11 August 2016


King Oliver and His Dixie Syncopators
James Sterling of Florida has established himself since 2015 as one of the leading video-historians of the contemporary New Orleans scene. One of his videos, filmed in June 2016, is of Tuba Skinny playing Farewell Blues (CLICK HERE TO ENJOY IT).

This tune was composed in 1922 by Elmer Schoebel, Leon Rappollo and Paul Mares for The New Orleans Rhythm Kings, who recorded it that year; but Tuba Skinny have modelled their version very closely on the 1927 recording by King Oliver's Dixie Syncopators (which you may hear BY CLICKING HERE). Oliver's version, in its turn, fairly closely followed the NORK original.

Watching it, I was reminded of the very simple and yet rewarding chord progression on which Farewell Blues is based. It is essentially a 16-bar A-A-B-A structure that goes like this:

I      | V7  |  I      | I
I      | V7  |    I    | I
VI7 | VI7 |  II | Io
I      | V7   |    I   | I

It is pretty well the same as the final theme of Weary Blues. This is not surprising because it is said that The New Orleans Rhythm Kings had the 1915 composition Weary Blues in their repertoire and developed Farewell Blues from that final theme. 

One reason why it is so attractive to play around with and improvise on is that the 'A' part is so simple; and the other reason is that the  chord and melody note in Bar 12 are nerve-tinglers. This is the most striking chord in the sequence. (By the way, some chord books give it as VIb7 rather than 1o; but this makes no great difference. Think about it: they are virtually the same.)

Farewell Blues is normally played at a steady and stately pace, whereas Weary Blues tends to be performed a good deal faster. But in all other respects, over these 16 bars, the chords you play and the improvisations you invent could be interchangeable.

Although Farewell Blues is little more than a simple 16-bar theme, the melody can be given some interesting treatments. For example, King Oliver (and Shaye in Tuba Skinny) both play the tune through first starting on the dominant (F in the key of Bb). It is as if they are harmonising a third above the melody. In later choruses, they do indeed start the chorus on the D. Later still, Shaye (just like  King Oliver) plays flattened 7ths at the start of all the 'A' Sections (another device that many bands employ effectively with Weary Blues).

So it's amazing what can be done (and what fun a band can have), even when starting out with a very simple blueprint.

Here's the 16 bars of Farewell Blues twice through - first starting on the F, and then in the D.
And here is the comparable theme from Weary Blues: