A Review of “Jazz Saxophone Duets”

Greg Fishman is one of Chicago’s most talented saxophonists. He’s also an unparalleled educator with a successful studio geared to the jazz saxophonist. If you’re lucky enough to visit the great American city of Chicago and Greg’s in town, it would be a crime to miss hearing him play live. Greg and Paulinho Garcia make up the successful duo “Two For Brazil” and Greg plays regularly with his extremely talented wife Pianist/Vocalist Judy Roberts. These duet experiences as well as a love of the great jazz saxophonists who played in the dueling saxophone format such as Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis and Johnny Griffin, as well as Paul Desmond and Gerry Mulligan surely serves as inspiration for “Jazz Saxophone Duets”.

As an added treat “Jazz Saxophone Duets” features one of the other great Chicago based tenors – Mark Colby. They along with a talented rhythm section bring to me a feeling that this CD not only makes a great practicing tool but could have also made a great dueling tenor outing. The duets that Greg has put together for his latest offering are challenging but not in a manner that the advancing player will be overwhelmed by in any fashion. Greg’s last book was “Jazz Saxophone Etudes” and is one of the best books available of it’s kind. “Jazz Saxophone Duets” is even better (who would have thought it possible) than its predecessor. What sets the new book apart from a lot of other jazz instruction books is that the duets are melodic and catchy.

As with the last book, the names of the duets are derived from well known streets in the city of Chicago. The book includes three CD’s – one for tenor/tenor duets, one for alto/alto duets, and one for alto/tenor duets. Each song has four tracks associated with it. The first track includes both sax parts along with the rhythm section, the second track has the second sax part along with the rhythm section, the third track includes the first sax part with rhythm, and the fourth track includes the rhythm section alone. What is unique about this collection is that the rhythm section does the transposing so the alto/alto duets and tenor/tenor duets are written with the same notes. The alto/tenor duets have their own separate pages. One of the other nice touches is that all of the duets fit onto two pages.

Most of the duets are at a brisk pace. They’re in a variety of standard forms such as AABA (Rhythm Changes), ABAC, 12 Bar Blues, and AABA. As with any new piece the player will have to adjust the tempos according to their skill level. Greg outlines the goals that he had in mind for the Intermediate, Advanced, and Professional level player at the front of the book. This provides an added insight into ways that a player can move to the next level of proficiency on their instrument. It also provides concise advice for instructors who utilize the book in that it gives some additional recommendations for areas of study that will no doubt challenge the students.

Jazz Saxophone Duets offers challenging pieces either in solo study or while playing the duets with another player. Being able to get inside the duet concept allows the player to grow in their ability to hear how the interplay of notes works not only in a dual saxophone situation but when playing with a pianist, guitarist or any other instrumentalist. These duets are interesting musical conversations and after playing through them I believe that most players will have a foundation of knowledge and experience to write their own duets against the changes indicated on the page. They could then be played against the rhythm tracks. This offers yet another way to use the book – one of creating whole new sets of improvised duets. Hearing within the context of playing with other players is one of the crucial skills that this book seems especially suited to help improve.

The beauty of this book is that the player can use it in so many ways beyond playing duets with a teacher or another player. I have found that it makes a great transcription learning aid in that you can transcribe each part and then check your work against the written duets. Another interesting use for the book is to record the rhythm part to a multi-track studio program and then record yourself playing each part of the duet. It’s interesting to get a sense of your own timing and phrasing as well as having the unique opportunity to play against yourself. It also makes a great sight-reading tool.

All in all this is another truly outstanding book from Greg Fishman. It comes highly recommended for any person serious about improving their playing. I can’t wait to see what he comes up with next!

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