Sam and Carmen- Winners of JAM Transcription Challenge !

With Jazz Appreciation Month behind us, we’d like to congratulate the Winners of BCMN Jazz Appreciation Month Transcription Challenge!

Saxophone player, Sam Spear from The Music Settlement and pianist, Carmen Cheung, from Sarah McLachlan School of Music both successfully transcribed and played Chet Baker’s solo on Autumn Leaves.

Check out their videos and enjoy their stories behind the process of transcribing the jazz master’s solo.


1. What was the hardest part of this transcription?

Sam:  The hardest part about transcribing this solo is that Chet Baker tended to play “behind the beat” a lot, which makes dictating some of his rhythms on paper tricky.

Carmen: Surprisingly, even though this was my very first transcription, I didn’t find it painstakingly difficult to replay the segment over and over again on my phone while I sat beside a piano and wrote down what I heard in my own shorthand notation. Instead, the hardest part was actually meeting the deadline because I decided to do the challenge on the morning of the due date and underestimated the time I would need to get all the notes and rhythms, record and upload, and post online on Facebook. (I had school that day too).

2. What did you enjoy the most?    

Sam:  My favorite part of transcribing is noticing how it’s easier every time you do it. A year ago, this solo would have taken me days to transcribe but it only took me a couple hours this time around. It’s also interesting to see the melodic and harmonic ideas that are prominent in various improvisers’ vocabularies.

Carmen:  I listened to Chet Baker’s solo repeatedly and each time I listened to it, I discovered something new – that was what I enjoyed the most. Whether it’d be a note I didn’t catch earlier or a rhythm I’d mistranscribed, it felt like I had discovered a hidden treasure. I can say that I can sing the solo by memory now! The whole experience was very serendipitous.  Learning how to use noteflight was very fun too.


3. What have you learned in the process?    

Sam:  By writing down and learning one of Chet Baker’s solos, I was able to vicariously experience his thought process when improvising. The main takeaway from this solo for me is his use of motifs not just melodically but rhythmically as well. There is great continuity in this solo.

Carmen: I’ve learnt that transcribing is not an easy thing to do, but when you get into it, it’s very enjoyable.

4. What was the prevailing reason for choosing to transcribe Chet Baker’s solo over the two other options?    

Sam: Ironically, I had to complete a different transcription project earlier this year in which I had to transcribe two choruses from the track “Freddie Freeloader” and Cannonball’s solo was an option. I couldn’t transcribe his solo then either because I had previously worked on it out of a transcription book so I transcribed two choruses of Coltrane instead. I chose Chet Baker’s solo on “Autumn Leaves” because he was the only other horn player listed and I was curious about how he approached the tune.

Carmen:  The prevailing reason for choosing to transcribe Chet Baker’s solo was that it stuck in my head the first time I heard it. Trumpet seemed easier to me (if I had to choose between piano or trumpet) and I wanted to transcribe a trumpet solo for myself so I could play it on trumpet. I also hoped that it would be able to help me with improvisation on trumpet. (I find improvising easier on piano rather than trumpet).


Friday JAM part 1

The National Museum of American History has designated April as Jazz Appreciation Month. JAM has been created to be an annual event that honors the legacy and spirit of jazz as the heart and soul of all popular music.

Berklee City Music is joining this festivity with special jazzy posts and events on our Blog, Twitter and Facebook.

Enjoy our weekly updated Jazz Appreciation Month playlist and explore the history of jazz through song. New tunes every Friday!

Also, one of the special activities we are doing is a Transcription Challenge for City Music students at Network sites.  Students who enter and follow the rules will have the opportunity to win Berklee City Music swag.  Songs for the transcription challenge can also be found on the first edition of the Playlist!

Let us know which songs you’d like to hear next Friday! We’re eagerly waiting for your suggestions!