Pete Christlieb Swingin’ Tenor Sax Solo Transcription-“Limehouse Blues”

For todays transcription, I need to give you a little bit backstory so bear with me for a second.  I started playing the saxophone in 7th grade.  I was your average kid who was excited about playing the sax but not really sure how serious I was or where this new hobby would take me.

In 8th grade (’80-’81 sometime),  my parents took our family of five to California for a family vacation.  It was my first time on a plane and our first and I believe only “family vacation” where we went out of New York State.  My parents were huge fans of Johnny Carson and the Tonight Show and they got tickets for us to go one night.  I was so excited to see a show that was on TV even though I no idea what the “Tonight Show” was.   I wish I could tell you who the guest was or some of the jokes Johnny Carson told that night, but I can’t.  What I can remember, was the band sounded amazing and a man playing incredible tenor sax solos multiple times that night.  I had no idea what he was playing, but man, did he sound good!  I left that night on cloud nine thinking that I needed to really start practicing my sax more.

Pete Christlieb on the Tonight Show

I found out that that sax players name was Pete Christlieb.  Coincidently enough, five years later during my first year at Ithaca College, the guest artist with the jazz band was……. you guessed it,  Pete Christlieb!!!  I was ecstatic!

Again, I wish I could tell you details about that Ithaca jazz band concert.  What tunes we played and what solos I took as a freshmen college student, but alas, I don’t remember any of that stuff.  What I remember is again being floored by Pete Christlieb’s playing.  I remember specifically thinking that Pete Christlieb had the biggest, “bluesiest”,  most expressive tenor saxophone sound I had ever heard in my life.  He played multiple tunes that night with all sorts of chord changes and every single solo somehow seemed to sound like a blues solo to me.  Mr. Christlieb would be rippin’ through the changes and then it seemed like during every solo he would smoothly transition to this bluesy wailin’ sax solo.  I remember being amazed by this!  “How is he sounding so bluesy and soulful over all these hard chord changes??” I asked myself.

When I first heard the tune I transcribed for you today, it brought me right back to those two experiences with Pete Christlieb from my past.  The tune is “Limehouse Blues” from the Pete Christlieb CD “Pete Christlieb with the Lori Mechem Quartet Live at the Jazz Cave”.

This Limehouse Blues is not your typical barnburner that you typically hear when this tune is played.   This is a slow, bluesy, gutsy tenor sax swingin’ version that I immediately fell in love with.  I don’t think I will ever play Limehouse Blues fast again after hearing this version.  That is how much I love it!

Pete Christlieb just tears this tune up!  He “bluesifies” the tar out of this solo. Scooped notes galore!   So many in fact, that at times I had trouble figuring out what note he was actually playing.  At times, it almost seemed like Mr. Christlieb’s tenor sax had a slide on it.  His tone is thick, full, husky and robust.  The kind of tone that would make me walk into a blues bar if I was walking by and heard it!

Pete Christlieb-Tenor Saxophone

There is a lot to take note of in this solo:

  • I love Pete Christlieb’s use of triplets throughout the solo
  • I love how far he lays back at times.  This made some rhythms incredibly hard to figure out but it just sounds sooooooo good!
  • I mentioned the scoops and bends earlier.  Now I’m mentioning them again, I love them.  So expressive………..
  • I love Mr. Christlieb’s choice of notes. The 9th in measure 14. That held 13 in measure 23. The held 9th in measure 35. The 13th in measure 55…….
  • ….and lastly the amazing use of the blues scale!  It’s all over the place.  He flows so effortlessly between a killin’ bebop lines right into an amazing blues line and back over and over.  He does it so effortlessly that it doesn’t seem like a device he is using but just how he plays and who he is.  I love it!

There is so much more in this great solo I could write about, check it out for yourself and tell me what you think!  Thanks to Pete Christlieb for playing this solo but also for his impact on me in 8th grade as well as my first year of college.  You are a big part of what inspired me to get serious with the saxophone and fall in love with music!   Thank You!

Limehouse Blues-Pete Christlieb Solo starts at 1:01

Limehouse Blues-Pete Christlieb Bb PDF
Limehouse Blues-Pete Christlieb C PDF

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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 Alan Klingaman says

    Funny…I’ve been working on this one too. YouTube has a warm up take. Pete has a little reed trouble in that run, but that solo is great too. Lori and the band do a great swinging job too. Pete can resolve an idea, can’t he?

  2. Avatar Angelo Yodice says

    Some information for you sax cyber heads about Pete’s set up. He plays on a Selmer SBA tenor, uses a Berg Larsen 130/0 metal mouthpiece, prefers Rico # 2 plastic coated reeds (Yes, I said a #2 Rico coated reed). Also at times will play a Cannonball tenor(If he gets an endoresement from Cannonball) but prefers the Selmer SBA.
    Listen to how he pops out those low sub tones at audio markers, 31, 1:11 – 1:13, 7:09, 7:41, 7:50, 8:12, 8;59 it’s easier to produce these low notes with a soft read.
    By the way Pete was also featured on Natalie Cole’s Unforgettable album. In fact he did the tenor solo on the tune “Unforgettable”, check it out he does a great job!

  3. Avatar Richard Gawned says

    Hi Guys…just to add a little more info…Pete and Bob Cooper made an album Mosaic with a version of Limehouse Blues at a similar tempo to the Jazz Cave version. well worth checking out.

    • Thanks Richard! I didn’t know about that rendition. I love that solo also, I might have to transcribe that one as well………Steve

  4. Avatar fortunafavetfortibus says

    I think Pete Christlieb also did solos on FM and Aja tunes by Steely Dan. Inspirational and just gorgeous lines!

  5. Avatar Michael Caldwell says

    Love it. This reminds quite a bit of Cannoball’s solo on Miss Jackie’s Delight. It has so much swagger. It’ like the player’s saying ‘Here the hell I am’. Take that!’

  6. Avatar Paul Sorensen says

    Pete and I go back a long ways. I met him at the Sunday rehearsal band sessions in Los Angeles 1962, that Ollie Mitchell and Bob Edmondson were running for young musicians at
    Western Recorders. Pete was in the band playing great even then! I was lucky to have him play regularly in my rehearsal band. I went on the road for awhile with Sy Zentner, Johnny Mathis tours, Shindig, etc. while Pete became a regular on Louis Bellson’s band and eventually the Tonight show. Pete introduced me to Louis, and got one of my originals recorded on Louis’s BB album. Louis got me in ASCAP! (thanks to Pete). This was in 1969. I moved back to Bellingham, WA in 1975 and Pete came up to Tacoma eventually to live.
    I still run a big band and have had Pete come by a couple of times as featured guest soloist.
    The latest was the Summer of 2017 here at the Park Pavilion. Pete is still a great musician!

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