Jazz versus Blues

Today in english class, we were discussing James Baldwins, “Sonnys Blues”. Anyway, we couldn’t come up with a good answer, so I’m taking it here. “What is the difference between Jazz and Blues?”

As a young musician coming into his own in improvisation, I’ve been asking myself this question an awful lot lately.

Keep in mind I’ve never taken a music class, so hopefully someone that knows a little bit more can answer better. Here goes:

I’m tempted to say that Blues is more structured, usually 12 Bars. Mostly a revolving progression so its fairly easy to pick out “verses.” It is often played with piano, bass, guitar, and drums (horns and other instruments are acceptable also, I’m just talkign about the kinda blyues that I play.) The guitar may just be rhythm, but modern blues is characterized by guitar solos. Think Buddy Guy and Muddy Waters. A different kind of blues would be Jimi Hendrix and Cream. Then think Stevie Ray Vaughn.

I know a whole lot less about jazz and have really just been getting into it. Its really more free form. Totally characterized by improvisation, although there is improvisation is in blues, too, which jazz grew out of. Blues tends to stay in simpler scales…pentatonic…whatever. Jazz uses a lot of whole tones, and a lot of weirder, wilder stuff. It can be really fast or really slow. Jazz is definitely a lot more diverse, but in my experience blues is more acceptable to an audience; I’ve always thought of jazz as a musician’s music. For jazz, I only know a few names: Duke Ellington being a pioneer, John Coltrane and Miles Davis being pretty popular.

That’s all I have to say about that. Let’s hope someone else can give a better answer because I would really like to hear one. :slight_smile:

The blues are generally much simpler, structurally. The blues are based around simple chord progressions, a particular type of timing, and scales with ‘blue’ notes in them. For example, the I, IV, and V chords repeated in a 12-bar pattern. In the key of C, that would be C,F,G. If you have a piano, go play those three chords, and you should recognize the sound. Of course, the blues is a wide field, and there is plenty of different forms. Sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between Rock, Blues, and Jazz.

Also, blues music typically puts a different accent on the notes. If I remember my theory, two eighth notes in the blues are played more like a triplet with the middle note missing. Or something like that. I could show you, but it’s kind of hard to explain.

Jazz is generally characterized by complex time and key signatures, and lots of complex time signatures and stuff. I must confess to not being a fan of much of the newest, most progressive Jazz, which often sounds discordant and chaotic to me.

BBC reporter: *What exactly *is jazz, Mr Armstrong?
Louis Armstrong: Man, if you has to ask, you’ll never know.

Off the top of my head, here’s what I can come up with:
Blues is generally regarded as a predecessor to jazz. There are certain similarities between the two genres. Both are very heavily based on improvisation and both make use (especially if we’re talking up to 50s or 60s-era jazz and blues) of swing time, i.e. elongating the first not of a pair of eighths and shortening the second.

Anyhow, what gives blues its character are the so-called “blue notes.” These are the flatted third, the flatted fifth/sharpened fourth (depending on context) and the dominant seventh. In the key of C, this would be the E flat, the G flat/F sharp, and the B flat. Another distinctive characteristic of the blues is the ambiguity between major and minor. You’ll have major chords as the harmony, yet you’ll still hear the flatted third in the melody. That and the fact that you’ll hear dominant seventh chords on the I, IV and V chords, where in classical harmony you would usually use the dominant seventh on the I and the IV (with some exceptions.)

Sam Stone made some good points. The traditional blues progression is: I,I (or IV), I, I, IV, IV, I, I, V, IV, I, I (V). That’s each chord for each bar of 12-bar blues. Most of your blues standards will fit this formula.
For an obvious pop example, try “Sweet Home Chicago.”
Remember, each of these chords can have the dominant seventh in them (And most often, do.) There’s also the 8-bar formula, more suited towards rock: I, I,I,IV,IV,I,I,V,IV,I,I (or V7).

Now, the classic jazz progression is “vi7-ii7-V7-I.” Jazz may have some elements of blues in it, but usually the scales vary around much more than in blues. Generally, in blues you stick with the same scale no matter whether you’re playing on the I, the IV or the V. (At least in the most traditional blues.) Jazz tends to move around more and doesn’t emphasize the flat-3, the flat-5/sharp-4, and dominant seventh as much as the blues.

I would say the “blue notes” would probably be the most distinguishing characteristics of blues. Without them, you can’t have blues, in my opinion.

ARGH!! I totally screwed up that 8-bars example. Try this:

In blues, the lead guitar tends to stick to the pentatonic (five note) minor scale. So if the rhythm guitar and/or piano is playing an A chord, the lead guitar will play an A minor pentatonic scale.

