Category Archives: saxophone

Surgery Update

I know that it’s been a while since I’ve posted. I planned on continuing to post transcriptions throughout my surgery recovery, just with no play-along videos. That plan didn’t work out.

It’s been almost nine months since my double jaw surgery in December of 2016. Recovery has been slow and unpleasant. I am back playing again, but as little as possible since I still have a lot of healing to do. I didn’t play at all for about six months, but I just couldn’t stand to be away from the horn (and my band) for that long, so I eased back in to gigging over the summer. But I avoid all non-essential playing, and pretty much only play at gigs to allow my jaw to continue to heal.

Recovery-wise, I’m probably 80% there. I still have mild pain and weakness in both jaws, mostly the front. Eating hard foods, or things that require a lot of work in the front (like a sandwich) are still very hard and uncomfortable. My lower lip and chin are still significantly numb, maybe as much as 50%, which is a very unpleasant feeling.

The numbness makes playing difficult. Flute is impossible because I don’t get any tactile feedback about where and how to position my embouchure. Alto and Tenor are coming back slowly, but my control is gone. So no altissimo, and tuning is even more hit or miss than it ever was.

90% of my gigs are on bari, which thankfully I’m able to play. I play in a Tower of Power-style funk band, so it’s all about volume, tone, and attack. Precision, but not nuance. With the right amount of air, it works just fine. The numbness is partially a blessing because I can’t feel how out of shape my chops are after a three-set gig. I do start to lose strength, but there isn’t much pain.

It’s been a difficult nine months, both physically and emotionally. I’m still not sure if I’ll ever be 100% again, which is scary. And that has made me lose motivation to keep transcribing. It just makes me want to PLAY, which I know I shouldn’t be doing much of.

But I’m getting back on the horse slowly, and will start posting new transcriptions (and videos) again soon! But you will definitely notice that my playing is a few (big) steps behind where it was, and that will make me choose different material.

@SDartSax

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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…

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

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!

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Larry Williams – The Glamorous Life

This is a solo that I worked up during my binge of Prince music after his death. Prince produced this album, and pretty much discovered Sheila E.

I wasn’t familiar with Larry Williams or his music prior to this. I had to do some digging to find out who played the solo. But it’s clear from his web site that he’s a top-flight session player who has played with just about everyone!

There’s a lot going on in this track. It opens with just sax and rhythm. Larry plays very ‘out’ for a pop track, with lots of chromatic substitutions and overtones. There are some very cool chromatic runs in this section, which takes up the first page.

The second page is the solo that happens after the vocals. Great use of altissimo, and more overtone runs as well. But some really iconic licks in there around bar 12-16 of the main solo.

After the solo there is an extended four-minute drum break. It’s hard to believe that a pop single ran over 9 minutes long! There’s some amazing percussion work by Sheila E here. I didn’t transcribe all of the sax licks in this. For the most part, it’s just re-stating the melody lick. But there is a bit more towards the end. I was mostly in to the solos themselves.

Enjoy!

@SDartSax

Michael Brecker – Candy

Since I’m still unable to play due to my jaw surgery recovery, I might as well break out the Brecker transcriptions!

Actually, this may be the only one I’ve done. I’m certainly no Carl Coan! Brecker’s stuff is impossibly hard to transcribe and play, and this solo is no exception. So I’m sure that it’s full of mistakes, but it’s the best that I can do.

I can play the first half reasonably well, but things get crazy in the second half (in typical Brecker fashion).

I recommend learning the first part if you can. It’s quite approachable, and has some great ideas. The first eight bars are a master class in developing an idea.

The next four bars play with rhythm and space, and then the next four bars add some interesting harmony and layer in some intervals to provide some contrast.

Brecker does an amazing job on this harmonically simple song. He brings in such rich ideas. He had such breadth and depth in his playing, it’s a tragedy that we lost him so prematurely.

Enjoy!

@SdartSax

Alexey Nikolaev – Back in Black

Second Opinion was all original material, with the exception of this song. Yes, it’s that “Back in Black”, by AC/DC.

We thought it would be fun to throw in one cover song, but to do something really different, that we could put our own stamp on. We had done that on the first album with “I’m a Man” by Spencer Davis, and it went over really well.

There’s some debate about where the idea came from. My wife is a huge AC/DC fan, and we had seen them live around the time we were gearing up for the album. I think she might have suggested it to me, and I brought it to the band. We were already working with Jeff on the material at that point, so we were getting pretty close to going in to the studio.

The rhythm section guys recorded their tracks before we had any horn parts, which was pretty unusual for us. So they did a rough arrangement, and then when the horns went to do their parts, Jack wrote stuff to fit. So we never played this one live until after the album was done. But it goes over very well live – we usually close a set with it.

It starts off slow, just drums, and it’s pretty down-tempo. Most people don’t recognize the song until the lyrics come in, and some people still don’t until the chorus hits. By that time, everyone is on-board and singing along!

Alexey plays a very cool solo here. He pushes the harmony a bit to create tension. The fast runs at the end are tough to transcribe, but I think they are pretty close. And then of course he takes it way up high to end the solo!

Enjoy!

@SdartSax

Scott Dart – Bring the Funky Back, Pt. 2

Some would probably say that it’s a waste of time (and perhaps a little self-absorbed and/or indulgent) to transcribe your own solos. Those people are probably right!

But I realized that I had been posting a few other Doctorfunk transcriptions, so why not post one of my own? This one is barely eight measures, so don’t get too excited.

You’ll notice that there are two ‘Bring the Funky Backs’ on the album. Originally, these were the same song. What eventually became ‘Part 2’ was the ending to ‘Part 1’.

The tempo and feel are obviously very different, but I had this complex transition worked out where the triplet of the first part became the quarter of the second part, so it sped up. We even played it like live for awhile. But the transition never felt natural, and it certainly wasn’t good to dance to!

Several people suggested that we break it in to two separate songs, which eventually we did when we started working with Jeff to put the album together. Producers can be an invaluable source of impartial, outside advice. And when you have big ears and great ideas like Jeff Tamalier does, it’s not hard to get people to listen.

So we broke this into two tunes, and part two became an up-tempo jam with lots of solos, similar to TOP songs like Squib Cakes and Ebony Jam.

I love Greg’s trumpet solo in the earlier part of the tune, and I will probably transcribe that next. My ‘solo’ is nothing special. I’m basically trading bars with the ‘melody’, filling in around the vocals. I had never solo’d when we played the song live, but we had some down time in the studio and Jeff asked me if I wanted to blow a little. He just let the jam run and I put down a few dozen licks. When it came time to edit, he pulled out four that he liked.

It wasn’t something that was planned. Honestly, I would have over-thought it if we had planned on it. Instead, I just had to drop in and play without thinking, which worked fine. A handful of pentatonic/blues scale runs – nothing special.

I don’t actually enjoy soloing on bari with Doctorfunk. The setup I use I really optimized to bark out low, loud, short notes. So I’m not a fan of my sound in the middle and upper registers, and there’s basically no nuance to the sound. It’s exactly what I need for the section parts, but when it comes to soloing, I like to say that it feels like tap dancing in moon boots.

Enjoy!

@SdartSax