That Time Leo P Went Beast Mode
I think every sax player in the world has seen the video where Leo P plays the intro to “Moanin” at the BBC proms.
On August 24th, 2017, Leo Pelligrino appeared as a guest soloist with the Metropole Orkest at the BBC Proms. He played a solo intro to the Charles Mingus tune Moanin’ and the YouTube video of that performance has been viewed millions of times.
I talked to Leo P. about some of the extended saxophone techniques he uses and today, I’m going to break down some of what Leo is playing in this intro, and show you some of the seemingly simple devices he used to build tension and draw the listeners in.
So first thing we gotta do is choose our weapons. I’ve got a bunch of bari sax mouthpieces here. But for this style of playing, I’m going to want something with a high baffle, that articulates really well.
My Jody Jazz Super Jet is the best match for me, and makes it easier to pull off a lot of the techniques in Leo’s playing style.
I find a softer reed helps as well, so I’m playing a 2.5.
Leo plays a Theo Wanne Durga 4 bari sax mouthpiece and I think 3.5 Vandoren reeds. I don’t have one of those, but I find that a mouthpiece with some baffle in it will help you with a lot of his techniques.
So if you want to play like Leo P first you’re going to want a bari sax with a low A. He uses that note a lot and it is the most resonant and explosive note on the instrument.
Let’s check out the solo intro and break down what he’s doing in each section.
Techniques Leo P Uses
Here’s some of the techniques Leo uses in this intro. Other than the overtone leaps and glissandos, there’s nothing terribly difficult about what he’s doing as long as you aren’t trying to dance like him at the same time of course.
- – Rhythm
- – Overtone Glissandos
- – Chromatic scale for building tension
- – Blues Scale and Pentatonic Scale (also uses the Aeolian scale for bass lines)
If you watch Leo’s intro, you can jump around and take a look at these specific techniques however you’d like!
00:10 Overtone gliss
00:12 Base rhythmic figure that the whole intro is built on – A minor with a flat 6 (aeolian mode)
00:24 New variation includes overtones leaps
00:36 New variation overblowing A fingering left hand in rhythm finishes with an overtone gliss
00:48 New variation on original theme with some new notes (same rhythm)
01:00 Starts chromatic scale build up (uses dynamics)
01:12 Offbeat bass line
01:36 Now in D minor – bass line with blues scale licks
02:00 2nd chromatic build up from D (building tension again)
02:12 Chromatic build up with offbeats (more tension)
02:25 Pentatonic scale pattern – releases tension by slowing down the tempo
Then builds it back up with punctuated notes going up the blues scale
Ends with a blues lick and bends
That time Leo P Went Beast Mode
They start out with 8 bars of drums while Leo comes on stage.
In the last 2 bars he plays his signature overtone glissando on a low A
This sounds really hard at first, but if you have been practicing your overtones it doesn’t take long to get it down. When I talked to Leo, he says you have to use increasing pressure on the reed as you go up, and roll your lip up and down.
The Bass line groove
The first bass line groove Leo plays is easy enough until you add in the dancing part.
I tried it just to get an idea of how much higher the level of difficulty is… I can say not only is it really hard and physical, but it’s also dangerous.
So you’re going to want to be in shape too, since this kind of playing is aerobically challenging to say the least.
In this section Leo changes up the bass line a bit and adds a fast, percussive overtone gliss.
These are harder as they are played on the middle notes of the horn and go by really fast.
I spent a bit of time on these and was able to get a decent result. Definitely something you’re going to want to practice for a while to build up the endurance and speed though.
That One Altissimo Note
This next part is a Leo P signature where he just plays one altissimo note fingered in the left hand while making hand gestures with the right. It reminds me of the record scratching in old rap recordings.
The challenge here is in the fast articulation.
He makes that sound easy. The fact that he starts notes with a breath attach was a surprise to me, but now it makes sense. By putting the importance for the attack on the air rather than the tongue you get a lot more power which helps with the rhythm and speed.
Chromatic Scales and Dynamics
Do not underestimate the power of the chromatic scale and dynamics. Sometimes the simplest things can add a lot of tension to music and build excitement.
Another Bass Line
The next section he plays a simple bass line all on offbeats for 16 bars. Another simple device which builds up tension nicely.
More Overtone Glisses
Now we are back to the bass line with the rhythmic overtone glisses, but he mixes in these 16th note blues scale licks. He also throws in this other classic blues lick which is one I actually teach in my Blues Language course.
I think he plays the first two notes with just the front F fingering and then the D he plays with the normal palm key D fingering. So I’ll call this the one handed blues lick.
He continues this for another 8 bars ending on a big Low A overtone gliss with a sort of wide rhythmic vibrato.
Another Chromatic Scale Build Up
Now another chromatic scale build up. Again notice how it gets the audience fired up.
He continues building tension this time with a repeated 6 note chromatic scale bass line again played all on the off beats.
This is the beginning of what we can call a cadenza where he’s playing a straight up D minor pentatonic pattern.
Here’s a link to the BetterSax Shed where you can download all of my free saxophone learning resources. This exact pentatonic scale pattern is included in one of the lessons you’ll find over there.
A “Bluesy” Ending
Now he ends it all with the blues scale going up. Sort of climaxing on that one handed blues lick from earlier and he growls and bends that note to get maximum effect.
Of course, has to end on a low A plus the signature Overtone Gliss to bring us full circle and get us into the arrangement of Moanin’
The Talented Leo P
I know for me seeing this video was the first time I fully realized how impressive Leo is as a player and performer.
Often appearances can be deceiving. We can get so conditioned to the image of the conservatively dressed jazz musician that when you see the guy with Pink hair and zebra shoes dancing in the subway one might think he’s not serious about his art form.
But with Leo nothing could be further from the truth …
Leo told me he was really nervous before that performance, but it wasn’t for the same reason most people would have been nervous…
The most nerve wracking part of that show for Leo was his wardrobe… Which I just absolutely LOVE.
Leo P as a Teacher
In these days of the pandemic when touring is out of the question. Musicians like Leo who would normally not be very accessible have time to give online lessons.
Leo shared with me some of the things he’s been talking about with his students lately.
“If you only practice stuff that people teach you, you’ll only know what they know.”
That right there is a profound statement and a great reminder to us all to explore music and sounds found outside the confines of our traditional teaching and learning methods.
Thanks to Leo P for helping me make this video about him and for everything he’s been doing to make the saxophone world a more interesting place.
Be sure to follow Leo P on YouTube, Instagram, and Facebook to hear more of his incredible playing. You can also check out 2Saxy on YouTube, which is Leo P and Grace Kelly absolutely shredding it with saxophone riffs and killer dance moves.
Interested in more saxophone player interviews? Check out, “Sax Study with Jaleel Shaw,” the “Air Sax Training Exercise with Grace Kelly”, “Solid Sax with Bruce Williams,” or “How to Play More Interesting Lines with Chad LB.”