Tag Archive: saxophone

On Sunday, I’ll go to the recording studio to record pre-screening tapes for several music schools including NYU, Eastman School of Music, and the University of Miami (Fl).  I’ll lay down six tunes: “Tune Up,” “Billie’s Bounce,” “Days of Wine and Roses,” “Black Orpheus,” and “Darn That Dream.”  I will be accompanied by Mike Holmes (piano), Waldo Latowsky (drums), and Bobby Durham (bass).  These tunes are pretty tough, but I have been working on them quite a bit, including working with them every day this week with my band director, Mr. Bob Chandler.  I will post the recordings here as soon as I have them available.  Here’s a little information about the tunes:

“Tune Up” is a be-bop piece by Miles Davis.  The amazing thing about this tune is that it goes through three keys, and has six key changes per chorus.  It starts out in the key of concert D major for the first four bars (IIm-V7-I progression), C major for the next four bars, and Bb major for the next four bars.  Then, there is a four bar turnaround that goes Em-F7-Bbmaj7-A7.  This leads back into the IIm-V7-I in D, then C, then Bb, and then each chorus ends with one last IIm-V7-I in D.  Be-bop is characterized by advanced harmony and often very fast tempos (usually over 200 beats per minute).  Well on the subject of advanced harmony, this tune was later used by John Coltrane as a basis for his tune “Countdown.”  That particular tune has a fairly similar melody, but Coltrane makes his own chord substitutions, and uses quite a bit of tritone substitution.

“Billie’s Bounce” is a Blues in F, but it is not a standard 12 bar blues.  It is a “Bird Blues,” which means that it is written by Charlie Parker, and has his chord substitutions.  Parker made some chord substitutions.  So, the substitutions allow for more harmony, and more advanced improvisational techniques are required to navigate the changes.  The tune is pretty fast, and has a fairly difficult head, unlike most blues.  It is up-tempo, but not terribly fast, I would say around 155 beats per minute.   A normal 12 bar blues in F would be as follows:




However, a bird blues is as follows:

F7-Bb7 Bdim-F7-Cm7 F7

Bb7-Bb7 Bdim-F7-Am7 D7

Gm-C7-F7 D7-Gm C7

“Days of Wine and Roses” was written by Henry Mancini, and the lyrics were written by Johnny Mercer.  The tune came from the 1962 movie of the same name.  For the most part, the tune is in F major, although there are some spots where one can use the whole tone scale, and even one chord where the F minor scale can be used.  Some bluesy notes (b9 ) work well at times, but it pretty much stays in one key, though there is a very cool turnaround that is showy for a soloist.  The trick with this tune is that it is not a ballad, but it is still pretty slow, which makes it very easy to get ahead of the changes and get lost, which can not happen on Sunday.

“Black Orpheus” is probably the easiest of these tunes.  It is a bossa nova (latin style, straight 8th notes).  For the most part, it hovers around A minor, which is the relative minor of C major.  There are, however, times in the tune where there are some cool chords that one can really play with.  Hitting a G# over an E7 chord works very well, and there is a pretty cool C#dim A7(b9) measure that is good for working outside the key.  There are a couple of bars in D minor, and a couple in E minor as well, but for the most part, the challenge of this tune is playing something melodic.  For me, this will be a showcase on my tone and melody.

The next tune is a bear.  “Darn That Dream.”  An amazingly slow ballad, with more chord changes than grains of sand on a beach.  No, seriously.  At times, there are 4 chord changes per measure!  Often times, they are not very close to each other either.  The first measure contains 3 chords: A major, Cminor, F7.  What?  Voice leading is a HUGE challenge on this song, and you can not get lost, because if you do it is very obvious.  Also, because the tune moves so slowly, the great player can not just play the melody like it is written.  You must take a lot of liberties with the melody in order to keep it from being too boring.

The very last tune is another Miles Davis tune, “All Blues.”  It comes off of the Kind of Blue record, so this will be interesting to try.  It is a pretty standard blues in G, but the tough part of it is that it is in 6/8.  This tune lends itself to being a modal tune, so I will use a lot of mixolydian and dorian scales.  Simple melodies work well, and are necessary to help you keep your place because the tune simply feels so strange.

Also, this will take place on November 14, one day after my late saxophone teacher, Dennis Taylor’s, birthday.  So, happy birthday DT!  Also, a big thanks to Dennis and his wife, Karen Leipziger, for helping to set this up.


“The Days of Wine and Roses laugh and run away, like a child at play, through the meadow lands and through the passing door, a door marked never more that was not there before.  The lonely night discloses just a passing breeze, filled with memories of the golden smile that introduced me to the days of wine and rose and you.” – Johnny Mercer (lyrics to “Days of Wine and Roses” from the 1962 film of the same name).

