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Thread: Getting Better at the Blues

  1. #1
    Registered User urucoug's Avatar
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    Getting Better at the Blues

    So, I would have thought there'd be a lot more articles about this, but not too many in the page of old articles I scanned through, searching for 'blues'. Feel free to post me the links if this seems to be one of those questions you've answered a million times.

    So, I realized there was a pretty common link between my two big goals--put a group together to do jazzy wedding reception background music, and a group to play good old classic rock songs for the end of marathons and such. The blues! Both jazz and rock have their roots there, and I think I have a lot to gain from getting good at making up solos for a 12-bar blues. So, I've made it my New Years resolution to get good at 12-bars.

    In the last while, I've been really working on getting good at playing scales on any position of the fretboard, and knowing which scale tones are involved in which chords. I feel weak in the area of solo playing where you sling different chords runs together fluidly, and make stuff up that sounds good, or even what's in my head.

    I've been going through a Jazz guitar method book, that has some introductory type stuff for the blues, and a lot of theory. I think what I'm looking for is a resource to supplement that has a deep stack of 12-bar blues solos written out that I can copy and learn from, and I'm also looking for some advice on some techniques I can work on that will help me 'get it'. What do you focus on to get fluid at this, and know what you're doing? Suggestions?

  2. #2
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    Hi urucoug,

    my first suggestion is to do a search here at IBreathemusic.com,

    if you do a search for blues you will find hundreds of threads

    read the threads, that members here(who are some of the most KNOWLEDGEABLE musicians you will EVER communicate with) have already answered you question in great depth and application

    by reading these previous threads, you will not only get the basics,( ie. things like learning what a I IV V chord progression is), but more than likely more information that will keep you busy for years to come

    good luck
    "Success is arriving at a Personal Satisfaction within yourself"

    Dedicated To Guitar!!!

  3. #3
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urucoug View Post
    So, I would have thought there'd be a lot more articles about this, but not too many in the page of old articles I scanned through, searching for 'blues'. Feel free to post me the links if this seems to be one of those questions you've answered a million times.

    So, I realized there was a pretty common link between my two big goals--put a group together to do jazzy wedding reception background music, and a group to play good old classic rock songs for the end of marathons and such. The blues!
    Yes, but blues as such has limited appeal at those kind of gigs, in my experience.
    By all means get more into blues, but treat it as a second challenge. That kind of gig is all about selecting the right mix of covers of well-known tunes (depending on the kind of age range), and very few of the right songs will be blues (unless you count 50s rock'n'roll tunes).
    I speak as a devout blues fan myself, as well as an experienced player in wedding and function bands. The only space we found for a blues in those bands was Etta James' "I Just Want to Make Love to You", which is not a 12-bar, although definitely bluesy.
    (I'm not counting a straightahead blues band I was once in, which did one wedding reception where the groom was a big blues fan. It didn't go down with some of the other guests...)
    Quote Originally Posted by urucoug View Post
    Both jazz and rock have their roots there, and I think I have a lot to gain from getting good at making up solos for a 12-bar blues. So, I've made it my New Years resolution to get good at 12-bars.
    Good for you!
    Quote Originally Posted by urucoug View Post
    In the last while, I've been really working on getting good at playing scales on any position of the fretboard, and knowing which scale tones are involved in which chords. I feel weak in the area of solo playing where you sling different chords runs together fluidly, and make stuff up that sounds good, or even what's in my head.

    I've been going through a Jazz guitar method book, that has some introductory type stuff for the blues, and a lot of theory. I think what I'm looking for is a resource to supplement that has a deep stack of 12-bar blues solos written out that I can copy and learn from, and I'm also looking for some advice on some techniques I can work on that will help me 'get it'. What do you focus on to get fluid at this, and know what you're doing? Suggestions?
    This is going to sound like a boring, stock answer, but I always suggest listening to real blues and transcribing the bits you like (riffs or solo phrases). It's not rocket science, and you don't need any jazz theory.
    It's much better to listen and work it out for yourself than work from tab or notation - if only because groove and feel are really important, and you don't get those in notation.
    All you need is to know the blues scale of the key, and the chord tones in the chords.
    Try some T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, B B King, Hubert Sumlin - keep it simple. (Buddy Guy and Albert King can be somewhat advanced.). Restrict your listening (for the sake of argument) to the 1950s, when electric blues had reached its zenith, before it began its 1960s decline.
    You can go back to the 1940s or even 1930s for acoustic blues from the likes of Big Bill Broonzy or Eddie Lang (early proponents of single-string blues soloing, as opposed to acoustic fingerstyle).
    Don't waste time listening to anything after the 1960s. It's all revival from there, keeping a vintage genre alive. (B B King is always worth listening to, but he was blistering in the 1950s.)

