Using the Blues to Teach Music

bluesblogWith numerous opportunities, it’s astounding that so many jazz players seem to obtain so little out of the blues when they improvise on the music. Exactly what numerous players, even experienced players, cannot realize is that the blues can in fact highlight the constraints of an improviser. It is much easier to master a song with lots of chord adjustments, such as “Giant Steps” (tempo aside), as there are fewer offered note choices and also much less time for thematic growth.

The blues provides a wide canvas on which to paint one’s music ideas. There is more time (measures) to develop thematic ideas. There is additionally even more time between the chord adjustments of the standard accordant development. Due to the number of accordant replacements and passing chords that have actually entered into the modern-day jazz vocabulary, there are much more scale and also note selections available to lay out the harmony of the moment. Generally, these accordant replacements are not played by observant rhythm sections until they are first indicated by the musician. It calls for an extensive understanding of jazz concept as well as an eager ear to make use of the ever-changing harmonic context that can take place in the blues. It has been claimed that there are “no wrong notes” when improvising on the blues. This is somewhat of a fiction, for in the blues there are constantly “better” notes with their implied harmonic substitutions readily available at any given time.

Today there are several blues arrangements available from the companies that publish music for college jazz sets, which is why lots of jazz educators utilize the blues to educate beginning improvisation. Students ought to be exposed to the blues from a listener’s perspective early in their musical education; nevertheless, it is the author’s opinion that improvisation need to begin with diatonic developments (II-V-I) and requirements (such as “I Obtained Rhythm”), before presenting the blues. Asking a beginning pupil to improvise on the blues resembles asking a young seafarer to navigate a sea in a tiny watercraft. In both situations the newbie will absolutely run into trouble and also potential catastrophe!

Some educators likewise suggest the use of the blues range as a straightforward method to browse blues changes. Pedagogically, the blues scale is just one of the last ranges the writer would certainly present to a pupil of improvisation. While it could consist of the raised 9th and also 5th, the blues range provides little bit in the method of harmonic as well as melodic source product for the beginning student.

Bringing New Life to the Blues

Early blues songs recorded by musicians such as Blind Lemon Jefferson, Leroy Carr, as well as Charlie Patton achieved broad popularity in African-American communities of the southerly USA in the 1920’s as well as 1930’s. Nevertheless, recordings of this very early music are scarce and also by the early 1950’s the music had almost faded from prominent memory up until revival initiatives of collectors such as Alan Lomax, Frederic Ramsey, Jr., and Samuel Charters brought blues into the worldwide spotlight in the late 1950’s and 1960’s. These ardent collectors sought out country blues musicians as well as introduced them to show promoters and record firms, revitalizing their recording professions. Folkways Records additionally played a major function in the blues revival through some considerable recording reissue jobs: Harry Smith’s Anthology of American Folk Music™, Jr.’s Jazz, Samuel Charters’ Country Blues, and also Frederic Ramsey. These reissues made recordings from the 1920’s and 1930’s available to vast audiences in the 1950’s as well as 1960’s, drawing blues songs right into the understanding of American viewers from all ethnic as well as socioeconomic histories.

a2e4e706a740f770040f5f7b1576372cTo the Festival Stage

The folk and blues revival enabled country blues musicians such as John Jackson, Sam Chatmon, Furry Lewis, Sonny Terry, Brownie McGhee, Lightnin’ Hopkins and also others to ascend blues festival phases to large praise throughout the United States and also globally. The Smithsonian Folklife Festival on the National Mall organized many country blues musicians throughout the 1960’s as well as 1970’s, approving them acknowledgment as a component of a national musical heritage. Country blues artists aim to keep their conventional designs of playing in these festival contexts also while substantial adjustments to blues were creating in local pockets throughout the USA.  The artists would keep their music with a small town feel throughout these years.  You would never see the artists show up to a festival in a limousine like you would in other styles of music.  They wanted to continue relating to those they performed for.