A while ago, I heard several arguments on the complexity of music, particularly of jazz.  As a jazz student, I have spent many, many hours studying this style of music, studying improvisational techniques, and ways to play a song “well.”  One song that I know I can play well is a Henry Mancini/Johnny Mercer tune called, “Days of Wine and Roses.”  Here is a copy of the lead sheet (sadly, it is very difficult to convert something from a Finale notepad file to a file that I can use on this blog, but this should do).  So, we will now examine how to approach playing the “head” as a saxophone player (or any horn player), how to improvise a solo, how to “comp” chords on piano, how to play a bass line through this (on bass or piano), and finally what the drummer would have to do.  Keep in mind that all of this is done in the minds of musicians.  We see nothing more than the lead sheet that is below.  Nothing else.  All the rest of the decisions are made in our heads, and are not made until we begin to play.  This is what allows jazz to be so free and conversational.  Now, here is the lead sheet.  One short note, The first and second endings are not noted on this sheet.  The first ending starts at the Fmaj7 chord before the D-, and goes to the repeat.  The second ending is right after the repeat.

Now, as a saxophone player, the first thing that I must do is play the melody.  However, this would be very boring if I simply played what is written.  The first thing that I will do is make sure that I walk down on the whole note.  So, I may play A-G-F-E natural.  The E natural against the Eb7+4 chord creates a nice tension, which is then resolved by going to the Eb.  The E natural is the flat nine of that chord, so that note will often work over that chord, seeing as the Eb chord is altered already (dominant 7, sharp 4).  Next, I might add a grupetto or turn on the D on the  A- chord.  Simple things like this, or anticipating phrasing makes the melody more enjoyable.  I would never play8-17 like written.  There is plenty of space for more turns, anticipation or delaying of rhythms, and countless other possibilities.  Next comes the solo.  We are in F major for the first chord, so I would likely start my solo running straight up the scale.  Start on an upbeat to give your lines momentum.  I would then be sure to highlight the +4 and b7 of the next chord, so I would play some combination of Db and A natural.  Highlight the +9 and b9 of the next chord, and then we go into G-.  Here, I would highlight the Bb and Eb that are outside of the key signature, and this is also a great place for a G blues scale, as it creates a nice contrast to the rather simple, happy melody.  Basically, from the D7+9 chord through the G- chords, one can use an Eb minor scale, G minor scale, or Bb major.  I prefer the Eb minor.  But don’t use too much of this yet, rather wait until the second chorus of solo to really hammer out the blues.  Next, we see our beloved Eb7+4 chord again.  Once again, emphasize the Db and the notes outside of the key.  Now, we likely have only really used simple melodies to this point.  We get to a point where we are in G major (and E minor, which are very similar) for a couple measures.  Use a lot of 16th notes here, and go into a double time sort of feel, come back to the A minor, and then arpeggiate the turnaround to emphasize the chord tones that are outside of the key.  Start each arpeggio in root position, but because we have two chords per measure, the second chord will not be arpegiatted in root position.  The arpeggios will be straight 8th notes, and will be as follows E-G-Bb-D-C#-A-G-E, then in the next measure, D-F-Ab-C-B-G-F-D.  We’re back to G-, so the rest of the turnaround is easy.  Second chorus is the same until we get to the second ending.  Really aim for the Bm7(b5) chord, and hit the F natural there.  E7+9 chord is a good place to show off the #9 (G natural).  Make up a nice closeing rhythm and you are done.

Now, for the piano player.  This is only a medium swing song, so if you are a good piano player, you want to play a couple of different voicings on this.  You don’t have to play the melody, so you can use both hands for chords.  The bass player plays the root, so you really want a rootless voicing.  For the +4 chords, you could choose a sort of sus voicing, where you play the sharp 4 for two beats, and then substitute the 3 for the +4 on the last two beats, or you could simply play a voicing like 7-9-3-+11 or something of the sort (the 11 is the +4).  The most important thing is that the 7 and 3 of each chord get voiced.  Why?  The 7 and 3 tell what kind of chord we have (major, dominant 7, minor, diminished, etc.)  As far as rhythm goes, any standard swing rhythm would work.  Vary rythms accordingly.  For guitar player, a Freddie Green style of strumming would work just fine.

For the bass player, you want to make sure that you hit the root on every chord.  The piano/guitar player is not playing the root, so they are using what is called a rootless voicing.  The bass can walk through most of this, but emphasizing the alterations on the chords is imperative.  For the drummer, I would recommend using brushes on this tune, but light sticks would be alright as well.  Make sure to carry the form through the song, and give a little crash to note the different sections of the song (repeat signs, 1st, 2nd ending, after each chorus).

The amazing thing about jazz is that all of the musicians have to know this and make their decisions within a few seconds.  So, that is a little demonstration of how to attack any jazz tune, and there are many far more complex than this one.  Hopefully this gives you a better appreciation for how layered the music is, and how much knowledge it takes to play these tunes.  If a jazz musician is lucky enough to have music, they have nothing more than the lead sheet, like above.  This small amount of written music allows for a greater freedom of expression and conversation between musicians, the essential elements of jazz.


