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Dig The Blues!

Workshop materials compiled by

Dave Cazier
Director of Choral Instruction,
Columbia Basin College
For the Frank DeMiero Jazz Camp 99

You cant lose..

if you sing the blues!
Carmen McRae

These materials are compiled and presented to assist the Jazz Choir director in
sharing the concepts of the blues with their students. It is hoped that this will be a
vehicle for directors and their choirs in accomplishing the following:

Expanding their creativity, and self expression through a better

understanding of:

Chord progression and voicing, using the blues.

Approaches to improvisation, using the blues.

Inspire you to write your own songs or arrangements

Giving individual students an opportunity to do more solo work and

self expression through the creative songs or lyrics they write and


Bringing added originality and individuality in the performance product of

your Vocal Jazz Ensemble because:

Youll have cool new blues arrangements that have come about as a
direct result of the combined creativity of teacher and students;
arrangements that are uniquely you!

Youll be able to tailor the complexity of line and voicing specifically

to the abilities of your group, beginning or advanced, young or old,
unchanged, changing, or changed.

Your new creativity may even spill over into the non-blues selections
you sing as well


Increasing your use of the blues because of your new understanding and
hopefully love of this simple, yet very popular and highly rewarding music.

Like any study of music-especially Jazz, active listening is very important to full
understanding. A discography is provided for this purpose. A reference for an
appropriate musical example to listen to is indicated with a musical note next to it.

Created by Dave Cazier.

Blues Basics
The Blues is one of the earliest jazz related forms to develop. It is the offspring of African poetic
form, phrasing, and inflection; and the harmonies and chord progressions of church music as
experienced by Africans living in slavery here in the U.S. prior to the Civil War. By that time the
patterns of the blues had pretty much been establish, but it has continued to change and develop
since then. The Blues is a very simple music, yet very enjoyable to listen to as well as perform. It
is versatile. Its simplicity and versatility is why it has become so popular and comprehensible by
people of diverse musical tastes. It stands on its own as a form of musical expression, but it has
continuously been embraced and transformed by Jazz. You will also hear it extensively used in
Country and Rock & Roll as well.

Its 4 main aspects

When we say The Blues we could be referring to one or more of 4 working definitions. Lets
learn them!

1. An emotional state of being, usually sad, melancholy, or down

hearted. I have the blues refers to ones affliction with the woes of life. Kids in
commercials sing about them while trying to sell Jello and macaroni. Everyone gets em now
and then. And different cultural groups each have their own unique understanding of them.
This concept is usually evidenced musically by a singers use of inflection, and pitch
(African tone) to assist in the emotional interpretation of the lyric. Pay attention to this
while listening to any blues related recordings.
e Tony Bennett and Ray Charles sing Everybody Gets the Blues Sometime
Bennett Art of Excellence


e Bessie Smith recordings like Travlin Blues or Lost Your Head Blues or Empty Bed

2. A specific chord progression, usually set within a 12 measure form or chorus.

In its purest sense, this progression consists of 3 chords: the I chord, the IV chord, and the V
chord in a given key. See the example below and memorize how they line up within the 3
phrases of the 12 bar blues. This example also shows how blues poetry (when used) fits
within the 12-bar form.
The I chord begins the 1st phrase, the IV begins the 2nd, and the V chord begins the 3rd phrase.
Understanding this and hearing the difference will help you keep track of where you are in
the progression. Usually, the chords are played as Dominant chords (major 3rd, flatted 7th )
Examine the figure below and play the progression on the piano, applying it to a specific key.
Listen to the suggested examples, focusing on hearing the chord progression.

Created by Dave Cazier.

e Bluesology by the Ray Brown Trio, Live at the Loa/Summer Wind

e The Real Blues by the Ray Brown Trio, Live at the Loa/Summer Wind
The Blues progression and form has continued to evolve over time. Much of its evolutionary
influence has come from jazz musicians, who love the blues but often want the challenge of
improvising over more complex chord progressions. Below is an example of a more evolved
yet still standard blues progression.

