Saxophone Backgrounds on "Isfahan"

One of the most helpful pedagogical devices I've been introduced to since coming to the New England Conservatory has been the playing lesson. Once a semester, Miguel Zenón asks his students to put together a rhythm section to play tunes with him (Donny McCaslin and John McNeil do this as well). Although Miguel is probably best known for his own compositions and arrangements, hearing him in a jam session-type situation like this where you're just calling tunes and blowing over changes is enlightening in its own way—you can tell he's really in his element here, with such a strong rhythmic gravity of his own that it pushes the rhythm section to swing harder as soon as he starts playing. 

One of the tunes I called last semester in this lesson was "Isfahan," which we did in a medium tempo, rather than as a ballad. What really surprised me, though, was that instead of playing the melody with me, Miguel immediately started playing the saxophone background lines from the original recording of "Isfahan" from Far East Suite (1966). I shouldn't really have been surprised; this level of preparation is pretty much evident in all of Miguel's playing, although I don't get to hear him on jam session standards very often. 

Fast-forward three months: last night, a medium-tempo "Isfahan" was called at Smalls a little before 3 a.m., and, as is almost always the case, there were plenty of horn players cramming onto the stage. Although I didn't know the backgrounds, I did hear a friend of mine playing bits and pieces acknowledging the Duke Ellington recording, and thought I'd go back and do some homework. I did a brief, rough transcription of the first chorus of the recording, which is primarily the lead alto line (behind Johnny Hodges):

PDF (Concert)