Monday, November 29, 2010

All Blues - Miles Davis

This recording is possibly one of the reasons I decided to play music. I so often hear people say they like music, or blues even but they just don't like jazz. Miles Davis' album "Kind Of Blues" is the gateway drug of jazz. It is actually just a 12 bar blues itself in the key of G. It has a four bar vamp between each statement of the melody and between soloists that might throw you if you are counting from the top. When it should go to the IV7 chord it actually stays on the i7 chord but minor implying a C7/G. Also when it should go to the V7 to the IV7 chord it actually goes from bVI7 to to the V7 chord with no V7 turnaround on the final bar. He chooses the simplicity and familiarity of a 12 bar blues form yet subtly defies expectations. The melody is simple and played on trumpet with a harmon mute. There is a repeating bass figure (or ostinato) throughout. The piano plays a harmonic trill and the alto and tenor mirror the bass with a simple harmonized background figure. The drums play lightly with brushes finally changing to sticks for the solos, releasing the tension caused by such a soft medium tempo from the beginning of the song. The other oddity is the 6/8 time signature. It is all an example of Miles' mastery of arranging. Early on playing the harmonica I struggled trying to play the melody which used three different bent notes in the 3 draw hole. Frustration shortly lead me to the chromatic harmonica until I finally got the hang of it.

Miles was at the head of every major innovation in jazz. You may not like everything he has recorded at first but surely this album will get you. This was the beginnings of modal jazz.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Juke - Little Walter

If you have not already listened to Little Walter's Juke then you have been missing out. Every harmonica player should be familiar with this recording if not know how to play it. I haven't learned the whole thing myself but I've got at least half of it down. It is a simple 12 bar blues in E with a repeated riff. Notice how he doesn't change the riff on the 5th bar when the chords change but finally releases the tension on the 9th bar. On the second chorus the time gets messed up but they recover so well as a band I never noticed until I counted along. Walter repeats a simple riff but changes it's rhythmic phrasing while keeping the notes the same. I wonder if he did this on purpose or not but either way it through of the rest of the band. His ability to be catchy with note choice yet unpredictable with his rhythmic phrasing is what makes his way ahead of any of his contemporary harmonica players and still unmatched today. Any "Best Of" album is a must have addition to the collection.

Unfortunately like many a blues musician he lived hard and was lost too soon. Read more about him here: