Category Archives: History

Santa’s Boots – sort of

BootsRWhat can put a sax-playing curmudgeon smack dab into the heart of the Christmas Spirit? That right, kiddies!  Transcribing an iconic tenor solo. What better to hear this season than Boots Randolph’s solo on Brenda Lee’s hit single “Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree”? None. Simply none.

Here it is. Rockin’ like that one-horse open sleigh going over the fields. Hot as chestnuts just off the open fire.

Brenda Lee was just 13 when she recorded this back in 1958! Boots was 31. Not until five years later did Boots record his famous “Yakety Sax.” And yes, he toured a bit with Elvis in the 60’s.

Here is a link to the transcription, if anyone cares to take a peek.   Rockin Tenor Sax

Marvin Gaye – isolated vocal

In studio recordings the whole should be better than the sum of its parts. Often listening to one isolated track is a disappointment – so much is missing; no support or context. There are certainly exceptions. Listen to this vocal-only track from Marvin Gaye’s “I Heard it Through the Grapevine.” What fantastic time, pitch and inflection. So much groove and emotion. This is a treat, folks.

…but it’s not in my Fake Books!

So what do you do when you teach a student about, say, “Piano-less Jazz Quartet” and the student is excited to learn a specific tune? You allow that passion to drive the learning forward. Sometimes that means transcribing a less familiar song.

We will hear this at a private saxophone student’s Senior recital. She has recruited and rehearsed a rhythm section, and asked me to play Bari as she channels her best Chet-Baker-on-alto for this tune.

I am blessed with great students. I really enjoy working with younger players and watching them develop as musicians and as artists. Here’s the funny thing: When a student shows drive and excitement it often leads to learning for both the student and the teacher. Transcribing this tune and Gerry Mulligan’s lines was fun, and put me back in the mode of listening more carefully. It also has motivated me to start transcribing improvised solos again.

I think I am getting the best end of this teaching deal…just sayin’

Charlie Parker at 19

Birth of BebopI have always been in awe of the structure, melodic content and fire in Bird’s playing. He will forever be revered as an innovator of be-bop music, pioneering the use of rapid passing chords, improvising new variants of altered chords and chord substitutions.

It is interesting to me to hear the earliest recordings of influential artists. It gives perspective on early influences and how much they were to develop.

This recording is made up of two incomplete takes. “Honeysuckle Rose” and “Body and Soul” were recorded in a sound booth in Kansas City with no accompaniment in May of 1920. Mr. Parker was 19 years old at that time.

It is included on a collection of recordings released in 1991 as “The Complete Birth of the Bebop” on Stash Records. The cut also is included in “Bird’s Eyes, Vol. 1” on the Italian label, Philology.

Give this early recording a listen and let me know your thoughts.

Jazz Landmark Album, 1959?

1959 was the year of great recordings including “Mingus Ah Um”, Dave Brubeck’s “Time Out”, “Art Pepper + Eleven” featuring fantastic arrangements by Marty Paich, Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come”, and the iconic “Kind of Blue” by Miles Davis. Each of these had a huge influence on jazz as the be-bop era was waning and players were seeking new directions.

oluntunjiOne record that is less noted but no less important is Babatunde Olatunji’s “Drums of Passion” recorded in 1959 and released in February of 1960. One of the first “world music” albums recorded in the USA, it sold over five million copies.

The late Tom Terrell argued that Drums of Passion was “note for note, rhythm for rhythm, groove for groove, vibe for vibe, and influence for influence—the single most important recording of the last century.”

Jazz and pop music certainly moved toward more African-influenced grooves during the 60’s and beyond. Santana actually covered one song, “Jin-Go-Lo-Ba”, from this record in 1969, as did FatBoy Slim in 2004. Give this one a listen and let me know your thoughts.