For a variety of reasons I’ve been playing the alto sax less often during the last year, so I decided to check out some master alto players for inspiration. To start, here’s an outstanding performance by Benny Carter playing lead alto on the sax soli in his 1944 arrangement of “I Can’t Escape From You”. Here’s a transcription of his part to the sax soli chorus if you’d like to play along.
Benny Carter in 1944
The big band had been Carter’s full time project since 1940, and would continue as such for only another 2 years. Big bands have never been a stable business venture and the war years were especially hard on traveling groups. The band had been active on the West Coast since November of 1942 while Carter split his efforts between being a full time bandleader and starting a career writing for Hollywood. At this May 1944 recording session for Capitol Records he’s at the top of his game.
“I Can’t Escape From You”
This composition by Leo Robin and Richard A. Whiting, was in the air as pop song since Bing Crosby sang it in the 1936 movie “Rhythm On the Range”. Artie Shaw, Dexter Gordon, Errol Garner and others recorded the tune; check out Carmen McRea’s 1957 version if you’d like to hear a great jazz version of the lyrics.
Carter’s arrangement starts with an intro that slides from Eb to Gb and back in 6 wild measures. He fits so much harmonic interest under the lyrical lead melodies in such a short intro! Next, unison trombones start the statement of the main melody. Rather than proceed in the usual fashion through the form of the tune Carter only gives us the first half, with a 4 measure interlude vamp where we would expect to hear the bridge.
The interlude sets up a fantastic chorus harmonized for 6 saxophones, with Carter’s lead on top of the 5 man section. This sax soli is a great example of Carter’s superb alto playing, his state-of-the-art arranging skills, and first class team work from his sax section. If you’re playing along with the recording try to emulate his finesse and the ease with which he plays the dynamics and articulations that make this performance come alive. I didn’t notate all of the articulations; listen to the recording and match what you hear.
After the sax soli, the chart modulates to Ab for a classy ensemble chorus with solo spots for Carter and pianist Gerald Wiggins. Then a short coda and done.