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NDE are the national educational radio network presents special of the week from Yale University from its series called Yale reports on.
Blues keyboard music as a Native American form has progressed and modified from the turn of the century. Today audio reports James drew composer and assistant professor of the theory of music continues his discussion of the growth and changes of Blues keyboard music. Mr. Drew the historical period late 30s of course in the early 40s is very significant in as much as the blues player was to be discovered by many many jazz players not that he hadn't been before me become more significant people were starting to really realize as jazz players what their roots were what their tradition was. It took a number of years actually before this took place a person before that was just playing names were attached to one kind of music or another that had little or no significance historically. We know for instance that King Oliver came from New Orleans and was playing in Chicago in the early middle 20s. And he said he was
playing ragtime. And had a reg time then obviously it wasn't right and it was something much later. They were also playing many of the bands at that time and piano players by the way racks. Course the term rag comes from ragging the two would first developed in the New Orleans mat marching bands where people would talk about you know if you were a little better on your instrument and so on and could improvise a little writing the tune was that was the thing that took place. And this of course was not the beginning of it because people before this were writing various other tunes but the ideas that jazz was being played blues were being played under the title of rock reminds me of were a marvelous player called Davenport from Atlanta and one of the pieces he made he referred to as a rag and I was very interested to see that in someone's collection whoever recorded it. The person that was
reviewing it mentioned the fact that poor Col-Col had lapsed out of the ragtime style back into a more primitive style. And of course nothing could be further from the truth he was actually exploring because he was a blues player and he was actually going into newer things rather than older things and the reviewer obviously wasn't quite aware of his facts or in his ears I suppose. But the main thing here is that the scene as the blues player is now being heralded pretty much as a symbolic source on most of roots because first of all the instrument itself this is very important. The instrument itself becomes a very marvelous thing. The saxophone player let's say in the 1940s is now coming to the piano and looking at it and playing harmonies and different things on it and finding out all sorts of implications more subtleties more. Greater knowledge from the from the you
know many people are trumpet players whoever but they're coming to learn. Of course how to write. They're trying to right now in their ways direct most direct way is to learn harmony learn various things like this and to immediately try to get your ideas on paper. If I may just for a moment go back to the last demise of ragtime came of course through the idea of writing it for a group in its original form it was written for the piano. It was rather stilted kind of situation even then. And of course it didn't take too long before people started to improvise with such great exuberance. Just getting away from these written pieces and of course getting better skills at the right time was quickly disposed of and went into various other things that we hear of later Dixieland early jazz as various things of this nature. At the same time there is a as we've already discussed some. What a totally
related but separate development of Blues keyboard players. In other words this went on. When you're thinking of places that had a band or a floor show or dancing or you don't have to look somewhere else for the Blues keyboard player because he's not going to be there he'll be in another circumstance. Many places in the famous us Storyville and places of red light districts of New Orleans and of course in St. Louis also Kansas City Chicago. But now getting back to the playing itself I like to give you some examples of the kinds of new modifications that came about in the blues players and in their treatment of the piano particularly I think probably the most important thing about all of this without getting too technical at all is just the sound of the piano how people are playing on it. If you recall people playing on the piano like this.
And people playing on the piano like those. There is a rather ancient right to that and historically we know that these these things are looking towards the past a little bit and I say I make this comparison because when we hear for instance someone playing.
Alright there's obviously another kind of system sophistication going on as we started here late 30s early 40s. We hear new harmonies we hear much more elaborate kinds of things going. We hear people playing. Obviously their fingers are much more accustomed to the sophistications which they of course are the originators of. People are getting better obviously at play and people with the whole range of possibilities we find that the roots are still there. The harmonies are still there we're still hearing. Or hearing or just occasionally. And then of course.
Getting around the keyboard much in a much different style much more pianistic stuff. Oh no more difficult than the early. With all of its stops and goes in so no different as far as the level of difficulty but yeah much more sophisticated. Also we're finding that they are now able to think in spaces with out the Internet a little more lyric on top of course this is again from the influence of both exterior and interior interior. Let me explain that exterior Meenie all of those songs and so on. They come into contact with it had various kinds of more elaborate harmony prettier melodies and so on. And at the same time internally by transforming those into expandable material in other words another another potential in the minutes. Let me give you a little bit
of a longer example. You know how one of these ideas could possibly be elaborated a very let's say very plain straightforward idea how it could be or elaborated under such circumstances as this player would now have at his disposal.
Obviously the main idea here to be discussed would be. But listen particularly the fact that now volume the whole idea of how the player is approaching the piano.
You know of course anything like. These are much more sophisticated still but they were popping into the picture along of course for food grown by mid 40s and of course have become since much more much more elaborate to the point where in some cases they would be Corsi. Most Bloor underlying structure of blues playing but not with the still with the blues player and as much as there are some left in the sense that still take great pride in tradition as well as looking to become sort of going with the times kind of thing. For instance many other were doing all the way through this day with a very small harmonic palette. Three chords. Gently some others and to elaborate one point or another. But there were other players that became lore aware of harmony
and of course embellished and elaborated commented upon the three chords that we've been talking about in other ways. Let me give you an example. And of course they became more lyric more pretty. But let me give you one unique example now. All kinds of things and this almost even to the point where one might think maybe even a little more commercial you know it's a speck Well it's probably true
in a certain sense but in another sense of course it depends greatly upon what the player does with this type of situation rather than that's just you know obviously this is the beginning of something not merely an idea and of course even the way I stated it here is in its most fundamental aspects. Now getting back. To I get into this business. Lord lab replied. I have already spoken about the idea of the player thanking him for spaces. Well this is true and at the same time I can get. Let's say for example a player thinking in a way in a longer space but with a minimal material almost going back to the most primitive resources. This is something that's always in the blues player and you hear it every now and then. The fact that he will take the most minimal material and do it in a rather new. In this case the new way is
purely registry. In other words he has to listen to. In this example for the register involved and the idea of how the instrument is approached. Here this little figure.
