“High Standards” by Lenoir Sax

lenoirsaxhighstandardsA new album by Lenoir Sax, High Standards, is available. This group commissioned 9 sax quartet arrangements by me a while back. I had a lot of fun working on these arrangements for them and blogged a bit on most of the arrangements as they were finished offering some of my thoughts while working on the arrangements and some of the things I found particularly interesting about each tune.

If you want to hear some samples and purchase it you can do so here at CDBaby.

Honey Pie For Saxophone Quartet

I cranked out another arrangement for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble recently.  This one was on the Beatles tune, Honey Pie.  Here’s a MIDI realization.  You’ll have to pretend you’re hearing real musicians, but you can get an idea what I did with it.

[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Honey-Pie1.mp3|titles=Honey Pie]

With every arrangement I’ve written for them I’ve tried to give each one it’s own unique feel or hook to set it apart from the rest.  This one was easy in that respect.  I left the old-timey feel from the Beatles recording in there and pretty much stuck to the same form and harmonies, just scored out for the saxophones.  The members of the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble told me they usually perform one novelty-type piece on every performance and when they listed this tune as one of the possible charts to write I figured it would fit that bill pretty well.  I think it should sound pretty good on real saxophones.

This is the last chart of the series they asked me to write for their upcoming project.  I’ll be sure to post when they are performing any of these pieces, in case anyone is in the area and cares to hear them.  I think they’ll be doing some recording sessions this summer too.  They are an excellent quartet and worth hearing if you get the chance.  Go to their web site and you can listen to some samples in the audio player, including my arrangement of Body and Soul.

Pure Imagination for Saxophone Quartet

I just finished another saxophone quartet arrangement for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble, one of a series of charts I’ve been writing for them.  This particular one is on a tune by Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley, written for the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.  Here’s a MIDI realization of my arrangement.

[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/03/Pure-Imagination.mp3|titles=Pure Imagination]

For all these sax quartet arrangements I’ve tried to explore something a little different to give each one something unique to set it off from the rest (beyond just a different tune).  In this chart I experimented with changing meters around and an unusual metric modulation between the different feels.  It starts off with a rubato introduction based on the bridge and then a faster swing feeling.  The metric modulation between the faster passages (usually in 5/4) and the slower (4/4) passages is 3:2.  The quarter notes of the faster 5/4 is equal to the quarter note triples of the slower 4/4 measures.  It reads a little trickier than it sounds, I think.  At times I even explicitly incorporate the quarter note triplet to become the quarter note as the tempo changes in order to make the transitions a little more obvious.

If you aren’t familiar with this tune already, here it is from the movie.  My treatment of this tune is quite a bit different.

The Hollywood Saxophone Quartet and Hello, Young Lovers

I’ve just finished another saxophone quartet arrangement for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble, one of a series I’ve been writing for them.  This arrangement is a tune from The King and I, Hello Young Lovers.  If you’re curious to hear how it came out you can use your imagination and listen to this MIDI realization I put together of it.

[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/02/Hello-Young-Lovers.mp3|titles=Hello, Young Lovers]

For this arrangement the members of the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble requested the dedication be “For Morrie Crawford & the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet.”  The Hollywood Saxophone Quartet was one of the inspirations for this project I’m collaborating with the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble on.

I have to admit that prior to beginning work on these arrangements I was not familiar with the Hollywood Saxophone Quartet.  The HSQ was active around Los Angeles from about 1950 to 1970 and made up of four studio woodwind musicians, including Morrie Crawford, who played tenor sax with the group.  One of the composers/arrangers who wrote exclusively for the HSQ, Warren Barker, retired to nearby Greenville, SC before passing away in 2006.  The Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble has recorded some of the HSQ’s music.

If you want to hear one of my arrangements for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble actually performed by live saxophonists, go here and look in their media player for the recently added musical selections.  My arrangement of Body and Soul is up there now.

Wave for Saxophone Quartet

I just finished another arrangement for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble.  This time I wrote a chart on Antonio Carlos Jobim’s classic composition Wave.  Here’s a MIDI realization if you’re curious to get an idea what I did with it.


One of the most interesting parts of this tune is the modal mixture of D major and D minor throughout.  The beginning of each A section starts in D major, the tonic key of the tune, but each of these A sections ends in D minor.  It makes for an interesting sound that I exploited a bit in my intro and “outro.”  This sort of modal mixture isn’t typical, but isn’t uncommon.  Other jazz standards I can think of that go back and forth between the tonic major and minor include Alone Together and another Jobim composition Triste.  I did something similar in one of my own composition for big band, Leaving.

I’ve written a lot of music including saxophones but these arrangements for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble are the first time I’ve written pieces that are exclusively for the saxophone quartet.  I have to say that it’s been a lot of fun writing for this instrumentation.  Not only do you have a very wide range to exploit between the soprano sax and bari sax, but each of the instruments has it’s own timbre and gives you some different colors to exploit.  In this arrangement I played around a bit more than in my previous sax quartet arrangements with having different saxes take the lead throughout (you can kind of get an idea of this in the MIDI file, but you have to use your imagination, of course).  It’s a tricky way to write, as you have to be careful to not let parts that are playing higher than the lead line get too prominent and overpower the melody.  When it works out, though, it can make for a very interesting sound that doesn’t get used often enough, I think.

