I've got a classic case of the blues
For the purposes of this article, I am going to define the "Blues" as music con
• A twelve-measure form, with a use of primary triad or
• Frequent use of altered scale degrees (the lowering of scale degrees 3, 5, and 7
• Use of swing rhythms: each beat has a triplet subdivision and. the articulation is smooth.
• An overall mood of sadness and melancholy.
So many teachers have tried to turn Aaron Copland's Four Piano Blues into a jazz piece simply because the title contains the word "Blues." Copland himself
One of the characteristic approaches to Blues has been through the use of swing rhythms, providing the performer (particularly singers) an opportunity to create soul
Before looking at music, it might be best to listen to a few examples of some authentic, riveting blues, to "get in the mood." Go to http://www.allmusic.com. then click on blues. You'll find much to read about and many styles of blues listed. Scroll down to "Top Artists" and click on the speaker next to B.B. King and Bessie
This brief listening tour will yield an earthy, soulful
The first four excerpts are terrific examples of composers who have successfully visited the world of jazz and written pieces that allow the non-jazz pianist to perform with a genuine, jazz-infused sensibility: no artificial swinging needed-it's all in the score.
Barber: In slow blues tempo from Excursions
The wonderful second movement of Samuel Barber's Excursions (1944) is a delight! It is a well-crafted mixture of swung and straight eighth notes, sometimes at the same time! It is precisely that friction that gives this piece its unique rhythmic identity. (I have always found it intriguing that Barber used the tempo indication of In slow blues tempo; he did not write In 'a' slow blues tempo.).
In this piece, be very careful to allow the listener to hear the two subdivisions of the quarter note clearly:
The manner in which Barber combines both swing and non-swing eighth notes in these four choruses of a twelve-bar blues is nothing short of remarkable. Barber writes so well that to perform this piece stylistically correctly, you play what is written, exactly as it is written (see Excerpt 1).
One particularly fine interpretation of this piece is by the amazing pianist, who is a virtuoso in both jazz and classical genres: Andre Previn. You can sample his marvelous interpretation on YouTube
Gruenberg: Blues from Jazzberries
This is a very effective piece, a blues- infused cry from the heart. The entire two- page work flows along, from an initial melancholy
Although there is not a recording of Jazzberries, there are several fascinating aural glimpses into this musician from the early part of the 20th century. I especially recommend his Jazz Masks, Op. 30a–found on Naxos-for an intriguing jazz 'take' on Chopin's Nocturne, Op. 9, No. 1.
Bennett: Andante lento from Excursions
Although this piece uses straight eighth notes and is obviously a blues with a traditional 12 measure structure, the slow metronome marking of
allows for a sensuous, deliberate feel and a caressing of the rich, full, bluesy harmonies. Swinging these haunting sounds is not necessary at all. I like to think that the second movement of this three-movement suite illustrates the type of sound Gershwin might have written in later compositions (see Excerpt 3).
Martin Jones has recorded the Bennett Excursions;
Bennett: Country Blues from Four-Piece Suite
This terrific four-movement suite for two pianists is a masterpiece. Between a lush latin-tinged opening and a rollicking fourth movement that really rocks, Country Blues skillfully uses the 12/8 time signature, blue notes, and a call and response between the two pianists to create an authentic Blues sound. The feeling of swing is effectively notated in this work (see Excerpt 4).
I recommend two recordings of this piece: 1) Bernstein: Scenes from West Side Story (EMI Classics #49116) Music by Leonard Bernstein, Percy Grainger, and Richard Rodney Bennett. Richard Markham and David Nettle, pianists. 2) A performance by Duo Osano that can be found online
There are also times when the notation "gets in the way," when composers-knowing that
This dotted is antithetical to proper swing feel and should be changed to a subdivision of 3, as in
Here are several examples where the musical style benefits from re-writing the dotted rhythms.
Alexandre Tansman was a master at evoking the Blues sound with the sliding of the triads, much as a guitarist may do along the
The first piece from Tansman's Trois Preludes en forme de Blues presents the problem again: the dotted rhythms are mixed with "straight" eighth notes (see Excerpt 6a).
How does one interpret these inconsistencies? By listening to the sound and remembering the sway of a blues singer like Ma Rainy or Bessie Smith. ALL rhythms-whether dotted or not- should have a gentle sway, a feeling of three within each beat. The following example (in 12/8) creates the bluesy sound I believe Tansman may have intended (see Excerpt 6b).
I recommend a recording by Margaret Fingerhut that has a nice, gentle feel (Tansman: Piano Works Chandos #10527).
Our final example is a curious one. It is the second movement of an advanced work by Dave Brubeck. The title of this movement is Blue Aria, and it begins in a haunting, almost mysterious way (see Excerpt 7). What strikes me is the use of straight eighth notes, followed by eighth-note triplets. Does one then swing the straight eighths or make them contrast to the triplets? Does one then swing the eighth notes in the left hand?
Two recordings of Blue Aria shed some light on this question: 1) Brubeck Piano Compositions performed by John Salmon (Phoenix; sample excerpts available at www.cdbaby.com). and 2) New World A 'Comin'-Classical and Jazz Connections performed by Willis Delony (Centaur Records).
I hope teachers will explore some of these works, both in print as well as on recordings, keeping in mind that the printed page does not always reflect the appropriate sound. And the right sound is always our goal.