Monday, August 9, 2010

Re-writing The Blues

Blog # 51 : Re-writing The Blues

First of all, I'm back! After a month of working and helping my parents move in Pennsylvania I'm back in NYC and ready to get this blog up and running again.

One thing jazz musicians have to do today is reconcile their style with the jazz idiom; IE how they're playing style can be adapted to playing standard repertoire. Some jazz musicians today choose to be traditionalists, learning classic bebop language and playing ONLY standards or tunes based off good 'ol ii-V harmony. Other Jazz musicians completely abandon the classic repertoire and play only original modern music.

While, I prefer playing original music, I have definitely found myself on numerous gigs with musicians I don't know well, without rehearsal and we have to rely on our common knowledge of standards to get through the gig. And while I enjoy playing standards, I don't think I would be satisfied playing ONLY standards for the rest of my life. I derive a lot of my musical identity from my writing, so I've made quick arrangements or reharms of standards and have composed a few of my own Blues to get through certain gigs(and feel artistically satisfied).

I could write a lengthy essay about 'THE BLUES', but it's unnecessary and I'm sure you could search the internet and find a lot better information than I have to say. When I talk about 'The Blues', I'm talking strictly about the 12 bar form used in Jazz. The most basic form being as follows:

Bb7 | Eb7 | Bb7 | |

Eb7 | | Bb7 | |

F7 | Eb7 | Bb7 | |

This form is usually the first thing a jazz musician learns and is relatively easy to play. The difficult part is saying something new on a form that has been around for SO long and that has been played SO much. This, coupled with the fact that I was sick of playing the same Blues' over and over, lead me to try to re-write the blues and add my own additional changes. This isn't a new concept whatsoever. Coltrane, Miles, Joe Henderson as well as countless others have all re-written the blues form to adapt to their style and I have also found that re-writing the blues has been a valuable compositional challenge.

In re-writting the blues, I think the most important thing to keep is the harmonic content which defines the blues. That is: starting on the tonic chord and going to the IV chord at the 5th bar. (I think it's relatively important to return to the tonic chord at bar 7, but there are ways around it). Both blues' I'll uploaded on this blog share these characteristics.

'Philly Nudge' was the first blues I ever wrote, which was about 4 years ago. I used two ascending dominant chords in bar 4 to chromatically move up to the IV chord in bar 5. Then bar 5 and 6 has the same 'up a minor 3rd' relation as bar 7 and 8 (notice I also returned to the tonic chord in bar 7). Normal V chord resolution in bars 9 and 10, and then a pretty standard jazz turnaround at the end of the tune. Melody-wise, you'll notice repeated rhythmic figures which gives the tune some cohesion.

Here is the chart:

Below is me playing the chord progression on Piano:

'Don't Vibe Me', I wrote recently and is a blues based of side-stepping. Here in bar 2 instead of going to the IV chord, I've gone chromatically up by a half-step. The E7#11 chord in bar 4 is a half-step above and leads into the IV chord at bar 5. Bar 5 and 6 have a 'down a minor 3rd' relation, which is also used in bars 7 and 8(still using the tonic chord in bar 7). And then instead of going to the V chord at bar 9, I've substituted dominant chords moving in whole-steps and arriving at A7#11, which is a half-step below the tonic chord, which it returns to at the top of the form.

Here is the Chart:

Here is the progression played on piano:

To my ears, both of these 'tunes' still sound and feel like a blues.

Just to sum up, re-writing a blues can be a really good exercise to start the process of reharmonizing tunes as well as a great way to play a tune on a gig that is fairly easy for everyone to read and feel comfortable on. If you really like the changes you've written and they make sense, there is also a good chance you can force them on a regular blues when playing at a jam session or gig.

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