The background history and development of the blues

The main influence of blues music was African music which has a strong and steady beat using drums or other instruments. Its beat and singing showed in the blues.


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Work songs and field hollers were an influence on blues. They were mostly made up as the musicians were singing.


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They were a mixture of storytelling and talking with a definite call and response. Religious music was very important in forming blues music. Because most blacks went to Christian churches from an early age and were exposed to Christian hymns. Ragtime was an influence that came later and is a faster blues played with the piano and someone singing which was usually played in bars called barrel houses. Most country blues were played with an acoustic guitar and with someone singing.

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It also has a definite call and response between the voice and guitar. Jazz musicians play from printed music and they improvise solos.

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From the collective improvisation of early jazz to the solo improvisation of Louis Armstrong to the free jazz of Albert Ayler, Ornette Coleman, and John Coltrane, improvisation is central to jazz. Listen to Mr. Marsalis's explanation of improvisation. To learn more about composition and improvisation , play this jazz game on the PBS Kids website.

Louis Armstrong Photo: William P. Swinging means being in sync with other people and loving it.

Swing as a jazz style first appeared during the Great Depression. The optimistic feeling of swing lifted the spirits of everyone in America.

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By the mids, a period known as the "swing" era, swing dancing had become our national dance and big bands were playing this style of music. Learn about the swing rhythm and listen to how the vocalists accent the second and fourth beats to create that rhythm. These accents give the music a sense of motion and make you want to dance. Duke Ellington: Master Composer. Duke Ellington Photo: Library of Congress. A new style of jazz was born, called bebop, had fast tempos, intricate melodies, and complex harmonies.

Bebop was considered jazz for intellectuals. After thousands of African American farm workers migrated north to cities like Chicago and Detroit during both World Wars, many began to view traditional blues as an unwanted reminder of their humble days toiling in the fields; they wanted to hear music that reflected their new urban surroundings. In response, transplanted blues artists such as Muddy Waters, who had lived and worked on a Mississippi plantation before riding the rails to Chicago in , swapped acoustic guitars for electric ones and filled out their sound with drums, harmonica, and standup bass.

This gave rise to an electrified blues sound with a stirring beat that drove people onto the dance floor and pointed the way to rhythm and blues and rock and roll.

A History of Blues Music

In the s and early s, the electrified blues reached its zenith on the radio, but began to falter as listeners turned to the fresh sounds of rock and roll and soul. In the early s, however, as bands like The Rolling Stones began to perform covers of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf , aspiring white blues musicians in the United Kingdom helped resuscitate the genre.

In the process, they created gritty rock and roll that openly displayed its blues influences and promoted the work of their idols, who soon toured England to wide acclaim. Although happy to be in demand as performers again, many veteran blues musicians were bitterly disappointed by seeing musicians such as Led Zeppelin get rich by copping the sound of African American blues artists, many of whom were struggling to survive.