San Diego Saxophone Lessons

San Diego Saxophone Lessons
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Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Transcribing: Rhythm Changes Sonny Stitt (part II)

My transcription chops are still a little bit rusty, but here's the latest video. This is from the record Sonny Stitt/Bud Powell/J. J. Johnson and the tune is Sonny Side. As you can read in the liner notes below, this was some of the earliest Stitt recorded with him playing tenor.

This particular track has a rhythm section of (the incomparable) Bud Powell on piano, Curly Russell on bass, and Max Roach on drums.  Recorded in December of 1949, this is from one of my favorite periods in bebop.


To keep working on improving in some other keys, I pitch-shifted the entire track down from concert Bb to concert A before I started the transcribing process. This is a great workout on the horn! And next time that crazy vocalist calls a tune in A-major I will be more prepared. This particular solo was a real chops-buster for using the bis-key.

As I've said before transcribing is an excellent way to improve your time-feel, tone, phrasing, intonation, ears, and is far-and-above the best ways to learn true jazz articulation. All the info is on the record! Or the MP3 file in this case... but that just doesn't sound as cool.

Here are some great pictures that I found on showing the original record and cover art (much better than the reissue CD art, in my opinion).


Read part I of this post here.

Johnny Hodges' custom saxophone

Here's an amazing video that shows (in great detail) a custom-made Vito saxophone that belonged to Johnny Hodges of the Duke Ellington band.

This is on a private link on YouTube (you must have the link to find the video), so thank you to saxophone wizard Matt Stohrer for posting the link on Facebook.

Be sure to watch in HD to see all the amazing engraving detail on the horn:

Also some great audio is happening in the background by Hodges. Billy Strayhorn's "Daydream" is especially striking!

Thursday, May 9, 2013


A drummer friend of mine once told me “You know why I like Chris Potter? He plays paradiddles on his saxophone”. Potter is one of the most rhythmic saxophonists I can think of, and he also has an extensive command of articulation. I've noticed that players like Potter, Donny McCaslin, Rudresh Mahanthappa, and others are very adept at incorporating quick, repeated-notes into their lines.

Here's a paradiddle-scale exercise I came up with to help work on that sort of articulation. This is also a great exercise for improving the slur-two, tongue-two articulation seen often in classical pieces.

Key of C Major:

I recommend working these up with a metronome, and then playing them over an Aebersold, sequencer, or another play-along track to get the feel of using them with a rhythm section.

Key of F Major:

Try inverting the paradiddle for a different variant. I hear this snippet in modern jazz fairly often:

 For the complete exercise, download the free PDF sheetmusic.

Monday, May 6, 2013

Transcribing: Rhythm Changes

Here's a transcription I recently did of the first part of Sonny Stitt's "The Eternal One" from the reissue CD "Low Flame". I believe this was originally released on 1964's "Shangri-La". The tune is rhythm changes, and is based off of the riff from the song Eternal Triangle but with the standard chord changes on the bridge.


I've been working on improving my chops in some of the more difficult keys, so for this transcription, I pitch-shifted the audio from Bb into A before I started learning it (for you fellow tenor-players, that puts us in the key of B). This was a great way to get all those tasty licks that are idiomatic to the key of Bb into another key.

Transcribing is an excellent way to improve your time-feel, tone, phrasing, intonation, ears, technique... well... it improves everything! It's also a great way to learn the specific articulation of other saxophonists. After repeated practice and careful listening, the nuances of the articulation, scoops, bends, and vibrato all become more apparent. To me, that sort of stylistic information is the most important stuff. Anyone can play the notes, but copping the feel of the original is the ultimate goal.


Read part II of this post here.