Dear fellow funk/blues enthusiasts,
Here’s a transcription of Maceo Parker‘s alto saxophone solo on Uptown Up, the opening track from his album Funk Overload (1998), followed by an analysis of what’s going on melodically…
Note: although Maceo’s rhythm, phrasing, and expression won’t be discussed in length in this post, they are also really hip and definitely worth spending time accurately imitating on your instrument!
Shifts between major and minor blues scales:
- [bar 0 – bar 3/beat 3]: Bb major blues
- [bar 3/beat 4 – bar 5/beat 2]: Bb minor blues
- [bar 5/beat 3 – bar 7/beat 1]: Bb major blues
- [bar 7/beat 2 – bar 8/beat 2]: Bb minor blues
- [bar 8/beat 3]: Bb major blues
- [bar 8/beat 4 – bar 11]: C major blues
- [bar 13/beat 3 – bar 15/beat 1]: C major blues
- [bar 15/beat 2 – 16/beat 2]: C minor blues
- [bar 17]: Bb major blues
- [bar 18]: Bb minor blues
- [bar 24]: Bb major scale
Passages where major and minor blues scales are intertwined:
- [bar 12 – bar 13/beat 3]
- [bar 16/beat 3 – bar 16/beat 4] (ascending chromatic motion)
- [bar 19 – bar 23]
Comments on “intertwined” passages:
- D# E F F# G: C blues. E is characteristic of C major blues, while F and F# are characteristic of C minor blues.
- D D# E F (F#): Bb blues as a melodic anticipation of the next chord/section, with D characteristic of Bb major blues, and D# (Eb) and E characteristic of Bb minor blues. In this case the F# on the 1st beat of bar 17 is a lower chromatic approach to G (scale degree 6 of the Bb major blues scale). The note F# doesn’t belong to either of the blues scales in Bb. Arguably, it could still be heard as the blue note of the reminiscing C minor blues sound. In any case, the F# is part of the ascending chromatic motion initiated on beat 3 of bar 16.
- C C# D D# E F: Bb blues. C and D are characteristic of Bb major blues, while D# (Eb) and E are characteristic of Bb minor blues.
- Ab G F Eb D: Bb blues. Ab and Eb belong to Bb minor blues, G and D belong to Bb major blues, and F is common to both scales.
So based on this transcription, a few patterns stand out when intertwining major and minor blues scales:
- an ascending chromatic motion from scale degrees 2/#2/3 up to scale degree 5;
- a descending diatonic motion (akin to the mixolydian mode) from scale degree b7.
Conclusion: Maceo sets up the tone of his improvisation by using the minor and major blues scales separately at first, and then begins intertwining them more and more as he goes along. He finally crafts a whole passage featuring extensive chromaticism from bars 19 to 23, before wrapping up with an effective and strong major blues statement (bar 24).
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