The country blues shares the shared experiences of black individuals in the American South, making it a powerful automobile for African American expression as well as cultural reinforcement. It is a distinct musical type that advanced in the early 10 years of the twentieth century in tiny dance halls as well as on the back steps of residences in the Mississippi delta, and these timeless recordings on Smithsonian Folkways and in the Ralph Rinzler Folklife Archives and also Collections maintain the country blues to life for audiences almost everywhere.

The Rural Soul Music

Big_Bill_BroonzyIn the mid 1950’s, on his WFMT radio program, Studs Terkel asked, “Say Bill, what’s blues?” Big Bill Broonzy replied with confidence that in actual blues, you do not blend that with absolutely nothing. You simply play blues. Now a real blues, a Mississippi blues, you just alter [chords] when you feel like it and you play exactly what you really feel (as heard on The Folkways Collection podcast series about “The Blues”). To Broonzy and also various other blues musicians, the country blues is a style birthed from the Mississippi Delta that laid the foundation for various other, later, local blues styles found throughout the United States. The country blues is music that relies on the meaningful electrical power of the voice with sporadic instrumental accompaniment (generally only a guitar or harmonica), varying from the “city blues” in that it has even more improvisation freedom and also a much less rigidly specified structure.

Singing the Blues

The country blues is the music of daily life. It is the lonesome songs of lounging on the front deck, the wild songs of your house party, and the rowdy as well as appealing songs of the concert phase. The lyrics handle the African American experience and the hardships of work, life, and also love in the American South, and themes of travel, loneliness, and also wandering of the blues musician way of living. Rebirth requirements such as “Candy Man,” taped by both Reverend Gary Davis and also John Hurt, “I Ain’t Gonna Cry No More,” recorded by Son House, as well as “Boll Weevil,” recorded by Charlie Patton, Pink Anderson, Ma Rainey and also others all show the link of blues lyrics to daily life through their references to individuals, railway work and also love, and a specific agricultural parasite.

Big Joe Turner

Weighing in at over three hundred pounds and with a height of six foot two, it’s easy to understand how Big Joe Turner got his name.  It wasn’t for just his size, though, but also his place in the history of blues music that makes him larger than life.  Born in Kansas City, Big Joe began his blues career when he started signing on the street corners.  At the age of fourteen, he quit school and began working at nightclubs as a singing bartender.

Big-Joe-TurnerEverything changed for Big Joe in 1938, though.  He was invited to perform at Carnegie Hall in a famous showcase called From Spirituals to Swing with his partner and piano man, Pete Johnson.  As was the case for many artists that performed at Carnegie Hall, Big Joe and Pete Johnson’s careers took off after their performance.  Their song, “Roll ‘Em Pete,” became a quick hit.  That song was one of the earliest examples of what many artists call a backbeat, a way of accentuating the offbeat.  The backbeat was an essential component of what became R&B music.

Big Joe, in many ways, was a big part of the progression within blues music, from big band, to the jump blues, to R&B, and soon after, rock n’ roll.  His leadership in these styles of music not only earned him the name Big Boss Man, but also the Grandfather of Rock n’ Roll.  In 1954, his hit song, “Shake Rattle and Roll,” became the song he was most known for.




The Blues Move North

79813.original-6176Among the first Mississippians to take the blues to Chicago was Big Bill Broonzy of Scott. He arrived there in 1920 and also played for chicken and chitlins at Saturday evening events. By the late 1930s he was one of the most preferred entertainers in the nation and also came to be an adviser to numerous Mississippi blues musicians that followed him north.

Yet Broonzy’s smooth “city blues” design was soon superseded; the necessity of the “brand-new” blues, brought by Walter Horton and Sonny Child Williamson, recorded Chicago target markets.