Just Friends For Saxophone Quartet and the Minor Plagal Cadence

I’ve just completed another arrangement for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble (Robert George, David Kirby, Patrick Brown, and Mike Myers).  I heard them perform last November and was really impressed with the group.  Having worked with a couple of them in the past, I knew they were excellent musicians, but their playing was incredibly tight.  They certainly don’t slap their music together, they take a lot of time and effort into rehearsing and getting their music to sound good.  That means I can write what I think will sound cool and not worry so much about how challenging it will be to play.

Here’s my take on the jazz standard Just Friends for them.  It’s a MIDI realization, so you will need to pretend you’re hearing four saxophonists playing with expression and style, rather than a computer.  Brownie points to anyone who can name all the quotes that ended up in this arrangement.

[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Just-Friends.mp3|titles=Just Friends]

While Just Friends is a tune that most jazz musicians are probably already familiar with, it is very interesting harmonically.  Most notably, the tonic chord of the tune really doesn’t get strongly cadenced until almost the very end of the tune.  It does, however, show up in the 5th measure, but approaches it from an interesting direction.  Since my arrangement is in the key of C major, my example is in that key.

Notice that the first chord is the IV, which then becomes a minor iv, leading to what would be a ii-V in a different key.  Instead of resolving to Eb major, this chord pattern resolves to the I chord.  So what does this progression have to do with a plagal cadence? Continue reading Just Friends For Saxophone Quartet and the Minor Plagal Cadence

Songbird For Saxophone Quartet

I’ve been working on more arrangements for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble and just finished writing a chart on Songbird, by Loonis McGlohon.  I wasn’t familiar with the tune or the composer before being asked to write an arrangement of it.  It’s really a beautiful tune, and has several interesting features.

The bridge is different in that it’s only 4 measures long, a little unusual but not unheard of.  The opening chords for the A sections I found really fun to play with.  Moving from D7#9 to EbMaj7 is an unusual progression with very colorful melody notes (F natural to G over those two chords).

Here’s a MIDI realization of my chart.  I find the computer playback to be particularly unsatisfying on this arrangement.  A little rubato should go a long way into making it more musical.


Here’s a video about McGlohon, the composer.  It turns out there’s a North Carolina connection, as he was based in Charlotte.

Montuno and Asheville Jazz Orchestra Shows This Weekend

It’s been a busy last couple of weeks for me, so I apologize for the lack of recent new content. One of the reasons I haven’t been able to blog lately is because I’ve been doing a lot of performing. I’ve got two public gigs this weekend keeping me busy for a while longer too.

MontunoTomorrow evening, Friday, May 9, 2014, I’m performing salsa with Montuno at the bi-annual Lake Eden Arts Festival. Playing LEAF is always a good time. The crowds are super appreciative and open to lots of different musical styles. They always treat the artists at LEAF well and it’s cool to wander around when I’m not playing to check out the other bands. Montuno will be performing from 8:30-9:30 PM at the Brookside stage, if you’re going to be at LEAF this year. There will also be a salsa dance class there just before we go on, taught by Hector Hernandez and Jennifer Stalnaker.

AJO-Logo-Transparent copyThe next day, Saturday May 10, 2014, is the annual Morganton Jazz Festival. The Asheville Jazz Orchestra will be performing at the Morganton courthouse lawn beginning at 4 PM and we’ll play until 5:30. There’s a lot of other great jazz that will be performed this Saturday, including the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble at 2 PM at the courthouse lawn. I wrote several jazz arrangements for Lenoir Sax a while back and rumor has it they may be performing some of them at this show.

If you do make it out for either of these shows please be sure to come say hello after the set!

Memoriam for Dr. David Kirby

My friend and colleague, Dr. David Kirby, passed away unexpectedly yesterday. David was the Director of Bands at Pfeiffer University and one of the finest woodwind players I have known. We had been collaborating on different projects recently. He and I co-conducted a concert combining the Land of the Sky Symphonic Band and Pfeiffer University Wind Ensemble last April. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you may remember his name as one of the members of the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble, a group I recently wrote a number of arrangements for.

Today I composed this short piece for saxophone trio: soprano, tenor, and bari. David played alto saxophone with the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble. It’s simply called Memoriam.


Gil Evans Voicings and Autumn Leaves

I’ve just finished another arrangement for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble, my  fifth arrangement for them.  This time I wrote a chart on the standard Autumn Leaves.  Here’s a MIDI realization if you’d like to hear my treatment of this tune.

[audio:http://www.wilktone.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/01/Autumn-Leaves.mp3|titles=Autumn Leaves]

In order to give this chart a different flavor from the previous ones I’ve written for the Lenoir Saxophone Ensemble I decided to play around with a voicing technique that Gil Evans, one of my favorite composer/arrangers, used frequently.  Evans was fond of voicing out chords in such a way that would put at least two parts together a second apart. In my arrangement I used this idea throughout.  Here’s one example, which can be heard in my arrangement just at the end of the rubato opening.

Normally I wouldn’t put a half step between the top two voices like this, as it obscures the sound of the highest pitch a bit.  In this particular case, however, it works pretty well because the melody is in the bari sax.  With this particular chord voicing the major 7th between the bari and tenor also help give it a dissonant grinding quality.

Rather than listen to my MIDI realization (a pale imitation of real instrumentalists anyway), you should check out how Evans used these very tight voicings to great effect.  Here’s an example, Evan’s composition The Time of the Barracudas.