    With someone like T-Bone Walker, it's pretty easy to pick up his phrasing by ear. And he's important because he was the main influence on all who came after him. With him as your foundation, you won't go far wrong.

    Remember ALL the great blues players (with the possible exception of the very earliest ones) learned from listening to records - not from books.

  4. #4
    Registered User urucoug's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Yes, but blues as such has limited appeal at those kind of gigs, in my experience.
    By all means get more into blues, but treat it as a second challenge. That kind of gig is all about selecting the right mix of covers of well-known tunes (depending on the kind of age range), and very few of the right songs will be blues (unless you count 50s rock'n'roll tunes).
    I speak as a devout blues fan myself, as well as an experienced player in wedding and function bands. The only space we found for a blues in those bands was Etta James' "I Just Want to Make Love to You", which is not a 12-bar, although definitely bluesy.
    (I'm not counting a straightahead blues band I was once in, which did one wedding reception where the groom was a big blues fan. It didn't go down with some of the other guests...)
    Yeah, I'm mostly thinking of blues as a vehicle to make Jazz more accessible. The simplicity of form that blues displays attracts me (It will almost always be I, VI, V, for this many measures, and here are your possible substitutions...). I like a lot of music that is derived from blues, but not too many blues songs themselves.

    The vibe I get when I ask people about learning Jazz is that I'll need a lot of experience in different areas before I should take get too serious about learning Jazz, to make it easier. I somewhat assumed that blues is a bit of a prerequisite.

    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    Good for you!
    This is going to sound like a boring, stock answer, but I always suggest listening to real blues and transcribing the bits you like (riffs or solo phrases). It's not rocket science, and you don't need any jazz theory.
    It's much better to listen and work it out for yourself than work from tab or notation - if only because groove and feel are really important, and you don't get those in notation.
    All you need is to know the blues scale of the key, and the chord tones in the chords.
    Try some T-Bone Walker, Lowell Fulson, B B King, Hubert Sumlin - keep it simple. (Buddy Guy and Albert King can be somewhat advanced.). Restrict your listening (for the sake of argument) to the 1950s, when electric blues had reached its zenith, before it began its 1960s decline.
    You can go back to the 1940s or even 1930s for acoustic blues from the likes of Big Bill Broonzy or Eddie Lang (early proponents of single-string blues soloing, as opposed to acoustic fingerstyle).
    Don't waste time listening to anything after the 1960s. It's all revival from there, keeping a vintage genre alive. (B B King is always worth listening to, but he was blistering in the 1950s.)

    With someone like T-Bone Walker, it's pretty easy to pick up his phrasing by ear. And he's important because he was the main influence on all who came after him. With him as your foundation, you won't go far wrong.

    Remember ALL the great blues players (with the possible exception of the very earliest ones) learned from listening to records - not from books.
    Listening and transcribing takes a lot of work! I was hoping there was an easier way.

    Thanks for the pointers, and for the recommended artists.

  5. #5
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urucoug View Post
    Yeah, I'm mostly thinking of blues as a vehicle to make Jazz more accessible. The simplicity of form that blues displays attracts me (It will almost always be I, VI, V, for this many measures, and here are your possible substitutions...). I like a lot of music that is derived from blues, but not too many blues songs themselves.