The master of the Chicago blues was Muddy Waters. Birthed in Rolling Fork in 1915, Waters (McKinley Morganfield) established a new style for the blues. Recorded first by the Library of Congress in 1941 at Stovall Plantation (listen to the Muddy Waters recording), Muddy Waters by 1947 was going far on Aristocrat (later Chess) Records. His “Hoochie Coochie Man” offered over 75,000 duplicates. “Rollin’ Stone” offered 80,000 copies and also inspired Bob Dylan’s later track and the name of the 1960s rock band.

Howlin’ Wolf (Chester Burnett), birthed in West Factor in 1910, began recording in Memphis with Sam Phillips. In his home he had listened to Mississippi country yodeler Jimmie Rodgers’s records and also tried to copy him. Wolf was grabbed by Chess Records, which generated hits like “Spoonful” and also “Evil Goin’ On.”.

The source of a lot of the tunes sung by Chess recording stars like Howlin’ Wolf and also Muddy Waters was “Big” Willie Dixon, birthed in Vicksburg in 1915. A gifted bass player, record producer, and also precursor, along with songwriter, Willie Dixon is known as the grandfather of the Chicago blues.

Harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite was the only white Chicago bluesman throughout the era to play Southside clubs with black bands. Growing up in Kosciusko, Musselwhite heard his papa playing country music, however he moved to songs of black bluesmen due to the fact that “their music told the truth.”.

Lots of various other Mississippi blues greats moved to Chicago: Otis Rush, Magic Sam, Otis Spann, Albert King, Jimmy Dawkins, James Cotton, Elmore James, Sunnyland Slim, as well as Big Joe Williams.

With the blues, Mississippians connected assistance, hope, also happiness– in field hollers, throughout crowded juke joints as well as country barn dancings, and also throughout the wires to fans adjusting in their favored radio programs. Mississippi musicians would perform music for much of the delight in their lives. Perhaps that is the actual legacy of their music.

The Emergence of Son House

As the blues spread, so did the phenomenon referred to as the “juke joint.” In these makeshift buildings that acted as social clubs, the blues established and spread out. Tracks and lyrics were obtained, adapted from musicians who took a trip from joint to joint, and also methods and also styles were duplicated and elaborated after. Youthful bluesmen discovered coaches and left home to follow them in a life of travel.

The initial Mississippian to arise from the anonymous folk practice was Charlie Patton. Born near Edwards around 1887, he moved to Dockery Vineyard in the Mississippi Delta to work. He began playing at juke joints around the Delta, dances, fish fries, and house parties. During those years, 1897 to 1934, he took a trip with an additional bluesman, Son House, tutored the young Howlin’ Wolf, and motivated numerous others.

TEE273-XLEddie “Son” House was birthed in Coahoma County in 1902. Commonly regarded as the ultimate blues vocalist, he did not start carrying out up until his mid-twenties, due to the fact that he was initially a preacher. Preaching was a powerful influence on his powerful vocal singing design. In 1930 he recorded 2 tracks for the Paramount label: “Dry Spell Blues” and “Preachin’ the Blues,” concerning a farming dilemma in the Delta. Son House is famous for his bottleneck slide technique. This technique is characteristic of blues music– the artist utilizes the guitar as a second voice by sliding a bottleneck or various other tough object along the strings making a wailing noise. After he was uncovered in the 1960s, House played for a decade to university audiences as well as at blues festivals.

Robert L. Johnson.

The most potent tale in the blues was Robert L. Johnson. He was born near Hazlehurst and escaped from home as a teen to discover guitar from Son House. Legend has it that Johnson marketed his spirit to the adversary for his talent to play and sing the blues better than any individual else. He played the Delta, then traveled the top South and East. His recording sessions in 1936 as well as 1937 created some of the richest songs in the record of the blues: “Love in Vain,” Dust My Broom”, and “Hellhound on my Trail,” among others. His guitar and also vocal abilities developed a structure on which generations of blues as well as rock musicians have been creating since.

