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Jazz Forms - The Blues

One of the staples of the jazz improviser, almost from the beginning of jazz itself, is the blues. Joachim Berendt quotes Leonard Feather in The Jazz Book [p.162] as saying "...the blues is the essence of jazz, and merely having a feeling for the blues means having a feeling for jazz." This is not to say that the blues and jazz are always the same thing, for there are many styles of blues which would not be characterized as jazz. The country or folk blues, represented by artists like Robert Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, predates jazz and continues to this day to be a vital and independent form. Rock music has its origins in the blues, and continues to produce artists like B. B. King and Eric Clapton, the former being strictly a blues man, and the latter a performer and composer of many styles including blues.

On August 10, 1920, Mamie Smith recorded Perry Bradford's Crazy Blues, formerly called Harlem Blues. This was the first vocal recording of a 12 bar blues form, which has become today's most popular blues structure. This form contains twelve four-beat measures using or referencing certain simple harmonic relationships, with a lyrical pattern of three four-measure sections, the first two containing a statement and the last drawing a conclusion. The recording of Crazy Blues achieved such popularity that other blues artists were soon sought out and recorded. Among those was Bessie Smith, perhaps the most well known singer in the early years of the jazz style called classic blues.

The blues soon spread to urban areas throughout the country, notably cities like Chicago, Memphis and Kansas City. The result were styles like rhythm and blues, sometimes called urban blues, and instrumental blues, which often transcended boundaries because of the simplicity and flexibility of the form. Many jazz artists started out in bands playing these styles, including John Coltrane, Ornette Coleman and Count Basie, who developed the Kansas City swing sound using blues as a basic tool.

Today's jazz musician is inevitably schooled in the blues, and included in the standard repertoire are tunes like Charlie Parker's Blues For Alice *, John Coltrane's Blue Trane, Thelonius Monk's Straight, No Chaser **, and Miles Davis' Freddy the Freeloader. Oliver Nelson's album Blues and the Abstract Truth is a classic jazz album, with artists like Eric Dolphy, Bill Evans and Freddie Hubbard all showing their fluency and individuality within the blues form. A familiarity with the blues is a must for those seeking a deeper understanding of jazz, both musicians and listeners. All of jazz is enriched by the blues, and jazz would not be what it is today without it.    [top]
- article by Frank Singer 2002

* A recording of Blues For Alice can be found on the CD Tito In Wonderland Cat's A Bear plays Blues For Alice on Tito in Wonderland / click here for more info

**A recording of Straight, No Chaser can be found on the CD oFF tHE tOP: standards 1 Frank Singer plays Straight, No Chaser on oFF tHE tOP: standards 1 / click here for more info





Jazz Origins
I - Beginnings 
II - Jazz and Technology
III - Radio and the Industrial Beat    
The Swing Era
I - Precursors
II - The Decade of Swing
III - The BeBop Strain
A First Look Back
New Orleans Revival

Jazz Forms

The Blues
The 32 bar Song Form
The Latin Influence
Hard Bop
Evolution 1 - A New Dialogue
Evolution 2 - Into The Seventies
Evolution Of The Jam Session
Post Modernism


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