    The vibe I get when I ask people about learning Jazz is that I'll need a lot of experience in different areas before I should take get too serious about learning Jazz, to make it easier. I somewhat assumed that blues is a bit of a prerequisite.
    For learning jazz, yes. Blues has much the same attitude and feel, a similar approach to improvisation.
    Of course jazz is much more complicated harmonically, but all jazz players know the blues intimately - many of them started with it.
    Quote Originally Posted by urucoug View Post
    Listening and transcribing takes a lot of work! I was hoping there was an easier way.
    It's not hard work if you're enjoying yourself! (which you should be)

    Here's what I'd call an intermediate level piece:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFqK6PBq-hA
    - it's in Bb, and most of what he plays is around the minor pent pattern on 6th fret. He does some fancier things, like playing chord tones, mixolydian runs or double stops now and then. And those chords he plays are mostly 9ths.

    If that's too much to handle straight off (there's a lot in there, but you don't need to get all of it), there's a great series of lessons in his style on youtube (and in same key as the above, Bb), beginning with this one:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OW2hE...eature=channel

    Here's some of those T-Bone 9th chord shapes (in G this time):
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hhGl_...eature=related

    The nice thing about T-Bone's style - from your perspective - is it has that clean jazz sound.
    Last edited by JonR; 12-24-2010 at 01:40 AM.

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    I take a slightly different view to Jon when it comes to electric blues and guitar.

    The difference being - I don't regard the earlier acoustic stuff, or the earliest electric stuff as the only real blues or the only good blues playing.

    In fact, personally, for 90% of it I strongly prefer the 1960's "revival" playing that Jon doesn't rate.

    But music is subjective. What matters is your own individual opinion of what you like to hear & what sounds good to your ear.

    So listen to a range of blues guitar playing from different era's, and decide for yourself what should influence your playing.

    I have a similar difference of approach when it comes to learning to play by ear, ie just from listening to records and trying to transcribe what you hear. That is - unless the person is already a very advanced guitarist & musician, I would never advise trying to learn by just listening to old records. Because that's far too difficult for most people. And imho more likely to put most people off playing altogether.

    That doesn't mean you can get away without listening to a lot blues guitar recordings. You need to do that to get those guitar sounds familiar in your mind. Especially if you eventually hope to improvise blues freely in a fluid & expressive way, then you do need to become really familiar with lot's of classic blues phrases, licks, riffs and sounds and have those influences deeply etched into your mind for instant recall. You need to draw on all of that in your improvising.

    OK, so the above is just my general comment on where I differ from what Jon says re. learning by ear, and concentrating only on pre 1960's recordings.

    So the way forward is then obvious. You learn blues in just the same way as you do for any other style. You could learn from a private teacher (or even from your band-mates). But assuming that's not an option, then you learn from the usual printed books & DVD's, ie both general tutorial material and books of complete songs in notation or TAB.

    There are loads of good songbooks and good instructional books & DVD's teaching classic blues guitar, and I've recommended several here before. Though over the years I've slowly realised it's not worth recommending specific titles, because people almost never take direct advice like that ... for whatever reason they prefer to find their own material in whatever way appeals to them. But if you like a particular guitarist, whether it's early 1930's-40's, or later 1960's, then you can easily find good note-for-note songbooks, and even easier to find original recordings or re-recorded CD's ... I find Musicroom.com is a very reliable source with hundreds of titles like that.
     
     
    Last edited by Crossroads; 12-24-2010 at 09:45 AM.

  7. #7
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Crossroads View Post
    I take a slightly different view to Jon when it comes to electric blues and guitar.

    The difference being - I don't regard the earlier acoustic stuff, or the earliest electric stuff as the only real blues or the only good blues playing.

    In fact, personally, for 90% of it I strongly prefer the 1960's "revival" playing that Jon doesn't rate.
    I realise this is a matter of taste as you say, but my reason for my angle here was that urucoug was specifically talking about moving towards jazz and using blues as a stepping stone in that direction. It's not a question of what kind of blues is "good", but what kind is appropriate. IMO whatever one's feelings about the 1960s blues revival, it has little to do with jazz. 1950s (and earlier) blues retained a close affinity with jazz - esp with players like T-Bone Walker. 1960s blues was about taking it somewhere else and inventing a new genre - rock!
    Nothing wrong with that (and I like a lot of 1960s blues-rock) - but it's not particularly jazzy. It's a very different attitude. People like Clapton and P Green are not jazz musicians - unless we broaden the definition of jazz so as to make it almost meaningless! (And I'm not saying jazz is better than rock either!)
    To use blues as a stepping stone to jazz, you (mostly) have to go back. B B King counts, for sure. (And in fact so do some modern players like Robert Cray, who understands jazz chords and changes.) But T-Bone was the fount of all that - not too far from Charlie Christian, and the bluesier jazz guitarists such as Kenny Burrell and Herb Ellis.

