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Underwritten by Carolyn and Bill Powers
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1

The Blues and Jazz

IV. Cultural Implications of the Blues

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Bo Diddley

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Howlin' Wolf

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Parker & Monk

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Son House

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Professor Longhair


A. The blues is the basis for American popular music

      

1.

pulsing rhythms 

      

2.

melodic hooks 

      

3.

vivid images 

      

4.

timeless stories 

      

5.

exciting performance practices 


B. "Race Records"

      

1.

The blues artists of the 1920s and 1930s predominantly performed for an African-American audience, hence, their recordings were produced primarily for black listeners and came to be known as "race records." 

      

2.

As the blues became more popular, people of all races began to buy blues records and the term eventually faded away (mid twentieth century). 

      

3.

Today, the blues are performed and listened to by people of all races, ethnicities, ages, and socioeconomic groups on six continents; the blues is considered one of America's greatest musical gifts to the world. 


C. Musical and Commercial Development

   

The blues' musical and commercial development reflects American culture. 

      

1.

The blues as a musical form became more and more sophisticated (melodically and harmonically) as Americans became more sophisticated, reflecting an increasingly educated populace. 

            

a.

Jazz musicians, while keeping the same 12-bar structure, reharmonized the basic three-chord progression to far more intricate chord progressions (with the addition of extra and more sophisticated chords within the 12-bar form), requiring instrumental virtuosity to perform. 

            

b.

Jazz musicians of the bebop era (e.g., Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk) changed the philosophy behind the music from entertainment to art (for more on the bebop era and the transition from entertainment music to art music, click here). 

      

2.

The blues became increasingly more commercial as producers realized its commercial appeal and how much money could be made. 

            

a.

Authentic blues as well as numerous commercial hybrids coexist on the market today. 

            

b.

Pop music hitmakers have continually tapped the underlying attitudes, musical vocabulary, and grammar of the blues (e.g., Elvis Presley, Little Richard, Chuck Berry, the Beatles and Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Cassandra Wilson, Macy Gray, Missy Elliott, Mos Def, Nas). 


D. Blues Lyrics

   

Blues lyrics reflect American culture. 

      

1.

Blues lyrics depict all aspects of American life. 

      

2.

The blues represents the complete gamut of emotions, everything from sad and mournful to excited and exuberant. 


E. Blues and Other Art Forms

   

The blues has affected other art and commercial (entertainment) forms and industries. 

      

1.

Theater (e.g., August Wilson's plays) 

      

2.

Liturgical Music (e.g., gospel founder Thomas "Precious Lord" Dorsey got his start as a blues pianist, recording as Georgia Tom) 

      

3.

Film and TV Themes (e.g., "The Sopranos") 

      

4.

Classical Music (e.g., William Russo wrote a blues symphony, recorded by conductor Seiji Ozawa) 

      

5.

Comedy (e.g. the Blues Brothers) 

      

6.

Advertising (e.g., blues great B.B. King's TV commercial advertising a blood sugar meter for diabetics) 


F. Summary

      

1.

The blues are honest and enduring. 

      

2.

The blues arose from the struggles of people trying to find themselves, and perhaps make their fortunes, in America; that struggle is the American story, told wherever Americans and American culture go. 

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