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20 March 2017

Post 488: 'BLAME IT ON THE BLUES'

Recently I recommended the storming version by Ken Colyer's band of Blame It On The Blues. You can listen to it here:
This is such a good number that it is worth a closer look.

Fortunately, Lasse Collin ( http://cjam.lassecollin.se ) - that great benefactor of jazz musicians the world over - produced a lead-sheet of this piece on his website. So we have a good clear version of the music to work from.

Here, with thanks to Lasse, is his lead-sheet.


This piece was composed as a Rag for Piano in 1914 by Charles L. Cooke.

It is typical of its time, comprising two 16-bar themes in one key followed by a more leisurely 32-bar theme in which we modulate into the key a fifth below. This final theme was called the 'Trio' - a term whose usage dates at least from the classical music of the 18th Century.

Think of At a Georgia Camp Meeting, Climax Rag, Hiawatha Rag and Buddy's Habit. They are constructed in a similar way.

Our jazz band version of Blame It On The Blues is remarkably faithful to the original sheet music, (using Lasse's labels) in Themes A and B. But what we play as Theme C (the Trio) is a simplification and reinterpretation of the notes Cooke wrote for the piano. Here's his original Theme C (The Trio). Note that it also had a 4-bar Bridge which our bands do not play:

Theme A, in Eb Concert, is very lively, with much swooping down the octave. B is simple but exciting, because it clambers up through the arpeggio of the Chord of C diminished. This is a very effective device (also found in Memphis Shake and Dusty Rag).

Normally, bands play A - A - B - B - A - before relaxing into C. This final Theme has a good though more leisurely melody, but in the related key of Ab.

Note that, throughout this piece, the chord progressions are basic and memorable. This is a reason why it is a good number to play - and not too difficult.

Playing ends with as many improvisations as desired on Theme C. The chord pattern here is straightforward, familiar, and a joy for clarinet players to work on.  Note what Ian Wheeler manages to make of it in the Ken Colyer recording.

Conclusion? It's a very good tune, a joy to play and hear and - dating from over a hundred years ago - historically interesting and important. Let's play it.