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Blues (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

Blues (AtoZ Challenge 2016 - Jazz Age Jazz) An intensely African American experience, blues was born from the disinlussionment following the failure of Reconstruction

Blues is always about wanting to be someplace else but making the best of where you are.

Francis Davis, The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 1995)

There are a couple of reasons used to explain the name of this music:

  • Blues is short for “blues devil”, a term that was frequently used in America at the turn of the XX century to describe sadness or depression.
  • Blues make use of the “blue notes”, which are played at a pitch lower than the major scale and give the song a haunting, melancholy tone.
B - Blues (AtoZ Challenge 2016 - Jazz Age Jazz)

In many ways, blues is easier to define than jazz. But there is more to this music than the definition expresses. It’s true, blues songs often speak of misfortune, betrayal and regret, which is what the general public tend do think when considering blues. But while the words speak of personal hard luck, the music itself is about overcoming that hard luck. Blues is about saying what you think, ridding yourself of frustration, and simply having fun. The best blues is visceral, cathartic and intensely emotional.
There are definitely elements of blues in jazz music, though blues emerged a lot earlier in the same place where jazz manifested itself half a century later.
After the Civil War, African Americans came to the realisation that although slaves had been emancipated, freedom and equality were still a long way away. That was the feeling out of which this music was born.

Mamie Smith was the first to record blues songs in 1920 with her versions of Perry Bradford's "Crazy Blues", and "It' s Right Here for You" on Okeh Records. The record was a wild success, selling over a million copies in less than a year
Mamie Smith

The language of blues is a cultural code that finds its origin deep in the African American cultural and historical experience. It is not necessarily an intentional hidden message, like the ones in slaves’ spirituals and work songs, but rather a more intuitive message, some kind of metaphor that comes from a communal experience that was distinctively African American. For this reason, blues was for a long time circumscribed to the black community, the only one for which it had a profound cultural and historical meaning. Segregation, which was part of that same experience, allowed the evolution of blues in its own independent way. For a long time – and even after jazz became the most popular music of the nation – blues remained music that few outside the African American community would hear.

But inside that community, blues created quite a stir.
From the beginning, it broke with the tradition of African communal creation of music, and it was instead a personal expression of a communal experience. Bluesman and blueswoman didn’t sing with the community being part of it, but they stood alone and sang to the community, even if they expressed a communal feeling. This position implied authority on their part.

Those were men and women who performed in disreputable places and sang songs that often contained bawdy, very explicit lyrics. They weren’t considered the best representatives for an entire, struggling community. Still, as they expressed their people’s feelings toward life and future, they ended up competing with preachers’ and politics’ authority on the matter.

Soon, that controversy would spread onto jazz.

An intensely #AfricanAmerican experience, blues was born from the disinlussionment following the failure of Reconstruction #blues #jazz Click To Tweet

RESOURCES

Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989
Sullivan, Megan, African-American Music as Rebellion: From Slavesong to Hip-Hop (PDF)

All About Jazz – A brief history of the Blues
Shmoop – Blues Music History – Introduction
Diffen – Blues vs. Jazz

72 Comments

  • Susan Brody
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 01:59

    Fascinating! It’s a privilege to learn from such a dedicated jazz historian!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 06:32

      Thanks Susan. I’m an history buff in general. I think history can teach us so much about our present and even about our future 🙂

  • Sharon Himsl
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 02:54

    Interesting. Both sad and optimistic you might say (since Blues music was also about overcoming one’s troubles).

    Pioneer Women in Aviation A-Z

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 06:34

      Music, like all forms of art, is so weird. You feel it at a intuitive level, but if you understand a bit of its history and contest, it becomes so much more enlighting. Don’t you think?

  • Sheena-kay Graham
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 03:36

    Blues has various interpretations but it definitely has a unique feel from other music. I wrote a blues song once about someone losing their love. I’m an amateur lyricist so there is no music to it but I want to get it composed professionally one day.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 06:39

      Creating art professionally has its own feel to it. And it’s a good one 😉

  • Mary Burris
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 04:03

    Enjoyed learning more of the history and back story of Blues. I’m really liking your theme so far!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 06:46

      Thanks Mary 🙂
      It was a completely new journey for me. I’m so happy the AtoZChallenge prompted me to delve more deeply in this subject.

  • Lata Sunil
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 06:53

    Great detailed history. I was unaware earlier..

