Woody Shaw – Sashianova
Here is a transcription of Woody’s solo on Sashianova, taken from the album Little Red’s Fantasy. One of the things that strikes me most about this solo is Woody’s time feel. Pretty much everything he plays is perfectly in time, even in the fast semiquaver passages. In bar 35 he gets slightly ahead of himself but still manages to nail the resolution, landing perfectly on the 3rd beat of bar 36. The tonguing on some of these semiquaver passages is incredible – I have some way to go until I can tongue at that speed but I am working on it.
This solo is also notable for the wide range of articulations, dynamics and inflexions used by Woody. At times he plays legato, quietly and sweetly (for example, bars 41-42) but at others he plays aggressively and with strong articulation (for example, bars 49-52). The rhythm section, particularly Ronnie Matthews on piano, do a fantastic job in supporting Woody and allowing him to explore different feels. Woody also uses a range of smears, falls, trills and false fingerings – however, these are used tastefully and sparingly, and provide a contrast to the smooth legato lines also played. I would like to incorporate the use of inflexions into my own playing, but I am also aware of the difficulty of using such devices artistically and not just for the sake of it. Woody incorporates them into his lines effortlessly, and only at places where it makes logical sense.
This album features three Woody Shaw original tunes alongside one tune apiece from pianist Ronnie Matthews and bassist Stafford James. Also featured on this record are alto saxophonist Frank Strozier and drummer Eddie Moore. Most of the tunes have a latin feel to them, with the feel in Tomorrow’s Destiny continuously switching between latin and swing. The playing on this album is strong throughout, particularly from Woody and Ronnie Matthews on piano. The compositions provide the perfect springboards for the flowing and exploratory solos.
Woody solos especially strongly on Sashianova (the tune written by Stafford James) and his own composition In Case You Haven’t Heard. In each of these solos the interplay between soloist and rhythm section is dynamic and continuously pushes the music forward. One thing that particularly struck me about Woody’s playing on this album is the range of articulation and inflexion he employs – spiky staccatos, delicate legatos, bluesy smears and shimmering vibratos are all to be found on this album, along with many other subtle nuances. This is an area of Woody’s playing that I feel I need to explore further.
One thing I have been working on is playing pentatonic scale exercises in all keys, trying to get the scales under my fingers. I have been trying to gain fluency in all the various intervals and shapes available within the scales. I have also been working on exercises linking together two pentatonic scales a semitone apart as this relationship can be used in many situations – for example, playing a D flat pentatonic over a G7 chord can resolve to either a C pentatonic on the I chord, or a D pentatonic, creating a lydian sound which Woody uses a lot. Following advice from Martin Speake, I have also begun to insert pentatonics at all points of a chord sequence – mostly on the blues so far but I aim to incorporate this approach playing on standards too.
I have also been transcribing a lot of Woody’s playing, and I have been trying to play his solos along with the records. From these solos I have been picking out areas of interest to work on further – for example, the use the pentatonic based on the II of a I chord to create a lydian sound. Here is a list of the solos I have transcribed so far and the albums they are on:
- ‘Rosewood’ from Rosewood (1977)
- ‘There Will Never Be Another You’ and ‘You Stepped Out Of A Dream’ from Solid (1986)
- ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ from United (1981)
- ‘Sashianova’ from Little Red’s Fantasy (1976)
I am also working on a few more transcriptions. My next goal is to transcribe some of Woody’s playing from the 1960s when he was still in his teens and early 20s.
I have also recorded myself playing three tunes with a band – ‘There Will Never Be Another You’, ‘What Is This Thing Called Love’ and ‘In Case You Haven’t Heard’. I hope to post these online soon with transcription and analysis. These recordings should hopefully help me to highlight other areas I need to work on.