P.O. Box 2004 Running Springs, CA 92382     (909) 867-5250


The Evolution of Blues


The Story Of The Blues

The blues are a one-man affair, the expression of one’s inner feelings. They began as a vocal treatment that sprung up among illiterate Negroes of the south’s Mississippi Delta, using the prominent chords of harmonic music - I, Iv, and V.

While primarily a vocal music, the blues influenced was technical and melodic - the blues scale and characteristic style became a major influence in spreading an authentic early ‘jazz sound’ to legit dance musicians and arrangers. This can be seen in the numerous songs labeled ’blues’ but which did not contain the authentic blues progression given above, but the melodic/harmonic style of the blues, although the title might be labeled ’blues.’

Rain Fall and Wet Becca Lawton
One O' Them Things
I Got the Blues
Magnetic Rag
Original Jelly Roll Blues
Broadway Blues
Jogo Blues/St. Louis Blues
Livery Stable Blues
Yelping Hound Blues

Rain Fall and Wet Becca Lawton

The earliest example of a ‘near’ blues is found in “Slaves Song of the Untied States,” published in 1867. We probably will never be able to identify when the first 12 bar blues was played. Some scholars have stated that they have found traces in tribal Africa. Many believe the blues, having various chordal progressions (the 12 bar being the most popular) evolved in the Delta area of the Mississippi River. In ‘slave songs’ we find the song ‘Rain Fall & Wet Becca Lawton.

It is not know who Becca Lawton was and there is no concrete knowledge of the meaning of the song. It has been said that there was some tradition of grass not growing over the grave of a sinner. It has also been said that if the Lord were pleased with those who had been ‘in the wilderness’ he would send rain. It was also said that the song always ended with a laugh. The song was also used as a rowing song and when used as such, during the words ‘rack back holy’ one rower reached over back and slaps the man behind him. Who in turn does the same, and so on. In this small example, if one does not take the repeat we find the 12 bar blues form.

Blues Medley-Kern, Porter, Gershwin
Jazz Baby Blues
Snag It
Boogie Blues
Jumpin' With Symphony Sid
St. Louis Blues March

One O’ Them Things - 1904 - J. Chapman/L. Smith

Published in 1904 and written by James Chapman and Leroy Smith, the song is labeled ‘ragtime/two-step.’ ‘One O’ Them Things’ begins with an introduction in the cakewalk rhythm (o o o ), and this intro is followed by a 12 bar blues section. The middle two sections, (not in the blues form), is followed by a D. S. that repeats the first section. There is use of syncopation in the blues section. Most blues (either authentic or so titled) were considered to be rags during the early 20th century, thus the labeling as a ragtime piece. The cakewalk rhythm is used sparingly in section two. These sections sound like a cakewalk. Thus we have the mixing again of styles and forms. Within this piece we find the cakewalk, the blues, the march form and the dancers dancing the two-step to the rhythm presented.

 I Got The Blues - 1908 - A. Maggio

While the origin of the blues is clouded, its popularity is not. Many of the early jazz bands such as Chris Kelly’s and Buddy Bolden’s Bands had blues repertoire. Kelly was known in New Orleans as the ‘King of the Blues.;

As the blues gained popularity, Tin Pan Alley began publishing blues arrangements, many of which were not in the traditional 12 bar blues form. One of the earliest published blues was ‘”I Got The Blues,” published in 1908, Written by New Orleanian A. Maggio, this blues was part of the John Robichaux dance band library.

The first section is in 12 bar blues form, with part of the 2nd section not in blues form but it precedes a statement of the blues progression in a minor key. This piece shows the use of the traditional blues form but containing a section not in blues form.

