes (Back to Oakland)


  • Artist: Lenny Pickett
  • Album: Tower of Power – Back to Oakland (1975)
  • Track: Squib Cakes
  • Instrument: Tenor Sax



Lenny Pickett – Knock Yourself Out

Since I’m unable to play for a few months due to my jaw surgery, I figured that this would be a good time to share solo transcriptions that I’ve done, but cannot and will not ever be able to play well enough to record (to my standards). This is definitely one of those solos!

It’s an epic live Lenny Pickett solo from Tower of Power’s peak lineup in the late 70s. The main solo is nine minutes long, almost 300 measures, and it has some amazing technical feats that I’ll never be able to duplicate. Crazy high altissimo, long passages of circular breathing, as well as some incredibly agile intervallic jumps.

But it’s also filled with some very funky playing, with a lot to learn from. When it comes to transcribing, I’m a bit of a completionist. I feel compelled to transcribe every note, even if I know I’ll never work up that passage.

I could spend weeks trying to learn to slide up to some of those dog-whistle pitches, but I know that the time would not be well spent. It’s not the type of playing that I aspire to do, so even if I could learn it (which is doubtful), I don’t see the benefit.

So when it comes to my practice time, I’m a true pragmatist. I look at a solo like this and I pick out the sections that I feel will benefit my playing the most, and I focus on learning those. Make no mistake – there’s a lot of great material in this solo to learn from!

One thing that I haven’t been able to figure out is the false fingering that LP uses on middle E (pages 8-11).

This is a no-brainer on notes like Bb-C# (finger the low note and overblow the octave) or F and above (finger an octave + a fifth  below and overblow to the second partial). But notes like D, Eb, and E don’t really change timbre when you simply overblow the octave. I suspect that he’s doing some combination of closing lower tone holes while also opening higher ones, like the F palm key. He switches very fast between the alternate and normal fingering quite a bit, so it must be something that’s fairly easy to do. I don’t think he’s putting his knee in the bell to drop the pitch of an F 🙂

If anyone has any theories on this fingering, please let me know! None of my experimentation has come up with anything fruitful.

Lenny Pickett - Knock Yourself Out