John Wojciechowski: West End Avenue

Here it is: the first in what will be a biweekly series of transcriptions lasting throughout 2015. Check back often for more analyses, recordings, and thoughts as I work my way through these solos.


In the summer of 2003, I went to Birch Creek for the first time. Although he wasn’t an instructor during my session, many of the other students at the camp talked about this saxophonist who had been a part of the first jazz session (I attended the second). Someone had a recording of director Jeff Campbell’s trio recording (West End Avenue), featuring John Hollenbeck and John Wojciechowski, and played this track. I managed to get my hands on the track and listened to it ad nauseam in the months that followed. It wasn’t until later that I got my hands on the rest of the record, and even later than that that I truly appreciated the music recorded. To anyone who enjoys chordless groups, I highly recommend buying it wherever you can – I haven’t been able to find it online anywhere lately, so if you have any leads, please let me know so I can share.

This solo is one of the first I ever really latched onto and needed to learn. Immediately, I was struck by the inside-outside language that John uses. Now that I’ve revisited the solo, it stands out even more because there isn’t much of it.

  1. The first instance, in mm. 42-44, was the first lick I ever remember wanting to learn. Now, I simply hear this as side-stepping E minor and moving up by a half step, but at the time, I had no idea what that was or how side-stepping sounded. The quick arpeggio in m. 43 tonicizes F major to my ear and keeps us there until John reintroduces the C# of E dorian in m. 44.
  2. The second instance, in mm. 75-76, I remember wanting to learn in grad school as I tried to hone my turnarounds. This is a simple tonicization of A minor: John plays a clear E7(b9) outline to lead to A minor. But what of the Eb-F-Ab? I interpret this as a preparation of E7 through the Eb diminished scale – I encounter it most frequently in the vocabularies of piano players. There seems to be a certain sophistication (almost old-school) when preparing your dominant in this way. Granted, there’s only a few notes, so he may have thought of this in an entirely different way, but this is my blog…
  3. The last instance occurs across the first half of the last A section (mm. 85-92). We hear John play the melody and then immediately begin to sequence. The first lies with his side-stepping motif from earlier. Then he picks up the last note (F), then moves away by a tritone (the C#, which lies within E dorian). To finish this sequence, he side-steps again (mm. 88-89). To get back to E dorian and close out his solo, he cycles through F major and Bb major after a couple of chromatic approach-tones.

To my ear, the most striking thing about this solo is John’s inventiveness within E and A dorian while going outside of that harmony only three times. The melodies are particularly memorable, and without flash, save for one exception (mm. 45-52). When I think of great modal solos, especially in a chordless format,  I think of players that can superimpose harmony at breakneck speeds. Anyone that has heard John play knows that he can burn with the best of them. In this solo, he has made a decision to focus on well-conceived, singable melodies. This is a solo I come back to when I need to remember that not every solo needs flash and monstrous technique. Thanks for the reminder, John.

West End Avenue – PDF
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The List

Here it is – after making a few tough calls, I came up with a list of 25 solos I plan to transcribe over the course of this year. Some I transcribed in years past, but want to revisit and glean new lessons; others have been on my list since I started listening to this music. Choosing 25 was a difficult decision – I strived to keep variety in the artists I would represent here. I’m sure I will work on others not on this list, but these give an idea of the styles that I both appreciate and want to incorporate into my own vocabulary. Without further ado, here are my selections:

  1. John Wojciechowski, “West End Avenue,” from Jeff Campbell’s album “West End Avenue”
  2. John Ellis, “Mestre Tata” (Live), from Charlie Hunter’s DVD “Right Now Live”
  3. Scott Robinson, “How About You,” from Ryan Truesdell’s album “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans”
  4. Michael Brecker, “Delta City Blues,” from “Two Blocks from the Edge”
  5. Donny McCaslin, “Cerulean Skies,” from Maria Schneider’s album “Sky Blue”
  6. Walter Smith III, “Development,” from Eric Harland’s album “Voyager: Live by Night”
  7. Donny McCaslin, “Madonna,” from “In Pursuit”
  8. Dayna Stephens, “Mister Magic,” from Lauren Denberg’s album “Sideways”
  9. Seamus Blake, “Body & Soul,” from a YouTube bootleg
  10. Avishai Cohen, “Mood Indigo,” from “Introducing Triveni”
  11. Ravi Coltrane, “26-2,” from “Mad 6″
  12. Walter Smith III, “Kate Song,” from “Casually Introducing Walter Smith III”
  13. George Garzone, “Night & Day,” from “Alone”
  14. Branford Marsalis, “Free to Be,” from “Braggtown”
  15. Branford Marsalis, “Yes or No,” from “Random Abstract”
  16. Mark Turner, “Confirmation,” from Billy Hart’s album “Quartet”
  17. Marcus Strickland, “Butch & Butch,” from Roy Haynes’ album “Fountain of Youth”
  18. Rich Perry, “Choro Dançado,” from Maria Schneider’s album “Concert in the Garden”
  19. Joe Lovano, “Blues on the Corner,” from McCoy Tyner’s album “Quartet”
  20. Michael Brecker, “Naima,” from “Directions in Music”
  21. Gerry Mulligan, “Just in Time,” from “What is There to Say?”
  22. John Coltrane, “I Want to Talk About You” from “Newport ’63”
  23. Clifford Brown, “Cherokee,” from “Study in Brown”
  24. Paul Gonsalves, “Diminuendo & Crescendo in Blue,” from Duke Ellington’s album “Ellington at Newport”
  25. Stan Getz, “I Want to Be Happy,” from “Stan Getz & The Oscar Peterson Trio”