Tommy Johnson, like Robert Johnson (no relation), asserted he as well had offered his spirit to the evil one in exchange for his remarkable guitar abilities. The story is an old one, with roots in voodoo and also African lore, yet one that works only when the writer’s abilities are as remarkable as those of Tommy Johnson or Robert Johnson. Tommy Johnson, recognized for his tune “Canned Heat,” a name that was taken by the 1960s blues band, was a very early guitar stuntman.

When African-American musicians departed northward to cities like Chicago, they listened to the songs of tin frying pan alley and also jazz. They started to amplify their instruments electrically and to add drums or even horns. The solitary bluesman was changed into the blues band, and a new age had begun.

The Blues of the Mississippi

The music called the blues that arose from Mississippi has formed the growth of music in this country and also all over the world.

Activate the radio. You may get some rock with some tough guitar riffs– or some rap. But place on Robert Johnson’s recording of “I Believe I’ll Dust My Broom,” and you will hear everything– put down in the 1930s by a guy that incorporated aspects of the songs he listened to with the genius that he received from God knows where– perhaps the evil one, if you intend to believe the tale.

MS-Gatewy-Blues-Mus-Tunica-2-1280x853And just what concerning rap? Skip James, birthed Nehemiah Curtis James in the year of 1902 in rural Mississippi near Bentonia, speaks about “rappin’ along” in the 1920s. Concerning the very same time “Big” Willie Dixon, in Vicksburg, was writing his first track, “Symbolizing Ape,” a piece straight out of the olden convention of “signifying”– a lot better known currently as “rapping.”.

The blues and also Mississippi are associated to music lovers. The arsenal of any kind of blues or rock band has lots of songs, guitar licks, and also vocal inflections borrowed from Mississippi bluesmen– from Tommy Johnson, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, and also Son House to Skip James, Mississippi Fred McDowell, Mississippi John Hurt, Bukka White, Big Joe Williams, Sonny Boy Williamson, and Furry Lewis– just to state a few of the early ones. A few generations later, Muddy Waters, James Cotton, Howlin’ Wolf, B.B. King, Willie Dixon, as well as several others were still making Mississippi blues and sending it out across the globe.

Birth of the blues.

As far as historians can inform, the blues were born in the Mississippi Delta, an explanation on work incantations, “sorrow” slave tunes, and also the lyrical and also haunting “field hollars.” As early as the American Civil War, white soldiers kept in mind a different music produced by black soldiers– tunes regarding marching as well as various other toils of battle where they “extemporized a half-dissonant middle part.” These tracks were direct precursors to the blues, if not the real point currently.

By the 1890s, the blues form had actually been set and also the audios of a distinct brand-new songs began to be listened to past the work camps. The new music was full of the polyrhythms as well as accents of African music and bore the subtleties of various tribes. Black Americans had actually obtained significantly from white man’s music as well– its scale, its abundant individual practices, its tools. The blues did not surface from Africa; it was substantiated of 2 music cultures– black and white– that were prospering and growing individually and with each other. The result of this large blending was songs that was to be the basis of mainstream popular music for the whole 20th century.



The Blues Revival

When white listeners came to be curious about blues music in the late 1950s and very early 1960s, a lot of the country blues musicians had discontinued playing songs or resided in obscurity until blues revivalists looked them up. Jesse Fuller, a one-man band, as well as harmonica player Muddy1Buster Brown gained from the restored interest in their music, yet the blues rebirth alleviated no early Georgia blues artist better compared to Sonny Terry (Saunders Terrell) From his very first recording in 1937, Sonny Terry, of Greensboro, continued to be active in music and even played Carnegie Hall and on Broadway, however his popularity expanded in the 1960s. Solo as well as with his long time companion, guitarist Brownie McGhee, Terry played many festivals as well as recorded several albums until the 1980s.

