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  • Re: When I realized I could never play full-time in a "blues" band

    I agree with MMM and Pete that if you don't love the blues and have a real feel for it, then obviously you won't enjoy playing it. And you won't likely play it very well either. Part of the problem is so many think the blues is easy to play and only has 3 chords. Yes, just like the saxophone, it's easy to play...badly. So you get tons of bands butchering the music. The same happens in other genres (especially rock). Not as much in jazz because it's reputed to be more difficult, but there are plenty of hack jazz musicians out there running scales all over the place, which is the epitome of boredom.

    Anyway, to put a more positive spin on this thread, here are a few guidelines to prevent boredom for those who do love the blues and want to play it (as Pete says, no one is forcing you to ):


    1) Get a good rhythm section, a GOOD one. Without a solid bass player and drummer you don't stand a chance.

    2) Learn to play a variety of blues styles. There are several (Chicago, swing, jump, Texas, New Orleans, etc) styles and rhythmic types. No need to limit it to 'shuffles in G or E.'

    3) Learn variations on the standard I-IV-V progression: 8-bar, 16 bar, 24 bar, blues with a bridge, ii-V7 instead of IV-V (jump blues especially), iii-VI-ii-V turnarounds, and minor blues. Minor blues progressions can sound very different than the standard 'major' blues.

    4) Use intros and head arrangements to bring in the vocals. Louis Jordon did this all the time (for ex., Caldonia, Good Times Roll). As a sax player, in some cases you can double up with the guitar on these, which can be very effective. Also devise and vary the endings. One huge difference between a hack 'jam' band and a 'pro' band are polished intros and endings (very important!).

    5) There is a lot of room for improv and solos in the blues, so you can take advantage of that and get creative, especially if the band plays some substitute changes and different forms (#3, above).

    6) Play some instrumentals. Learn some 'soul jazz,' blues jazz type of tunes that may still be danceable, and/or some funk tunes to play for variety. A few instrumentals actually help support and make the vocal tunes stand out, and vice versa.

    7) Keep the volume under control; most real blues fans (believe it or not there are more of them than jazz fans, although there's plenty of overlap) don't want their eardrums blown out and the 'real' blues are not meant to be played at ear-splitting volume.

    8) As a sax player, learn as many backing riffs, horn lines, and horn arrangements as possible. One of the fun aspects of playing blues on the sax is to step in with the rhythm section and play backing lines. But don't overdo it. Lay out on some verses, and don't play over the singer.

    Ok, that's enough. I could think of lots more, but if you apply most of the above, and you get some good musicians to play with (very important), I don't think you'll be bored playing the blues, nor will your audience! But of course if you don't even like the blues, then play something else. OTOH, if you do like the blues, but get stuck in a hack "blues jam band," move on or recruit some musicians who want to dig in and do it right.

    Sorry to go on so long....
    This article was originally published in forum thread: When I realized I could never play full-time in a "blues" band started by saxguy007 View original post
    Comments 9 Comments
    1. piwikiwi's Avatar
      piwikiwi -
      Amen, at the keep the volume under controle part. But i think that applies(spelling) to all music
    1. chknbon's Avatar
      chknbon -
      Quote Originally Posted by piwikiwi View Post
      Amen, at the keep the volume under controle part. But i think that applies(spelling) to all music
      As to the points JL makes, 1,2,& 6 stand out to me. A "rock" only, bass player will suck the groove out of a blues band. And soul jazz is so gripping. Gene Ammons, Lockjaw, Turrentine are inspirations for tenor players.
    1. jazzznbluezzz's Avatar
      jazzznbluezzz -
      That is about a fairly standard middle-of-the-road blues band formula like there are
      so many around. Get a drummer, get a bass, get a guitar and a sax, wear a leather head and you are a blues band.

      What i am missing here is that you got to have ability to put soul and feeling in your playing.
      Blues is all about feeling. If you can play no more than 3 notes in a blues tune
      but you play them with all your heart it'll sound much better then if you play all the notes
      you can hit. Keep it simple. There are not many musicians around these days who have the
      courage to play simple.

      Also I disagree with the fact you can't play the blues without a drummer and a bass.
      The blues can be played in any setting. Even with only your foot stamping the floor.
      Blues is all about tone and soul!
    1. warp x's Avatar
      warp x -
      Quote Originally Posted by jazzznbluezzz View Post

      Also I disagree with the fact you can't play the blues without a drummer and a bass.
      That's not what he wrote. He meant if you're forming a band, get a good bassist and drummer.
    1. adrian's Avatar
      adrian -
      JL...hi man.Great post thanks. Section 3.....The turnaround thing, nice one. I have heard it before.....short term memory. Not a jazzer...Red Prysock.....Sil Austin.....Cliff Scott...."king of the hill"....Lenny Picket....take it easy.....adrian
    1. adrian's Avatar
      adrian -
      Pickett....sorry Len...
    1. Alroquez's Avatar
      Alroquez -
      Like the advice (new member). One question on the topic of playing sax in a blues band: You talk about not overwhelming the singer. I've heard blues tracks where the sax (or horns) comes in after the second verse and play a minimal role and others where the horns take up a much larger role in the song. Is there a standard? I know the sax is not a lead guitar, but how much in the background should the sax be?
    1. Doug Sonju's Avatar
      Doug Sonju -
      Amen to volume control. The Salmon Armenians (on the web) about a year ago stopped micing the the three horns in the smaller venues we frequently play. (This only after a guitar player who wore "musician earplugs" quit and I was about to.) We try to adjust the solo vocal levels just above the solo horn levels with a band member out in front to check. It is up to the guitar/keyboard/bass/drums to listen and balance, and the horn section plays mf on the backing licks.

      Mostly it works. And when it does, we have a sensitivity that allows even the sax soloists to vary their dynamics and play something meaningful. At least in these smaller venues, very few paying customers will complain "the band isn't loud enough."

      If you play a big room or an outdoor stage, all you can do is pray for a good sound man or two. My experience is that these prayers are only occasionally answered.
    1. saxxist's Avatar
      saxxist -
      Quote Originally Posted by piwikiwi View Post
      Amen, at the keep the volume under controle part. But i think that applies(spelling) to all music
      This advice reminds me of a night in Syracuse, in (I think) the late 80's. Ronnie Earl and his band were playing, and whoever was on the board kept ratcheting up the volume. Ears began to bleed. I had to cover mine; it was actually painful. Then Ronnie himself stepped up to the mic and yelled, "Turn the ******n volume down. This ain't no ****ing rock band." We loved him for it.

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