Magnetic Rag - 1914 - Scott Joplin

Magnetic Rag is the last rag from Scott Joplin’s pen. It was posthumously published in 1914, three years after the publishing of Berlin’s ‘Alexander’s Ragtime Band.’ The Tin Pan “Alley ‘rags’ hastened the fate of classical ragtime, as most were easily played. Magnetic Rag interestingly possesses a quasi blues form in the third section. In this section we find an extension of the harmony after the first four bars, but can be called a use of the blues 12 bar form as it continues after this inserted two bars. If played excluding the two bars you will hear a 12 bar blues progression. Probably because of prestige, Joplin didn’t want to use the traditional form as he felt it would degrade (musically) from his reputation and the song itself. A description is found in the preface of Joplin’s collected piano works:

“Magnetic Rag” covers a range of moods unusual even in Joplin’s works, one that almost strains the capacity of the short form. “Magnetic Rag,’ as pure music is an impressive, although sadly premature, close to Joplin’s piano works. It hints at future directions and demonstrates ragtime’s potential capability of expressing profounder musical thoughts.”

Magnetic Rag tragically was to be the zenith in classical ragtime and indicates the potential musical detachment that was to end soon after its publication. It seems to have been foretold with Joplin’s choice of theme moods; the G minor theme is somewhat presented in a pathetic vein, and the die is cast in the Bb minor theme, a truly grave casting. Joplin also shows the use of ragtime syncopation in his most profound musical statement that became his last artistic musical composition.

While the mixture of blues and rags enriched the ragtime vernacular, it also detracted from its distinctiveness. Thus evolved a grouping group of hybrids that included elements of bluesy rags and raggy blues.

Original Jelly Roll Blues - 1915 - Jelly Roll Morton

Published in Chicago by Will Rossiter in 1015, J. P. Johnson had heard Morton play the song in New York in 1911. Jelly built his pianist reputation playing this piece on his travels. As with all of Morton’s piano pieces the piece was written with orchestration in mind. (to have the piano sound like an orchestra).  The piece is very versatile and diversified in using many creative ideas. From a bluesy introduction, it is next followed by a characteristic trumpet fanfare. Morton uses the 12 bar blues progression very creatively. Starting at A, each 12 bar blues statement (there are 9) begins with a typical blues theme, many sounding like a known cliché. There are e choruses of blues followed by a transition at D for 4 bars. Beginning at E there is a modified blues 12 bar progression. At F there is another 12 bar blues followed by another 12 bar blues statement. At H another blues variation followed at I with still another 12 bar blues statement. At H and I still more blues variations, each slightly different. J is the same modified blues progression. This piece remains one of the best examples of the blues style of jazz musicians in the early part of the 20th century, showing their use of the blues progression, and how truly creative they were.

Broadway Blues - 1915 - Walsh/Sherman

The first section of this song is in a 16 bar song form, but sounds like an expanded blues progression. The second strain is also in 8 bar phrases with use of the blues third in the melody. This type of music was typical of the songs that were sung on the vaudeville circuit by stars such as Sophie Tucker, who used a jazz band in her portion of the show. The second strain melody is reminiscent of the St. Louis Blues, published a year earlier.

Jogo Blues/St. Louis Blues - 1916 - W. C. Handy

Some of the early music published and played by dance bands consisted of old riffs and melodies that had been played for year by older musicians. As an example: ‘Tar Baby Stomp’ became ‘In the Mood.’ ‘Rusty Nail blues’ became ‘Tin Roof Blues.’ ‘Praline’ became ‘Tiger Rag.’ An old blues riff was used by Handy for ‘Jogo Blues,’ a riff that eventually became ‘St. Louis Blues.’

A year before the publication of ‘St. Louis Blues’ Handy published this song called ‘Jogo Blues that used the main theme of “St. Louis Blues.’ Further theoretical evidence is found in the title ‘Jogo’ meaning ’colored’ or the slang word used for a Negro.

