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                                                                      photo by Kelly Weime

 

The Blues:

 

"Born in the South, the blues is an African American derived music

form that recognized the pain of lost love and injustice and gave

expression to the victory of outlasting a broken heart and facing

down adversity. The blues evolved from hymns, work songs,

and field hollers music used to accompany spiritual,

work and social functions.

Blues is the foundation of jazz as well as

the prime source of rhythm and blues,

rock 'n' roll, and country music.

The blues is still evolving and is still widely played today." 


 There is the problem of Jazz and the Blues being defined by nature of sound and form blue notes, 12 bars, 8 bars, 16 bars, or other structural devices like harmony or melody line. These kinds of analysis come from academic Euro-­centric thinking as opposed to “groove,” “swing,” and “emotion” which have for centuries been the underpinnings of the Music we play originating from Africa.

 

As a child growing up in the rural South, I went to church on Sunday and heard the choir sing. These old men and women sounded unlike any voices or music that I heard all the previous week on the radio or TV. It was at times music of joy and at other times of pain and  suffering with the release of hope for what was possible for the future. These were people not trained in formal ways of creating music. But they were in tune to the ways and experiences of life and often spoke of what they had learned from those who had gone before.


When I asked Ms. Sally Jones about a particular inflected harmony she sang on “Sweet Hour of Prayer,” she said that it was her mother, Ms. Mary Comer's line. When I asked Ms. Mary why she sang it that way, she said, “Honey, it just feels right.” I often had to accompany the choir on piano.

But to do it always seemed wrong. They never sang in pitch with the piano. They had their own internal tonalities going on. What I heard on those Sunday mornings more than 60 years ago was a community with a strong sense of identity and purpose.

 

 I am not in these writings disparaging learning how to read music, or how to create representative musical symbols on paper or in computers or machines.

On the contrary, these are good things to know how to do. I believe it is my work to express in the Music the pain of loss, and injustice, and to give expression to the victory of outlasting our losses and to our facing down adversity. And in the Music I feel it a duty to remember the struggle and the overcoming, and to express faith, forbearance and hope in a better world.

This to me is what the music is about, not structures.