Blues (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)

Blues (Jazz Age Jazz Series) For a long time, between the end of the XIX and the beginnign of the XX century, blues was bound so tightly to the African American community and cutlure that nobody outside that culture heard of it

Jazz Age Jazz - Blues


“Blues is always about wanting to be someplace else but making the best of where you are.”
— Francis Davis, The History of the Blues: The Roots, the Music, the People (Cambridge, MA: Da Capo, 1995)

There are a couple of resons used to explain the name of this music:

  • Blues is short for “blues devil”, a term that was frequently used in America at the turn of the XX century to describe sadness or depression.
  • Blues make use of the “blue notes”, which are played at a pitch lower than the major scale and give the song a haunting, melancholy tone.

B (AtoZ Challenge 2016)In many ways, blues is easier to define than jazz. But there is more to this music than the definition expresses. It’s true, blues songs often speak of misfortune, betrayal and regret, which is what the general public normally think when considering blues. But while the words speak of personal hard luck, the music itself is about overcoming that hard luck. Blues is about saying what you think, ridding yourself of frustration and simply having fun. The best blues is visceral, cathartic and strongly emotional.
There are definitely elements of blues in jazz music, though blues emerged a lot earlier in the same place where jazz manifested itself half a century later.

After the Civil War, African Americans came to the realisation that although slaves had been emancipated, freedom and equality were still a long way away. That was the feeling out of which this music was born.

Mamie Smith

Mamie Smith

The language of blues is a cultural code that finds its origin deep in the African American cultural and historical experience. It is not necessarily an intentional hidden message, like the ones in slaves’ spirituals and working songs, but rather a more intuitive message, some kind of metaphor that comes from a communal experience that was distinctively African American. For this reason, blues was for a long time circumscribed to the black community, the only one for which it had a deep cultural and historical meaning. Segregation, which was part of that same experience, allowed the evolution of blues in its own independent way. For a long time – and even after jazz became the most popular music of the nation – blues remained a music that few outside the African American community would hear.

But inside that community, blues created quite a stir.
From the beginning, it broke with the tradition of African communal creation of music and it was rather a personal expression of a communal experience. Bluesman and  blueswoman wouldn’t sing with the community being bart of it, but stand alone and sing to the community, even if they would express a communal feeling. This position implied authority on their part.
Those were men and women who performed in disreputable places and sang songs that often contained bawdy, very explicit lyrics. They weren’t considered the best representatives  for an entire, struggling community. Still, as they expressed their people’s feelings toward life and future, they ended up competing with preachers’ and politics’ authority on the matter.
Soon, that controversy would spread onto jazz.

JAZZ AGE JAZZ - Blues #AtoZChallenge #jazz The roots of the music of the soul Click To Tweet



Ogren, Kathy J., The Jazz Revolution. Twenties America and the Meaning of Jazz. Oxford University Press, New York, 1989
Sullivan, Megan, African-American Music as Rebellion: From Slavesong to Hip-Hop (PDF)

All About Jazz – A brief history of the Blues
Shmoop – Blues Music History – Introduction
Diffen – Blues vs. Jazz


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About the Author

I was born, raised and I still live near Verona (Italy), though I worked for a time in Dublin. I started writing fantasy stories as a kid. Today I’m a bookseller who reads fantasy, history, mythology, anthropology and lots of speculative fiction. Somehow, all of this has found its way into my own dieselpunk stories.

70 Comments on "Blues (AtoZ Challenge 2016 – Jazz Age Jazz)"

  1. Fascinating! It’s a privilege to learn from such a dedicated jazz historian!

  2. Interesting. Both sad and optimistic you might say (since Blues music was also about overcoming one’s troubles).

    Pioneer Women in Aviation A-Z

    • Music, like all forms of art, is so weird. You feel it at a intuitive level, but if you understand a bit of its history and contest, it becomes so much more enlighting. Don’t you think?

  3. Blues has various interpretations but it definitely has a unique feel from other music. I wrote a blues song once about someone losing their love. I’m an amateur lyricist so there is no music to it but I want to get it composed professionally one day.

  4. Enjoyed learning more of the history and back story of Blues. I’m really liking your theme so far!
    Mary Burris recently posted…#AtoZChallenge A is for ArethaMy Profile

  5. Great detailed history. I was unaware earlier..

  6. I have never read so much about music. Never gave it so much thought before, you know. It’s a new experience reading your posts in this challenge.
    Do hop over to my blog sometime. I’m writing a series on happiness.
    – Chicky @
    Chicky recently posted…A to Z of Happiness: B – Believe #atozchallenge @AprilAtoZMy Profile

    • You know? When I started researching my novels, I was a bit scared by the fact that soem of my characters would be musicians and that a great part of the story would happen in a place with music. But as I researched, I discovered that there is a lot more about music than the music itself. It’s a way of life. And not just fo rthe artist.

      Thank for stopping by 🙂

  7. I like listening Blues… it’s good to learn something about its history 🙂
    Zeljka recently posted…Bolshoi TheatreMy Profile

  8. Felt like I was back on Bourbon Street. Great Blues song by Bessie Smith. Always so sad. Thanks for visiting my site for B-Day! Will be back on Monday.

