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Thread: Blues licks

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    Blues licks

    I notice when I listen to jazz that every once in a while during a solo the player will throw in some blues licks. I was just wondering if there was any specific situation/chord progression in which you would play a blues lick or if you can just do it whenever. Thanks

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    Piano/Compose/Arrange engelbach's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by namyrb View Post
    I notice when I listen to jazz that every once in a while during a solo the player will throw in some blues licks. I was just wondering if there was any specific situation/chord progression in which you would play a blues lick or if you can just do it whenever. Thanks
    namyrb,

    Welcome.

    One wants the melody created during an improvisation to flow naturally. A blues lick or any other melodic phrase may or not be appropriate to that flow. It's not dependent on any particular chord progression, but rather up to the taste and discretion of the player.

    Cheers,
    Jer
    Jerry Engelbach, piano/arrange/compose
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    Jazz Artist, Author EdByrne's Avatar
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    Virtually any situation can be blued. Stanley Turentine made a career out of this--even on standards. Bird said, "everything is the blues." One could say, "in jazz, the blues is everything." Moreover, the blues will work over virtually any chord, chord progression or succession, or harmonic style.

    One device I noticed a great deal in playing with masters such as Chet Baker, Red Rodney, Lionel Hampton, etc., was that they would often use the blues in the last eight bars to come out of a long improvisation on a standard or original tune containing a lot of changes. This signals to the jazz audience that you are "comin' home," and always gets a response from the audience when done well.

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdByrne View Post
    Virtually any situation can be blued. Stanley Turentine made a career out of this--even on standards. Bird said, "everything is the blues." One could say, "in jazz, the blues is everything." Moreover, the blues will work over virtually any chord, chord progression or succession, or harmonic style.

    One device I noticed a great deal in playing with masters such as Chet Baker, Red Rodney, Lionel Hampton, etc., was that they would often use the blues in the last eight bars to come out of a long improvisation on a standard or original tune containing a lot of changes. This signals to the jazz audience that you are "comin' home," and always gets a response from the audience when done well.
    I like that "comin' home" description, that's cool. Or even. "Hey Momma, I'm gonna bring it on home, here I come now!" You're so right, the greats pull that off with aplomb and it's always a feel good moment when done tastefully. Here's a question though, when you say a blues lick can lay over any chord, do you mean the major or minor version? I get confused when people use this terminology as I was taught that a blues scale is always the minor pent plus b5 passing note, not the major pent with the b3 passing note, although that is a "blue" note right there- and hence perhaps the confusion?
    Another question, when you say Bird claims "everything is the blues", we obviously think he means all jazz is, but even so, how does he mean this? By referring to the tensional flux that is all about tonic-subdominant-dominant-tonic, or something less general? To me the curious thing about blues is not so much the 3 gears, you know, "home-moving from home-coming back home" etc, but the succession of tonic to subdom then back to tonic. The "gear shifting" between the two is the unique thing about blues, or at least a way that it differentiates itself from say Rhythm Changes where subdom usually finds a dom or substitute dom before winding back to "home". To me that is more unique than the fact that you can use dom chords for the whole tonic-subdom-dom trip in blues, or am I tripping?
    Mysterious thing this "Blues" phenomenon, kinda defies analysis don't it? It really is just a feeling, and so powerful that it can just impose itself on just about anything. I remember hearing a pianist (you'll know who of course) recording in high school where the guy starts "Moonlight Sonata" and morphs it into blues. Impressed the shit clean outta me at the time, who was that?

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    Jazz Artist, Author EdByrne's Avatar
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    As Jer says, you have to use your ears--and your taste and judgement. However, in theory any blues scale will work; but for the notes other than the blue notes, you have to consider the context.

    Here is another basic consideration: In general, one can flat a note; but sharpening a note can be problematic. For example, you can always choose to flat the ninth, tenth, or a fifth of a dominant chord; but it can sound wrong to sustain a perfect fifth on a dominant seven flat five. Another example is the flat three blue note, which always "works" on a dominant chord. However, the opposite can be tough (a major third on a minor chord).


    Blues Harmony

    The blues is a language. Harmony is non-essential and coincidental to the blues. The blues establish themselves as such—with a priority note—without any help need from any accompaniment whatsoever. In their relationship to European major and minor tonality, the blue notes were sung against tonality—while remaining independent of the accompaniment. The flatted fifth developed long after the flatted third and seventh. Blue notes are characterized by their un-fixed slurs and sliding pitches, a salient characteristic shared with African musics.

    When it went on the road with Ma Raney & then Bessie Smith, it coalesced into eight, twelve, sixteen, twenty-four, and thirty-two bar forms—when replaceable road musicians were needed for the shows. Before that, with the country blues, recurring forms were not needed. Placement of the blue notes as the sevenths of the I, IV, and V chords, making them 7th chords of a kind (blues chords) came later. It was the only way a keyboard could both play the basic I IV V tonal harmonies while including the blues.

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    Ed's conceptualization of the blues should give anyone a world to think about, and I agree that the blues is all about feelin' it. Hearin' it.

