The Michael Brecker Solo on "Swunk"

This edition of workshops features my transcription of the Michael Brecker tenor saxophone solo on a Mike Stern composition "Swunk" from Stern's 1993 recording IS WHAT IT IS. (ATL 82571-2)

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I first heard this solo while visiting my girl friend Astrid who is also a saxophonist at her apartment in Cologne, Germany (we're married now). She had just bought this CD and was listening to Brecker's solo. I was immediately struck by his overall power and conviction and in particular his vivid musical imagination.

I felt I really needed to know what was going on "behind the scenes" and decided to transcribe it. Rather than overwhelm myself - this is a very difficult solo - I decided to transcribe only 4 measures a day. This way I felt a regular sense of accomplishment instead of a regular sense of something, well, less positive.

This solo contains a number of very compelling concepts. Rhythmic sub-division - check out the groups of 6 and 7 and the effect they have on the feel; false fingerings - a Brecker trademark but always intriging; the overtone series - I'm sure we've all done long tones this way but it's interesting to see how something so tedious in practise can sound so exciting in a solo; patterns, altisimo - it's all there. Simply, this solo is a compendium of what can be done during a funk solo on the tenor saxophone. The composition itself is not harmonically complex although there are chord changes every 8 bars or so. Its groove seems to exist somewhere between the straight sixteenths of funk and swing - hence the name.

I recommend working through the solo very slowly at first just to get a sense of the line and patterns. When you get a feel for the solo try playing it along with the recording. Be patient though - it'll come.

Click on image to get larger view in jpeg format Page 1 | Page 2 Click here for a printable PDF version

Hear Michael Brecker solo on "Swunk"


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Please feel free to email me with questions or thoughts about this solo - i'd love to hear from you.


Almost any solo that I have ever studied that I didn't transcribe myself I have had to spend a fair amount of time correcting. This doesn't necessarily mean that they were wrongly transcribed. Everyone hears music in a slightly different way and may interpret notation slightly differently, this means there's lots of room for variation. Ultimately it is best to do ALL of your own transcribing. Not only do you get to hear over and over again, as you work your way through the solo, the subtle inflections of a Masters playing, but also, how the musicians who are accompanying the soloist are responding. This information, ultimately stored in your memory as instinctive responses, is invaluable. You can't get that from a printed page no matter how many times to play it!

If you are looking for my previously posted transcription of Bob Mintzer's tenor saxophone solo on the John Coltrane composition "Blue Train" click here.

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