kevin “b.f.” burt was doing a solo set, playing a bunch of blues stuff. he has a great voice, gets around on the guitar nicely, and can handle the harmonica that’s strapped to his face. old al green and bill withers charts stood amongst classic blues tunes, and the soggy crowd ate it up. He was really putting on a clinic with these tunes. I am not a blues fan, meaning that I don’t go to blues gigs or buy blues records. I must admit, “b.f.” was getting it done and I was digging it. the congregation of curious and zealous hawkeyes were showing him love too. how can the blues, a equally niched art form, appeal to so many casual listeners while jazz music often turns people away?
my friend james biehn invited me out to a blues jam session several years ago. not really my hang, but i respect jb and wanted to go hear him in his environment. woah - that guy killed it, marking the first time i had ever heard someone play the blues and had it really connect with me. i sat in with he & his friends later that night, and proceeded to take a big deuce on a blues jam. i couldn't stop playing bebop lines and free jazz angles, even though i was floundering mightily while attempting to get inside of the simple groove the band was putting down. the blues - it sounds so easy, but is so hard for me to play.
the trick, i have since decided, is to water it all down and deal with the necessary components of good music. generate ideas that you can repeat, ideas that you can sing, develop those ideas, ride the dynamics of the solo like a surfer, and occasionally rip off a handful of fiery licks that augment what you're doing. the difference between jazz blues and blues blues, in my opinion, is the intent. blues guys are holding their heart out in front of you and wringing it for all it's worth. jazz guys stick their axe out in front of you and try to jam all sorts of wild shit into a simple form with hopes that it all looks good on paper.
i attended a performance masterclass thingy at the university of northern iowa a few years back. the guests were the dave binney quartet; craig taborn, thomas morgan, dan weiss, and binney himself. they are incredible musicians and have been a part of many many wonderful recordings. during the q&a, one of the students asked the players to do a blues. the idea would be to provide a universal song form that everyone could follow (instead of their intricate originals) and gain a deeper appreciation for their collective artistry. they refused. seriously. were they backing away from that challenge or just so stubbornly driven by their own pursuits? however they sliced it, it sure was a buzzkill.
i totally get it, both sides now. i feel like i'm kicking a bad habit. sticking to my guns and following my newfound criteria keeps my ideas more genuine and accountable, and certainly at the risk of sounding like i can't get around the horn. i often think of that scene in "the jerk" when steve martin is leaving the house and says all he needs is that lamp. playing blues, for me, needs to be about resistance and efficiency. i mean, really - do i need the paddle game too?
fighting the urge to dump the contents from my limited bag of tricks all over the stage floor will certainly require more artistic maturity out of me. i am constantly reminded of joke/story about the young bull, the old bull, and the pasture of cows. that's sort of a crass synopsis of being thoughtful and patient. daniel tosh's summarization of the summer olympics gets my point across, and is definitely funnier.