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Underwritten by Carolyn and Bill Powers
lesson plan

The Blues and Jazz


1. The blues has been and continues to be a major influence on jazz musicians who have taken the basic three-chord blues progression and expanded it, increasing its harmonic sophistication and complexity considerably.

I. What is the Blues?

jazz images 1

B.B. King

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Miles Davis

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Armstrong Hot Five

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Ma Rainey

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Howlin' Wolf

A. The blues is...


The blues is a popular, tradition-oriented music style of post-Civil War rural Southern African-American origin with usually secular (as opposed to sacred) content; it was identified as a particular style of music as early as 1909. 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer CROSS ROADS BLUES - Robert Johnson

B. The development of the blues reflects...


The development of the blues reflects the historical developments of African-American life and minority social status, including the 1930s-'40s Great Migration to Northern industrial cities.  

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer HOW LONG BLUES - Jimmy and Mama Yancey

C. The blues has been performed for...


The blues has been performed for private, personal solace as well as for social/entertainment purposes. 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer THE THRILL IS GONE - B.B. King

D. The blues can be...


The blues can be vocal and/or instrumental, and is adaptable to many instrumental combinations. 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer ALL BLUES - Miles Davis

E. The blues functions as...


The blues functions as a representation of conflicting feelings, with the intent of resolving problems by giving them public expression. 

F. The blues song form structure...


The blues song form structure has been formalized as having a 12-bar chorus length (for more on song form, click here). 



AAB lyric order (4 bars each) of rhymed couplets, for example:

A: Everyday, everyday I have the blues
A: Everyday, everyday I have the blues
B: When you see me worryin' baby, yeah it's you I hate to lose

A: Nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
A: Nobody loves me, nobody seems to care
B: Speaking of bad luck and trouble, you know I've had my share

A: I'm gonna pack my suitcase and, move on down the line
A: I'm gonna pack my suitcase and, move on down the line
B: Because there ain't nobody worried, and ain't nobody crying 



listen to and watch Joe Williams singing "Everyday I Have the Blues" with the Count Basie Band by watch video clicking here 



for more on Joe Williams, click here 



steady tempo  



melodic employment of flatted thirds, fifths, and sevenths (blue notes), suggesting mournfulness (for more on blue notes, click here). 



early blues is based on just three chords built from the first, fourth, and fifth degrees of the major scale: the I, IV, and V chords; in the key of C this would be the C, F, and G chords (for more on chords and chord progressions, click here). 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer 12-BAR BLUES PROGRESSION - Demonstration (Mark C. Gridley)
speakerspacer WALKING THE 12-BAR BLUES - Demonstration (Mark C. Gridley)

G. The blues may be modified by...



simplification - resulting in vamps of open duration 






through harmonic substitutions and extensions, i.e., more complex chords and chord progressions1 



major or minor keys 



choice of tempos on a range from extremely slow to extremely fast 

Audio Snippets

H. The blues has been and remains an...


The blues has been and remains an influential source of musical, emotional, and commercial material for jazz, country, folk, rock 'n' roll (especially by British as well as black and white American musicians of the 1960s), and hip-hop. 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer I AIN'T SUPERSTITIOUS - Jeff Beck

I. The blues has generated...


The blues has generated both "pure" and hybrid sub-genres, including symphonic and avant-garde styles. 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer THREE PIECES FOR BLUES BAND, ETC. (1960)  - Siegal-Schwall Band
speakerspacer BLUES - Kronos Quartet

J. The blues has been adopted as...


The blues has been adopted as a genre, style, and concept worldwide and, like jazz, is considered one of America's greatest artistic gifts to the world. 

Audio Snippets

speakerspacer CHEGA DE SAUDADE - Joao Gilberto

Video Clips

videospacer Joe Williams - Everyday I Have the Blues
the Herbie Hancock institute of jazz
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