I Try to Write a Blues That Doesn’t Really Sound Like A Blues…but only if You’ve Already Decided What A Blues Sounds Like
One Saturday morning, several years ago I wrote a blues for solo piano that didn’t really sound like a blues. Or did it?
The thing is this: you say “blues,” and it comes with a lot of baggage, good or bad. But can you actually define what a blues is?
Blues as A Respite from Blues?
So that Saturday Morning Blues gave me the idea that I could write a set of blues that purposely avoided reference to standard blues cliches, (even though I love the standard blues cliches,) but still stayed more or less in the 12-bar blues form. Why do this?
To see what was there, to see what would happen.
So listen on. The main track here is that first “New Blues” (as I’ve come to call them), the one I wrote that Saturday morning 11 years ago.
Episode #10 Transcription
This is a blues?
Well, yes, it’s a blues because it follows the blues form and you’re thinking: no way, that doesn’t sound like a blues at all. Where are the standard blues mannerisms, the licks, the little things like this
That sort of thing. And by the way, I do love that sort of thing. Those blues gestures, licks, whatever you want to call them,
I’m going to write a blues. So I did, I wrote the one you just heard and I noticed something about it, but I’ll come back to that. But I decided after writing this one in c major was that I was gonna write a blues every Saturday morning and I would call them collectively “Saturday Morning Blues”. Nice. It seemed like a good idea. It’s a day of rest. The Sabbath, even if you’re not particularly observant as I’m not, but I love this idea of taking a break from the routine. The routine for me at the time and pretty much still is writing music, recording, editing, teaching
Well, I did this for three weeks and then I started, of course, to realize that was becoming a routine. The very thing I was trying to avoid, so that idea went by the wayside. But what I noticed about this first one that you just heard was that it had a kind of mellow Saturday morning feel, a lack of the normal stress in my music, the normal Sturm und Drang, the battle. It was more placid, not in a bad way, but just in a kind of relaxed way. It’s a way of saying I’ve been through the five days, the battle of the five days, now I’m going to just slow down a bit. And I wrote that one in c major and I thought, okay, I’m going to write a cycle of these in all the keys, the major in minor, so there would be 24 of them in all: c major, a minor, g major e minor, d major B minor and so on.
It’s a cycle of fifths. If you don’t know what that is, go look it up. This is not a theory class. So I wrote a few of them and like I said, after three weeks it felt like a routine. So I kind of put it aside, but then I’d come back to them, not necessarily on a Saturday morning, but as a part of my regular routine of writing, rewriting, recording, rerecording, so forth. And I was going to write my, in my ambition 24 of these and I was going to call it 24 new blues. It’s a kind of exercise in forcing myself to think about the blues in a different way.
Well, as soon as I came up with that idea, being a contrarian, even to myself, I decided, well, if I’m going to write 24 new blues, I better write 24 old blues as a counterpoint to the new blues. So I started to do that. Here’s an example of one or part of one in g major.
So I’m sure you could hear the difference. That’s more in a traditional pianistic blues style referencing Boogie Woogie in a way from the forties the styles of Albert Ammons Meade Lux Lewis. Great Piano Players from that era, but in my own voice as well. So now I have on the agenda 48 total blues.
This is insane, but this is what I do. I set up these rather lofty, ambitious goals with the idea of creating a kind of framework for me to work in. It’s a context, right? Everybody needs context to create or do anything. Now, as of this moment in time, May of 2019, 11 years after the fact, I’ve written maybe seven of the new and four or five of the old, but I’m still going to call them 24 new blues and 24 old blues with the idea that I’ll probably never write all of them, which may seem kind of sad, but I kind of like the irony of calling it that and never quite getting there or even close. But who knows?
But all of this talk about the dichotomy between 24 old style blues and 24 new makes me think about the idea that maybe there’s something in between. Blues