    Talking of which, here's a great example of a bona fide jazzman playing exclusively blues scale:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP0flneNfaQ
    - that repays transcription of the head (tune) at least, as well as some of those solo licks - mostly C blues scale around 8th fret.
    No surprise (or not much) that SRV picked up on that:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um1lA9m4wL0
    - key of B (C tuned down). He even stole some of KB's licks for the solo.
    Last edited by JonR; 12-24-2010 at 11:57 AM.

  8. #8
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    Quote Originally Posted by JonR View Post
    I realise this is a matter of taste as you say, but my reason for my angle here was that urucoug was specifically talking about moving towards jazz and using blues as a stepping stone in that direction. It's not a question of what kind of blues is "good", but what kind is appropriate. IMO whatever one's feelings about the 1960s blues revival, it has little to do with jazz. 1950s (and earlier) blues retained a close affinity with jazz - esp with players like T-Bone Walker. 1960s blues was about taking it somewhere else and inventing a new genre - rock!
    Nothing wrong with that (and I like a lot of 1960s blues-rock) - but it's not particularly jazzy. It's a very different attitude. People like Clapton and P Green are not jazz musicians - unless we broaden the definition of jazz so as to make it almost meaningless! (And I'm not saying jazz is better than rock either!)
    To use blues as a stepping stone to jazz, you (mostly) have to go back. B B King counts, for sure. (And in fact so do some modern players like Robert Cray, who understands jazz chords and changes.) But T-Bone was the fount of all that - not too far from Charlie Christian, and the bluesier jazz guitarists such as Kenny Burrell and Herb Ellis.
    Talking of which, here's a great example of a bona fide jazzman playing exclusively blues scale:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mP0flneNfaQ
    - that repays transcription of the head (tune) at least, as well as some of those solo licks - mostly C blues scale around 8th fret.
    No surprise (or not much) that SRV picked up on that:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Um1lA9m4wL0
    - key of B (C tuned down). He even stole some of KB's licks for the solo.
    OK, fair enough

    But just to explain - I didn't really draw quite that same interpretation of what urucoug was trying to do ...

    ... I got the impression that he was already trying to play jazz, and not a complete beginner with playing guitar in general.

    And that the reason he wants to improve his blues playing is not purely to appreciate how blues has historically influenced jazz guitarists ... but more simply to be a better blues player for several different reasons, ie (a)for it's own sake of better blues playing, and (b)for whatever blues phrasing he thinks will sound good woven into his jazz playing, and into his guitar playing in general.

    As you know, I'm not really a jazz player. Though in the last few years I have practiced a lot of fusion stuff, where I do find classic 1960's Clapton-esque blues phrasing/licks turn up all the time.

    That shouldn't really be a surprise though, because as we all know, in 1965-66 Clapton was simply playing the blues phrases he'd learnt from listening to BB King, Freddie King, Robert Johnson, Bill Broonzy and several others. So he was playing all those same blues phrases anyway.

    Of course, Clapton changed both the tone and the blues phrasing a bit. Maybe you could say it was moving more towards rock. Though I'd just call it more up-tempo electric blues.

    In fact at the time I think many people inc. me called it R&B ... but that was just to emphasis that up-tempo feel in many of the songs ... and that was already being done a few years earlier by Freddie King anyway. In fact, Clapton's playing on "the" album is clearly influenced directly by Freddie King.

    But, electric blues had always been moving in that direction. Eg, BB King's recording was getting distinctly more up tempo and more "rocky" as the 1950's progressed and turned into the early 60's. The same sort of transitional sound was also clear in most of what Otis Rush played in the mid 50's, ie some tracks were clearly in the earlier blues style, and others were clearly in that more up-tempo "rocky" style.

    So I think that progression towards "rock" was happening anyway ever since the electric guitar took over from acoustic blues. Ie, through the 1950's and into the early-mid 1960's.

    As a jazz man, you may well be right to say that more up-tempo blues playing is not really the blues which influenced jazz musicians. And that it's not really going to help anyone with their jazz playing. Though as I say, in my attempts to play more fusion stuff in the style of players like Scott Henderson, Frank Gambale, Brett Garsed, Shawn Lane ... and moving more into shred type rock with players like Paul Gilbert, Steve Vai, Joe Satriani, and even Jeff Beck ... I do find those 1960's Clapton blues phrases turning up repeatedly in almost everything ...

    ... in saying that, I'm not for one moment trying to associate Paul Gilbert or Joe Satriani with jazz! ...

    ... what I'm trying to convey is a feeling of transition and blending of styles from 1950's electric blues, through Clapton in 65-66, into fusion playing, and then into the shred-type rock of players who like to include various jazzier ideas into parts of their playing, ie so that players like Gilbert or Satriani or Beck are not just straight ahead simple rock ... there's also blues and jazzier ideas in there ... but I don't think those bluesy parts are so easily seen as 1940's acoustic blues or early vocal or harmonica blues, but more closely drawn from that more up-tempo 1950's to 1960's "revival" blues playing of guys like Clapton, Freddie King, Albert King etc.

    But mostly ..... Happy Christmas!

  9. #9
    Registered User urucoug's Avatar
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    I loved those last two examples you posted, JonR. Those are great examples of blues or blues derivatives that I like to listen to, and might try to imitate. I love the solos I hear that are based on blues, but I don't like hearing artists always singing "my wife left me, and I'm miserable." But, it is a bit of a funny to be asking for, as it is called "blues." I appreciate the links to those lesson, too. I enjoy the discussion, too, about the influences different people have on music as we know it.

    You're also right, Crossroads, my interests are multi-fold. I'd like to play good solos if I'm ever sitting with my friends, and someone starts playing a 12-bar. But, I also want to know my chord substitutions well to gear me up to play jazz, and similar things for wedding receptions. And, my first love was definitely rock, which I am hoping being good at 12-bars will help me on.

    I am enjoying the discussion, though, and if you guys have any continuation, I'm glad to hear it. Also, if anyone else has a suggestion on the resources I was talking about. I have an 1001 jazz licks book that's really nice (lots of licks copied from various artists). I read music well, and I was rather hoping there was something similar for 12-bar blues, if anyone has any recommendations. It's a little easier for me, when the baby's sleeping for 20 min, to use something quick and accessible like that. But, I also appreciate YouTube links to lessons and songs anyone might recommend for me, and discussions about your favorite artists.

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    Blues is a good starting point to get into jazz but I think the improvisation technique is different while in blues you rely mostly on the minor pentatonic/blues scale in jazz targeting chord notes and extensions are the main vehicle
    Check out the free chord player site http://www.jam-buddy.com

  11. #11
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jayx124 View Post
    Blues is a good starting point to get into jazz but I think the improvisation technique is different while in blues you rely mostly on the minor pentatonic/blues scale in jazz targeting chord notes and extensions are the main vehicle
    Yes, the material is typically a lot more limited in blues (pentatonic or blues scale of key), compared to the material of jazz: chord tones and extensions, in the context both of more complicated harmonic sequences and of more complicated or varied rhythmic patterns. But many of the techniques (in terms of the physical things you do with the instrument) are the same, and the attitude or way of thinking is very much the same: vocalising, "singing", with your instrument; responding to mood and to the other musicians.
    The other connection is that any jazz player worth his salt knows the blues intimately. As I've said before, blues is the "soul" of jazz, you can't be a jazzman without an intimate understanding of it.
    Luckily, if you come from rock, and have never (knowingly) played blues in your life, you have some blues in your blood already, because of course rock is a descendant of the blues.
    If you enjoy a good funky groove, in whatever genre, you'll be OK making the move into jazz. If, OTOH, your rock tastes gravitate more towards prog or art rock (with perhaps classical as a vague ideal), you'll have more of a problem with jazz - because those subgenres tend to want to escape from rock's blues heritage, regarding it as crude or vulgar. To a jazz musician, blues is never too simple. It's a player's attitude to music that can be crude or vulgar, not the music itself.
    At the same time, jazz players respect classical music too, and know a fair amount of the theory (probably more than the average prog rocker). They can talk the talk with classical theorists, even if they don't want to walk the walk. That comes down to attitude again, to a difference in one's ideas about what music is for.

