This week is all about the blues. The color? No. I'm talking about the musical genre. You could even say that it's a delayed tribute to the late "King" of blues, B.B. King.
Now then, if you have never heard of or listened to the blues, let's have a brief history lesson, shall we? Blues is not only a musical genre, but it is also a musical form (music form is basically a formal/informal structure that a song follows). Its origins hail from the southern parts of 19th Century United States with roots primarily coming from the African-American community. The music was never really written down, it was passed along by word of mouth. The music itself has heavy hints of jazz and ragtime. The lyrical content consisted of old spirituals and poetry that were written about troubled times, hard luck, and great emotional content. While the music was sang all throughout the south, it was primarily developed over in the New Orleans area.
The biggest thing that we can remember about blues is its form. Its form, known as 12 Bar Blues (shown below), has been passed along for the last 100+ years and is still alive today in blues music. The form is a chord structure that moves us between the tonic (the I chord, or tonal center. Think of tonic as the "home base" chord of a song), subdominant (the IV chord), and dominant (the V chord) chords. The numerical numbers (redundant?) in the image seen below represent measure numbers, or "bar" numbers. The roman numerals represent the chords, as stated before, that you would play during each measure, or bar. In measure 10, you can see that moving to the subdominant is optional, and the optional chord change to the dominant in measure twelve is used when repeating the entire 12 bar blues again.
Other than its form, blues music also has its own SCALE. That makes it super legit, right? The blues scale can be seen in the image below. As you can see, the Blues scale has the following scale degrees: 1, b3, 4, b5, natural 5, b7, 1. You're basically spelling a minor pentatonic scale, but you are adding the flat 5 scale degree into the scale for some extra tasty jams.
Now that you know a little bit about Blues music, who do you start listening to? I'm so glad that you asked! There are so many different people that you could listen to. If you wanted to go with the heroes and pioneers of Blues, Louis Armstrong and Duke Ellington have various blues-berry jams you can listen to. As stated at the beginning of this post, B. B. King, in my opinion, has been the most recent "King" of the blues.
Now, all of that being said, my reason for wanting to talk about the Blues this week is because of an album I recently listened to. It's one of the better Blues albums I have listened to, and guess what? It was written by an Englishman. The album is none other than Didn't It Rain by Hugh Laurie.
Hugh is best known for his leading role on the television series, House. M.D. Throughout the series, there are snippets of Hugh playing piano or guitar on the show, and when the show ended, he recorded and released this album. Personally, I knew he was a musician, but I had no idea the caliber of talent he had within him. Didn't It Rain is an incredible blues album that consists of blues scale, form, and lyrical content. Every song is an absolute masterpiece that takes this classic genre and keeps it living in the modern era. The biggest reason I think this album is significant is because Hugh was born and raised in in Oxford, England. Even though he's from England, Hugh is a huge fan of jazz/blues music. He has even stated before that "Jazz is America's greatest gift to the world." If you have not heard the album yet, I definitely recommend it as a listen.
Until next time, I leave you with this image of Hugh on the Colbert Report. Thanks for reading.