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Blues and the Piano’s Role in this Uniquely American Music

Blues music, unlike many other genres of popular music, is distinctly American in origin. After more than 100 years, it is still a very important part of our musical and cultural fabric. It would be impossible to imagine classic rock, Motown, country, soul, funk, or hip-hop without the influence of the blues. Today, we will go over the basics of the blues and piano’s critical role.

Birth of the blues

Blues music as we know it began in the late 19th century, in the African-American communities of the Deep South. It has roots in European folk music, work songs, shouts, and ballads. It is characterized by a call-and-response pattern and specific chord progressions. The most common form of blues, which developed during the early 20th century, is called the AAB pattern. It consists of a line being sung over four bars, repeated over the following four bars, and then a different line to conclude. This is also called 12-bar blues.

Blues was one of the first genres of pop music to be commercially recorded. Bessie Smith, Robert Johnson, Big Bill Broonzy, and Blind Lemon Jefferson were some of the pioneers of blues recordings. Their work is worth seeking out.

The piano’s role in the blues

The first major use of piano in the blues began with the advent of boogie-woogie piano. Boogie-woogie first became popular in the late 1920s and early 1930s, and eventually wound up being played at Carnegie Hall in 1938. The boogie-woogie eventually was adapted by jazz big bands.

Ever since that time, the piano has played a heavy role in many blues recordings.

Greats of blues piano

Otis Spann (1930-1970) was considered by many to be the leading Chicago blues pianist of the postwar era. Although he was a sideman for Muddy Waters, he was also a fantastic vocalist in his own right.

The legendary Ray Charles (1930-2004) had one of the most distinctive voices and piano styles in popular music. He was beloved by fellow musicians across all genres and had millions of fans. His soulful singing and bluesy, jazz-infected piano playing made him a unique figure in music history.

Memphis Slim (1915-1988) made over 500 recordings in his lifetime, including his hit “Every Day I Have the Blues,” which became a blues staple for B.B. King, among others. He led numerous blues bands throughout his prolific career.

Champion Jack Dupree (1909-1992) was a New Orleans blues and boogie-woogie piano player who was also a great songwriter. His best known album was BLUES FROM THE GUTTER, was recorded for Atlantic Records in 1958.

Professor Longhair (1918-1980) was active during two important periods, the beginning days of rhythm and Blues, and the return of the popularity of traditional jazz. Like his contemporary Champion Jack Dupree, he was primarily a New Orleans Blues player. Although his rhumba-infused playing and unique singing style did not sell many records, he nevertheless had a long career and influenced many other players, including Fats Domino.

Be inspired

Search out the works of any of the above artists; they are worth checking out.

For keyboard and piano lessons contact Glenn Sutton at: 619-306-3664.

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