The Dick Oatts Solo Collection Review


Today I am reviewing an awesome new transcription book of solos by alto saxophonist Dick Oatts.  Dan Bayliss wrote the transcriptions and did the work of putting this ebook together.  It includes 9 solos from 3 albums and is 68 pages long. The CD’s the solos are from are Dick Oatts “Standard Issue Volume 1”, Dick Oatts “Standard Issue Volume 2” and “One for Bird” by Red Rodney.  I already had Standard Issue Vol. 1 in my CD collection and after receiving the book I immediately purchased Vol. 2 and One for Bird.

Now, being a primarily an alto player back in college in the 80’s I had heard of Dick Oatts but to be honest I hadn’t really heard him too much back then.  I seem to remember hearing him on a few big band recordings and a Flim and the BB’s CD I had but that was about it.  Years later I stumbled across his Standard Issue Vol. 1 CD on ITunes and after listening to a few clips decided this guy was burnin’!

The Dick Oatts Solo Collection

I spent about an hour this morning listening to the tracks and following along through the transcriptions and I have to say that Dick Oatts is killin’ on these standards.  Mr. Oatts does an amazing job of mixing different elements together while improvising which is what really excites me about his playing.  He has the bebop language and lines mastered and plays many of these lines throughout these solos but just when you are comfortable and think you know what he will play next he takes the line way “outside”.  This is the kind of “outside” playing that you hear from the best players that just makes you almost fall out of your chair.

Then, just when you think you have a handle on this and know where he’s going with this “outside” sound, he ventures into a melodic idea that is just so beautiful and memorable that you wonder if it is a quote of a standard you don’t know because it is so melodic.

Then , as you are diggin’ the cool melodic ideas he starts getting playful with the rhythm and mixing up hemiolas with across the bar line phrasing that has you again wondering where he’s going.

Finally, through the midst of all this he throws in some soul and blues lines that again just surprise and amaze you.  I mention all this,  because this is my favorite kind of player to listen to.  They keep you guessing and interested by creating a solo with so many layers and directions that as a musician you can’t help but be fascinated and intrigued.  You are always waiting and wondering what’s coming next……….

The 9 standards that are transcribed are:

All the Things You Are, Blues for Alice, Like Someone in Love, Little Willie Leaps, Memories of You, On Green Dolphin Street, Stella By Starlight, The End of a Love Affair, You Stepped Out of a Dream.

Honestly,  there is so much material in these 9 solos that you could spend a year just trying to play them and understand what is going on. Figuring out why these lines sound so fantastic and what Dick Oatts was thinking???   As I was working my way through listening to the solos,  I started feeling this urge to grab the print out of the book, a CD player and my alto sax and head off to a deserted island for a year of shedding.  No internet, no mouthpiece reviews, no housework and distractions,  just shedding with Dick Oatts………..Ahhhh, if only…….

A few of the things that stick out to me after the first listen are:

  1. There are so many great rhythmic concepts in these lines to master.
  2. The melodic ideas are gold and should be worked on themselves as a lot of players have trouble creating these types of  beautiful melodies while improvising.
  3. Blues for Alice rocks the bebop lines!
  4. Like Someone in Love!!   Holy Cow!  The tone on this has a Desmond-ish type sound that is gorgeous!  Check out how Mr. Oatts weaves in and out of the great melodic ideas with the outside lines……… smooth!!
  5. His phrasing is not tied down to typical 2 bar or 4 bar II-V-I type lines, he plays across the bar line and has total freedom to start and end his lines wherever he so pleases…….
  6. Stella and Green Dolphin are just sublime also. Maybe because I know these tunes so well,  I am even more amazed by the lines and ideas that I am hearing.  I have to spend some more time with this book and the recordings but I know there are all sorts of substitutions and concepts being used as he travels through these changes.
  7. Mr. Oatts is not afraid of traveling up into the altissimo when needed………

Upon first run through, it looks like Dan Bayliss did a great job with the transcriptions.   I can’t speak for all the notes and rhythms because I haven’t played along with the recordings yet but it was easy to listen and follow along as I worked my way through all the solos. The measures are spaced out nicely and all the chord symbols are there above the lines which is nice.  He also does a nice job with accidentals which is a pet peave of mine.  I get irritated when the accidentals don’t make sense in relation to the chord symbols but Dan does well with these.  There are a few places where courtesy accidentals would be nice (like in bar 23 of All the Things…….) These are just handy when you are sight reading and moving across the bar line to a natural note………

The only critique of the book is that I wish it had a time marker on the first page of each solo to let you know when the solo was starting on the recording.  This just makes it easier to find the starting point of each solo quicker…….(I know, Dan’s thinking “I gave you all the notes and rhythms! You need a time marker also!  Are you spoiled?)

