View Full Version : Was it blues or was it swing?

Hilarity N. Suze
11-08-2005, 02:43 AM
I just went to a jazz concert with a friend. She kept saying things like, "I love jazz---but I don't know a lot about it, you know all about it. What's the difference between a jazz orchestra and a jazz ensemble? Is that a silver clarinet? What kind of jazz is this anyway?" Etc.

Okay, I am not claiming to be an expert. The ensemble had 5 saxes, five trumpets, four trombones, a piano, a guatar, a bass and, of course, drums. The jazz orchestra had five saxes, four trumpets, four trombones, piano, bass, drums, guitar and a violin (but only for one number) (thank goodness). So I'm guessing the difference between orchestra and ensemble is "violin."

It was not a silver clarinet. It was a soprano sax. The same guy who played it did play a clarinet for part of one number.

As to what they were playing, that was easy--when we got there they were playing "Mack the Knife" and they were swinging. They went on to "Splanky," "Bebopper's Blues," and "I Gotta Right to Sing the Blues." At this point the leader finally talked to the audience and said, "You can see where I'm coming from tonight. I'm playing blues!"

So my friend said, "I thought you said it was swing."

Well, that's what I thought they were playing...Then she asked what the difference was. I muttered something about how you can swing the blues or not and they were playing the blues, okay, but in a swing style...but this concert was at the Lamont School of Music, they are experts and I am not. Is "Bebopper's Blues" blues or is it bebop? And why?

However. They ended with a Mingus tune called "Moanin'" which, despite appearing on an album called Blues and Roots, is swing. I know this because it says so on the liner notes. (And the baritone sax player took it a little fast.)

11-08-2005, 02:56 AM
These aren't really discrete categories. I don't know the specific song, but you could play something that's clearly bebop and still in a blues form. Saying it's a blues doesn't exclude other styles since it's often just a form, and swing often describes a 'feel.' A lot of bebop songs were based on older popular music.

Jazz grew out of the blues, too, so basically - good luck figuring it out.

11-08-2005, 03:17 AM
IME, which is not completely catholic in any way, 'swing' is the pop music of the 1930s-1940s and is up-tempo and danceable. 'Blues' adheres to one or more of the 'forms' and is always sung as well as played. 'Jazz' is anything you can get away with. ;) More seriously, it intersects damn near everything and is probably more diverse than even the rock übergenre.

I await someone to school my punk ass. ;)

11-08-2005, 03:27 AM
"Big Band."

11-08-2005, 03:29 AM
Reminds me of a funny story: I worked with a guy who one day claimed "He loves the Blues!". So, I told him I just happened to have a really good CD in the car. I put Son House on the box and he looks like someone pissed in his Wheaties.

Turns out, his definition of "Blues" was Kenny G.

Sage Rat
11-08-2005, 03:37 AM
I generally go that if it sounds like blues it's blues, if it sounds like jazz it's jazz, etc. regardless of "how" they are playing it. Of course that gets one in trouble since what the music sounds like has very little with what people feel like calling it at any given point.

Case in point would be Queen's of the Stoneage's "No One Knows" is essentially a rocked out version of say Judy Henske's (I believe folk music) Master of Love. Most people would say its by a rock band and played rocked out so it's rock, while to me it sounds like a folk song played on electric guitars at a fast tempo with the setting on 11 thus it's a folk song.

I don't believe there is any right answer.

11-08-2005, 03:38 AM
... 'Blues' adheres to one or more of the 'forms' and is always sung as well as played. 'Jazz' is anything you can get away with.
As Marley23 rightly points out, jazz was born out of the blues. From his book titled Visions of Jazz, Gary Giddons points out that shortly after Handy's publication (by another publisher who denied royalties to Handy) of Memphis Blues in 1912 the twelve bar form (up to then songs were dominated by 16 bar strains) was born and what had been deemed ragtime before now suddenly became blues soon to be called jazz. Many, many "blues" have been instrumentals and this certainly includes a vast collection of "jazz" songs along the way.

