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Bob Mintzer-The Essence of Melody, And A Master of the Saxophone

This is a very personal story….

In the summer of 1988 I made a pilgrimage to New York City, to get a taste of the music scene, and to see if I felt comfortable in Gotham. I was studying with Joe Henderson at the time in San Francisco, and it was at his urging that I made the trip. Little did I know how that one excursion would change my life.

After a day or two getting acclimated to New York City, I ventured to the Village Vanguard to hear the Bob Mintzer Big Band. I believe I had a a lesson with Ken Hitchcock, and Ken mentioned that he was subbing on the gig that night and that I should check it out. Of course I knew that the Vanguard was THE PREMIER jazz club in the world, but I was not prepared for what I was about to see and hear.

I grabbed a seat at the bar in the back, and a beer, and the band got started. Bob Mintzer was fronting the band, cueing and mildly conducting, and the band was roaring. They played his arrangements and compositions, and about every other tune Bob would play a tenor sax solo in the middle of all this controlled and amazing madness. It was a sublime and moving experience, and at some point I became aware that Bob was playing so effortlessly above the normal range of the tenor saxophone, perfectly in tune, and I became an instant Mintzer convert. I had not had much if any exposure to his talents previously, but this night and his work really made a deep and lasting impression on my musical personality. That first night at the Vanguard changed my life, just being in that room, and experiencing that level of musicianship and virtuosity. I have been back many times, and it never fails to move me…….

While seated at the Vanguard bar I started conversing with a very interesting guy who was a few years older than myself. I came to learn that his name was Al Goelz, that he was currently a graduate student at the Manhattan School of Music, that he was from Columbus Ohio, and that he had been studying with Bob Mintzer. We spent the set listening and talking a little, and after the gig we exchanged phone numbers and talked about getting together while I was in town. Al wanted to pick my brain about the clarinet, and I sure wanted to spend some time with him as he knew the New York City jazz scene very well at that time. Right away I was impressed with what a genuinely nice and articulate person Al was. He was very welcoming and encouraging to me that night, and he helped me find my way to the subway station so I could get back uptown.

I called Al a few days later, and we arranged for me to meet him uptown at the Manhattan school to jam with him and a piano player friend of his. That was the first time I interacted with some musicians in a musical setting in New York, and it was amazing. We played some standards, we played some free improvisations, we played some of their originals. It was inspiring, challenging and exhausting. That was another life changing experience as I look back on it now.

This is Bob circa 1990….

Al Goelz became my friend and my second real New York City jazz connection, after Steve Bernstein who sublet me his apartment for that July and August of 1988. I subletted Al’s apartment the next year, in the summer of 1989; Al made me feel welcome and encouraged me to audition for graduate school in New York as I was graduating from San Francisco State soon. He also bought my very nice Buffet R-13 clarinet when I upgraded around that same time. In March of 1990 I met up with Al as I had made it to New York City to audition for three schools for graduate school, Julliard, Mannes and the Manhattan school. We had a beer and talked a bunch, and he was the first one I called a few months later when I was accepted to Mannes. i looked forward to seeing him and hanging out with him.

Al finished his grad work around 1990 and moved back to Columbus Ohio, got married and had a daughter. I was thrilled for him, and we talked on the phone often. Now he was asking me about the scene in New York, and he was having a blast with his new wife and daughter while he was getting started teaching and playing in his hometown, and seemed really happy.

It was with terrible grief and sadness that I learned that Al Goelz died from a heart attack at a very young age sometime around 1991 or so. HIs wife called me with the news while going through his address book. It still pains me to think about this loss of a friend and his talent…… can be cruel at times, and I learned that lesson that day, sadly…….

I also learned that Bob Mintzer was very close to Al, and that Bob had somehow got ahold of Al’s tenor saxophone, and had it gold plated, and was playing it. I have never quite confirmed this, but if it is true, I find some comfort in this.

Over the years I have become quite a Bob Mintzer fan. There are so many amazing qualities about his playing, but don’t forget what an amazing composer, arranged, and educator he is. He has been at USC for quite some time now, he moved to Los Angeles from New York to take the job at USC, and he’s made many amazing recordings with the Yellowjackets, which is no secret to those of us who follow this sort of thing. Check out the Yellowjackets site here…..

Be sure to visit the Bob Mintzer website at www. There is an incredible amount of information at Bob’s personal site.

Also check out his Wikipedia site here………..and be sure to watch any and all Youtube videos that you can find with him, in particular the video of the concert with Jaco Pastorius is legendary.

Bob Mintzer has integrated so many styles and musical influences in his career, and this solo on Blue Bossa, from his recording Bop Boy, is truly a masterpiece. He manages to conjure up a little Joe Henderson here, but he also does his own thing. He sounds so relaxed, so very in control, and he gets into some pretty interesting harmonic and rhythmic places during this solo. I use this transcription with most of my advancing tenor saxophone students, I love to have them play along with the recording once they have worked their way through the details in the solo. This to me is the essence of the modern saxophone sound. Bob has defined and redefined the language, and distilled it down to the very essential ingredients, never over playing or sounding unnatural. To my ears he is the most musical modern tenor saxophonist in the world today.

I hope you enjoy this transcription from my personal stash, you can learn a lot from it. This solo can be found on Bob’s Bop Boy recording…..

Download PDF • 72KB

I have an extensive collection of Bob Mintzer CD’s, and a few of my favorite Bob Mintzer leader recordings are……..

I Remember Jaco

Quality Time

Bop Boy


Horn Man

Canyon Cove

I don’t personally own any of his Bob Mintzer Big Band recordings but I have seen the band and they are amazing, and I would suggest if you are into contemporary big band music these recordings are required listening.

Yellowjackets-while there are something like twenty Yellowjackets recordings with Bob these two stand out to me the most….

Blue Hats

Time Squared

After listening to as many Bob Mintzer recordings as I have, and having seen him play live many times, it has become clear to me that he is a master of so many different things……tenor saxophone, bass clarinet, composition, arranging, and teaching. He has written several great books that I use often with my students. Fifteen Easy Jazz Blues and Funk Etudes is one of them, which I highly recommend for younger students who need jazz stylistic help.

His Fourteen Blues and Funk Etudes are a little more advanced and I use these often with intermediate level saxophone students.

Bob is terrific educator and incredibly articulate with respect to his musical ideas. I recently discovered on iTunes a Bob Mintzer Interview on the oddly named Best. Saxophone. Podcast. Ever. This podcast is 52 minutes long and was recorded on June 20, 2011 Bob talks about his early years in the early 1970’s, including the New York City Loft Scene Jam sessions, and how he was exchanging ideas regarding improvisation with many of the up and coming players of that time. Also of particular note are his references to saxophonist Joe Henderson, his joining the Yellowjackets in 1990 and the many roles that he plays so well in that fine group. This podcast is a terrific introduction to Bob and for students in particular I’d recommend this podcast highly.

Treat yourself to a Bob Mintzer concert sometime, you won’t be disappointed. And if you are an aspiring jazz musician, consider USC as a college to attend. Read all about it here….. The jazz program at SC I believe is the best on the West Coast, the jazz scene in Los Angeles is vibrant and healthy, and you sure can’t beat the weather. If you work hard enough you might earn yourself some study time with one of the best in the business, Bob Mintzer. Go for it!!!!!

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