A musical genre is similar to a spoken language, with its vocabulary, terminology, grammatical rules, punctuation and so on.
Consequently, a musical tradition preserves elements distinguishing its language following specific rules about:
– scales at certain intervals
– typical harmonies
So far so simple. By its nature, the Blues avoids too many-fixed rules. It developed in a context with low predetermined details and a lack of formalities.
Everything comes spontaneously, take it or leave it, almost uneducated and yet in its way productive. More than a written language it’s like a spoken language made of dialects and slangs acquired with the listener’s passion combined with the musician’s mileage.
The straight experience of practices orally transmitted and acquired by ear leads the Blues to be ‘the traditional genre’ par excellence.
Afterward, the whites tried to transfer the notes on paper.
Notwithstanding, passages are by their nature changeable because subjected to subsequent variations according to the mood of the musician. This practice led to improvisation forms which then developed in jazz.
What would “jazz” be without blues? Probably a language without a spine.
I listened to musicians who bypassed the blues jumping right away into the jazz. The result? Complex sentences and mental executions, close to a mere academic exercise. Notes which, like a river in flood, spread at random all over.
Too obvious are considered simple and complete sentences, hence too easy to play.
When the essential features of a language get poor, it disconnects from its roots to become something else.
As Miles Davis teaches, it’s not only necessary to play the right notes, i.e. the ‘black’ ones, but also avoiding to play too many.
So the need to know how to use silence, which translates into a wise use of pauses.
Imagine the listener hit by incessant quatrains of sixteenths shot without breath! You get bored right away. From the musician’s side, the one who plays them without listening to what he is doing, never seems to tire.
It may sound like a paradox, but sometimes the desire to amaze, to show one’s ability at all costs in a self-celebratory way, are temptations that can take over and over, if not managed.
That is why a musician, over his artistic career, should better preserve the healthy passion of listening to other music, rather than always his one.
When it comes to the blues, the listener-musician captures the mood, the accents, the howling blue notes, the vibrato, all those underlying or openly declared feelings that pop out of the stave lines.
If none of this happens, before the doubt of not being able to get emotions arises, it is better to go on a journey of research, further miles away. Sometimes it’s just a matter of looking elsewhere. Yes, because often the notes that we find by chance without effort are not enough. We need to search further, wide to the borders.
So one day we find a phrase that moves something inside because it has content. Sequences of notes and harmonic progressions set on a rhythm that hits and takes us away.
Now we know where and how to search. It also works with people, places and everything we love to have around us. When we become aware of what we like, we have done a step forward as people and musicians. Through a rigid selection of what we are passionate about, we also manage to convey something coherent, a personality, our style.
At this point, it is not a choice, but a natural consequence.
It is normal to find things that leave us impassive in a musical genre.
In the blues, we can find all and its opposite: passion and indifference, transgression and tradition, black and white, sexual charge and forced abstinence, religious gospels and profane voodoo practices, prison blues and songs of freedom, and then again walking, talking blues.
The one who has a blues, as it’s common to say, is someone who has something to say, who has a story lived personally, not necessarily sad. The sadness in the blues is commonplace.
Here we are talking about someone who communicates and wants to involve others.
It is perhaps for this reason that we immediately loved the blues, it was love at first sight, certainly not a simple youthful itching since it still lasts.
The success of the blues all over the world has always symbolically represented the revenge of oppressed people, it is the history of many years ago, but it is always nice to remember it because never as in this case music has contributed to the integration of different cultures.
And then in the strictly instrumental sense of how to resist the transport of rhythm, the energy that branches out to further styles and genres like ragtime, boogie, swing, jazz, rock, country, enters songs and ballads up to multi-ethnic mixes.
A journey of infinite contaminations because in any case in the blues the road becomes more important than the destination itself, as in the stories of Kerouac.
It doesn’t matter if it’s the high road, a mule track or maybe the crossroads of the movie Crossroads.
Rather, in real life, it is better to avoid pacts with the devil not to risk being with tied hands for a life long.
Sometimes in our existence, we might have to decide where to go, otherwise, as in the song by Jimmy Cliff, we might find ourselves “Sitting in Limbo”, waiting for someone to take us along a road that we have not chosen instead.
Wow! it’s getting late now. I had to tell you about my Cd ‘Miles of Blues‘. In truth, it’s not so easy to talk about our music. On more, the notes we play go deeper inside than the written ones, for those who listen to them, for those who still believe in them.