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Thread: Blues vs. Jazz

  1. #1
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    Blues vs. Jazz

    I know the difference when listening, but find it hard to explain the difference when people ask me. So I hope that users of this terrific forum can help me by explain the difference that classify blues and/from jazz, ex. harmony and rythm.

    *Tried search, but wasnt lucky...

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    Registered User Malcolm's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JTS View Post
    I know the difference when listening, but find it hard to explain the difference when people ask me. So I hope that users of this terrific forum can help me by explain the difference that classify blues and/from jazz, ex. harmony and rythm.

    *Tried search, but wasnt lucky...
    Of course IMHO -- Jazz is fluid where the blues is more structured. That begs for a little more explanation. Blues' 12 bar progression and the use of dominant sevenths is perhaps cast in stone. That is the structure I speak of. Jazz grew from the blues. As blues got "fancy" it turned into jazz.

    Nut shell analogy.
    Last edited by Malcolm; 09-22-2010 at 12:23 PM.

  3. #3
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Blues is much simpler harmonically, that's the main difference. You very rarely get more than 3 chords in a blues, sometimes fewer.
    (The more chords you get, the more it tends towards jazz. Blues played by jazz musicians tends to have quite a lot more chords.)

    Jazz is (traditionally) based on commercial popular music. It takes popular songs (or indeed blues songs) and uses them as improvisation vehicles. It originally had no "canon" (a history of pieces of music written in that style), but was simply a way of playing music (whatever tunes you could lay your hands on), rather than a recognisable genre of music itself.
    Now of course we have "jazz standards" - songs we identify as "jazz tunes", a "jazz canon".

    Blues is more like a folk music, in that it builds on an old heritage of folk tunes and ballads. The blues canon seems to stretch back way before recording was invented (although we don't really know).

    It's more about vocal too. Blues is mainly "songs", something singers do, while jazz is mainly instrumental, something musicians do.

    Jazz is also much more of a group music than blues. Archetypal blues is a solo singer, either with no accompaniment, or perhaps a single instrument accompaniment (usually guitar or piano). Archetypal jazz is a band of at least 4 musicians, often more, improvising collectively. (The standard "jazz trio" is a relatively recent reduction of the tradition.)

    Also, jazz has progressed, over the century of its existence. It has shown formal development, as one generation expands on - or overthrows - the innovations of the previous one. So we can point to distinctive periods (or sub-genres) of jazz, often with some animosity between them. (Older jazz players typically asserting that a new form is "not jazz" at all.)
    Although blues has benefitted from amplification (from the middle of last century), and expanding into an urban group music from its rural solo origins, it has retained its ancient, simple form. (That's really how we define blues: 12 bars, use of minor scale over major chords, etc. We couldn't define jazz in such narrow terms.)

    Of course, there's a tremendous amount of overlap. Blues melody and phrasing is distinctive, using a lot of bent pitches - blues singers do that, and instrumentalists copy them. Jazz musicians frequently adopt that "vocalised" style, when they want a bit more emotional impact.
    Blues can be seen as the "heart" or "soul" of jazz. Without the blues influence, jazz can become a dry, academic form, more like the European music which is its other influence.
    Both forms of music are based heavily on improvisation, although only jazz has turned that into a sophisticated "art", exploring mainly harmonic development. Improvisation is the whole point of jazz (jazz is nothing without it). In blues, improvisation is simply a way of embellishing or responding to the vocal; like 19thC slave work songs, whose "call and response" form derives partly from Africa and partly from Christian church services. A solo blues guitarist (eg) has to rely on his guitar to provide his responses. That's where the whole culture of blues guitar improvisation sprang from.
    Blues improvisation is not interested in harmony at all - only in melody (and limited kinds of phrasing at that), rhythm and expressive articulation. It tends to ignore any chord changes in the accompaniment. (Tends to - not always does.) Jazz - although rhythm is critical to it of course - is obssesed with harmony above all.

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    I'm not really a jazz player (not a proper one), so I hope JonR or someone will give us a more detailed explanation of the real differences. But ...

    ... blues is basically a much simpler form of music. Almost always based around 12 repeating bars of dominant-7 chords. The characteristic sound of blues comes from a "clash" of tones, achieved by playing minor scales with their minor-3rd against the dominant chords which have a major 3rd.

    The most common scale in blues is by far the minor pentatonic. But standard blues also makes quite common use of mixing major pentatonic and minor pentatonic, which is really like a Mixolydian scale against dominant-7 chords.

    Jazz actually has quite a lot of history & roots in common with blues. So there is also a basic jazz form of blues, ie a "jazz-blues", in which some of the dominant-7 chords get changed in various ways.

    In a jazz-blues the typical changes are to use secondary dominant chords, or to substitute certain chords either with a diminished form, or an extended or altered form, or with a so-called "tri-tone substitution".

