A Review of “Jazz Saxophone Etudes, Volume 2”

Notable jazz educator—and one of the great emerging voices on tenor–Greg Fishman, has come out with volume two of Jazz Saxophone Etudes. This latest edition continues to provide the advancing player with interesting and challenging material.

The format of Jazz Saxophone Etudes, Volume 2 is consistent with all of Greg’s publications: the book features the written etudes, plus two CDs, one for Eb instruments and one for Bb instruments. Greg plays alto and tenor on the respective discs. The advantage of this approach is that the etudes fall into a comfortable yet challenging range on the instrument, and are idiomatically correct for all saxophones.

As in his previous instruction books, Greg’s opening introduction offers suggestions on ways in which the player can best use the book. Also included in the fifteen-page introduction are some specific goals for three levels of players—the intermediate level, advanced level, and professional level. Reading his outlined goals for each level is useful as part of a frank assessment of your own playing ability.

Greg has continued his tradition of naming the etudes after famous streets in Chicago. As someone who has spent a lot of time in the city, I found that I have been in stop and go traffic on about half of the streets that are used for the song names! From “Wacker Drive” to “Sheridan Road” and all points in between, this new volume of Jazz Saxophone Etudes takes the student on a journey that will challenge and inspire.

The etudes include standard-form songs, from twelve-bar blues to thirty-two bar AABA forms, as well forty-eight bar Latin swing AAB forms. What I found especially beneficial were the examples of concepts such as voice-leading, enclosures, sequences, references, and ornaments. Examples are noted in the beginning of the book, and it was interesting to review the various etudes, looking for these elements. Another interesting point Greg makes is that advanced players may wish to transpose and play alto along with the tenor CD, and tenor with the alto CD.

As with Greg’s first book, Jazz Saxophone Etudes, I found the tempos to be quick and challenging. In fact, Greg addresses this in the introduction of the book by pointing out that while some tempos may be a little quicker than most intermediate players can initially handle, you should be able to work up to the tempos with diligent practice. He also points out that these tempos are actually quite conservative for most professional players. In my conversations with Greg, I have always gotten the impression from him that he views learning jazz as a journey. As a result, think of these tempos as part of your development as a player. With patience, most players should be able to work up to the listed tempos, and with continued practice, should be able to play through these etudes at Parker-ish tempos.These are important steps along the way to becoming the best player you can be. If you have to take out the metronome and slow things down to get it right, then just keep at it. Practice and repetition are the keys to mastery.

One of the standout pieces in this collection is the only ballad, “Western Avenue.” In my opinion, what really makes a great player is not blinding technique, but the ability to play at a high level, with wonderful tone and sincere emotion. Too often, players challenge themselves technically, but do not challenge their sound conceptions. And many times, they never even try to develop a personal sound. The ability to play a ballad shows the audience several things. First, is the player just playing the notes, or is he making each one of them count? Secondly, is the player communicating the emotion of the piece in a way that shows that he has taken the time to internalize the music? And finally, will the audience (or at least some members of the audience) be emotionally moved and aesthetically satisfied by the player’s performance?

One of the great lessons within this book is not on the written pages, but on the included CDs—and that is the lesson that comes from listening to a great jazz player like Greg Fishman.

Greg has already established himself as one of the best tenor players on both the Chicago and international scene. Consequently, it is refreshing to hear him play the alto at a similarly high level. Too often, tenor players attempt to play another member of the saxophone family, but have little conception of the tone they are after, and never seem truly comfortable with the other instrument. This is not the case with Greg’s alto playing. Like his tenor playing, his alto sound is authoritative and commanding. Fishman has developed a personal sound on both tenor and alto so that he sounds like an alto player when playing alto, and he sounds like a tenor player when playing tenor.

It’s been a pleasure to review each of Greg Fishman’s books for Sax On The Web. I have found that each book brings new ideas and challenges to my playing and practice routines. Over time I’ve found some nontraditional uses for the books, such as playing the CDs and then transcribing what I hear. I’ve also found the books instructional in the area of phrasing, since the solos follow many standard song patterns, and from time to time I find myself questioning how I might approach a certain tune. Using Greg’s books and listening to how he approaches a given standard tune has led me to greater insight.

Jazz Saxophone Etudes Volume 2 continues Greg’s legacy of putting out top-notch instructional material. He set the bar high with his first two educational books, and he continues to clear it with his latest.

The final reward is that working with these etudes will make you a better player. If you want to learn from one of the great emerging tenor players of his generation, then you need to go out and buy a copy of Jazz Saxophone Etudes, Volume 2. In fact, I highly recommend that you pick up volume one as well.

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