In jazz, on the other hand, a lead improvisation would vary according to the chords being played by the other instruments, so the melody would use different notes on top of an A minor7 chord as opposed to a D major(add9th). Also, the lead solo may use notes that are not usually a part of the chord, creating a more complex, harmonic sound, almost as if two chords were being stacked on top of each other.

But it’s hard to say that one piece of music is blues and another is jazz, because a jazz musician could always take an old blues song and transform it into jazz by adding some fancy chord substitutions, fooling with the time signature, and decorating the melody.

steve biodrowski

Jazz play basketball in Utah, Blues play hockey in St. Louis.

Sorry, but somebody had to say it…

Jazz guitarrist checking in!

They are entirely and completely different forms of music. This is not to say there isn’t some overlap between them, nor do I mean to say that their histories and evolutions haven’t crossed paths. But I would guess that very very few blues musicians could sit in with a jazz quartet on call.

I am not a music historian so I won’t pretend to know anything about where these musics came from.

About the music itself:
Blues is, at the most basic level, based on 5 notes (the pentatonic scale) and 3 chords (I, IV, and V)(e.g. C, F, and G). Traditional blues music has a very restricted stucture (chord structure on left, lyrical phrase structure on right in italics):
4 bars of I, a
2 bars of IV, 2 bars I a
2 bars V, 2 bars I b

That’s your standard 12 bar blues.
It is up to the skill of the musicians, particularly the soloists to make the music interesting using those 5 notes (plus some additional ones already mentioned which add color). In blues music, bending of notes is used extensively for expression. And as was said, blending of minor and major sounds (particularly with the soloist playing minor against major chords).
Learning how to play the blues (notice I’m not saying "how to play the blues well) is very easy and can be learned fairly quickly by most advanced beginners. The pentatonic scale is by far the most common scale first taught to beginner guitarists to use for soloing.

(BTW I’m just now continuing this post from a few hours ago when I had to suddenly leave to answer the Whose Line is it Anyway - with Whoopi Goldberg incidentally - call, so I hope I’m not being redundant because I’m not checking the thread first).

Jazz is a very difficult music to play. It is a very intellectual music and I often liken learning jazz to learning calculus. In that regard, learning the blues might be something like algebra.

First off, there is the jazz-blues form and this is where we find the most obvious crossover between the 2. The jazz-blues progression is a bit more complicated than the blues progression but when stripped down to its basic elements you realize that they are basically the same.
In case you are interested (and BTW it just occurred to me that the OP might not be a musician so I apologize if I’m assuming too much) here’s the standard jazz-blues (some bars have 2 chords so I’ll put dashes to separate the bars):

I - IV - I - I -
IV - IV - I - iii VI -
ii - V - I VI - ii V

You would not believe the amount of variations that you could make on this. Jazz musicians have many different ways of substituting one chord for another or even just modifying the same chord with added notes.
Now while virtually all blues is in one way or another related to the standard blues progression, the jazz-blues progression is only a small (though very significant) subset of what can be labelled “jazz”.
Though a great deal of the standard jazz repertoire was written by jazz musicians, much wasn’t. Like the blues, and unlike classical and rock, the composer is less important than the performer. A jazz tune is often simply something for players to improvise to. Lots of show tunes and folk and today even rock and pop are used by jazz musicians as part of their repertoire.

In jazz the key may change frequently and very quickly (even within the same bar). This means to effectively solo over some jazz tunes, the soloist must know a vast body of scales, and know them so well that they can use them without thinking so that they can concentrate on the music-making. While the blues musician more or less sticks to that 5 note scale (with some common blue notes), the jazz musician may use all 12 notes if he/she is skillful enough to make them work. Certainly bending notes is an option, but this is used much more sparingly than in the blues. Jazz musicians rely more on putting notes together in interesting ways for expression, rather than using one or 2 notes and making them expressive with bends.

Well, there’s really so much more to say on this but I’ll leave you with this for now. It would of course be much easier to do this if you had an example of each to listen to and compare.
Should you come across 2 such examples listen to:
the drums - in blues the drummer is likely accenting just the strong beats and playing a simple rhythm, while in jazz the rhythm is swung but the drummer playing a lot in between the beats
the bass - in blues the bass is likely also staying very simple and reinforcing the chords on the strong beats, while in jazz the bass is often “walking” between chords which is to say that the bass keeps a constant motion and approaches each next chord by small step (bo ba bee bum be bum badee bum).

Hope this helps. G’night.

As a decent blues player who is baffled by most jazz, I have to agree. I can get through most blues tunes just fine by ear on bass guitar, and when I played guitar, I could usually fake a lead line for most tunes. But when I try to play bass along with a jazz tune, I’m rarely able to find my place. Some jazz tunes are simple enough in structure, but many are very complex. I’m starting to try to learn a little jazz, but I don’t have much time to devote to it, and it’s slow going.

IAAAmateur jazz guitarist and the technical analyses here make very good points and are very instructional BUT. This is not a technical question and cannot be answered with a technical answer.