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 07:01

      Happy you found it interesting. Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • Chicky
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 08:39

    I have never read so much about music. Never gave it so much thought before, you know. It’s a new experience reading your posts in this challenge.
    Do hop over to my blog sometime. I’m writing a series on happiness.
    – Chicky @ http://www.mysteriouskaddu.com

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:00

      You know? When I started researching my novels, I was a bit scared by the fact that soem of my characters would be musicians and that a great part of the story would happen in a place with music. But as I researched, I discovered that there is a lot more about music than the music itself. It’s a way of life. And not just fo rthe artist.

      Thank for stopping by 🙂

  • Zeljka
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 11:29

    I like listening Blues… it’s good to learn something about its history 🙂

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:07

      I didn’t really delve into the history of blues, but I think it’s a very rich one. Just like jazz, it has a lot to offer.

  • Gail M Baugniet
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 09:58

    Felt like I was back on Bourbon Street. Great Blues song by Bessie Smith. Always so sad. Thanks for visiting my site for B-Day! Will be back on Monday.

    Gail’s 2016 April A to Z Challenge
    B is for Breathe Deep

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:02

      That song is beautiful, isn’t it?
      Bessie Smith is my favourite singer from the 1920s. When I hear her singing I always think that ejoying her performace live must have been an incredible experience. Such a voice! Such a heart!

  • Nilanjana Bose
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 11:05

    Great to learn the history of blues and get such an in-depth analysis. Context always adds a different dimension to the enjoyment of art. Thanks.

    Nilanjana
    Madly-in-Verse

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:06

      I believe so 🙂
      Thanks so much for stopping by.

  • Susanne Matthews
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 12:13

    Great post. Lots of wonderful information there. Thanks

  • Tarkabarka
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 12:21

    One of the best blues guitarist in the world (at least as of the Memphis world competition two years ago), Little G Weevil, is Hungarian 🙂 We are proud of him. My dad also plays blues guitar, although not professionally. I grew up listening to it. 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    MopDog

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 16:07

      Thant’s wonderful!
      Here in Verona there is one of the most popular jazz festivals in Italy, Verona Jazz. I’ve never been there, but now I’m starting to want to go 😉

  • Pat R
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 12:44

    Hi Sarah
    I really enjoyed this post, found it very enlightening. I am happy to have found your blog:)

    Pat

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 16:16

      And I’m happy you found me and enjoyed my work 🙂
      Now I want to see what you’re up to. See you on your blog.

  • Jen
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 13:19

    Such a wonderful and detailed post! Thank you for this. I LOVE blues and jazz because they are so expressive. Especially blues. They make me “feel” and I love being able to connect with an artist.

    Cheers!
    Jen
    Jen Chandler was Here

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 16:20

      When I started my story, I had never listened to jazz before. Then, as I researched and learned about it, I started to became curious and now I really like it. I don’t know whether I would have come to like it anyway, or if knowing the history helped me get into it. But well… that’s how it went 😉

  • Megan Morgan
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 13:36

    I worked in a New Orleans-themed restaurant for five years and we had local blues/jazz acts five nights a week, and on occasion national acts. I didn’t know much about the blues before I started working there but I sure do now, especially our local scene (which is quite big). The place is closed now but man I miss those days!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 16:29

      That’s so cool, Megan! Then I might be mobbing you about my story in the future.
      Kidding 😉

      I’m not an expert of jazz or blues by any stretch, but I did my best to learn as much as I could about the social aspect of this music.

  • Sophie Duncan
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 14:38

    The conflict behind blues – modern music sometimes does the same thing now, it’s seen as divisive, immoral, by the powers that be, but real music made from the heart always has something to say (can’t say the same about the mass-produced mulch that comes from some pop studies though).
    Sophie
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:09

      Blues and jazz were born from the experience and the heart of people, that’s why they are still so powerful, in my opinion.

      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Shilpa Garg
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 15:51

    Fascinating. Good to know about the history and background about Blues! Thanks for sharing 🙂

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:11

      Good to hear you liked it. And thanks for thaking the time to come by 🙂

  • Francis H Powell
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 18:13

    Nice choice for B

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:12

      Happy to hear it. Thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Donna McDine
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:01

    Delighted to have connected through the A-Z Challenge! I’ve enjoyed learning about the history of jazz! It’s made my day!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:13

      And you made my day with this comment. Knowing that people enjoy what I write it’s really what it’s all about.
      Thanks so much for stopping by 🙂

  • Maryann Holloway
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 19:16

    Thanks for sharing and defining the blues. Great post
    @Ma_holloway from
    If I Only Had A Time Machine

  • Robin Rivera
    Posted April 2, 2016 at 23:39

    I love the Blues! When my husband and I first started dating we lived at a blues club and we saw everyone that come to town. Another great post, Sarah!

