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Blues Legacy in Jazz Music

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The roots of jazz music are to be found in many venues and areas; from art to the diversity of social blankets and experiences people have gone through, from sorrow to joy, from elation to misery, jazz seems to have fed itself a bit from every aspect of life. But there is one root of jazz that seems to overwhelm the others, namely the blues. Blues music has gone through several stages of development and has managed to become the "underground aquarium that would feed all the streams of American music, including jazz" (Ken Burns' "Jazz" documentary, Ep.01).

Though, at first hearing, blues tunes seems to be simply structured, using just 3 chords and a few choruses , it allows millions of variation, adding to the improvisation factor that will stand to be the most awe- provoking aspect of jazz performances. The apparent simplicity of blues music has been played with in a great number of ways along the years. If in the late 1800s, the poor African- Americans used a guitar, a harmonica and a powerful sad voice, things evolved with the adding of blowing instruments, drums and basses at the beginning of the 1900s. Blues music's evolution was organic, it mend itself naturally to the fashion of the times to become the music that, when listened to, one immediately associates it with America, with all of its history, hardships and diversity of people and feelings.

Blues music was born in the South, specifically in the Mississippi Delta, and migrated along with the poor African-Americans to the cultural and cosmopolitan city of New Orleans, Louisiana. These men were seeking for jobs on the docks of the city, trying to escape a very segregated environment where they were still being treated as slaves. In New Orleans, the situation of the blacks was not much different either; with the Jim Crow laws in force, the blacks seemed to find no escape from their position of inferior human beings and had yet to become truly free.

For many blues players and listeners, this type of music was the only outlet for a momentary freedom that they could think of. Blues music was about getting rid of your blues, of your worries, pains, injustices. To "have the blues" means that one is overwhelmed with melancholy and sadness. Blues music was not made to make you feel blue, but to relief you from the blues. It is expression of one's feelings in its truest and purest form. It is honesty, in front of yourself and in front of others, captured artistically in a nutshell of music and sorrowful lyrics. The bitterness that came from being treated as an inferior, from being free only at the surface, from being different and coming to a phase where you could only identify yourself as being different, culminated in the shape of the blues. More than anything, the bitterness came from the perpetual guilt of not being white, from the self-hatred of their "otherness".

One of the commenters in Ken Burns' documentary considers that the blues is about "finding meaning out of a situation that seems to defy finding meaning in it." As the situation the African Americans found themselves in seemed to be without escape, at the limit of utter absurdness, finding meanings and solutions was impossible, but the blues gave an escape gate from this impossible situation. Blues gave liberation from the burdens of reality through the mere honesty used in expressing one's pain, healing in the same time some of the wounds that the hardship of being different have left.

In the latter part of the 19th century, the most popular form of entertainment across the country was the minstrel shows. These were basically shows that made use of humor, plantation songs, lively music and a quirky sort of elegance in order to renderer life on plantations. White actors disguised themselves into blacks in order to play slave parts, but there were African- American men performing in the orchestra as well. These types of shows grew in popularity in a blink of an eye, crossing the country from North to South, from East to West, making everyone familiar with their concept of entertainment, reaching white and black people alike. Their popularity rose because they used and abused stereotypes about African- Americans, their culture, their living habits, their songs. Some African-Americans actually came to a point where they identified themselves with the degrading characters presented in the minstrel shows. Blues music was the



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