Sunday, January 22, 2012

The Blues Are Everywhere

Music is the oldest of all the performing arts. It encompasses the expressions of human joy and pain. It can tell you stories straight from the heart. Listening to Billie Holiday, the great jazz singer with a plaintive, pensive delivery, conjures a certain mood of reflection and introspection. Listening to Begum Akhtar has almost the same effect. The pain in the singing of both these ladies evokes reactions which are amazingly similar, although they came from different parts of the world, sang entirely different genres of music and in all probability were not aware of the other’s music.

There is a certain universality about music, particularly the blues. Music is a language with many dialects. The music called the blues would be, in this analogy, a modern day Latin or Sanskrit, a fount from which its many versions have sprouted. All jazz, swing, boogie woogie, rock & roll, rock and R&B have sprung from the blues. Jazz is its oldest offshoot. Interestingly, rock music has had a slight detour, taking a circuitous route. British musicians influenced by the blues (such as Mick Jagger by Muddy Waters) have evolved their own musical dialect based on their feel of the blues.

The blues structure of harmony and rhythm remains, although substantial stress on accent (aggressive drumming) and other deviations have created a new genre. This sound has preserved the elements and instruments of the blues but also deviates largely as a result of the arrival and now extensive use of electronics in music some 40 years ago.

Jazz musicians are at their peak of expression when they play the blues. They will tell you these blues are not always sad; they can be happy and cheerful as well. Just listen to John Coltrane playing ‘Alabama,’ Ella and Louis singing ‘Summertime’ or Duke Ellington doing ‘Mood Indigo.’ You’ll know what I mean.

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