There is jazz, and there is blues, and is a huge overlap between jazz and blues. Jazz and blues probably have more to do with feel than any technical issues. Dave Brubeck’s Meadlowlark A La Turk (do I have the right tune here?) is definitely blues. It’s also definitely jazz. You can have a straight 12-bar blues progression but play it as jazz, and voila–you’ve got jazz. (It’s not so likely to take a random jazz tune and render it as blues, though.)

No, it’s “Blue Rondo a la Turk.”

Hey, Uke, nice to see you. Especially since it serves as a reminder that I had intended to move this kickin’ thread over to Cafe Society and forgot all about it!

Off it goes.

I’m not sure I understand the difficulty in distinguishing the two genres; surely the best way of distinguishing them would be say listening to musicians from both sides of the divide (e.g. compare Louis Armstrong & Robert Johnson; or Charlie Parker & Muddy Waters; I think the differences would be obvious). I assume much of the confusion here is because jazz players will play “blues”, a particular standardized form (12 bars divided into 3 sections of 4, which work variations on movement between the tonic, subdominant & dominant), which derives from the blues as a genre but is not played that way. I should point out that it’s entirely misleading to define “blues” strictly in terms of 12 bars–in fact if you listen to early blues recordings you’ll find 16-bar blues, 12-bar blues, 13-bar blues…this only became standardized later on. – Can’t find the posting on here at the moment but someone said that jazz derived from blues–only in a very loose sense is this true: the immediate origins were in ragtime & stride styles. – I don’t understand the comments in this thread about jazz being in complex time signatures; like the blues, it’s almost inevitably in 4/4 time (though since the 1960s, 3/4 & 6/8 time have become popular too). I take it the intention was to point to the way in jazz offbeats are accentuated (the standard swing pattern emphasizes beats 2 and 4), & that the drummer rarely plays straight time but instead may decorate or obscure it for effect. Someone here describes blues phrasing as replacing pairs of eighths with an implied triplet feeling; this is true of jazz too, it’s called “swing eighths” (& the second, shorter note in the pair is usually slightly accented). These are all minutiae though–just listen to a few recordings of each genre & the differences are clear enough.

I should add that jazz has often had an ambivalent relationship to the blues (despite claims of critics from Baraka to Crouch about the closeness of the connection). There’s a terrific discussion of this in Scott DeVeaux’s book The Birth of Bebop, which I do highly recommend. If I remember rightly it’s in the chapter dealing with the Billy Eckstine band (Eckstine wanted to be a suave, polished ballad singer, & was appalled to find that his band’s big hit was a crude blues called “Jelly, Jelly”).

Ouch. Pick other references. Both Satchmo and Bird were DRENCHED in the blues.
manny: (Hmmmmmmmm…OP is a factual question…early responses simply redolent of intelligently reasoned music theory…why IS he moving it to the Cafe?

Oh, well, never mess with a GQ Mod, especially if YOUR back-up weighs 120 pounds dripping wet and he’s got **JillGat ** on his side)

I should add that the Blues does not have to be ‘simple’ or ‘easy’. Sure, the basic structure is fairly straightforward, but it’s what you do with it that matters.

Saying that the blues is simple is kind of like saying that English is simple because there are only 26 letters. But putting them together to create ‘MacBeth’ was some trick. (-:

Uke: yes, of course: but I thought the question though was about what separates the genres. “Blues for Alice” for instance is a classic Parker blues but it’s a million miles away from anything you’d find Muddy Waters or BB King doing. (On the other hand there’s a sliding scale: Parker’s “Now’s the Time” was if I remember correctly adapted into an R&B hit, “The Hucklebuck”.) There is certainly common ground between genres (witness “jump bands” for instance like Louis Jordan), & in the early days of jazz such distinctions weren’t as clear-cut as they now are (e.g. consider the duets recorded between the “jazz” guitarist Eddie Lang & the “blues” guitarist Lonnie Johnson). But the comparisons I suggested don’t seem to me by any means absurd.

Perhaps the most useful short explanation of the distinctions & connections between the genres is in Jazz: The Rough Guide, ed. Carr, Fairweather & Priestley. I’d post the entire article here but it’d fall afoul of the Dope’s laws against copyrighted material: so I’ll just toss in a key paragraph:

The writer here could have gone on to discuss the incorporation of “folk” blues back into the 1960s jazz avantgarde by players like Mingus & Ayler.

They’re not; I was just being an old fusspot.

As your quote from the Rough Guide states, Armstrong and Parker injected a lot of blues into their jazz soloing…but you’re right, no one’s going to mistake them for Charley Patton or Buddy Guy. If you had picked Dizzy Gillespie and Lee Konitz, say, two first-rank jazz musicians who are not noted for playing blues at all, I woulda kept my mouth shut.