Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Leaps and Sounds: 12 Contemporary Etudes for Jazz Saxophone

Leaps and Sounds is an etude book by Adam Larson, a great NYC saxophonist. Before I go into any detail, here are a couple of my favorite players, Ben Wendel and Walter Smith III, demoing a couple of the etudes:

As the name implies, the etudes are inspired by larger intervals, the kind of thing you can hear in jazz saxophone as early as Coleman Hawkins. I've personally always been fascinated by the idea of using large intervals in improvisation, and I've been inspired by players like Hawkins, Eddie Harris, Mark Turner, Chris Potter, Donny McCaslin, and Ben Wendel, who all have a knack for using leaps of various types. Adam Larson has been similarly inspired, which shows in his playing and compositions (see below), and in these etudes. Additionally, the etudes make good use of the extremities of the saxophone range, meaning the altissimo and the lower register. This approach, when combined with an effort to maintain good sound and control, makes for the development of some serious saxophone technique.

Each of the etudes is written over the changes of a standard, including "Take the A Train," "Cherokee," "Alone Together," "Have You Met Miss Jones," "Green Dolphin Street," etc. To provide a bit more challenge, some of the etudes are in a-typical keys. For example, "There Will Never Be Another You" is usually played in concert Eb, but the Leaps and Sounds etude based on those changes is in concert E.

As far as presentation goes, the book is neat and clean, and the notation is detailed and easy to read. There are a couple of places I would have preferred more use of 8va notation, but the book does typically use 8va notation to good effect, making the altissimo notes easy to decipher.

Overall, I think the book really delivers on the premise. It provides musical and interesting practical applications of larger intervals in modern bebop improvisation. You can get the book as a physical copy or as an E-book. Also, if you're a bass clef reader, and are interested, the etudes have been adapted by a trombonist and are available in a bass clef E-book as well.

For those of you who aren't convinced yet, here is Adam Larson playing his tune McWendel (think Donny McCaslin and Ben Wendel):

Last and least, here is me giving a go on the etude based on "Have You Met Miss Jones?":

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