It’s recently been the 100th birthday of the legendary saxophonist Charlie Parker. Most musicians, and jazz enthusiasts know that he was (and still is) a huge influence on the music, but don’t necessarily understand why. I therefore decided to not only post a transcription of one of his solos, but take a closer look at what he actually plays so we can try and understand his genius (even if it’s just a little bit)!
Sonny Stitt’s Solo On “Elora” (Take 2) by J. J. Johnson
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.
Dexter Gordon’s Solo on “Blue Bossa” by Kenny Dorham
Dexter Gordon is undoubtedly one of the all time great jazz tenor saxophonists. His performing and recording career spanned some 40+ years, winning a Grammy, and even earning an Oscar nomination in the Best Lead Actor category for his role in the 1986 film “Round Midnight”.
From a learning perspective his solos can be a dream to transcribe thanks to their clarity, therefore making them ideal for the intermediate player. Dexter’s phrasing, use of space, and sense of time often give his playing an unhurried feel, and so his solos are great examples to try and emulate.
Having a good technique on the saxophone is vital in so many ways whether we play in a jazz, pop or classical context. For example, when we improvise a jazz solo we want the freedom to express what we want to say through the saxophone at that very moment. It’s having command of our instrument that allows us to do this. I’ll therefore try and answer how you can improve your saxophone technique in this article below with some useful tips and advice.
In this post I’m going to go over the key area of how to add licks to your improvised jazz solos. It’s a great way to start building your jazz vocabulary for improvisation, plus it’s great ear training too!
For this I’m going to be using my “Top 5 Bebop Licks” introduced in one of my earlier posts. Please check that out or just grab the PDF download from the resources section below.
Ensemble playing of any nature is one of the great joys of music making. There is something uniquely special about working as a collective whole to create something of beauty (or, something that swings your socks off!) in the concert environment, or just for fun!
The saxophone quartet is arguably the most similar ensemble to that of a string quartet, with it’s blendable combination of soprano, alto, tenor and baritone saxophones. However, it is an ensemble that is often wrongly overlooked by classical music composers and enthusiasts.
Following on from my previous “Favourite Jazz Saxophonists – The Greats” post here’s part two as promised focusing on contemporary artists. Hopefully it will provide you with a useful introduction to some fantastic and inspiring musicians, all of whom are well worth checking out.
With this playlist I’ve tried to create a selection that covers a wide range of players and styles, and if you listen carefully you will hear that all of them have learnt from the Past Masters like the ones featured in my previous “Favourites” post.
As you’ll have probably seen from this website already I like the analogy that Jazz is a “Language”. We all know that when studying any language learning the written form will only get you part of the way there. You need to understand the inflections (articulation, swing), the way it flows and cadences (phrasing), as well as it’s structure (harmony, voice leading). See what I am getting at? We need to learn how to “speak” Jazz!
Luckily not only do we have great masters both past and present to learn the art of jazz improvisation from, but we live in a time where we practically have unlimited access to recordings and videos online. Bearing that in mind, there has probably never been a better time to learn jazz saxophone because of these available resources!
Are you looking to strengthen your jazz improvisation?
Building a “language” is invaluable if you want to become a convincing improviser, whatever the genre that you are interested in.
Bebop is undoubtedly the building blocks of jazz as we know it today and so at the bottom of this blog post is a pdf file for you to download and keep of 5 of my favourite jazz licks. They are by four of the greatest exponents of the idiom, namely Charlie Parker, Sonny Stitt, Sonny Rollins, and Clifford Brown (Yes, a trumpet player. It’s extremely useful to transcribe solos by the masters that didn’t just play your instrument!).