I plan to publish one of these every two weeks. They won’t necessarily be in order, but they will all be done by the end of 2015. As I mentioned, I will likely work on a few not from this list as well. I have yet to decide if those will be published on here or if I’ll save them for another project (the wheels are already turning for the next one). You can expect the first solo to be posted by the end of this week. Here we go!

New Years’ Goals

Happy 2015 everyone! 2014 was a great year for me – it was my first year living full-time as a musician, I got my foot in the door in a wide variety of projects, and I figured out how to better balance a playing/teaching/writing lifestyle. All of that said, I’m happy to close the book on 2014 and am looking forward to 2015. Here are a two of my most prominent goals I plan to accomplish this year:

  1. Record an album with Outset
    We’ve been playing together for more than a year, and have developed a substantial book of music. The process of going from rehearsal room to recording studio (by my estimation) involves many more live shows than what we’ve done previously. You can expect to see a number of dates popping up on the calendar for us as the year goes on. Hopefully we’ll have success getting around the Midwest and have even more recognition within Chicago. If you have ideas of venues of which I may not know and we might fit, please let me know! I’m always looking for new places to bring our music.
  2. Transcribe more
    I’ve made no secret of my love for transcribing. In fact, there have been phases in my career where I’ve done nothing but listening and transcribing for weeks at a time. I haven’t done much in the last year though, so I plan to up my game and aggressively get after the projects I’ve had planned for a few years. In the coming days, I’ll post my list of solos I’ve been planning to complete (it’s a long one). As I finish them, I’ll post the transcription, an analysis, and (hopefully) a video of me playing the transcription.

For me, accountability is one of the key components to completing goals, so I try to tell everyone I know about them. The more reminders and inquiries I get into those goals, the more likely I am to complete them. If you notice me slacking off, say something! I’ll either have a really good excuse or get back to work right away.

For now, I’ll leave you with a recording that I’ve been listening to over the last few weeks, and will likely make my transcription list:

Walter Smith III, Kate Song:

Jerry’s Sandwiches, 12.2.14

Outset is back! We played two shows last week, one at Martyrs’ and one at Jerry’s. Both nights were great, but Jerry’s was the only one with good video. Take a look at our new tune, “Dropped,” and three old tunes – “Steppin’,” “Bixotic,” and “New Rain.” Leave a comment and tell me what you think! Keep your eyes peeled for new dates coming in early 2015 – we’re hoping to get out into the region.

Remembering Fred Sturm

A couple of weeks have gone by now since the sad news of Fred Sturm’s passing. I had the great honor of studying with Fred while at Lawrence University. I’ve been thinking constantly about all he gave me and wanted to get my thoughts written down. If you knew Fred, maybe some of this will ring true with you as well. If you never had the opportunity to meet him, let this be a glance at why he will be missed by so many. If you have a memory of Fred that you want to share, please leave a comment; I’d love to hear other experiences with him.

I had been warned by Mr. Wiele, one of my high school directors and a former student of Fred’s, to watch out for Professor Sturm as I started at Lawrence. He warned me about his joking nature and advised that I never, EVER get into a prank war with Fred because there would be no hope of winning. Fred and Mr. Wiele had been involved in an elaborate game of Hide & Seek for years – the object of the game was a statuette of Louis Armstrong, lovingly called “The Louie.” My high school friends and I had been hearing about this elusive “Louie” since we started with Mr. Wiele and the dastardly Fred Sturm who was supposedly keeping it captive against its will. When my friends – Carl and Ken – and I first met Fred, we asked: “What’s the deal with the Louie?” Fred, whose wit was fast and sharp came back right away: “You’re Wiele’s boys, aren’t you? I can tell you three are no good. Go back to Kenosha and tell Wiele that he’ll never get his hands on the Louie!” We tried a few different times to get the Louie away from Fred, but no matter what, he always managed to stay three steps ahead of us. I suppose it was all the years of practice he had with Prof. Keelan just down the hall and all of their pranks. It was understood – Fred always won. When Mr. Wiele was given the reins of a new high school program in Kenosha, Fred sent the Louie as a congratulatory gift. Fred knew how to joke, but his joking was equally proportionate to the amount of care he had for you.

