Walter Smith III

Doug Rosenberg’s Transcriptions #12: Walter Smith III solo on “Himorme”


This solo represents a low point in my transcribing project [haha, but musically, it is one of my favorite saxophone solos]. Walter sent me the changes and I can’t even figure out where they go. You can see my best efforts on the first page, up to measure 40. There are also sections of fast notes that would take an extra 100 hours to write down, a project which I decline. Despite my shortcomings, this is still an incredible solo. It is different from some of the others because the style is more “free-bop” than bebop. What does that mean? Even the changes suggest that this song form aims to maximize chromaticism. What does music sound like when it changes keys every four beats? This song! Another speculative opinion: this solo is reminiscent of the style of saxophone great Branford Marsalis. He has many recordings in this medium-uptempo rhythmic displaced solo. Smith’s tone is also subtly similar to Branford as well. …And now actual musical analysis. The solo begins with a series of fourths and fifths, giving early notice that the harmony will be unusual. The two previous solos were very original and did not follow bebop conventions at all. Logan Richardson’s solo is very mysterious, and unwilling to bow to “burnout jazz” stylings. Jason Moran’s solo is also stridently modern. Make sure to listen to the piano accompaniment during this solo, it’s really interesting. There’s also a ton of chromatic “sidestepping,” and you’ll notice the amount of accidentals is staggering. Bars 8-9 are the same phrase up a half step. A reoccurring melodic phrase is an ascending “scalish” phrase using chromatic neighbors. You may find this in measures: 14,15,21,22,49-53(in reverse),100-102, in addition to many smaller examples. Check out the extreme rhythmic displacement from measures 98-112.

Downlaod: Walter Smith solo on Himorme from III, Bb

Download: Walter Smith solo on Himorme from III, C

Doug Rosenberg’s Transcriptions #10: Walter Smith III’s solo on “Kate Song”

walter smith pic

Just because I write more or less about a solo does not render judgement on the quality of a solo. I have a busy life and it takes thought, hard work, and time to produce these entries.

That said, I will go into a lot of detail on this short solo from “Kate Song,” off of Walter Smith III’s Casually Introducing.

You can buy the sheet music here:

You can buy the album here:

The song is a soulful one in five, with interesting modal harmonies. You might sing it to yourself. The piano “solo” is with both Aaron Parks and Robert Glasper. The entire album features the top jazz artists of the era, this certainly includes these two exceptional pianists. After that is a subdued drum solo in 11. It builds and builds with the saxophone adding a simple background melody. Measure 1 is at 5:20 in the tune, over a vamp of Eb-7 to Absusb9. Significant harmonic liberties are taken. Also, the fantastic Gretchen Parlato overdubbed her beautiful voice along to Smith’s solo, giving it a really cool analog “effect.”
Measures 8-10 use a Db pentatonic. 11-12 uses the Messiaen mode, an unusual mode that is augmented (m3 m2 m3 m2 m3 m2). The line ends back on Db pentatonic. The rhythmic feel has an abrupt change in measure 13, going from a flowing slurred style to a gritty bebop feel, lasting to 18. The fast run at 19-22 starts with a descending version of the ascending C# melodic minor to a diminished lick using triads and grace notes: Gb, Eb, C. Next comes chromaticism into serial grouping of five: Gbmaj7, Gbmaj7, GbMaj7#11, F#dimM7 x 3, culminating in a descending Db major scale. Measures 24-26 use another augmented scale that could be considered the Db mode of Bb melodic minor (ascending). 27-32 are back to Ab bebop/Db pentatonic. The solo ends with a coda built into the solo section.

Thanks to Walter for the details!

Download: Walter Smith Kate solo on Kate Song, Bb

Download: Walter Smith Kate solo on Kate Song, C

Doug Rosenberg’s Transcriptions #9: Walter Smith III solo on “Development”


#9 comes from one of my favorite modern albums, Eric Harland’s Voyager Live By Night. If you like this music, you can buy it here, or even get the brand-new one here. Eric Harland is an unbelievable drummer, bandleader, and composer. I love the album’s group concept.

The improvised section begins at measure 19, with a motif that relates to the melody, varied a whole step down once, then twice with an abrupt resolution. For a song based on G7, this harmonic playfulness sounds very fresh. There are a lot of diatonic melodic variations through the entire solo, with sidesteps to random keys that sound cool. Many times these excursions end squarely on beat one, as in measures 25,41,49,61,81,89.
Another recurring theme is a Dizzy Gillespie lick consisting of scale steps and chromatic neighbors, and it appears in measures: 29-30,52-54.

Download: Walter Smith solo on Development, Bb

Download: Walter Smith solo on Development, C

Doug Rosenberg’s transcriptions #8: Walter Smith III’s solo on “Cyclic Episode”


walter pic

This improvised solo is the shortest of three recordings of the song by Walter Smith III. The other two are from “Live in Paris” and Eric Harland’s “Voyager Live by Night.” They are longer…
The original song is from Sam River’s Fuchsia Swing Song, a classic Blue Note album from 1964. The song itself is 16 bars long, with a key change every four beats. Minor chords in minor thirds is a very cool sound, and to “serialize” it was certainly a novel sound in 1964. Thanks Walter Smith for reviving this beautiful composition.
There are a few chords that serve a “dual purpose” in the form. Bars 5-8 could be interpreted as: Bm7b5 E7 F#mb5 B7 (in Bb), and the last chord could be thought of as G7#9#5.
With all the harmonic complexity and the very chunky nature of the changes, it is striking to hear Smith stretch over the bar line, while knowing EXACTLY where the form is. Take the beginning of the solo, in bars 26-33. This is a really pretty melody, displaced by one bar in the form.
In terms of vocabulary, Smith really varies things a lot. One motif that is used a lot is the #11 on dominant chords, in bars 38,71,72,87. Another recurring melodic theme is “enclosure,” which means surrounding a chord tone by chromatic neighbors: 41,69-73,77-78,84,86. There are cool ways of dealing with the symmetrical chords found here: 59-60,73-76,89-91. These sound fantastic because they are displaced and use a chromatic new note to sound fresh.

 Download: Walter Smith solo on Cyclic Episode from Introducing,Bb

Download: Walter Smith solo on Cyclic Episode from Introducing, C

Doug Rosenberg’s Transcriptions #7: Walter Smith III solo on “Stablemates”


walter smith still casual

To celebrate his brand-new CD, the next 5 solos will be from the horn of Walter Smith III. To my ears, he is one of the top saxophone players under the age of 40. Buy this CD now!

This solo comes from a modern jazz standard, “Stablemates,” by Benny Golson. The record is simply called Live in Paris. The beginning overlaps with the trumpet solo for the last A section (14 bars). The song has an unusual form ABA of 14-8-14.

Walter’s playing is notable for athleticism, attention to harmony, and a very unique tone. There is a ton of interesting rhythmic playing, especially when he plays with the songs melody around measures 98-112. But the coolest part of the solo is the shredding of this harmonically tricky tune. Soooo much melodic invention!

If you like this music, you should buy it! I will not post youtube videos of living artists. Buy it from the website of the artist, or at a live show. Buy their music to give your family for the holidays.


Download: Walter Smith solo on Stablemates from III Bb

Download: Walter Smith solo on Stablemates from III C