10 December 2015


Blind Blake (1896 - 1934)
The 12-bar blues is, of course, one of the staple components of traditional jazz. No concert is complete without one. Audiences seem to love them, especially if some (e.g. Squishin' Bees or Shake That Thing) are played at rock-n'roll tempos.

Yet many musicians I have spoken to are not so keen. They find the 12-bar blues too formulaic, too repetitive. They notice they are playing virtually the same solo in several different blues. They want different challenges and more variety. So they prefer to include no more than two 12-bar blues in a concert.

Many tunes called 'blues', of course, do NOT fall into the 12-bar structure, so musicians object less to playing them. Tishimingo Blues is a good example, with a pleasant harmonic progression: its Chorus comprises 32 bars. (It also happens to have a 12-bar Verse - but that is hardly ever played.)

Wild Man Blues is another very appealing number - but it also comprises 32 bars.

Basin Street Blues is very popular but it is not a 12-bar: it uses a 16-bar theme, based on The Georgia Progression.
Atlanta Blues, Michigander BluesBig House Blues, Jazz Me Blues, Wolverine Blues, Winin' Boy Blues, Wabash Blues and Faraway Blues are all very appealing to play because they have good melodies and (in some cases) challenging structures. But not one of them is a 12-bar blues.
And then there are some famous blues that DO incorporate 12-bar themes but are so interestingly composed, with multi-part structures (possibly including a change of key or a section in a minor key) that everybody enjoys playing them. Examples are Royal Garden Blues, St. Louis Blues, Riverside Blues, Savoy Blues, Yellow Dog Blues and Beale Street Blues.

But here's an idea for adding a bit of interest to a routine performance of a 12-bar blues. Play Too Tight Blues, as performed by 'Blind' Arthur Blake (the great guitarist) in 1929. Too Tight Blues is actually an EIGHT-Bar Blues, the melody and chord progression of which are very easy to pick up. When you play it (with or without vocals), you can do what Blind Blake does: throw in some choruses of improvised 12-bars, using the standard 12-bar chord progression. Then you have some variety. You can pick it up from Blind Blake with the help of YouTube: