The first hit record by a self-accompanied bluesman was 'Papa' Charlie Jackson’s 1925 recording of his own composition: an up-tempo 12-bar blues called "Shake That Thing.” One of the most successful early solo bluesmen, Jackson played a six-string banjo tuned like a guitar.
Most often we think of blues and jazz as two separate genres of music. Jazz has a wider range than blues, drawing upon popular songs, theater songs, non-blues original
compositions and a vocabulary and tradition of improvisational melodic ideas other than strictly blues. But it is the jazz musician's inclusion of the blues, both in the formal sense of a 3-part song in 12 bars and the more general meaning of 'blue' tonal expression, that gives jazz its most defining character.
This week on Riverwalk Jazz we’ll discover how blues does not always come in '12-bar packages.' Some of the tunes on this week's show, like "Shake That Thing" and "Aunt Hagar's Blues" follow the familiar 12-bar structure of formal blues. Others have a strong blues feeling and even use the word 'blues' in the title, but are based on other song forms. New Orleans-born Topsy Chapman offers her soulful version of "I've Got the Blues for Home Sweet Home," a Tin Pan Alley tune made popular by Susie Edwards, one-half of the famous black vaudeville comedy team Butterbeans and Susie.
"Aunt Hagar's Blues,” composed in 1920 by W.C. Handy, is heard in a new arrangement by clarinetist Ron Hockett that incorporates an opening strain most likely contributed by pioneering cornetist and bandleader King Oliver. Duke Heitger joins the band on trumpet.
"Take It Slow and Easy" from 1919 follows a very simple, non-blues 16-bar form. In our version, guests Duke Heitger on trumpet and Clint Baker on guitar recall the hot version recorded in the 30s by the legendary interracial recording group led by Eddie Condon known as the Rhythmakers.
No matter what song form is used, The Jim Cullum Jazz Band performs all of their music with a heavy blues inflection, using bent notes, growls and "blue tonality.”
Photo credit for Home Page: 'Papa' Charlie Jackson. Photo courtesy Red Hot Jazz.
Text based on Riverwalk Jazz script Margaret Moos Pick © 2005