Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 1, page 1 of 4)


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Chapter 1

The blues is among the most popular form of music that is associated and identified in the chronicle of jazz. The general public however, did not recognize its presence or its importance until after World War I. In 1917, Chicago became the world's jazz center and the Original Dixieland Jazz Band under the leadership of trumpeter Nick LaRocca organized in the Windy City moved north to New York to make their first jazz recording of Tiger Rag, Livery Stable Blues and At the Jazz Band Ball.

From 1917 onward, blues became the dormant form of music throughout the country. By that time, William Christopher Handy, later to be known as the "Father of the Blues," had his "Memphis Blues," "Beale Street Blues," "Yellow Dog Blues," and the ever popular "St. Louis Blues," published. In 1905, Jelly Roll Morton had his first blues composition published, "Jelly Roll Blues," "Wolverine Blues," "Dead Man Blues," "Harmony Blues," "Black Bottom Stomp," and King Porter Stomp."

The general public categorized the blues as music that is played slow and sad. The lyrics usually told a story of depression, loneliness. sadness, sorrow, tragedy and sexuality. The field holler or cry that played a major role in jazz was also an important element in the mood of the blues. Each black slave working in the cotton field, the rice plantation or on the levee had his own holler that became his personal identification. Hollers were basically slow in tempo, without a formal rhythmic pattern and were sung by a solo voice. The melodic phrases with their minor intervals gave a melancholy character to the theme. The exact intonation of the minor notes varies according to the performer's expressions. Often they are attached with smears, slurs, glissandos (a sliding effect between two notes) or any other embellishments they may create.

With the added minor notes, the posture of harmony becomes blue, which results in blue tonality. In most American black music, mainly in jazz and the blues be it vocal or instrumental, blue tonality can he heard. The field hollers, work songs, spirituals, gospels. minstrels and ragtime have continued on with the blue tonality sound. Many of our classical and contemporary composers have applied blue tonality in their compositions. Blue tonality is the lifeblood of our American musical culture.

From where did blue tonality come? Most likely it was heard first in West Africa. The exact date of the blues is unknown.

It seems that the more we investigate its origin, the further back in time it appears. W.C. Handy said he heard the blues in 1903. Blues singer "Ma" Rainey heard and sang the blues in 1902. However, the earliest form of the blues dates back to the early 1860s and was associated with the American blacks. The development of the blues was influenced by black folk music such as the work songs, spirituals, field hollers, ring-shouts and certain popular ballads.

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