Livery Stable Blues - 1917 - N. LaRocca

The Original Dixieland Jazz Band (ODJB) recorded their historic session on Feb. 26, 1917, using the ‘Livery Stable Blues’ on one side and the “Dixieland Jass Band One Step” on the other. The sheet music was published in 1917 by Robert Graham Music Publishers at 143 N. Dearborn Street, Chicago, Ill. The music gives credit to Ray Lopez and Alcide Nunez as the composers and Marvin Lee as lyricist A second recording was made in London on April 16,1919. There was a legal battle in court as to the authorship of the song - thus the two names.

The analysis of the recording can be found on the web sit: <www.basinstreet.com>

Yelping Hound Blues - 1919 - Anton Lada

this piece is as true 12 bar blues, the first strain also using syncopation. The La. 5 arrangement seems to present all the current clichés of early jazz, from the various jazz associated rhythms, harmonies and jazz breaks. The 2nd strain however, is in 16 bar song form. This change from the opening presentation of 12 bar blues to 16 bar song form is common during this era of published jazz blues compositions. The La. 5 formed in 1918 and were together only until 1920. The personal included: Anton Lada, Yellow Nunez, Charles Panelli, Joe Cawley and Karl Berger.

Medley of Blues by: Kern, Porter and Gershwin

Most of the famous popular song composers of the era wrote blues. We have made a medley of three composers: Jerome Kern, Cole Porter and George Gershwin. Kern’s ‘Left all Alone Again Blues’ is not in the 12 bar blues progression but in popular song form (AABA). The Cole Porter song, ‘Blue Boy blues’ uses a theme reminiscent of the 1924 riff used in the ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ by George Gershwin. The third section of ‘Blue Boy’ is close to a 12 bar blues, the only exception is in the first 2 bars.

The third, Gershwin’s ‘Yankee Doodle Blues’ begins with a bass ostinato pattern of descending quarter notes (G, F#, F, and D). A 12 bar blues chordal progression is used with a limited use of blue notes-notably in the 10th bar).

Jazz Baby Blues (Tin Roof Blues) - 1923 - Richard Jones

Said to have been used as a blues riff by the famous New Orleans cornetist Buddy Petit, most New Orleans musicians knew it as ‘Rusty Nail Blues.’ It was published in 1923 by the Clarence Williams Publishing Company, and compositional credit is given to Richard Jones. Its first notoriety came from the New Orleans Rhythm Kings (NORK) and was called ‘Tin Roof Blues.’ It was recorded in the 50’s by Kay Starr with new words and called ‘Make Love to Me.’ The Jones version uses a boogie bass in the introduction with some variation throughout.

Snag It - 1926 - Joe ‘King’ Oliver

Written by legendary cornetist Joe ‘King’ Oliver in 1926, ‘Snag It’ became a very popular song on its release in 1926. ‘Snag It’ is a true blues with the use of a minor key version within it structure. Many times recorded, the tempo on the early records is faster than the usual dance tempo.

Boogie Blues - 1946 - Gene Krupa

The blues is found in many tempos, both slow and fast, and is arranged for various sized groups, from small ensembles to the big bands of the swing era. One of the greatest examples of big band blues it was recorded by the Gene Krupa Orchestra in 1946. The arrangement contains room for solos and is ended by a very swinging tutti section.

Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid - 1949 - Lester Young

A blues riff used by Lester ‘Prez’ Young became the widely popular ‘Symphony Sid. The Norman Granz concerts of jazz entitled ‘Jazz at the Philharmonic’s and the disk jockey Sid Freidman, both had an input into the naming of this blues riff and arrangement. It has been one of the main themes/riffs used in jam session and the present arrangement leaves plenty of room for solos.

St. Louis Blues March - 1958 - W. C. Handy/Gene Krupa

First heard as a Negro riff, we now find the uniting of the blues form and the march, a form that was an influence on the ragtime musical form. It is fitting we end the concert with the combining of the blues progression and the march, both ancestors and influences on early jazz. The W. C. Handy ‘St. Louis Blues’ is arranged by Jerry Gray and was a ‘hit’ recording by Tex Beneke.

Back to Top


Web Designs by Greg Koenig