I didn’t work directly with Fred until my second year at Lawrence, but I knew from watching his jazz ensemble as a freshman that I needed to work with him in some way. It was a strange, gut feeling that I hadn’t experienced before. I could tell that studying under Fred would be something special, even if I didn’t know the goal or have an idea of what the finished product might be. When I finally got to work with him, I knew I had a lot of homework to do. I worked my butt off trying to keep up in his jazz ensemble while studying to get through his theory and pedagogy classes. Through his composition classes, he started me down the writing path. I was pushed harder in that class than I had been to that point, but made some of my strongest relationships with the other students in that class – it was as though Fred had planned that we would all be friends and put us in that room for that reason. We learned to write because we learned to communicate with each other. I often wish I could have been a fly on the wall during my lessons with Fred. It was constantly amazing to come to some conclusion that I thought I had discovered, only to later find that it had been subtly planted by Fred. He didn’t teach by showing you the answer, but made you think deeply about the problem before exploring every possible avenue that could solve it.

I got into trouble with Fred once, and it was awful. I wish I had thought to use his problem solving tools then. I never saw Fred actually get angry at someone or something – he would express disappointment, and that was the worst feeling of all. He held all of us to an incredibly high standard, both musically and personally; anytime you feel below that standard, you knew from Fred’s response. Letting him down and losing his respect was one of the hardest lessons I learned in my time with him. Thankfully, Fred was also an extremely gracious man, so it lasted only as long as it took for me to learn. Before too long, Fred welcomed me back and continued to push me higher.

The last time I saw Fred, I had just moved home from Oregon and was visiting Jazz Weekend. Fred wrapped me up in a great, big bear hug and told me that he had to run – understandable, considering the size and scope of the festival. I was able to catch him for a minute once more after the jazz ensemble played. He welcomed me back to the midwest and promised that we would be in touch as the school year unwound. We occasionally would catch up, and he continued to play a role in my real-world education. Even now, the lessons he gave me come up all the time. Every piece I write inevitably contains a Fred-ism. When I direct a jazz ensemble or run a professional rehearsal, I can hear Fred’s words and see his rehearsal techniques coming through me.

Mr. Wiele warned me that my time with Fred would go by way too fast. Sadly, it turns out that Fred’s time went by way too fast.  The lives he has touched are countless and the legacy he leaves behind is as massive as his indomitable spirit.

He was so much more than a teacher, director, or mentor. He was one of the most unapologetically warm and giving people I have ever been fortunate to count as a friend. Rest in peace, Fred. The world misses you so much more than you know.


Bob Reynolds: I Don’t Need No Doctor

I’ve been listening to a lot of short solos lately. I generally find that there’s much more than meets the eye (ear?) to a solo limited to one or two choruses, especially when it’s a great player. Joe Henderson’s album “The Kicker” is one of those records – EVERYTHING is condensed to only what is necessary! While this solo isn’t by Joe (you can expect transcriptions from The Kicker soon…), it is a short solo played by someone whom I consider great.

Bob Reynolds is currently John Mayer’s saxophonist, has worked with Snarky Puppy (among many others), leads a fantastic project as a leader, and is a generally good go-to guy for creative, melodic playing. I’ve been a big fan of John’s for a while, which is how I discovered Bob. On “Where the Light Is,” John leads three projects through a night of music, and the last set is his band playing the top-40 hits. One of them, “I Don’t Need No Doctor,” was originally recorded by John (Mayer) with John Scofield on Sco’s record, “That’s What I Say.” Here, they take a slightly more pop-based approach than with Scofield, but with all the same heart.

Bob takes his chorus right after another modern heavyweight, Brad Mason, right around the 2:30 mark. The thing I love most about Bob’s playing, both generally and highlighted here, is his ability to mesh the bluesy language that pop music demands and the bebop inspired language that makes it more interesting than a run-of-the-mill blues soloist. Check out mm. 9-15. Bob starts by playing what can only be considered a blues lick. To connect that to another blues lick at the end of the phrase, he uses the end of his first blues lick to start a bebop lick, leading him straight into another blues-drenched lick.

The other thing I love about Bob’s playing, especially with John, is his ability to play the style. One of the hardest things we do as performers is fit into the musical situation appropriately. As much as we’d like to do it, it just wouldn’t be right to plug in all of our Coltrane-isms and Warne Marsh-isms in an R&B or funk setting like this. Listen carefully to Bob play this solo and do your best to pick up all of his inflection and nuance when you play it back. Besides the language, the bends, the scoops, the grace notes, they’re all part of what makes this solo great.

I Don’t Need No Doctor – PDF

Buy John Mayer: Where the Light Is

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