Transcribed: Lester Young – Pound Cake

Here’s a transcription I did of some classic Lester Young. Pound Cake is a blues in the key of G (A for the tenor saxophone) and Lester plays two choruses. This solo would be good for use with students who are getting started with transcribing solos. It all falls within a comfortable range on the horn and, rhythmically, it’s pretty straight forward.

I learned this solo about two months ago, but only wrote it down tonight. When I was younger and working on transcriptions, I would listen to the recording, figure out a note or two, write it down in a notebook, and rinse and repeat until I got through the solo. After that was done, then I’d work on playing it. I did make progress using this method, but as time went on, I felt like it was a little too narrow and I wasn’t getting the results I wanted.

With this solo, and the ones I’ve worked on since, I’ve taken great care to listen to the recording a lot and sing along with the entire solo. After I can sing along with the solo, I begin learning it on the horn. With all of the prep work, listening and singing, learning the solo on the horn comes much more quickly than my old method. I’m not too focused on writing the solos down right now, but thought I would write this one out since I haven’t posted a transcription for a while. Hope you enjoy it.

UPDATE: I had originally credited Lester Young with three choruses for this solo. I have learned from several sources that he only played the first two. According to the personnel of that recording, it appears that Buddy Tate played the 3rd chorus.

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Binh Photo!

Portland-based photographer Binh Ho-Thanh came out to one of the Moksha shows in Berkeley and took some fantastic pictures. He was kind enough to share a couple of them with me. Go to his website, Binh_Photo (right now!) and check out his work.

(L to R: Jeff Cressman, Jennifer Hartswick, me)

© Binh Ho-Thanh

The back of Tree’s amp.

© Binh Ho-Thanh

Free Online Jazz Play-Alongs from Berklee College of Music

I recently learned about a page with links to free play-along recordings from Berklee College of Music. The play-alongs are by Hal Crook, trombonist extraordinaire. I first heard his playing on a Phil Woods album. He is a monster trombone player. Anyway, Hal Crook is very ably playing piano on these recordings. The page has a list of links with the name of the tune and the changes that it’s based on under it. For example, one tune on the list is called ‘ The Music, The Night, and You’ and ‘You and the Night and the Music’ is written under it.  The list also gives you a graded level for each tune, the concert key and recorded tempo.

When you click on a link, you are taken to a page with a leadsheet. Some of the notes are circled in red. These notes form the guide tone line and there is a link you can follow to that isolated guide tone line. The thing I like most about these play-alongs is that you are given a lot of options to work with. The recordings have a piano, bass, and drums rhythm section. You can remove any of the instruments from the mix. There is also a multitrack mixer that appears in a pop-up window to change the mix to whatever you want. You can change the level of each individual track and the panning. You can also choose to display the leadsheet in concert pitch or transposed for Bb or Eb instruments. You can display it in bass clef as well. There are also options to download the .mp3 track or the .pdf leadsheet.

You can find the page with the free play-alongs here.

Reviewed – BeyerDynamic DT770 PRO Headphones

After using Pat Gray’s headphones for listening to some things at the Moksha house, I finally decided to take the plunge and buy my own pair of BeyerDynamic DT770 Pro Headphones. I purchased them from Sweetwater Sound and had a great customer service experience with them. I would recommend them to anyone looking for audio equipment without hesitation.

The DT770 Pro headphones are available in either an 80- or 250-ohm model. I went with the 250 because it looked like they would work better across a wide variety of settings. The headphones have an 1/8″ plug and also come with a 1/4″ adapter that screws on over the 1/8″ plug. I like the versatility that provides and also that I don’t have to go out and buy a separate 1/8″ to 1/4″ adapter (although I have 4 or 5 around here in my studio). I’ve found these headphones to be very comfortable and I can wear them for long periods of time without any problems.

The DT770s are closed headphones. BeyerDynamic also makes a comparable model of open headphones, the DT990. I decided to go with the closed DT770 for the sake of isolation. They do a great job of keeping out outside sounds. I could be in a roomful of people talking and not hear any of them. I think this feature will be particularly useful on any upcoming plane rides.

Of course, the most important quality for any pair of headphones is the sound. I’m finding these headphones to be very clean sounding. Everything is clear with no distortion. I would say that it sounds like the bass frequencies have more presence than the rest of the frequency range. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just an observation.

Overall, I’m very, very happy with my new headphones. They’re better than anything I’ve had before and I look forward to getting a lot of good use out of them.

Home from Berzerkley

© photo by Rich Samuels

I spent last week in San Francisco and Berkeley with Moksha. The band has been on a two-week tour and they brought the horns out for 3 nights of Phish Aftershow Parties. Phish played the 3 nights at the Greek Theater in Berkeley and we were at Blakes on Telegraph following the Phish shows.

Before the shows, we had two great days of rehearsal in San Francisco with Jennifer Hartswick and Jeff Cressman. Jennifer plays trumpet with Trey Anastasio Band and also leads the Jennifer Hartswick Band. She plays great trumpet and is a killing singer. Jeff Cressman is playing trombone with Santana these days, but he has played with Phish in the past and his daughter, Natalie, plays trombone in Trey’s band now (What a family, huh?!?!) Jeff graciously let us use his house for rehearsals and it was a great space.

The shows went off really well. The crowds and the music got better every night. Jennifer and Jeff, on top of being top-notch musicians, are both great people and it was awesome to hang with them and make music together. I can honestly say that last weekend was the most fun I’ve had as a musician in a long time. I hope to do it again soon.

Here is a little video taken by somebody at one of the shows. I’m playing tenor.

Progressive Time Signature Articulations

I was looking through this thread on the Sax on the Web Forum that listed the technical proficiencies for the Berklee College of Music. As I was reading, I kept coming back to this line.

  • Play all major scales using mixed articulations

I assume that mixed articulations, in this case, probably refers to different permutations of articulations based on 4- or 8-note groupings and off-beat tonguing. When I started to think about ‘mixed articulations’ and what that could mean, I began to think that you could use 4- or 8-note groupings, but you could just as easily use 3-, 5-, or any other sized groupings. I then sat down and began to write out all the different permutations of groupings from 1 to 5 notes. As you increase the number of notes in a grouping, you increase the number of possible permutations.

Below are a few examples of these groupings written with time signatures that correspond to the number of notes in each grouping – in this case, 1-, 3-, and 5-note groupings. I have used a C Major Scale written in full range for the saxophone.

For me, the real purpose of this exercise is to play these articulations and superimpose them in 4/4. Below is the exercise written out using all the permutations of 1-, 2-, 3-, 4-, and 5-note groupings.

This exercise is meant to be a starting point for this kind of study. I’ve only written this exercise in one key and only through 5-note groupings. It can, and should, be changed in any way you see fit.

Thanks to Dan Perez for listing the Berklee proficiencies. Dan is a great saxophonist and he’s recently put up a website. Check him out at