Here's Lester' incredible solo on Billie Holiday's 'All of Me.' This seminal recording and saxophone solo showcases Lester's incredible sound, range of articulation and great examples of playing across the beat.
How to Use the Transcription
Remember that transcribing an improvised solo is primarily an aural activity, not an exercise in reading. Always try to do as much as possible from the recording itself, and only use this transcription if you are really stuck on a phrase. Please note, the transposition for alto saxophone includes a 'low A,' which obviously can't be played on the saxophone. I've included the original note in the score for precision, but when I learned this solo I used a low Bb instead of the low A. It's not what he played but it adds a nice colour.
Time and Articulation
There's a lot of really advanced playing across the beat in this solo. Lester, and the great players of his generation had an ability to stretch the time through their phrases, playing right across the beat before landing squarely on beat 1. This technique (probably absorbed from vocalists) can be heard in the playing of Ben Webster, Johnny Hodges and many others. There are a few great examples of this in this incredible solo. I have tried to notate this as best as possible, but it's impossible to write down, so learning this solo (as always) must be done aurally. Gently copy this approach and allow the lyricism to enter your playing.
Some really nice contrasts in articulation in the solo, small glisses, staccato and legato contrasts. Don't skip out on this small but important detail.
There is a lot of seminal vocabulary contained in this short solo that has been absorbed and developed by the subsequent generations of musicians. Here is an outline of a few bits of useful vocabulary and their harmonic contexts. All of these phrases were taken and developed by the next generations of saxophone players. All three examples listed below were developed and extended by Charlie Parker and other bebop saxophonists:
- Bar 2: Triplet ornament and Minor 7th arpeggio vocab
- Bar 3-5: IV-IVm-I stock progression
- Bar 9: Beats 1 & 2, Chromatic approach to major arpeggio
Advice on Deeper Study
Here are some pointers on how to really absorb the content in this amazing solo
- Relax with the solo, and spend time with the articulation
- Don't try too hard to copy the laid back phrases, just relax and absorb the sound over time
- Alto players use Bb for the penultimate note! It's not what he played but it adds a different colour!
- Don't worry about speed, play it as faithfully as possible with perfect phrasing and articulation at a speed which is comortable and relaxed
- Try to explore how the vocabulary in this solo was absorbed and taken forward by following generations
- Try to imagine how Lester was feeling when he was playing this. Practise this feeling as you practise playing the solo