Is of course given to you in any way. All of those little fragments of it have a different rhythmic different distances of course apart and overlaps and so on of course the underlying. There again we're relying on just a very fundamental sketch harmonically. But this is given over and over and over again. The color of the idea of where it is in the register of course is very important because at the end of this phrase it finally comes to me here and now down to here and. Of course down to the to a completely different register. You know this you know itself is very sophisticated for this kind of player because at one time course we know they played pretty much in one register.
That is not to say that someone during the late 20s or some other time. We don't know about was playing constantly in the upper register and no one except a few people in his hometown or something knew about. That's that's not what I'm talking about I don't know much in general the general idea of what was going. This whole attitude of playing of course is one that we seek to to explain to ourselves. It's being explained all the time. The fact that we try to be better. Should of course suffice in a sense and not become too involved for the fact that we have become much better in the say the last 20 30 years of course overshadows the other probably slower march towards better kind of planning. We're talking about today the blues player is a solitary figure the figure is always off the main street. The blues
player has even probably as one music after another has made it has become accepted or has become more popular all over the keyboard player still remains a solitary figure. When we think of the kinds of work for instance and we think of geniuses along the way Montana Taylor. Need luck slow us whoever we're talking about what kind of work they have. We find that most of the time they were working at various things and didn't even get steady work in probably until the late 30s and they've been trying a good time by that at that date and then as the what say at that point. So I'm sort of a fan took place people were more interested in their ability to play boogie woogie music rather than just really marvelously melodic and marvelously thoughtful kinds of play like blues playing that they could do this of course
this business that people wanted this kind of music. They finally tried to look around and find old people like Jimmy Yancey who they found. As one of the characters takers if you call the ballpark they brought him back from the abyss and recorded him and were very surprised to find that he sounded marvelous. His fingers a little older and stiffer but nonetheless just marvelous. There was a tendency to put all of these people somehow in the limelight which didn't last very long. People had to think too much about this kind of playing to they were they were it was a thoughtful kind of life. It was many times very bittersweet kind of situation and not a good deal. People who chose to listen to for a good length of time by the way I should say too that when we're talking about blues or jazz or anything else we're talking about. A kind of music for a very
small audience. We talk about the jazz of the that F. Scott Fitzgerald talks about we're talking about a watered down version of what was thought was jazz and the real jazz was going on. Anyway but not in that circle at all. And beyond even that at that point the blues player was going unknown to practically anybody except a very few people. He was a neighborhood convenience. He was someone that you could call up and have come to a party if you happen to have a piano and he would play work of course for a whole crowd of people. He would play dance music he would play probably some ragtime pieces that were still being requested. Even in the 30s he but mostly he would play those kinds of music that we think of as boogie woogie or the slower versions of blows. I because of time I can't name all of the people of course and any one of these iris all their close investigation. I
feel that collections that are being put out now by various companies to evade the situation as much as we can hear now on various recordings some of the early players some of the few recordings that they made. And hopefully they will be. A few more of some of the blues players that are still living in this day and age of great gains as far as the electronic world in the recording business of course this would be very marvelous to have this this kind of player recorded live today. Now I'd like to at this point give another short example of the style of playing came probably to a the end again the end of an era through the 40s and early 50s and probably continues pretty much the same today. Listen particularly to
the melodic elaboration the fact that they're improvising here is on. Particular things it's not just successions of things but particular things. Very small amount of material and the fact that it's done in a way we think of generally as a mainstream kind of playing on the mainstream. Of course it gets hazier and hazier. One could say about the mainstream that that's really. Early jazz music and then someone can say that it's music of the 30s and 40s that that jazz is the mainstream. The 50s of course is called now the mainstream of the early 60s is beginning to be talked about as the mainstream as if it's history. And of course a lot of these things are overlapping into our present time. The types of things that I want to try and do today in this piece will probably show tendencies of all of these things the lore at least the more pertinent ones that one finds as being that could characterize
most accurately this kind of playing.
Why. Why. Now I've tried to incorporate in the last couple of those kinds of things that would be most prevalent aside hopefully from any stylistic interpretation. In other words trying to bring into focus the kinds of general attitude of the of the perform
the kind of general attitude that would be more or less seen as collective rather than individual which is really too bad because the individual is the only way that we can ever hope to understand any of the performers in the area any improvised music. So you know as much as we're dealing today with these kinds of features I would suggest that for further investigation of any of these people mentioned in any others one would listen for themselves of course to each one of them and find the intricacies and the stylistic delights that each one would hold individual of course for each individual listener because this works to words.
Special of the week
Issue 41-70 "For Jazz Keyboard and the Blues 2 of 2"
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University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Chicago: “Special of the week; Issue 41-70 "For Jazz Keyboard and the Blues 2 of 2",” 1970-00-00, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 3, 2023,
MLA: “Special of the week; Issue 41-70 "For Jazz Keyboard and the Blues 2 of 2".” 1970-00-00. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 3, 2023. <>.
APA: Special of the week; Issue 41-70 "For Jazz Keyboard and the Blues 2 of 2". Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from