    So for example, you might have a basic "quick-change" blues progression which goes G7-C7-G7-G7 to C7-C7-G7-G7 to D7-C7-G7-D7 ... which then gets' changed to G7-C7-G7-G7 to C7-C#dim7-G7-E7 to Amin7-D7-G7,E7-Amin7,D7

    In that changed "jazzy" progression the C#7dim chord is a substitute for C7. The E7 chord is a secondary dominant sub for G7 ... ie it's a dominant-7 version of what would have been in the vi-chord in the key of G-major (ie the vi-chord would normally be Eminor-7, but we changed that to a dominant form ie E7). The Amin7 chord is an alternative to using an A7 chord, where A7 would have been dominant version of the ii-chord in the key of G-major, ie so instead of playing G7 we change it to the ii-chord as either Amin7 or as A7.

    Other common changes are to use extended dominant chords, 9, 11 or 13 chords. Or to use their altered versions, ie adding a #5 or a b5 or a #9 or a b9 (in any combination, eg so G7 might get changed to G7#9b5.

    The point of all those changes is to make the chords "move" in a more interesting way from one chord to the next, ie to give a more interesting sound as the chords change.

    A tri-tone substitution by the way (which is very common in jazz), is where you take any of the basic dominant-7 chords in your progression, and change it to another dominant-7 chord whose root is a flat-5th above the root of the original chord, eg changing D7 to Ab7 (because the root of Ab is a flat-5th above D). That's also often called a "b5 sub". It works because the 3rd of Ab7 chord is actually the 7th of D7, and the 7th of Ab7 is actually the 3rd of D7 ... so that substitution is actually just switching around the 3rd and 7th notes of those two chords to add interest to the way the sounds of the chords change.

    Apart from all that sort of stuff about chords, jazz melody playing is also different because it usually accents beats 2 and 4 of the bar, rather than accenting beats 1 and 3 which is more common in rock and blues. The effect is to give a particular choppy "syncopated" style in lots of jazz stuff.

  5. #5
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    Whoops, that post crossed with Jon's in the ether ... so anyway, Jon can get the red pen out now and start crossing out my stuff lol.

  6. #6
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    I guess the interesting thing to discuss is difference between jazz musicians and blues musicians play blues. Not the difference between blues and Somewhere over the rainbow

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Blues is much simpler harmonically, that's the main difference. You very rarely get more than 3 chords in a blues, sometimes fewer. (The more chords you get, the more it tends towards jazz. Blues played by jazz musicians tends to have quite a lot more chords.)
    Yes, but still Kenny Burrell sounds like jazz when he plays a 3 chord blues. So in my opinion it also have to do with complexity in the improvisations.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Jazz is also much more of a group music than blues. Archetypal blues is a solo singer, either with no accompaniment, or perhaps a single instrument accompaniment (usually guitar or piano). Archetypal jazz is a band of at least 4 musicians, often more, improvising collectively. (The standard "jazz trio" is a relatively recent reduction of the tradition.)
    Interesting statement... I think I agree... partly at least. A Sonny Rollins alone on the bridge will still sound like jazz. And definitely Oscar Peterson alone on the piano.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Also, jazz has progressed, over the century of its existence. It has shown formal development, as one generation expands on - or overthrows - the innovations of the previous one. So we can point to distinctive periods (or sub-genres) of jazz, often with some animosity between them. (Older jazz players typically asserting that a new form is "not jazz" at all.)
    Although blues has benefitted from amplification (from the middle of last century), and expanding into an urban group music from its rural solo origins, it has retained its ancient, simple form. (That's really how we define blues: 12 bars, use of minor scale over major chords, etc. We couldn't define jazz in such narrow terms.)
    I did a one evening with the blues history a few weeks ago, from approx T-bone Walker to approx Steve Ray Vaughan. I must say that blues have progressed quite a lot in my opionion - even in the aplified period I was studying.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Blues can be seen as the "heart" or "soul" of jazz.
    Amen!

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Without the blues influence, jazz can become a dry, academic form, more like the European music which is its other influence.
    This is proved again and again by a lot of new jazz musicians.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Both forms of music are based heavily on improvisation, although only jazz has turned that into a sophisticated "art", exploring mainly harmonic development. Improvisation is the whole point of jazz (jazz is nothing without it). In blues, improvisation is simply a way of embellishing or responding to the vocal; like 19thC slave work songs, whose "call and response" form derives partly from Africa and partly from Christian church services. .
    I guess it would be fair to say that in jazz there is more of a collective improvisation (improvised voicings, harmony and rhythm in the rhythm section), where in blues the thythm section is playing exactly the same whatever the soloist is doing ... at least to a much larger degree.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Blues improvisation is not interested in harmony at all - only in melody (and limited kinds of phrasing at that), rhythm and expressive articulation. It tends to ignore any chord changes in the accompaniment. (Tends to - not always does.) Jazz - although rhythm is critical to it of course - is obssesed with harmony above all.
    Interesting observation. Do the blues guys really ignore the chord changes? Ah, well, I'll stick to jazz-blues anyway

  7. #7
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    The most common scale in blues is by far the minor pentatonic. But standard blues also makes quite common use of mixing major pentatonic and minor pentatonic, which is really like a Mixolydian scale against dominant-7 chords.
    I haven't done a very good analysis of this, but I tend to see major pentatonic a lot in many (most?) old blues guitarist. Minor pentatonic took over when the brits started to play blues-rock, mostly with E.C. on guitar.