By the time the blues began to have an obvious influence on white musicians like the Allman Brothers of Macon in the late 1960s and very early 1970s, white entertainers had surpassed their black peers in appeal, as well as enhancing numbers of white musicians, like Tinsley Ellis of Atlanta, started playing the blues. Luther Johnson, that played extensively with Muddy Waters, and also other essential blues musicians of the 1970s were typically overshadowed by white contemporaries, a trend that continues now. Georgia still creates blues by performers like Neal Pattman and Robert “Chick” Willis, but blues tourism as well as the record sector continues to co-opt the category, and also the distinctive traditions of the early blues records as well as the Atlanta style no more continue to be.

The Blues of the 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s

From the mid-1920s into the very early 1930s, “artist and repertoire” (known as A&R) personnel combed the South and also north cities looking for talent for the race-record subsidiaries of major record businesses, and also in Atlanta they tape-recorded a distinct style of country blues performers. The use of twelve-string guitars, even more strumming than selecting, irregular rhythms, as well as a nasal vocal technique embodied the Atlanta noise, as executed by brothers Charlie “Lincoln” Hicks and Robert “Barbecue Bob” Hicks.

m-4268The influence of the delicately finger-picked Piedmont style of country blues likewise showed up in Georgia with Joshua Barnes “Peg Leg” Howell and Eugene “Buddy” Moss, that kept among the most successful very early blues taping jobs right into the 1930s. “Blind Willie” McTell, one more country blues vocalist energetic from the 1920s, played in Atlanta till quickly before his death sometime in the late 1950s, as well as like many “songsters” of the day, he integrated a wide range of pop music designs in his collection. A longtime citizen of the city, McTell frequently played on the road beyond the Pig ‘n’ Whistle barbecue stands and worked together with the Hicks brothers, Buddy Moss, Curley Weaver, as well as Piano Red.

Chicago Blues

In Chicago, African American travelers from the South developed a new design of urban blues, and by 1928 two of one of the most popular and also extensively taped blues entertainers in America were Georgia Tom and “Tampa Red” Whittaker. Despite the fact that the variety of blues recordings started to wane after the Great Depression and also right into the 1940s, the genre stayed a popular kind of expression in north cities. Georgia-born guitarists James “Kokomo” Arnold from Lovejoy, J. B. Hutto, Joe Carter, and Big Maceo Merriweather contributed to the urban blues scene in Chicago throughout the center of the century.

What are the Blues?

The blues is a mixing of African and European standard music defined by its melancholy (or blue) notes that share suffering and depression. Songs are normally structured in three-line verses, with the 3rd line summing up, or rephrasing, the sentiment shared in the first 2. Beginning in the 19th century, blues music established throughout the southern USA from slave work songs and also field hollers. Later on, southern prisoners behind bars and also on chain gangs added songs of murder, death row, as well as their treatment at the hands of the wardens. In 1839 one of the earliest recognized references to slave music that would evolve right into the blues was documented on a Georgia rice plantation by an English tourist.

Early Performers

Georgia has actually created an abundant blues heritage that showcases a variety of performance designs, from such preferred recording artists as Ray Charles from Albany, Robert Cray of Columbus, and Little Richard from Macon to a lot more obscure players like Blind Simmwatermark_Bluesie Dooley from Hartwell as well as Dolphus “Gus” Gibson from Ft Valley.

Little is found out about the earliest types of the music, yet Gertrude “Ma” Rainey, a native of Columbus, asserts to have actually sung blues in front of live vaudeville audiences at the age of sixteen (around 1900), which could make her the first professional female blues entertainer. Before moving to Chicago, Rainey executed at the 81 Theater in Atlanta, where she influenced the teenager Bessie Smith. Atlanta’s Decatur Street, in the early years of the century,  had a flourishing songs scene populated by barrelhouse blues pianists such as Thomas Andrew “Georgia Tom” Dorsey from Vacation home Rica, Willie Lee “Piano Red” Perryman from Hampton, as well as Big Maceo Merriweather from Atlanta. (The term barrelhouse was utilized to describe a loud percussive kind of blues piano suitable for noisy bars or taverns.).