As a person that does transcriptions my self, I will say that many of the faster lines have to to be worked on and learned side by side with the recording.  I think it is easier to figure out these lines by playing over and over with the recording until you are playing together with Mr. Oatts seamlessly.  Some of the faster lines and passages are next to impossible to read as you have 16th notes mixed with triplets mixed with 32nd notes mixed with notes in groups of 7 and other crazy stuff all going a thousand miles an hour.  The transcription gives you the notes to work with but then the key is playing them so you begin and end at the same place as the recording for those lines.  If the line looks crazy on the page then try to let your ears guide you on how it should sound.  (I use to go through this with the Omnibook when I was younger trying to intellectually figure out the lines Parker was playing when they had crazy rhythms.  Listening to the recording made it so much easier to figure out and copy…….)

Dick Oatts is an amazing player and I think all jazz sax players would benefit from spending a lot of time with these transcription.   The book is full of those lines that I used to hear as a college student when I would go visit NYC.  I would leave a club thinking “What the heck was that??” and be totally inspired to go home and shed for 8 hours in a row.   In the Dick Oatts Solo Collection, these lines are all written out for you.  You don’t have to think “What the heck was that?”, you can look down at the page and see what it is!  The great rhythmic ideas are all written out for you and the killin’ bebop lines are all right there in front of you. The book is available via Dick’s website: if you are interested.

A hearty thank you to Dick Oatts for spending his life working to master what we call “jazz”.  Thank you for all the hours spent shedding these concepts and tunes and thank you for recording these special moments so we could all listen, enjoy and benefit from them.   Thanks also to Dan Bayliss for spending the many many hours transcribing all of this.  It must have taken forever!  I am very appreciative!  Now I have to go get my alto reed wet and play some Dick Oatts solos………….

Steve About Steve

Steve Neff has been playing and teaching saxophone and jazz improvisation around the New England area for the last 30 years. He is the author of many effective jazz improvisation methods as well as founding the popular jazz video lesson site


  1. Avatar Jerry Pritchard says

    I remember hearing Dick Oatts when he was still in high school back in Iowa. He was burning and tearing it up even at 16. We all knew he would go on to great things. Thanks for telling me about these transcriptions.

  2. steve, thanks for the heartfelt post and a great review!
    i’ve tried to transcribe mr. oatts myself on some of the tunes in the book but will definitely check out dan’s amazing work. his articulation is so nuanced it’s really hard to put it on paper… oatts is the reason why i switched from tenor to alto and i don’t regret it a second! also make sure to check out his collection of original compositionsavailable on his website. he’s a master at coming up with chewy progressions to blow over, and the melodies are so OATTS!

  3. Hi Steve, I hope to meet you one day soon, I admire your passion and dedication to jazz education! I first heard Dick on the radio while driving during the holidays. He was playing on a Luther Vandross Christmas track. I share the radio with the wife, so I end up listening to the R&B stations a third of the time. I was like, whoa, who is this tenor player. It was at a time when I was really working on enhancing my knowledge and technical facility on diminished whole tone scales. He killed it!!! Not only was he tasteful and swinging, but he played in a way that said, hey look, I’m not just another smooth jazz guy, I can really play.. He took the diminished scale to a whole new level by using a chromatic approach to the scale. I went home, downloaded the track, rolled up my sleeves and immediately transcribed it. Although I figured out the notes there was still work to do. He laid back so far that he was almost in another zip code. That’s my who is Dick Oatts story. I don’t why he is not a super star but he should be. I’m looking forward to buying the book!


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