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The evolution of jazz. A survey of American art form from Scott Joplin killed any interest on. The evidence in the Jazz is a tape recorded feature presented under the auspices of Northeastern University by the Lowell Institute cooperative broadcasting Council Nat Hentoff associate editor of Downbeat Magazine discusses the growth of jazz from its roots in Europe and Africa and considers the musical as well as the sociological forces that shaped it. Mr Hentoff. Last week we examined the origins of the blues and to some extent they're enormously diversified content. Now we come to the floor of the bluebirds. It's musical peculiarities and this is important because of the enormous influence the Blues had and
still have on the later jazz blues cuts across all style and time lines. Just as the old New Orleans musicians still play the blues on Bourbon Street. So the most contemporary of jazz men of the younger musicians play the blues even if they no longer call it such occasionally because the blues is a basic part of what used to be called BOP that is now termed contemporary jazz. That's preceded the discussion of the physiology of the blues with this note from Ernest Borneman. Not until slavery was at least partly broken and not until the formation of an urban and secular negro background. Could any such form as the Blues evolve on the North American mainland. But it evolved out of the agricultural work songs and spirituals and the whole African heritage of play songs in musical rites rather than out of the prevailing popular music. And in many cases the whole genesis of a blues from its ancestry of Methodist hymn Knology to its
secularization is an urban ballad can be traced step by step in such hymns as hold on keep your hands on the plow the distance between the first and last link of the chain is spanned by such direct verbal transferences as Jesus the savior or Mary the mother will become Willie the weeper or Minnie the Moocher. After the intermediate steps of ballad like St. James Infirmary and blues gamblers Blues have been passed. As for the musical nature of the blues themselves I notice as usual as most people I have gender troubles the blues can be singular of a plural in its most usual form and there are many variations on this form the blues verse consists of 12 bars of music. In an accented for a fourth time and the 12 bars are usually broken into three or four phrases. Traditionally the first line of verse is repeated in the second with perhaps a slight variation in the third line rhymes more or less roughly with the first
two. There's 3 trains ready to go on my way. I said there's three trains ready but money and go on my way. But the sun's going to shine in my back do it some day. The reason for the repetition of the first line at the beginning of the tradition. Was that most blues were and some still are made up on the spur of the moment and as the singer repeated the first line he or she had sufficient time to think of the third. Repeat the 12 bar were broken into three four bar phrases one for each of the three lines. However the verse doesn't generally last the full four bars. It usually stops on the first beat of the third bar so three times in the 12 bar pattern there is a space where the vocalist remains silent during these periods of vocal silence the accompanying musicians sometimes just a piano sometimes a small band have to fill the intervals with breaks the breaks or sometimes by one instrument
sometimes by the whole band.
Later in the evolution of Jazz these vocal breaks were extensively used in instrumental jazz. In this record for example made in Chicago by Louis Armstrong and his Hot Five the beginning of the record is a series of instrumental breaks breaks that came from this blues vocal tradition and toward the end of the record. When Louis comes in vocally his voice comes in. Not as a voice but as an instrument.
Still another jazz phenomenon that arose from the blues and from the break in the blues was the stop chorus. This was an instrumental series of breaks punctuated rhythmically by the rest of the ensemble as in this Louis Armstrong stop chorus from the Potato Head blue shoes.
Right. Do standardize the terminology let's use the blues in the singular sense henceforth as a call that I think I said earlier as a malapropism that I was confused as to gender I meant as to numbers because the blues know no restrictions of gender or content or anything else. Harmonically in the first four bars of the blues usually are the tonic with the seventh of the tonic added in the fourth bar then two bars of the subdominant often with the seventh added two bars of the tonic again. Two bars of the dominant with seven added and two bars of the tonic there are variations of course. And the
reason for the added 7 in these chords has to do with the Blue Notes we spoke of earlier. The notes. In any case particularly in early blues are not sung exactly as they would be heard on the piano as anything Goldstein points out every interval of every step from note to note may be slightly augmented or diminished or is very clarified of the blues melody derives from the accompanying chords. But as a tonal concept all its own which consists of the ordinary scale plus a flatted third and affrighted Seventh not the blues notes which first came about as I mentioned before because of the clash between the African pentatonic scale and are diatonic which has HOF steps we tween the third and fourth and seventh and eighth intervals in the scale. The negro in the early days would be unsure of how to attack those intervals intervals to them unnatural at first and so would produce results in his boredom and further indicates the African survival of significant speech tone as part of the blues structure in a glissando portamento
rubato and temper of thanks becomes part of the intonation and phrasing of jazz the blues singers inflections are later transformed into the hot or what the early critics call the dirty tone of the jazz instrumentalists and the blues singers Blue Notes are expanded into ever more complex patterns of chords from the Blue Knights of the boogie woogie players to the chromatic and polytonal harmonies of Duke Ellington and the contemporary advances in harmonic usage among modern jazz men like Dave Brubeck. Above all the blues as well as all other Afro American music forms contributed to make instrumental jazz a vocal music to vocalize music. In setting up the 12 form and other characteristics of the blues it's well to remember again that they're not rigid in application so anything goes Dion writes There are definite patterns of chords which have been evolved to support the blues. But these do not define the blues and the blues going to exist as a melody perfectly recognizable as the blues without them.