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    Jazz has a crucial rythmic point which is the "swing" - "it dont mean a thing if you aint got that swing" (Duke Elington). you can really play jazz if you can't swing!

    IMHO, Jazz blues is not like the blues it's still a 12 bar I IV V progression but it is handled differently rythmecly , harmonically and melodically , check out "Billy's Bounce", "Stright no Chaser" and more.
    Check out the free chord player site http://www.jam-buddy.com

  13. #13
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by urucoug View Post
    I loved those last two examples you posted, JonR. Those are great examples of blues or blues derivatives that I like to listen to, and might try to imitate. I love the solos I hear that are based on blues, but I don't like hearing artists always singing "my wife left me, and I'm miserable." But, it is a bit of a funny to be asking for, as it is called "blues." I appreciate the links to those lesson, too. I enjoy the discussion, too, about the influences different people have on music as we know it.

    You're also right, Crossroads, my interests are multi-fold. I'd like to play good solos if I'm ever sitting with my friends, and someone starts playing a 12-bar. But, I also want to know my chord substitutions well to gear me up to play jazz, and similar things for wedding receptions. And, my first love was definitely rock, which I am hoping being good at 12-bars will help me on.

    I am enjoying the discussion, though, and if you guys have any continuation, I'm glad to hear it. Also, if anyone else has a suggestion on the resources I was talking about. I have an 1001 jazz licks book that's really nice (lots of licks copied from various artists). I read music well, and I was rather hoping there was something similar for 12-bar blues, if anyone has any recommendations. It's a little easier for me, when the baby's sleeping for 20 min, to use something quick and accessible like that. But, I also appreciate YouTube links to lessons and songs anyone might recommend for me, and discussions about your favorite artists.
    I recently found a great set of mini-lessons in jazz, by a great UK jazz guitarist. He was offering the lot for free on his site, but now seems to be charging for them.
    There are 29 lessons for 10 the lot. Each one consists of a short piece of audio (around a minute on average), plus PDFs of notation, tab and an explanation of what's going on.
    You can hear all the audio on his site, but need to pay if you want to download all the PDFs too.
    Highly recommended, and amazing value for 10:
    http://www.mikeoutram.com/the-jewel-box/
    In fact I've just found that the redesign of his site now offers two of the PDFs for free - so you can see (as well as hear) the kind of thing you're getting.

    Here's one of his youtube vids:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8HQsqubSRBQ
    and in more mellow mood:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3asY...eature=related
    (It's at least a minute into each one before he really gets into it, so give them time; he's the kind of player who likes to build slowly and tastefully rather than rip out sheets of sound from bar 1...)

  14. #14
    Registered User JonR's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by jayx124 View Post
    Jazz has a crucial rythmic point which is the "swing" - "it dont mean a thing if you aint got that swing" (Duke Elington). you can really play jazz if you can't swing!

    IMHO, Jazz blues is not like the blues it's still a 12 bar I IV V progression but it is handled differently rythmecly , harmonically and melodically , check out "Billy's Bounce", "Stright no Chaser" and more.
    That's right. Jazz took blues into a whole different area, harmonically. That was Charlie Parker's interest, in building more interesting changes (esp "Blues For Alice" as well as Billie's Bounce).
    Monk was a little different in that he generally kept the simple chord structure when he played blues, but experimented with more unusual chromaticisms and time shifts (as in Straight No Chaser).
    But they were all steeped in blues phrasing too: the vocalisation and sliding pitches. It's like they were extending the blues language. Rather than abandoning the blues, leaving it behind, they just dressed it up in fancier clothes and brought it right along with them.
    Last edited by JonR; 02-16-2011 at 11:38 AM.

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  5. Rock n Roll
    By adenguitar in forum Music Theory
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    Last Post: 11-24-2007, 01:11 PM

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