Joshua Redman's solo on
"Waiting on a Friend"

Video, Transcription, and Analysis

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Published Fall 2015

The video below features the live performance along with a scrolling transcription. You can also watch the complete official version (without the transcription) here.

Background

"Waiting on a Friend" was first recorded on The Rolling Stones' 1981 album Tattoo You and featured the great Sonny Rollins. For this live performance, however, Joshua Redman sits in to fill the saxophone role, but the fact that Rollins was the original soloist for this song is important (a point addressed at the end of the page).

This particular performance took place on December 12, 1997 in St. Louis, Missouri, and can be heard on The Rolling Stones' 1998 album No Security.

Here, Redman masterfully walks the line between jazz and pop. He includes enough grace notes and bends to not seem out place, yet also incorporates just enough jazz vocabulary to let everyone know that this isn't his only bag of tricks. Redman also communicates musically with not just with the other musicians on stage, but with a sort of a musical wink to all the jazz fans in the audience with an ingenious quote.

Below are just a few of my favorite elements that I think make this solo great.

Analysis

#1. Redman's Masterful use of Articulation as a Motif!

This solo is a showcase of articulation brilliance. In fact, it's so awesome that I really struggled when deciding on articulation symbols. Looking back I would certainly change a few of these, but any jazz musician knows that jazz isn't easily represented by notation and that articulation may be the hardest to delineate.

Articulation Example #1


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This simple yet relatively rhythmically complex phrase, with which Redman ends his first solo section, owes its catchiness and memorability his articulation. Varying between long and short note lengths is an effective way to add substantial interest to a line, particularly if little else is happening melodically or harmonically.


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Articulation Example #2


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This is another very catchy three-note phrase. Redman is great at building entire solos from basic musical elements (as is Sonny Rollins). This particular phrase makes use of: 1) varied articulation, 2) tension and release, and 3) grace notes.

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Articulation Example #3


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Here's another great line that features a number a great articulation techniques as well as varied note lengths.

I could have added some articulation markings to these eighth notes, but because it's fairly subtle I decided to keep them blank.

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#2. Reacting to the other musicians

Redman and the backup singer


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I admit that this could be a stretch, but given Redman's musicality, I'm betting this is not just a coincidence. While reading and listening to the line below, notice how a backup singer bends into to a note and then follows it with a descending line. Guess does Redman plays just two beats later? This may be more clear with listening to it in context, and not just from the clip below.

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#3: Descending 7th chord(ish) figrues

Another technique to note here is Redman's use of descending 7th chord-like figures. He doesn't over do this, but it happens enough times to make the case that this is part of his vocabulary. As you'll see below, he plays a descending E minor 7th chord most often. Usually the E minor 7 is followed by some variation of an A7 chord -- helping him create some harmonic motion (which also leads him to the home key, D major) in an otherwise harmonically static song.

He also plays a few other four-note descending arpeggio-like 16th lines. These are the "(ish)" parts. They're typically inversions of triads, 7th chords, or pentatonic scales. They're ambiguity make it pointless to try and nail down the exact theory behind them.

For me, these descending 7th-like chord sequences are a defining aspect of the solo. Below are a few examples:

7th chords: Example #1


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Here, Redman fills three beats with this motif. The first two beats are examples of the 7th chord"ish" variety. Beat one is a G triad and beat two is an E minor triad starting with the 9. Beat three, however, is an E minor 7 chord descending from the 7th, and beat four is an implied A7. Combining the E minor 7 on beat three with the A7 on beat four creates a ii-V to the next chord, D major.

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7th chords: Example #2


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This next example also features a plethora of Redmanesque techniques. Beat three of the first measure is an enclosure of the G major chord found on beat 4. This kind of harmonic anticipation is very effective at creating forward motion. The next three beats demonstrate the descending 7th chords, each of which he played earlier in the solo, as seen in the previous example. Beat 4 is a first-inversion of an E minor triad, or a variation of E minor pentatonic, beat one of G major is a descending G maj 7 chord, and the next beat is a permutation of an E minor 7 chord.

This phrase also highlights some of Redman's nice grace note technique (NOT SCOOPING!).

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7th chords: Example #3


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The last time this descending E minor 7th chord appears is in the very end of the tune, just before Redman's short cadenza on the final chord.

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#4 St. Thomas Quote


During the second solo, in an ingenious move, Redman acknowledges Sonny Rollins, the original soloist on this song. About half way through the second solo section, Redman quotes Sonny Rollins' most well-known composition, "St. Thomas." What makes this so remarkable is the musicality with which it is accomplished. It fits so naturally with what surrounds it that it is questionable whether it was premeditated or not. Rollins was renowned for quoting (often obscure) melodies in his improvisations, which makes this a fitting tribute to the master. Interestingly, the songs are in the same key, C major.

Redman applied a motific development technique known as diminution when quoting "St. Thomas." Diminution is defined by Hal Crook as:

"... a form of motific development using rhythmic embellishment where all (or most) of the note values of a motific are contracted or decreased by a noticeable amount in a subsequent motif. The melody notes and melodic curve usually stay the same, but may change."
Hal Crook, How to Improvise

Rollin's St. Thomas


The first three measures of Sonny Rollin's Composition "St. Thomas" as played by Sonny Rollins from the CD Saxophone Colossus.

Redman's Quote:


St. Thomas Joshua Redman's rhythmically embellished quote of "St. Thomas" (begins on the up-beat of beat-two).


Related CDs:





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