A discussion of the emergence of Blues and Jazz music in social context

by M. Gauss, 2017

The Blues was born in the cotton fields (mainly in the Mississipi Delta) of the southern United States of America ,where segregation, whose condition was worse, prevailed at the beginning of the 20th century. 

This music derives from the working songs of  Afro -American slave populations. It helps to  bear the weight of hard labor and the condition of slave. Hope is not only in the blues , it is also in God and many blues express this faith especially in what we call gospel or negro spiritual: a form of religious songs which took their roots in camp meetings, outdoor religious meetings. The term “blues” comes from the abbreviation of “ blue devils” ,( which means black ideas therefore a music related to the evil forces). According to legend, Robert Johnson  signed a pact with the devil to be a virtuoso.  

Here are some technical explanations : the blues is a poem sung composed of twelve measures derived from the alexandrine. After each sentence sung , the singer who is often a musician responds and emphasizes with his instrument what he has just said ( because this music is based on a question and answer system).The blues is composed of stanzas of three verses according to an ABB pattern, also using a frequent harmonic sequence based on 3 chords. But many blues do not obey these rules. The Native American influence long hidden is  increasingly put forward  today by many authors and researchers. It would be particularly sensitive to the use of the pentatonic scale to which a note has been added. 

But the blues has also influenced many genres, different societies and also the arts. Thus some films show the myth of the pact with the devil, the pact that made Robert Johnson famous: it is the case of the film Crossroads, of Walter Hill. Another film helped to make known the blues: it is The Blues Brothers, by John Landis.  

As regards to the influence of the blues in the musical genres, it is mainly found in rock, jazz and country, but also in classical music with Maurice Ravel and Arthur Honegger with his first of its three symphonic movements: Pacific 231. With regard to country music, it is not really an influence but rather a “fusion” between these two genres, which also gave the rock ’n’ roll.  

The difference between blues and country is subtle, to the point that many pieces can be arranged in both styles. Jazz is really rhythmic in the blues , jazz uses the riffs and melodies of classical blues: the harmonic sequence of the twelve measures blues is frequently used by jazz musicians as a base for improvisation. The style of the base deeply influenced the entire jazz. In return, the great jazz soloists, Louis Armstrong, Charlie Parker, Lester Young gave the blues a magnified image. Finally, rock ‘n ‘roll is probably the musical genre that owes the most to the blues. The original rock 

Is often a blues played on a faster tempo and with a binary rather than a ternary rhythm. Then, the rock did not necessarily respect the blues structure in I- IV-V. Many rock artists at the beginning of this musical movement began their career with the blues. But beyond the simple resumption of themes or standards, the blues has had a decisive influence on the way to play rock music. Rock guitarists use the instrumental techniques and the blues ranges to a large extent. The very expressiveness of this style of play makes it almost universal even in musical genres a priori unrelated to the blues.  

The influence of the blues is not ready to stop and is still omnipresent in rock and obviously in groups such as The White Straps or the Black Keys of which it is an essential part of the repertoire. But the blues also influenced … in other words, society has not changed one iota, except in the form taken by “post -modern” racism. Either a more insidious, wavering, perverse form, but always as real. But above all, let us not break our feet with the intellectual crutch  that is  politically correct evoked at all times subscribers to ready to think , common places. Jazz was there to highlight racism and its all-out violence, to highlight its truth, that is, racism, the tapestry of the horizon of this country. It was and it remains. 

Just recently, trombonist Steve Turre, composed and recorded Trayvon’s Blues as a tribute to young Trayvon Martin, killed in Florida by a vigil. This song is on Spirit man on Smoke label. Among the recent productions which are as many blows of mouth to denounce the clan reflex and its between-itself , that found the DNA of the racism, we retained these: Fundamental Destiny by this extraordinary formation which is called The Art Ensemble of Chicago- this live recorded in Germany with the great pianist Don Pullen appeared on AECO- the roots of the Blues by pianist Randy Weston and saxophonist Billy Harper appeared on Emarcy and the live at The Knitting Factory by Bluiett Baritone Saxophone Group on Knitting Records.   

Older albums include We insist: Freedom Now by Max Roach and Abbey Lincoln, Freedom Suite by Sonny Rollins, Fables of Faubus by Charles Mingus, Stars Fell on Alabama by John Coltrane, which are the canons of the fights against racism at the time of civil rights. But nowadays, one insits on the “forgotten”of the genre.  
These include Dizzy Gilespie’s Swing Low Sweet Cadillac on Impulse ,among others, his Kush composition dedicated to “Mama Africa”. Legends Live by Cannonball Adderley Quintet for a title that sums up the subject of the day: Why Am I Treated So Bad.Goin’ Home by Archie Shepp and Horace Parlan who had conceive this album as a riposte to the jazz –rock that so much liked the “p’tits Blancs” of the 1970’s as well as jazz already clean , smooth, very white ECM. Up Down , poignant album signed by pianist Horace Parlan in 1961 with Booker Ervin at the tenor for the play The Other Part of Town , the ghetto.  

We will finish with the ancestor of this current  which is also a masterpiece: Black, Brown and Beige , long suite composed by Duke Ellington in 1938 and which he recorded with Mahalia Jackson in 1958.This album was published by Columbia. For Master Ellington, this play was intended as the sonorous counterpart of the long and painful struggle for the emancipation of the Blacks of America. 


Books sources

Weissmann, Dick (2005). The basics Blues. Routledge. 
Meeder, Christopher (2008). The basics Jazz. Routledge. 
Davis, Francis (1995). The History of the Blues. Da Capo Press. 
Hamilton, Mary Beth (207). In search of the Blues. Vintage Press. 
Larkin, Philip (2011). Larkin Jazz Writings. Continuum. 
Gioia, Ted (2016). How to listen to Jazz. Basic books Press. 
Gioia, Ted (2011). The History of Jazz. Oxford University Press. 
Murray, Albert (2016). Murray talks Music. University of Minnesota Press. 
Hentoff, Nat (2010). At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz scene. University of California Press. 
Riccardi, Ricky (2012). What A Wonderful World. Vintage Books. 
Teachout, Terry (2013). Duke.  Robson Press. 
James, Etta & Ritz, David (2003). Rage To Survive: The Etta James Story. DaCapo Press. 
King, B.B (2011). Blues All Around Me. HarperCollins Inc. 
Davis, Miles (1990). Miles: The Autobiography. Pan Macmillan. 
Holt, Fabian (2007). Genre in Popular music. The University of Chicago Press.. 

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