Respecting The Blues

It’s Jazz Part 11


According to pianist Billy Taylor, “I don’t know of one giant early, late, mid-30s, or cool – who didn’t have a tremendous respect and feeling for the blues, whether he played the blues or not.”

The blues don’t always have to be sad. They can be uplifting. And among jazz musicians, the 12-bar blues is often used as a sort of testing ground. In countless jam sessions, when musicians get together to improvise, someone yells out the key, and the rhythm section takes over. Everybody knows it’s the 12-bar blues.

As the black man moved from the fields of the South to the cities of the North, so did the blues. The rural blues, accompanied by a single guitar, in cities such as Chicago and Detroit, was transformed into the urban blues, often accompanied by instruments practiced by figures such as Blind John Davis and Sonny Boy Williamson.

The urban blues developed in the 1940′s into rhythm-and-blues. And rhythm-and-blues, as played Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley, had a decided effect on the early rockers.

Bill Haley and the Comets’ “Rock around the Clock” is a 12-bar blues. Elvis Presley’s “Hound Dog” is also a 12-bar blues.

The Beatles, the Rolling Stones, The Who and a host of other British and American rock musicians soon followed suit.

The blues remains a vital influence on jazz, rock and soul musicians. Two top artists that have been on the charts are Prince and Bruce Springsteen. It would be hard to name two rock performers whose music is more different.

But both of them use the blues. It now belongs to everybody.