ANOTHER KIND OF BLUES (Jazzy Blues) - Michael Dyer (c) 2013
In an earlier blog I mentioned different genres of blues. Well, I left out one (an important and interesting one), namely, jazzy blues.
Over the last year I have gotten interested in a subset of songs that belong to what is commonly called "The Great American Jazz Songbook". I have been exploring the musical structure of famous jazz songs from the 20s ("Ain't Misbehavin' - Fats Waller), from the 30s ("It Don't Mean A Thing" and "Sophisticated Lady" - Duke Ellington), the 40s ("Angel Eyes" - Matt Dennis & Earl Brent), and the 50s ("Lullaby of Birdland - George Weiss & George Shearing, 1952). I've examined over 100 songs and in doing so I have discovered a kind of blues whose musical structure I was not very familiar with. Examples of this genre of jazzy blues are:
"Cry Me A River Arthur" - Arthur Hamilton 1953
"God Bless The Child" - Billie Holiday & Arthur Herzog Jr. 1941
"Story Weather" - Harold Arlen & Ted Koehler,1933
"'Round Midnight "- Thelonius Monk, 1941
In this kind of blues, diminished and augmented chords are often used in place of the standard dominant 7th and minor 7th chords that appear in the blues. Consider "Stormy Weather". Here is the first and last lines of the first verse (the first 3 notes are rising and are: d#, e, g, where "/" indicates "go up" while "\" indicates "go down" and "\\" indicates dropping an octave):
G+ d# / e / g C Cdim Dm7 G G+ d#/e C /g\\g
Don't know why … there's no sun up in the sky - Stormy weather. …
Dm7 Ddim C
…Keeps rainin' …a-all the time.
Here, the word "don't" starts on d#, which is the augmented note of the G chord. G+ indicates an augmented G (that is, the 5th of G is raised a half-step, from d to d#). Ddim indicates a diminished D (a diminished chord is a minor chord where the 5th is also dropped a half-step). Augmented and diminished chords give many songs their jazzy feel.
In "Stormy Weather", for example, the use of diminished and augmented chords (especially when sung in bent-up or bent-down) can give the listener the feeling that the singer is in drug-inducted state of heroin or alcoholic-based dissipation!
The use of major 7th chords also gives songs a jazzy sound (unlike dominant 7th chords, which give only a bluesy feel, without that jazzy sense). Here is the beginning of "'Round Midnight":
Dm/D Dm/C# Dm/C Dm/B Dm/A#
… It begins to tell, … 'round midnight,
The "Dm/C#" notation here indicates that a D minor chord is played with the C# note being its root (or bass note). You can see that the bass line of these chords is dropping by half-steps: D, C#, C, B, A#. The C# is the major 7th note of the D chord.
These kinds of musical structures are common in jazzy blues (but not in standard blues). Any musician who learns them will have a broader palette with which to work when writing blues songs.