What To Practise: Transcription II

Improvisation, Jazz, online lessons, saxophone lessons

Sonny Stitt’s Solo On “Elora” (Take 2) by J. J. Johnson

Sonny Stitt
Sonny Stitt in 1971. Photo Credit: JPRoche

This is how I discovered the music of the great jazz saxophonist Sonny Stitt…

When I was fresh out of the Royal College, very young, and so very naive I arranged to have a sax lesson with the legendary American saxophonist Bob Mintzer whilst he was over in the UK on tour with his band the “Yellow Jackets”.

Back then I was still finding my feet with my jazz playing and if I think back to that lesson it makes me shudder! What on earth was I thinking?! Anyway, Bob was very kind to me in that lesson and actually he gave me some invaluable pointers.

One of these was that I need to transcribe more solos and I should check out Sonny Stitt as a starting place. He described Stitt’s playing as “like Bird, but makes sense”! It intrigued me and so after the lesson I rushed into town to Piccadilly Circus and Tower Records (yes, it’s that long ago!) and bought a number of Sonny Stitt’s Albums.

On one of the albums was the fantastic Bebop tune “Elora” by the sublime trombonist J.J. Johnson. On the second take of the track (still featured on the album) Sonny Stitt plays in my opinion one of the best Bebop solos ever recorded. It’s short, to the point, and so very sweet!

Here’s the solo in question…

The Transcription
Sonny Stitt's Solo on Elora (page 1)
Sonny Stitt's solo on Elora (page 2)

Here’s a pdf of the solo for you download and work from: –

How To Practise The Transcription

This solo is a great one for the student to learn for many reasons. Sonny Stitt’s playing is clear, has fantastic voice leading and demonstrates some key Bebop devices.

As well as learning the solo, do analyse how it relates to the chord progress of the piece. For example, check out his multiple uses of enclosures as he circles around the B natural of the G7 chords. Look at the way he uses the melodic minor, not dorian modes on minor (7th) chords. Certainly take on board how he uses the b9 and #9 on dominant 7th chords. There is so much great stuff in there. It’s pure unadulterated Bebop!

Here’s the original recording. Take a listen, and then once you’ve learnt it try and play along with Sonny himself!

I hope you enjoy playing this solo by Sonny Stitt. It’s one of my all time favourites! Even though it is short, it’s full of great Bebop language and the phrases are so balanced. This solo is a masterclass in effortless playing!

As I’ve mentioned previously, transcribing and learning solos by the all time greats is a fantastic way increase your understanding of jazz. Plus it’s great ear training too, so get stuck in!

If you would like to know more about taking saxophone lessons, or general improvisation lessons, with me please feel free to get in touch at any time. I’d love to hear from you!

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