Jeff Lichtman
11-08-2005, 05:28 AM
Blues is a form, while jazz is a performance style. A blues number uses blue notes (flatted thirds and sevenths), uses certain chord progressions and often (but not always) is in twelve-bar form, with the first four bars repeated and followed by a different concluding four bars. One can tell whether a piece is in blues form by looking at the sheet music.

Jazz is harder to define (some would say it defies definition), but it involves syncopation and improvisation. Swing is both a rhythmic device and style of jazz. Rhythmically, swing is the alternate stretching and compression of beats. Swing music is the style of jazz most popular from the mid-thirties through the mid-forties - it is usually played by big bands with a heavy emphasis on "swinging" the rhythm and less emphasis on solos and improvisation. Generally, one must hear music being played to tell whether it is jazz - the form of the music on the printed page doesn't tell you this (although there are certain jazz standards that are almost always played in jazz style).

There is a set of playing styles that people associate with blues bands. Generally, these are derived from country blues, which was performed by guys like Robert Johnson, Son House and Charley Patton. Even the electric blues players like Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Elmore James et al. have their roots in country blues.

Many blues numbers lend themselves to a jazz treatment. St. Louis Blues and other W.C. Handy compositions are played more often by jazz bands than by blues bands. A lot of jazz and swing standards such as In the Mood are in blues form.

11-08-2005, 08:50 AM
I always thought the only way to define blues was through a specific time signature (which escapes me at the moment). It is a technical designation, regardless of "feel" or lyrics. I'm not a musician, but I'm the sister and daughter of jazz musicians. The subject comes up.

11-08-2005, 10:34 AM
There are many styles of Jazz.

Swing or Big Band, Be-Bop, cool, weird, various fusions. and some would even say Dixieland and Ragtime.

I would say that blues is to Jazz like folk music is to rock.

You can play Blues with any instruments but at it's heart it's a guy with a guitar.

11-08-2005, 02:52 PM
I always thought the only way to define blues was through a specific time signature (which escapes me at the moment). It is a technical designation, regardless of "feel" or lyrics. I'm not a musician, but I'm the sister and daughter of jazz musicians. The subject comes up.

No, not really. Blues can be notated in 4/4 or 12/8. Same with swing. Both usually have a swung, triple feel to the beat, but this is not absolutely required. While 12/8 is probably a more accurate reflection of the feel of most blues tunes, even that notation is a little bit imperfect as the swing in blues doesn't always correspond exactly to a 2+1 subdivision of beats. (There's a whole thread about this here (http://boards.straightdope.com/sdmb/showthread.php?t=336269).)

What generally defines blues is the following:

1) 12-bar structure in the form of I-(IV)-I-I-IV-IV-I-I-V-IV-I-I (all dominant sevenths, more on that below).

2) Use of the blue notes (minor third, augmented fourth/flatted fifth, and dominant seventh). Even the flatted third is a bit of an approximation, as the blue note is really somewhere between a minor and major third.

3) Use of one scale for the entire song. Whereas in most jazz your selection of notes change based on the harmony, for traditional blues, you use your same 6 notes over the I, IV, and V chords. (in addition to the aforementioned blue notes and your tonic, you also have a fourth and fifth in a blues scale).

4) The harmonies are generally all dominant chords. Whereas having a IV or V chord as a dominant seventh is pretty common in Western music, a tonic dominant seventh (for example, in the key of C this would be the C7 chord) is very unusual, and a stylistic device pretty much exclusive to the blues.

5) Traditionally, each verse is structured in an AAB form, in which the lyrics and melody are repeated (with minor variations) before the conclusion of the lyrical and melodic thought. For example, "I hate to see the evenin' sun go down/(I said) I hate to see, that evenin' sun go down/Cuz my baby, she done lef' this town." Or more, popularly, "Hidee-hay, baby dontcha wanna go?/Hidee-hay, baby dontcha wanna go?/Back to that same ol' place, sweet home, Chicago."

Now, of course, as the blues evolved many of these initial rules have been bent and adjusted (after all, you do have 8-bar and 16-bar forms as well). But those are the general ground rules. To say that time signature is the only way to define blues is simply incorrect.

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