15-Blues - Blues: An Oral Tradition Music 126/Ethnic...

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Blues: An Oral Tradition Music 126/Ethnic Studies 178 Tuesdays and Thursdays, 11:00 to 12:20pm Instructor: Jeff Kaiser (jkaiser@ucsd.edu) TAs: Adam Goodwin, Nick McCollum, Adam Tinkle, Meghann Welsh
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Baby Please Don’t Go Big Joe Williams First recorded in 1935 Inspired by other songs: I’m Alabama Bound , Another Man Done Gone , Don't Leave Me Here , and Turn Your Lamp Down Low . Since recorded by Eric Burden and the Animals, AC/DC, Aerosmith, The Doors, MC5, Van Morrison, Bob Dylan. ..over 1000 times.
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What are the Blues? The blues are a tangle of contradictions ...about the musical form, not about the musical form ...are sad and funny, optimistic and fatalistic ...personal and communal ...involve frankness and indirection (coded meanings) ...associated with evil and righteousness ...about wanting to die, and wanting to live ...labeled “progressive” and “primitive” ...strong regional character and have traveled far ...about experiences and times that should never be lost and are best left behind ...heralded and despised by audiences black and white ...requires deep feelings and exacting musical discipline
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Difficulties in defining and studying the Blues Oral culture Blues probably emerged 1880s-90s First published blues in the 1910s First recordings from the 1920s Earliest recordings were of urban/commercial blues varieties Only later did record labels search out rural artists People often hear in the blues what they want to hear, find in the blues what they want to find Even then, “talent scouts” and folklorists were predominantly white with biased views of who/what they wanted to record and why Later revivalists/scholars (1940s and 60s) also sought “authentic” blues and blues artists, shaping the documentation and discourse In reality, most blues artists, even “rural” ones, were exposed to all kinds of music and played many different styles
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Four elements we will examine as part of the definition 1. Emotional 2. Commercial 3. Musical 4. Cultural Note: Definitions will overlap and diverge All will have shortcomings
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Emotional The color blue English, going back to 1550 “to look blue” Middle-English for blue is “bla,” sometimes spelled “blah”. .. Baraka ties it to popular blue colored clothing in Western Africa. A. Murray, says it is definitely European in origin. European “blue devils” Threatening, menacing, harmful, destructive demons, use dates to 1616 Metaphor for depression, 1787 For apparitions seen in delirium tremens, 1822 Sadness, longing, melancholy Problem: Blues has produced comical party songs and dance songs. According to Elijah Wald, the original blues rhythm was slow, but more about being sexy, than sad.
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Emotional Focusing on emotion begs the question: Does one have to have the blues to play the blues? (Muddy Waters)
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This note was uploaded on 03/23/2012 for the course MUSIC 13af taught by Professor Kaiser during the Winter '12 term at UCSD.

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15-Blues - Blues: An Oral Tradition Music 126/Ethnic...

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