blues on the gig
Whether playing or listening to the blues, just about anyone who might be part of the scene can usually relate. The nature of the stories being told and the simplistic musical form in which they placed can draw listeners from all walks of life. When folks get together to jam, they often take turns telling stories to one another about important happenings in their life or the lives of others from years gone by. It's often a "been there done that" understanding of the theme of the story that helps everyone get emotionally and oftentimes actively involved with the music, playing, dancing, listening. When a blues story is being told, it is not uncommon for a "Amen" or an "I hear ya" to be heard from another player, listener, whomever, as the listener relates to the tale being told. As we become absorbed and the story unfolds, we are often compelled to respond simply by the qualities that make us human. Through impassioned testimony, the blues will cleanse the consciousness. Listen to the call... and respond, share your stories with those you love and others in your world, they are important. So, where does all this cool storytelling take place? At the gig of course.
Blues on the gig. Is there a musical "code of conduct" for blues players when gigging, sitting in or at a jamm session? Generally there is and it's about telling one's stories. When folks get together at a typical blues jam, say at a jam night at a local blues club, players who know tunes usually call a tune and a key to play it in. They count it off to set the tempo and once the music starts, tell their story. Once they are done testifying, the pass the leadership of the story to the next person, who continues the musical story by telling their version of the story. After everyone who wants to testify / solo takes a turn, the main melody / story is is repeated, often by the original speaker, and the tune ends. Here is a mini timeline of the above verbiage. Example 1.
|intro||play the melody||1st solo||2nd solo||3rd solo||repeat the melody||take it out|
So, variations to the above format? Absolutely, whatever works, but if you have no existing format, try this one, it will work in a lot of blues settings. Common variations?
No introduction. Players call this "right on it" and starts the song directly with the melody.
Play the melody. Oftentimes the melody is played twice with brighter, jazz style melodies.
Three solos? Of course this depends on who is in the band, but usually all those that want to solo get a chance to testify a bit. Form for solos? Most often the 12 bar blues form and chords from the melody. Theme and variations? Exactly.
Not repeating the melody? Not all that common, playing the head again provides a simple closure to the experience. In brighter tempos and especially instrumental jazz blues, tradition says to play the melody twice, both going into a song and going out. Advanced players have been known to omit the melody on occasion.
Take it out. Maybe add a cadenza or tag ending.
So, as with any other topic of study in our lives, knowledge of the subject gives a person more things to talk about. For blues musicians this means knowing a lot of blues songs, the words, melody, blues licks, chords and bass line of the tune, and maybe transcribing a recording of these songs by a favorite blues artist. From within this musical core is created the vocabulary of the artist, who shapes these ideas into their own voice for testimony, evolving their own recognizable artistic signature.
Sitting in. On what? Well, another person's gig is usually the case. The term "sitting in" is a slang term used to describe a musical situation whereby one player gets to play with another band or different groups of players. This is a generally socially accepted part of music scene and oftentimes adds an exciting component for listeners. Why? Well, in the real world, every player can potentially sit in on any gig? Really? Well, in theory yes. How so, sounds a bit risky? Well, it can be depending on one's level of understanding of the music. But coolness emerges for players and listeners alike, that one may never know who just might sit in ...
Along with this "open door policy" comes a deep respect for the players involved. Heavyweight players can usually sit in on any gig and only enhance the show and prestige of the players involved. Emerging players choose where to sit in perhaps a bit more carefully, so as to be comfortable and create their best music for all involved. The natural tendency I think is to want to strive to play with players a bit better than ourselves, increasing the challenge a bit, thus the learning and musical potential.
The bottom line about sitting in on a professional gig is perhaps most simply based on respect of the opportunity it provides for all society. That the musicians are all in one place, they have their instruments handy and depending on the job, might want to jamm a bit. The listening public is there, ready to encourage and critique the new voices emerging. It's sort of the American way of equal opportunity, whereby if a player has it together, the door of opportunity for advancement is open and no limits are set in regards to the level of achievement one might create if they have their act together.
Perhaps an important legendary tale ... From J.C. Thomas's book Chasin The Trane, that when a patron complained to Mr. Coltrane that they paid the cover to hear him, not some cat sitting in, legend has it that Trane turned to the guy and said words to the effect of ... "well how do you think I got my start."
Anyway, sitting in on a blues gig is usually pretty easy as the form of the 12 bar blues is very common, predictable and known by most experienced players while the pitches center around the 4 or 5 blue notes. Needless to say, this "sitting in" has been happening for a long time, is a good way to make new musical friends, get heard by band leaders when looking for professional work, to get your ideas a bit of exposure to the general public and listening audience, creates a way to get heard and have a bit of musical fun while making new friends and seeing old one's. So, essentially always a win / win situation if a cat's heart is in the right place. Cool with this?
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"You got to be careful if you don't know where you're going, because you might not get there." Yogi Berra