“He was a free-spirited artist.  His playing was so tasteful, and he was such a warm and good person to be around.  What a loss.”  Singer/Songwriter Todd Snider on the loss of saxophonist Dennis Taylor

Dennis Taylor plays the saxophone on May 1, 2010, with the band Dick50 at B.B. King's Blues Club in New York City. Mr. Taylor died on Sunday at the age of 56 just prior to releasing his first solo album

On Monday, I recieved some terrible news.  At the age of 56, my saxophone teacher, Dennis Taylor, died of a heart attack while on tour with the Delbert McClinton band in Texas.  He was a very special person, and everybody loved him.  He cared very deeply for his students, and he went out of his way for them.  For me, a couple of examples come to mind.

First of all, he got me my first paying gig.  He gave me the name and number of a big band that was looking for a saxophonist, and a little over one year later, I still perform with the Merchants of Cool Big Band based out of Columbia, TN.  Along those same lines, we had a show in downtown Nashville, in Centennial Park.  Mr. Taylor asked me for the time, and he, along with his wife Karen, came out to listen to us.  I did not know this at the time, and he did not tell me this, but I found out later that he had given up a gig to come to that show.

I had my last lesson with him three days before the tragic heart attack.  He was working with me to find a studio and musicians to make my pre-screening tapes for my college auditions.  He cared so much about his students.  He was at the school concerts, honor band concerts, virtually anywhere I played.  But, more importantly, he did the little things.  He greeted everybody with a smile, he was quick with a joke, he laughed, and he was just a really kind-hearted person.  He never had an unkind word.  He was positive and encouraging, always.

He was a great musician as well.  He had been with Delbert McClinton for the last 2.5 years.  He had played on 4 Grammy nominated albums, and had recorded and toured with Eddie “The Chief” Clearwater, Buckwheat Zydeco, Delbert McClinton, Mike Ferris and many others.  He had just finished recording his first solo album.  Delbert McClinton’s newest album, Aquired Taste features a blistering saxophone solo by Mr. Taylor on the track, “People Just Love to Talk.”  That album was #1 on the Blues charts for several weeks.   Just five months ago, Mr. Taylor appeared on national radio and television as Delbert McClinton and Dick50 performed on the Imus in the Morning program on April 30, 2010.  After the final song, Mr. Taylor’s playing garnered the attention and praise of host Don Imus.  Mr. Taylor was an outstanding musician, a great teacher, a fine friend and simply a very special person.  Indeed, the world lost a great man, and we will miss him dearly.  Please keep him and his family in your prayers.

If you would like to hear some of Mr. Taylor’s playing, here is a link to a 1998 performance.

There is also a beautiful video tribute to Mr. Taylor.  It is 7 minutes long, and the sax does not come in until the 4th minute, but it is well worth it.

Nashville saxophonist Dennis Taylor poses for a picture. Mr. Taylor was known as a kind-hearted person and an outstanding musician. As bandmate Kevin McKendree said, "Dennis had an old-school kind of tone that I don't hear in anyone else's playing anymore. He knew how to make it sing."

Sending Me Angels

“He keeps sending me angels/From up on high/he keeps sending me angels/To teach me to fly/He keeps sending me angels/Sweet and true/He keeps sending me angels/Just like you.” – Delbert McClinton (“Sending Me Angels” from his 1997 album One of the Fortunate Few)

It’s 10:00 P.M. in Music City on a Saturday Night.  I’m sitting with my family at Riverfront Park watching and listening to Delbert McClinton and his band (Mr. McClinton’s saxophone player, Dennis Taylor, is my sax teacher, one of my angels – without him I would be nowhere).  Song after song rolls by, everything from “Two More Bottles of Wine,” to “New York City,” and then it seemed as though, for one moment in time, it all came to a stop.  For that one brief moment, all action at the Music City BBQ Festival came to a stop.  All the passers-by seemed to slow their pace, all the folks that were dancing seemed to stop and listen.  They were breathless, just listening and soaking in every work that was.  Delbert begins his song, “Sending Me Angels.”  The lyrics of the song resonate down my spine.  It’s a really beautiful tune…if you have not heard it, you need to hear it.  So, here is my public prayer to the Lord my God: Thanks for sending me those angels, thanks for the angels of family, the angels of friends, the angels of teachers, the angels of coaches, the angels of neighbors, but most of all, thanks for Your Son because, as Mr. McClinton would say, “As I stand on the mountain/Face to the Wind/Amazed by the number of times I’ve sinned/And the countless number of enemies/That should have been friends/Here he comes again/My friend/He Keeps sending me angels.”  So, thanks for sending me angels.