    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    Apart from all that sort of stuff about chords, jazz melody playing is also different because it usually accents beats 2 and 4 of the bar, rather than accenting beats 1 and 3 which is more common in rock and blues. The effect is to give a particular choppy "syncopated" style in lots of jazz stuff.
    Yes. I agree that is an important point. Also the jazz guys will swing the 8'th notes, while the blues guy will "shuffle" them... or maybe that is a bit to simplistic.

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    Quote Originally Posted by gersdal View Post
    I haven't done a very good analysis of this, but I tend to see major pentatonic a lot in many (most?) old blues guitarist. Minor pentatonic took over when the brits started to play blues-rock, mostly with E.C. on guitar.
    Quite likely. Since my whole reason for ever wanting to play guitar in the first place was hearing EC on that Beano album. However, come to think of it - on that album his playing constantly mixes both minor and major pentatonic.

    In fact imho that is a model album (maybe the model album) for anyone wanting to learn that style of electric blues soloing by mixing major & minor scales.

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    Thanks to all of you, the replys help me to put words on what I hear...

  10. #10
    JazzNerd gersdal's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    EC on that Beano album
    and that is code for what album?

    Edit; I found it
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blues_B...h_Eric_Clapton
    Last edited by gersdal; 09-22-2010 at 05:46 PM.

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    Sorry, I always assume that any contemporary electric guitarist will know that album (it's probably the most famous and influential guitar album of all time) .

    Imho it's required learning for everyone who want's to play electric blues ... in fact even for anyone who want's to play contemporary guitar in any style (rock, jazz, metal, shred ... the licks & phrases from that album turn up again and again in absolutely every genre).

    Of course, it's often said that Clapton merely copied it all from earlier recordings by Freddie King, BB King, Otis Rush etc. But in fact I think that makes a serious mistake ....

    ... it's true, & very obviously true, that most of the tracks are copies of well known tracks recorded by earlier electric blues guys. But all the tracks have been very significantly altered by Clapton (he was 21 at that time). And it's the "feel" and the re-phrasing of those standard licks which makes the playing so special on that album.

    Of course the album is also famous for the "tone" of a Les Paul through an overdriven Marshall JTM-45 combo (now known as a Bluesbreaker combo). But although the tone was much copied, and made Marshall the famous company that it is today, the tone is really far less important than Clapton's beautiful phrasing on that particular LP.

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    (it's probably the most famous and influential guitar album of all time) .
    Are you experienced?
    "Shut Up 'n Play Yer Guitar"

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    Sorry, I always assume that any contemporary electric guitarist will know that album (it's probably the most famous and influential guitar album of all time) .
    Oh, I know it very well, I just didn't know it was called the Beano album

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    Quote Originally Posted by bluesking View Post
    Are you experienced?
    Nah ... pathetic psychedelic pop-rock stuff ... .

    OK, more seriously - the thing about Hendrix was that people didn't really copy his playing so directly or learn from it so directly, because it was so distinctive for it's use of phasing and effects ... anyone who played like that was immediately & rightly identified as an obvious Hendrix imitator.

    But the Hendrix Clapton debate is a very old one. And one which I fear has been far too strongly influenced in Hendrix's favour by two key factors - (1)Hendrix died young, (2)Hendrix was American.

    If it comes to original song writing and a more uniquely creative personal style, then Hendrix clearly wins.

    But if we are talking about phrasing in blues lines, then on the Beano record alone there is no contest (Hendrix was not trying to play that way of course ... but at that time, Clapton was! ... and then there was Cream, and it all changed ... and then there was a lot of drugs & a lot of alcohol, and things were never really the same again).

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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    But the Hendrix Clapton debate is a very old one. And one which I fear has been far too strongly influenced in Hendrix's favour by two key factors - (1)Hendrix died young, (2)Hendrix was American.
    Hmmm, if anything, Hendrix is quite uncool in guitar circles nowadays. There is always someone ready to bash him. Likewise for SRV. I don't get it.

    Ultimately I think what affects opinion on this issue is the order in which people discovered these guys. For me Hendrix was first, then came the old blues guys, then Clapton. I think if I had heard Clapton before the old blues guys I would have been very excited about him. As it is, when I heard Clapton my first thought was, "yeah he sounds like a thousand pub guitarists I know". Of course, I now know it is the pub guitarists who sound like him....

    Also, the production on the Beano album is not exactly to my taste. A little too much verb and double tracking. Too much going on, the tracks all have a different ambience from one another, not the contiguous almost-live-feel. It lacks the elegant simplicity of many Freddie King or Buddy Guy recordings. I think thats really my own problem though, because I feel much the same about Beatles production style. Not clean and clear enough for me!
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