The above progression is more aurally appealing to some because it has more variety within the
chord usage. Notice how inserting the IV chord in the 2nd bar breaks up the monotony of the 1 st
phrase. The walk down (as I call it, and I may be the only one) at the end of the 2nd phrase
leads chromatically into the II chord that begins the 3rd phrase, and can really grab the ear to
clearly identify where you are at in the form. This is especially helpful if you are jamming at real
fast tempo. The chords of the 3rd phrase really do a great job of outlining the key for the listener.
The II-IV relationship at the beginning of the 3rd phrase adds a more modern, less churchy flavor.
If you chose to play the II chord diatonically within the key (as a minor chord- b3 & b7) instead
of dominant, this does even more to clearly establish the key. The ending turn around outlines
the key, and again, since it only appears at the end of each chorus it becomes a clear indication of
your place in the form. Apply the above to a key and do more practicing and listening.
e Big Rub by Kevin Mahogany, Another Time, Another Place
e Baby, All The Time by Dianna Krall, All For You
Created by Dave Cazier.

The Be-Bop era of jazz was very important in evolving the blues progression even further,
because of its emphasis on complicated chord progressions and the challenge they present while
taking a ride. Charlie Bird Parker can take a lot of credit. He was from Kansas City, a blues
Mecca, and he was also a main pioneering figure in the Be-Bop revolution of the 1940s, along
with Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonius Monk. Look at the complexity of the progression below,
which is known as Bird Blues and listen to a recording of Charlie Parkers Au Privave.

e Charlie Parker, Au Privave Verve Compact Jazz Charlie Parker

e Bob Dorough Au Privave

It is quite different from the original basic blues. It looks more complicated, sounds more
complicated and has a stronger sense of tonality, in that it resolves to a major I, which really
feels like coming home compared to the dominant I, that never seems to resolve. However, if
you think about having the blues, sometimes it seems that there is never any resolution. There
is also the case of Minor Blues, which always seems to sit in sadness.

e Mr P.C by Lambert, Hendricks & Ross or John Coltrane

e Cousin Mary by Lambert Hendricks & Bavan on Swingin til The Girls Come Home

Those Crazy Blues Progressions!

Blues progressions can get crazy! It has really evolved into many varieties. Following is a table that has 17 different
variations of the 12-bar Blues progression. Check it out!

Created by Dave Cazier.

Created by Dave Cazier.

Which progression you use is your choice as a group; based on what you want, what you feel
like and how much you want to be challenged with improvisation, etc. Mostly, I think it should
depend on what fits your presentation of lyric and/or melody best. Its all in relation to the blues
you feel!
Well get more into modifications of the blues form (length) later, i.e. 8-bar blues, 16-bar blues,
20-bar blues, bridge blues, or stranger things. For now lets get back to the 4 blues aspects.

3. The Blues is also a form of poetry, or lyrics.

It follows an AAB form

when applied to a 12-bar chorus. It is very simple. You, and many of your students may have a
lot of fun coming up with blues poetry and singing it. Check out the diagram below again, and
notice how the poetry fits the basic progression.

The blues poet creates a statement for the 1 st 4-bar phrase. That statement is repeated in the 2nd
phrase, sometimes with a slight modification. In the 3rd phrase a new line is created that
completes the meaning of the original statement. Its great if the endings of the phrases rhyme,
but the dont have to. Check out the example written by jazz performer Eddie Clean-Head
Vinson. Heres a couple more blues verses written by Eddie. Whats great is the humor, and
how they relate to his life experience in a personal way.
They call me Mr. Clean-head...Because my head is bald.
Yeah, they call me Mr. Clean-headcause Ive been bald a long time
But with the stuff I useI dont need no hair at all
If it werent for you womenId have my curly locks today
If it werent for you womenId have my curly locks today
But Ive been hugged and kissed and pettedtil all my hair was rubbed away

Now lets do some listening to get a real flavor for blues poetry in use.
e Deedles Blues by Diane Schuur & The Count Basie Orchestra

e Every Day I Have The Blues, Diane Schuur & The Count Basie Orchestra
e Fine & Mellow by Carmen McRae, Songs for Lady Day vol. 1
Created by Dave Cazier.