    However, if you're looking for little tricks, I do have one that maybe fits as an answer to your question. I love to use blues licks for any heavy minor V i resolution. By heavy I guess I mean pretty definitive, like the G7 going to Cmin7 on Stella as opposed to the minor ii V i in the A section of Confirmation. If you've got at least a measure or two of that minor i chord it can often be a great place to drop in a big fat bluesy line. Like a nice slow one to answer some previous measures of eighths or sixteenths. That's what I like to do anyway. It's just the kind of thing that has its place sometimes and not others. Take the A section of Softly as a Morning Sunrise - some really thick blues works great there again, often as a compliment to more beboppy lines. On the other hand a tune like Be Bop, which has a similar A section, just doesn't feel as right for using blues licks. But maybe that's just a tempo thing.

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    Yeah, but there's blues licks and there's blues licks, like comparing BB King to Cannonball Adderley..... I never heard anyone slip in bluesy lines in the unlikeliest places like Cannonball. I think he was even better at it than Bird, dare I say....

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    Quote Originally Posted by EdByrne View Post
    Here is another basic consideration: In general, one can flat a note; but sharpening a note can be problematic. For example, you can always choose to flat the ninth, tenth, or a fifth of a dominant chord; but it can sound wrong to sustain a perfect fifth on a dominant seven flat five. Another example is the flat three blue note, which always "works" on a dominant chord. However, the opposite can be tough (a major third on a minor chord).

    .
    Ok, how's this, in a iim7b5-Valt-i try playing the major third against the ii chord. I love that sound! Sure it forces a kinda II7b5 sound, but the clash against the min 3rd in the comp works for me. I like to hold it for the duration of the chord and resolve it to the alt chord.

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    Blues Licks

    Personally I would wait with the blues licks until the chord progression was a I, IV, V progression. John Mclaughlin does this a lot. Some guitarists hardly ever play blues licks. I can usually tell when the chord progression is getting "bluesy"
    sometimes the rhythm might change from 7/8 to 4/4 or 3/4, that's when I would go with the blues licks in my arsenal.

  10. #10
    Guitar edrowland's Avatar
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    I think it's worth drawing a distinction between licks and lines. Real Blues Players (tm) seem to take a very different approach to playing than jazz players.

    It's difficult to generalize about blues -- there so many different styles of blues. But BB King is a great example. There's a huge difference between a BB King solo and a typical jazz solo. Not just the length -- BB King's solos are typically 4 or 8 bars long, or sometimes an entire form; but rarely longer than that. But also the content tends to play of a much more restricted set of things that get done. In BB King's playing, licks really do play an important role. He comes back again and again to shapes, that are very similar. It's common for the exact same phrase to show up again and again from tune to tune, perhaps with minor variations. The word "lick", in my mind applies directly to these tightly constrained stereotypical lines that show up commonly in blues.

    Blues is definitely a core part of the jazz vocabulary. Probably about 1/3 of all tunes are explicitly 12-bar blues forms, with many more that feature blues progressions at some point in the tune. And it's pretty difficult to find a tune that can't take a blues line at some point in the tune.

    But the vocabulary and approach to blues in jazz is very different. The squared-away I IV7 V7 changes of blues-blues are rare in jazz. Blues changes in jazz tend to encourage a much more chromatic line than blues changes in blues. In jazz, the general rule for blues tunes is: find some ingenious way to make it different. (e.g. 3/4 time, augmented harmony, bV subs, minor blues, extended ii-Vs in the turnaround, and an endless list of other permutations and combinations). So the pure concentrated lick approach of blues players is less successful.

    In jazz, I'd say "vocabulary" more accurately describes the way that jazz players incorporate blues sounds into jazz. Jazz players take a more generic approach to playing over blues: lines are generated by more generic, broader rules than they are in blue-blues.

    The results of blues players trying to play jazz, and vice versa, are interesting. I've heard a couple of good blues players shift over into jazz in the amateur circles that I travel in.

    Blues players who switch to jazz start off sounding a little dull. Their playing is too tight, and the stereotypical licks of blues do too much violence to the more subtle changes in jazz blues. Not to say that they don't have a place, but every jazz-blues tune is radically different, and trying to bring the same approach to every one isn't the right thing to do. In each case, players who made the switch seem to have absorbed jazz vocabulary over a period of months, and produced better and better results as they absorb more and more jazz vocabulary.

    And I can personally speak to trying to play in the other direction. Without the more subtle changes of jazz blues to drive my improvisation, I find it difficult to gain any traction against the simpler changes of blues-blues. The things which give my playing traction over a jazz blues -- chromatic lines, extended ii-Vs, shifting between diatonic and blues tonality -- don't work at all. Jamming with blues players leaves me feeling naked, and deeply unsatisfied with what I'm playing. It may be partly because I don't speak the language. But also, I think making stuff up on the fly doesn't generate strong enough lines over simpler blues-blues changes. I find I don't have enough vocabulary to make things interesting without being able to bring to bear the more concentrated and intense licks that a blues player would have in their arsenal.

    Another fundamental difference between jazz-blues and blues-blues, for guitar players that's worth mentioning. Bends are almost entirely absent in jazz-blues, and are the meat and potatoes of blues-blues. Traction is driven into jazz-blues by the harmony; traction is driven into blues-blues by much more lyrical and intense melodic lines.



    All that to say: "blues licks" is a very awkward term to use when talking about jazz blues.

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    Great post Edrow! But I'm sure if you're serious about getting some "blues" blues chops , it won't take as long as it would for the strictly blues guys to learn some jazz lines...

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