  • Yolanda Renee
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 00:55

    Love the blues, and funny thing is, I have to be in a certain frame of mind to really get into it! LOL
    Happy Second Day of the A to Z!
    Ninga Minion @YolandaRenee from
    Defending The Pen
    Parallels
    Murderous Imaginings

  • Heather Jackson
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 01:32

    I love learning new things, and you hit me with two facts right off the top! Thanks for another great post, and a link to a great song.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 07:06

      So happy you enjoyed my posts!
      The song is beautiful, isn’t it? Actually, Bessie Smith is encredible every time I hear her.

  • Barbara Taylor
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 02:32

    I’m not a music aficionado, but I do enjoy a variety of styles. This was interesting information that I would never have thought to look up. And I love that you used Bessie Smith for the example. It’s been a very long time since I’ve heard her music.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 07:08

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Barbara. This is one of the things I love about the AtoZ: you learn thing you don’t even know you’re interested in 😉

  • Barbara In Caneyhead
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 06:27

    Ah, the Blues! Some super awesome singers and songs in the blues.

  • Anna Tan
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 08:59

    That was a nice song 🙂

  • Tasha
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 09:24

    Most elucidating as ever. I like the fact the blues could not be put down even though the places where it thrived were not always considered exemplary.
    Tasha
    Tasha’s Thinkings (72) | Wittegen Press (74) | FB3X (AC) (75)

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 14:29

      That’s true for much of African American music, actually. It was certainly the same for jazz too.

  • Megan Lee
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 13:50

    I love the blues. I went through a time in my teenage and young adult years when I listened to B. B. King and Muddy Waters. My grandfather was a huge fan of jazz and he was often playing Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Great stuff!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 14:30

      I’ve just discovered this music, and mostly because of my story. But I’m getting into it 😉

  • Stephanie Faris
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 16:17

    I knew something sad had to have inspired the words “the blues,” but I didn’t know the exact origination of the term for the type of music. “I guess that’s why they call it the blues!”

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 17:11

      And I find the name so evocative. I don’t know why. To me, it sounds like a name dense of meaning.

  • Jeffrey Scott
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 16:24

    Lots of great information. Neat to hear where the origin of the term ‘blues’ came from.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 3, 2016 at 17:12

      It’s always interesting to know where a name came from. There is always a story there 🙂

  • Laura Roberts
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 21:19

    Oh, good, I thought I was missing something on your A post yesterday, but it turns out you were just saving the Blues for today! Great post. 🙂

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:05

      Couldn’t miss this one, could I? 😉
      Thanks for stopping by.

  • Stephanie
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 19:46

    What an interesting topic. I look forward to learning more.

    Good luck on the challenge! We’re doing “I’ve Got The Music In Me” this year on The Road We’ve Shared. – looking at how important music is in the Down syndrome community. I hope you’ll stop by and see/hear! http://theroadweveshared.com/category/a-to-z-blogging-challenge-2016

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 13:55

      Thanks so much for stopping by.
      You’re theme seems so intersting and important. I have a nephew who suffers of the Down Syndrome. I’m heading over to your site 🙂

  • Molly
    Posted April 3, 2016 at 23:58

    I’ve always liked jazz, but I have a feeling after reading all your challenge posts, I’m going to learn to LOVE it.

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:06

      Learning about it did teach me to appreciate it a lot more 🙂

  • Rajlakshmi
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 12:18

    I love listening to the Blues… never realised that there was so much history behind it. Thanks for sharing this.

    Visiting from A to Z Challenge
    Pam’s Unconventional Alliance Team
    A Whimsical Medley
    Twinkle Eyed Traveller

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 14:07

      Happy you liked it and thanks for stopping by 🙂

  • Tawnya
    Posted April 4, 2016 at 17:03

    Blues….such a moving genre of music. Thanks for giving me more insight into its’ history! Loving your posts so far!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 4, 2016 at 19:58

      I’m so happy to hear this. Creating something that people enjoys is the whole point of writing, be it a novel or a series of articles 🙂

  • Damyanti
    Posted April 5, 2016 at 04:29

    Love listening to the Bles, so this was fascinating. Thankyou!

    • Post Author
      jazzfeathers
      Posted April 5, 2016 at 07:43

      Knowing about the history of this music is making me appreciate it even more 🙂

  • Kristin
    Posted September 6, 2020 at 16:19

    Another good post that I missed!

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