e Billies Blues by Carmen McRae, Songs for Lady Day vol. 2

e Medley Blues by DeeDee Bridgewater, Live in Paris

e Roll Em Pete by Joe Williams, Verve Compact Jazz: Joe Williams/ Count Basie
e Dimples by Joe Williams, I Just Want To Sing

e Party Blues by Joe Williams & Ella Fitzgerald, Verve Compact Jazz: Joe Williams/ Basie
One of the neat things about Party Blues is how Joe, Ella and even the horn players apply the
poetic blues form to even their improvisations. It really helps the sentence structure of their
scatting. You should tray this when you scat to the blues.
You may have noticed that blues poetry has a certain realness to them. They can be pretty sad,
or pretty happy. Blues lyrics dont have to be Blue. They can also have a subtle sex-appeal too,
as shown in Billies Blues. If you take this approach to your own writing of blues lyrics,
always remember that its a subtle thing. You want to invite the listener into the sexyness of it
all, not force it upon them. For more about this listen to the following example. Really, the words
are all pretty innocent, but theres plenty of room for another interpretation.
e Inch Worm by Dee Daniels, Lets Talk Business

Lets Practice writing Blues poetry! Try to relate them to your own life and
experience at home, school, work, etc. Remember to follow the AAB form. Try to get 3 verses
you like, and then sing em! Hint: Its not important to try and please your 9th grade English
teacher with this execise.
If youre stuck, heres a couple of opening lines, you complete the two verses below.

Im leavin you Baby.and I aint never comin back



Youre a liar, a cheater, and a beggar too!



If you need me, Honey.Ill be in the next state over.


If you find youre not such a hot blues poet, remember you can always borrow from the greats;
Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing, Carmen McRae, Billie Holiday, B.B. King, Bessie Smith, and
Earnie Andrews.

Created by Dave Cazier.

What, not all blues are 12-bar?

Yes, Virginia, there is variety in the blues form! Although, if someone asked me to jamm with
them over Blues in Bb, I would 1 st assume it was going to be over a 12-bar length, using either
the basic progression, or the evolved progression that contains the walk-down and turn-around.
Then again, you know what they say about assuming. If you dont trust your ears, just ask!
Here is a basic format for 8-bar
just in a shorter number of bars.

blues. Notice it still uses the same basic pattern of chords,

e CRS Craft by Dia na Krall, Only Trust Your Heart

16-Bar Blues can easily be created by simply repeating the last phrase of the typical 12 bar
blues. Listen as this happens in the following cut. Also observe the change in the poetic form.
Where is the repeated phrase now? There is also one chorus that uses the 12 bar form. Which
chorus is it?
e Travelin Blues by Diane Schuur, Diane Schuur & The Count Basie Orchestra
Try writing some blues lyrics that fit the 16-bar form (which by the way is ABCC)

Bridge Blues takes the concept of form from the 32-bar AABA form of Broadway and other
American Popular Song styles and executes it using the blues. Each A of the form becomes a
single set of standard 12-bar blues, and the B is an 8-bar bridge. A popular progression to
borrow is the one from George Gershwins I Got Rhythm (a.k.a. Rhythm Changes) Here is that

Created by Dave Cazier.

The following listening example uses the bridge below. This bridge seems to fit the blues a bit
more, because its chords are borrowed directly from the standard blues progression.
e Someone Else Is Steppin In by Earnestine Anderson, Great Moments with Earnestine
Anderson. Kitty Margolis also has a good cut of this tune on her Evolution CD.

Bridge Blues can be fun because of the challenge of keeping track of form. Blues + blues +
bridge + blues = one full chorus. It can be easy to get lost if you dont really pay attention,
especially at a fast tempo.

Trickier yet, listen to Earnestine Anderson create a 20-bar blues form and Dee Daniels sing
to a 14-bar blues in the following cuts. How do they do that?
e Never Make Your Move Too Soon by Earnestine Anderson, Never Make Your Move Too
Soon as well as Great Moments with Earnestine Anderson.
e Tonight I Wont Be Singin No More Blues by Dee Daniels on CD of same title.

4. The Blues has also become its own unique style of interpretation.
Musicians who sing the blues often, or who use particular inflections, moods, attitude, or other
interpretive devices can become known as Blues Artists. B.B. King, Bessie Smith, Robert
Johnson, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Dee Daniels, and Muddy Waters are examples of a few. Their
unique way of making music melds the blues attitude so deeply in their music, that sometimes
they take compositions that have nothing to do with the blues progression or form, and make
them sound just like a blues tune! Listen to the following cut. Because of the way she sings this
song, Dee makes you forget that this tune is not a standard blues composition. You get so lost in
her inflection and bluesy presentation that its easy to let this straight up 32-bar AABA form
go without notice.
e Please Send Me Someone To Love by Dee Daniels, Lets Talk Business
By the way, I HIGHLY recommend you buy the above CD because of the incredible blues
influence evidenced in each song. If you love energetic blues interpretation, you will love this

Created by Dave Cazier.


