Ornithology: A Charlie Parker Alto Sax Solo Transcription

OrnithologyThe beboppers of the 1940s and 1950s advanced the use of contrafacts,* and the godfather of bebop, alto saxophonist Charlie Parker, used them liberally. After the many tunes he wrote over the chord changes to "I Got Rhythm," the contrafact he probably recorded most was the tune "Ornithology," which utilizes the changes to the old standard, "How High the Moon."

I have no idea exactly how many recordings exist of Bird holding forth on "Ornithology." I only know that there are lots. The tune was clearly a favorite vehicle for Parker, and the transcription shown here captures his first 32 bars of an extended flight. I hope to transcribe the rest of it in time, but the process keeps getting interrupted by other priorities, so for now at least, I thought I'd share this much of Bird's solo with you. It's plenty 'nuff to whet your chops on.

Charlie Parker not only had a phenomenal technique, but an equally amazing melodic concept. Both are on display here. Just click on the image and enjoy soaring with Bird.

If you enjoyed this post, visit my Jazz Theory, Technique & Solo Transcriptions for many more transcriptions, licks and technical exercises, and educational articles on jazz.


* Contrafacts are new melodies set to the harmonies of preexisting tunes.

Confirmation: A Richie Cole Alto Sax Solo Transcription

I am not the world's most accomplished jazz solo transcriber, but every time I tackle a project, I discover anew just how beneficial the discipline of transcribing jazz solos is. This latest transcription has kicked my butt. Richie Cole is--to put it in words you'll rarely hear from a sedate, late-middle-aged Germanic male--one bad mofo on the alto sax. He has carved his niche as a bastion of bebop, and as such, his language is largely accessible. However, Richie has a way of interpolating material that requires serious effort to figure out exactly what the heck he's doing.

So it is with his rendition here of the Charlie Parker standard "Confirmation." Some of Richie's rhythms and trills caused me to sweat blood for hours trying to at least approximate in a measure or two ideas that flew glibly from the man's horn in the matter of a second.

The solo is transcribed from Richie's 2007 CD The Man with the Horn. A quintessential bebop tune, "Confirmation" rips along at 246 beats per minute, providing Richie with a perfect vehicle to demonstrate his formidable chops and his broad bop vocabulary. Anyone who wants to gain mastery of Bird changes will profit from working on this one.

Note: I transcribed Richie's solo for Eb instruments, specifically the alto sax. I haven't attempted to show all of Richie's slurs and nuances, just a few that I felt needed to be indicated. To get a real feel for his articulation, you'll need to listen to the recording.

I Would Be a Sinner: Rich Lataille Alto Sax Solo Transcription

A couple years ago, while listening to WBLV (a wonderful West Michigan jazz radio station), I heard a tune by the band Roomful of Blues that put a smile on my face and set my insides to dancing. The title was "I Would Be a Sinner" from the CD Raisin' a Ruckus, published in 2008 by Alligator Records. Predictably, I suppose, considering the name of the band, the tune was an F blues, and the alto sax solo by Rich Lataille was just perfect. I don't know how else to describe it, and I'm not going to try too hard other than to say that Rich's tone is beautiful, his technique is surgically clean, and his approach is passionate and smack on the money.

Here are all three choruses, transcribed for the alto sax. (Click on the images to enlarge them.) It probably needs no saying, but I'll say it anyway: You'd do well to pick up the CD, or at least download the tune on MP3. I've notated some of the important slurs and articulations, but I've by no means tried to capture all of them, and you'll want to hear them. You'll also want to check out the interplay between the alto and the bari sax in the second chorus, with the addition of other instruments in the third chorus. The counterpoint hearkens back to Dixieland bands in spirit, though the style is obviously different.

And that's all I need say, other than that this is a great tune, and I hope you'll enjoy playing it and listening to it as much as I do!

One for Daddy-O: A Cannonball Adderley Solo Transcription

If you're an alto saxophonist, at some point you're going to have to go through Cannonball Adderley just as surely as you've got to deal with Charlie Parker. Cannon's buttery tone, prodigious technique, and ability to consistently and flawlessly deliver solos of pristine inventiveness make him a foundation stone of jazz saxophone.

The transcription on this page showcases Cannon playing on "One for Daddy-O," a Bb minor blues with a head written by his brother, trumpeter Nat Adderley. The feel is a cool, casual shuffle, with no one in any hurry to get anywhere. Even as Cannon cooks with passion and dexterity for four bars in double-time, he somehow manages to convey a laid-back mood that makes it sound as if he's lying in a hammock and will return to sipping his iced tea as soon as he's finished.

"One for Daddy-O" is one of the tunes in the classic Adderley quintet album Something Else. When you give the CD a listen, check out the call-and-response between horns and piano in the head. Points of interest in Cannon's solo include: • Use of the G and D Phrygian dominant scales (mode five of the harmonic minor scale)--ex. bar 6, or the fourth bar into the first full 12-bar form; and bars 28 and 36, or the second and tenth bars of the third chorus.

• Rhythmic variety within an overall 16th-note double-time framework. There are places in this solo where you can hear Cannonball stretching the time like taffy, now speeding up, now slowing down, yet never failing to convey a sense of the underlying pulse. The only thing Cannon doesn't do with time is lose it, even for an instant. It has been a challenge for me to try to capture in notation what he's doing in some spots!

• Recurrent ideas--motifs, if you wish--that help to unify the solo. The walkdown to low Bb in bar 4 is a good example; you'll find variations of it reiterated throughout the solo.

But enough of me talking. Time to get on to the solo. Click on the images on this page to enlarge them. And if you'd like to view more solo transcriptions as well as articles, video tutorials, and technical exercises, you'll find them here.

I should add that I'm still not certain I've properly captured the rhythm of the very last two or three bars where Cannon winds things up. If it's not spot-on, it's close, and further listening will tell me whether I need to tweak that section or leave it be. Either way, I'll remove this last paragraph once that final snippet is taken care of.  Everything else checks out. Have fun with it!