Saturday, July 7, 2012

R&B, Blues, and Jazz: Kissin' Cousins!

I'm writing this Note in response to a post yesterday I saw from a talented, professional musician who wrote negative comments about a Smooth Jazz artist, insinuating that this artist was not a "real" jazz musician because she played Blues-inspired licks in her soloing. I was trying to decide how to respond to this, since I myself am a Blues-inspired artist, currently learning about Jazz. I am also a lover of Smooth Jazz for the very reason the person was criticizing the other: it is a hybrid of Jazz, Blues-riffs, R&B, and Funk grooves - all the stuff I love! So I just have to defend the genre and the artist who was being criticized.

Let me start with a very, very brief history of Blues and Jazz.
Jazz and Blues both started around the turn of the century. Supposedly W.C. Handy discovered the Blues in 1903 and then wrote the first published Blues tune, "Memphis Blues" in 1912. Around the same time Jazz emerged in New Orleans around 1900. "In 1924 Armstrong joined Fletcher Henderson’s band in New York City, pushing the band in the direction of a hotter, more improvisatory style that helped to create the synthesis of jazz and ballroom dance music that would later be called swing. Although big bands relied heavily on arrangements of popular Tin Pan Alley songs, the blues—with its 12- bar structure, three-chord pattern, blue notes, and call-and-response patterns—also remained a mainstay of swing music. Of all the big bands, the one most closely associated with the blues tradition was led by the jazz pianist William “Count” Basie (1904–84)....

Alone among his many distinguished Tin Pan Alley contemporaries, Gershwin sought and achieved success in the world of concert music (“Rhapsody in Blue,” “An American in Paris”) as well as popular music. Together with his brother the lyricist Ira Gershwin, George composed scores of Tin Pan Alley classics, including standards like “I Got Rhythm,” “Fascinating Rhythm,” and “Oh, Lady Be Good!”
Both Gershwin’s popular songs and his “classical” works demonstrate a sophisticated incorporation of stylistic devices derived from African-American sources — such as syncopated rhythms and blue notes — that far surpasses the rather superficial use of such devices in most other white American music of the time. Gershwin’s greatest composition, Porgy and Bess (1935), which he called an “American folk opera,” represents his most thoroughgoing synthesis of European classical, mainstream popular, and African- American stylistic influences — a synthesis that remains his own but that also celebrates the wide diversity of American culture. Tin Pan Alley and the singing style known as crooning were important (if often unrecognized) influences on rhythm & blues and rock ’n’ roll during the 1950s and 1960s." (excerpts from American Popular Music by Waterman and Starr).

Thus, many Jazz artists and composer were influenced by the Blues.

I also read that in the early 20s, musicians were playing both Blues and Jazz - there was no dividing line. It was all in one big melting pot. From The Blues, the Martin Scorsese film and accompanying book: "No musician of note back then considered himself only a "blues" artist. This was the Jazz Age, after all, and the boundaries that historians would use later on to separate blues from jazz didn't exist in the 1920s. Nightclubs in black sections o northern cities like New York's Harlem featured jazz bands and blues singers on the same bill."

So my point is - we're all the same - kissing cousins so to speak - Jazz and Blues. Of course, over time, these genres have developed into individualized sub-genres: Bebop, Cool Jazz, Swing - Country Blues, Electric Blues, Texas Blues, Chicago Blues; and Blues and Jazz together created R&B when Big Band down-sized to create Jump Bands, that further evolved into Doo-Wop and then Rock and Roll. And R&B has its own sub-genres - Classic R&B, Funk, Soul, Smooth Jazz, and now Rap. It just keeps going.

I think every musician I know, including myself has had some hard times - even in Mezz Mezzrow's book Really The Blues he describes working in a nightclub that is raided and shut down - so the band is paid, not in cash, but in DUCKS that were meant to be on the restaurant's menu.
I myself worked at a club in LA, that after a grueling 5 hour gig with standing room only, was told I wouldn't be receiving the whole $250 because the owner had to pay taxes on the drinks that were sold and those taxes would be coming out of the band's pay. I'm sure there are many, many more horror stories of how musicians have been treated like second-class citizens - even though some of us have college-educations and/or have worked just as hard as those in other careers...

Today there are so many artists that blend many styles: Dinah Washington was a Jazz and Blues singer, Billie Holiday as well, Anita Baker is an R&B artist who sings Jazz, Karryn Allison is a Jazz singer who sings Blues, and what about artists that do it all: George Benson, Boz Scaggs - how about Robben Ford - master of all guitar styles. Chaka Khan can sing some mean R&B and Jazz. Yes, I'm partial to Blues/R&B sounds, but even I don't like it all. I'm not crazy about super-traditional Blues like Memphis Minnie, I don't care for some Hip-Hop. But I'm certainly not going to go around criticizing another individual's personal expression of his or her art form. It's all a matter of taste - we all deserve praise for what we bring to the table, not criticism. If you don't like it, change the channel on the radio!

Just my take....
Terri, lover of all music!

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