Lets not forget Riffs!

A riff in a short melodic statement that can, and is, repeated many times over the blues
progression (and even non-blues progressions). The use of Riffs is strongly linked to the blues. A
lot of the fantastic songs created by the Count Basie Band, Duke Ellington Band, Benny
Goodman Band and more are almost completely riff based. This didnt seem to detract from their
popularity. On the contrary; tunes like One Oclock Jump , Jumpin At the Woodside, Two
Oclock Jump, Air Mail Special, Moten Swing, Corner Pocket, Perdido, Times a
Wastin, C Jam Blues, Oo Pop A Dah, and In a Mellow Tone, were popular because their
heavy use of riffs made them immediately singable, and catchy. Riffs are great to use as main
melodies, backgrounds, or improvisations. Get several goin at one time! They can easily be
thought up on the spot and passed around the group. Many are easy to harmonize as well.

O.K., lets get busy and apply this stuff!

One of our motivations was to be able to create our own tunes or arrangements using the blues
concepts. So, lets get busy doing it.

1) Learn the previous concepts.

2) Lets learn to sing the blues progression as a choir.
a) Pick a chord progression and form. I recommend using the basic 12-bar blues to start
b) Pick a Key. Apply your selected form/progression to a key, thinking about what kind of
range your singers have, and where some of the melodic ideas might lie. FYI: in jazz,
good blues keys are usually flat keys like F, Bb, Eb, or the ever neutral C. Country music
tends to favor sharp keys like E, A, B, D. Go Figure!
c) Voice the chords of your progression. Be as simple of complex as your singers can
handle. Just write them out in whole notes for each chord, well apply rhythm later. As
you voice the chords remember the 3rd and 7th is most important. If you want more color,
add the 9th or 13th . If your ear(s) are less akin to that much dissonance, roots and 5th s are
d) Sing the Changes. Now that you have your parts (voicings) laid out get used to singing
them in real time over the blues form & chord changes. Bring in the rhythm section too!
i) Sing whole & half notes on simple syllables or vowels at first.
ii) Start adding more complex rhythms and interesting syllables. You can think em up,
or let the students do it too. By the way, all a the voices should be singing the same
rhythms, not several going on at once.
e) Sing the Kicks! Work until your groups feels comfortable singing harmonized chords
over the blues progression in rhythms that you creatively pre-determine or, perhaps even
dictate to them as the song progresses. I call this getting them to sing the Kicks, or Kick
f) Youre half way there! These Kicks will become one possible option for backgrounds
behind the melody.

Created by Dave Cazier.


3) Add 3 cups of Melody and stir. There are a couple of options.

a) Use a soloist(s). Have some students create some blues lyrics or lift them from other
b) Use syllables and riffs to create and present your melody. It can be by soloists, small
groups, or section.
c) Prepare a set of Kicks or other riffs that go with your chosen melodystir uniquely each
chorus, i.e.
i) 1st chorus: Just melody
ii) 2nd chorus: Melody and a simple unison riff tha t compliments it.
iii) 3rd chorus: Melody and a kick, maybe combined with the previous riff.
iv) 4th chorus & beyond: Improvisation, adding background riffs and/or kicks as desired.
v) Ending chorus(es): return to the melody.
d) Practice creating or borrowing riffs in unison, and them harmonizing them
spontaneously. Just use your ears and sing within the chord progression now that youre
used to it.
e) Number or name your riffs & kicks and develop cues for them. This will allow the
director some opportunity to be spontaneous in cueing them behind soloists.

4) EXPAND! Be creative.

Develop several tunes using a variety of approaches: groups tunes, feature tunes.
Move on to featuring a soloist on a 16-bar blues, a Bridge Blues tune.
Try developing a tune based on 8-bar or minor blues!
Most of all, be creative, have fun, and Dig The Blues!

Attached: A variety of kick and riff examples.

Created by Dave Cazier.


Created by Dave Cazier.


Created by Dave Cazier.


Created by Dave Cazier.