This is all an attempt to describe a non-diatonic system in diatonic terms. And similarly there was a lack of rigid bar limitation calling the blues the 12 form as a convenient method of description if at the same time we recognize its limitations the blues are actually much more rhythmically fluid music than the bar division imply it's and this freedom from strict limitations which is true of all of jazz to a large extent is not unknown to other music as you know but is a reassertion of one of the basic truths of music goes by and calls it a humanization of music I would call it a vocalization of speech patterning of music the rest of the teeth are shown so in the mad regard of early musical centuries. Show a similar flexibility in the interplay of beats as do contemporary compositions by men like Charles Ives who generally ignore strict guidelines. Let's try another blue was to hear again the Blue Notes from the call and response pattern of the form and the use of the break. Joe
Turner the Kansas City Blues shouter and Lee Johnson and Turner approved.
Yeah I am. Yeah yeah yeah.
You're Yeah. Through to the question of the break for a moment. This need for improvising breaks to fill the intervals when the blues singer was silent when the blues singer itself or himself was thinking of another line. I was one of the earliest and one of the main stimuli for early jazz improvisation for just as the singer had little idea what the third line would be as he repeated the Christo the instrumentalist waiting for the break had to create as he played and as we mentioned before these breaks playing with the basic rhythm were used as counter rhythms and melodically as implicit counter melodies. And as indicates this moves form the use of the break relates remotely to African and Tiffany or the
leader. Call and chorus responds the call and response pattern the call being in the first and second lines in the response being the third in terms of the vocalist. The accompanying musicians respond to each vocal line themselves. In terms of the break. So you have a another call and response pattern in the moves. Very one off notes that among the variations in the blues form. Are possible both in its chord structure and a melodic line. The use of passing tones tones outside the immediate harmony not in the chords and hand passing tones that can be used to supplement the five fundamental notes of the hop of the blues scale. Usually the first or second half of the scale is used instead of following the conventional division of the 12 bars of the blues into three repetitions four bar segments or phrases. Each division of four bars may vary considerably from the preceding phrase. The Blues may be broken up into two bar instead of four bar phrases so that in one
blues chorus there will be six phrases instead of three. You may also get a series of two by phrases with two bar fill ins. And from these two one for phrases of the blues came the riff which was the one of the dominant instrumental devices of the so-called swing era. The riff is a two or four by phrase repeated with very little melodic variation and almost no harmonic change over the course of any number of Blues choruses.
Alan Merriam a musicologist notes that the river or its equivalent is also represented in African music phrases repeated over and over by members of the chorus in alternation with a melodic line sung by the reader by the leader. Also he went off as melodies or often as he phrases an exquisitely simple and Duke Ellington C Jam Blues. The mainframe consists of only two notes G and C the first two bars a riff are on G in the third bar the C is introduced in the slurred pair of eighth notes. You know how ingeniously the seemingly empty pair of notes becomes a freshly swinging blues and Duke Ellington CJM grooves.
Another instrumental illustrating the vocalize nature of the form even when instrumental and the particular sardonic humor of the blues. Is this one by Dickens and the trombonist he calls at the bottom blues.
So anything goes Don has provided an excellent summation of the nature of the blues. He starts by saying the blues are a great social and personal music social in that they are the language creation of an entire people personal in that they bring to a performance the musical play of the individual thinking and feeling human being with a constant strangeness and surprise laughter and sadness. The blues are inseparable from jazz without them jazz would have become mechanical. Cohen of a commercial. Actually I might add without them jazz would not have become period. Jazz however has constantly absorbed and made the richest use of new musical materials systems and languages. It was by such a process that African strains. Developed into the spirituals that the blues developed into the profoundly moving and Joyous New Orleans music of song dance and parade that we shall come to shortly. But New Orleans music evolved into the jazz we have today. This process of growth by which two different elements and more combine to produce a new creation is not unique to jazz it is true of all human and natural growth. The manner in which
The Evolution of Jazz
Episode Number
Form of the Blues, Part One
Producing Organization
WGBH Educational Foundation
Contributing Organization
University of Maryland (College Park, Maryland)
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Episode Description
This program, the first of two parts, explores the musical elements that make the blues what it is.
Series Description
Jazz historian Nat Hentoff presents a series that traces the history of jazz, from its musical and cultural roots to its contemporary forms. "The Evolution of Jazz" was originally broadcast from WGBH in 1953-1954, and was re-broadcast by the National Educational Radio Network in 1964.
Broadcast Date
Asset type
African Americans--Music--20th century--History and criticism.
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Host: Hentoff, Nat
Producer: Hentoff, Nat
Producing Organization: WGBH Educational Foundation
AAPB Contributor Holdings
University of Maryland
Identifier: 55-32-6 (National Association of Educational Broadcasters)
Format: 1/4 inch audio tape
Duration: 00:29:16
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Chicago: “The Evolution of Jazz; 6; Form of the Blues, Part One,” 1953-12-11, University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC, accessed February 4, 2023,
MLA: “The Evolution of Jazz; 6; Form of the Blues, Part One.” 1953-12-11. University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Web. February 4, 2023. <>.
APA: The Evolution of Jazz; 6; Form of the Blues, Part One. Boston, MA: University of Maryland, American Archive of Public Broadcasting (GBH and the Library of Congress), Boston, MA and Washington, DC. Retrieved from