Friday, July 15, 2011
There are many different types of African American blues music. The many traditional forms and variants can be grouped, however, into a few general categories: “classic blues” and “rural" or “delta blues” from the turn of the 20th Century and “urban blues” and “rhythm and blues” dating from the 1940s. In the earliest era of blues music, subgenres included: “barrelhouse blues,” “gut-bucket blues,” “hokum blues,” “piedmont blues,” “reels/breakdowns,” “blues rags,” “boogie-woogie blues,” “risque blues” and “up-tempo jump blues” - just to name a few.
The archetypical blues form is defined by a pattern of 12 measures in 4/4 meter divided into three lyric phrases. Many tunes exhibit the blues spirit but deviate from the fundamental 12-bar format. The improvisational tradition that developed with the early playing of the blues allows for self-expression within the context of communal participation - call and response. This spontaneous dialogue of improvisation between players established a brand new musical tradition and is one of the foundations of jazz.
Although other chromatic “passing tones” are often used, the basic sound of the blues centers around a “blues scale” which involves flatting the 3rd and 7th degrees of a major scale. In the language of the blues, these notes are characteristically played by sliding up to the desired pitch. The gliss or portamento from one specified pitch up to another, and down from from one specified pitch to another can also be applied to any note of the blues scale. The technical vocabulary of “bending” notes thereby accentuating microtones (pitches between the semitones of the Western scale) adds a provocative emotional dimension to this music.
“White” Appalachian fiddlers have long admired African American folk music. The intertwining of these musical cultures produced the American “hoedown” among other forms. Much “Black” music - especially ragtime tunes and religious pieces as well as many other vocal and instrumental techniques - was easily absorbed into the “White” repertoire. The blues music was no exception, however the “pure” blues styles had a more difficult time assimilating into “white” music culture. Slow-tempo blues ballads were the result of early cross-pollination, and faster-spirited versions of the blue became an integral part of the old-time fiddling of the early 1900s.
Although the evidence is not conclusive, Smith has been credited with composing the famous “Florida Blues.” We do know for certain, however, that he wrote many great fiddle tunes and played up-tempo blues tunes often helping to establish this fiddle blues style.
From Book II of the O'Connor Method.