    Gail’s 2016 April A to Z Challenge
    B is for Breathe Deep
    Gail M Baugniet recently posted…B is for BREATHE DEEP #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

    • That song is beautiful, isn’t it?
      Bessie Smith is my favourite singer from the 1920s. When I hear her singing I always think that ejoying her performace live must have been an incredible experience. Such a voice! Such a heart!

  9. Great to learn the history of blues and get such an in-depth analysis. Context always adds a different dimension to the enjoyment of art. Thanks.

    Nilanjana Bose recently posted…B is for BuddhaMy Profile

  10. Great post. Lots of wonderful information there. Thanks

  11. One of the best blues guitarist in the world (at least as of the Memphis world competition two years ago), Little G Weevil, is Hungarian 🙂 We are proud of him. My dad also plays blues guitar, although not professionally. I grew up listening to it. 🙂

    @TarkabarkaHolgy from
    The Multicolored Diary
    Tarkabarka recently posted…B is for Beauty, Body, and IdealsMy Profile

    • Thant’s wonderful!
      Here in Verona there is one of the most popular jazz festivals in Italy, Verona Jazz. I’ve never been there, but now I’m starting to want to go 😉

  12. Hi Sarah
    I really enjoyed this post, found it very enlightening. I am happy to have found your blog:)


  13. Such a wonderful and detailed post! Thank you for this. I LOVE blues and jazz because they are so expressive. Especially blues. They make me “feel” and I love being able to connect with an artist.

    Jen Chandler was Here
    Jen recently posted…The 2016 A-Z Challenge brought to you by The Letter “B”My Profile

    • When I started my story, I had never listened to jazz before. Then, as I researched and learned about it, I started to became curious and now I really like it. I don’t know whether I would have come to like it anyway, or if knowing the history helped me get into it. But well… that’s how it went 😉

  14. I worked in a New Orleans-themed restaurant for five years and we had local blues/jazz acts five nights a week, and on occasion national acts. I didn’t know much about the blues before I started working there but I sure do now, especially our local scene (which is quite big). The place is closed now but man I miss those days!
    Megan Morgan recently posted…B – BackstoryMy Profile

    • That’s so cool, Megan! Then I might be mobbing you about my story in the future.
      Kidding 😉

      I’m not an expert of jazz or blues by any stretch, but I did my best to learn as much as I could about the social aspect of this music.

  15. The conflict behind blues – modern music sometimes does the same thing now, it’s seen as divisive, immoral, by the powers that be, but real music made from the heart always has something to say (can’t say the same about the mass-produced mulch that comes from some pop studies though).
    Sophie’s Thoughts & Fumbles | Wittegen Press | FB3X
    Sophie Duncan recently posted…Murder Most Foul! – B is for Body – Cozy Mystery #AtoZChallenge 2016My Profile

  16. Fascinating. Good to know about the history and background about Blues! Thanks for sharing 🙂
    Shilpa Garg recently posted…Believe #AtoZChallenge @AprilA2ZMy Profile

  17. Delighted to have connected through the A-Z Challenge! I’ve enjoyed learning about the history of jazz! It’s made my day!

  18. Thanks for sharing and defining the blues. Great post
    @Ma_holloway from
    If I Only Had A Time Machine

  19. I love the Blues! When my husband and I first started dating we lived at a blues club and we saw everyone that come to town. Another great post, Sarah!
    Robin Rivera recently posted…Masterplots Theater: B is for Buddy LoveMy Profile

  20. Love the blues, and funny thing is, I have to be in a certain frame of mind to really get into it! LOL
    Happy Second Day of the A to Z!
    Ninga Minion @YolandaRenee from
    Defending The Pen
    Murderous Imaginings
    Yolanda Renee recently posted…B – BIG LAKEMy Profile

  21. I love learning new things, and you hit me with two facts right off the top! Thanks for another great post, and a link to a great song.

  22. I’m not a music aficionado, but I do enjoy a variety of styles. This was interesting information that I would never have thought to look up. And I love that you used Bessie Smith for the example. It’s been a very long time since I’ve heard her music.
    Barbara Taylor recently posted…B is for Bette & Joan #AtoZChallengeMy Profile

  23. Ah, the Blues! Some super awesome singers and songs in the blues.
    Barbara In Caneyhead recently posted…Tender Years: Birthday Tinker Toy FiascoMy Profile

  24. Most elucidating as ever. I like the fact the blues could not be put down even though the places where it thrived were not always considered exemplary.
    Tasha’s Thinkings (72) | Wittegen Press (74) | FB3X (AC) (75)
    Tasha recently posted…B – Thelma Bates & Banquo – Fictional Phantoms #AtoZChallenge 2016My Profile

  25. I love the blues. I went through a time in my teenage and young adult years when I listened to B. B. King and Muddy Waters. My grandfather was a huge fan of jazz and he was often playing Duke Ellington and Count Basie. Great stuff!

  26. I knew something sad had to have inspired the words “the blues,” but I didn’t know the exact origination of the term for the type of music. “I guess that’s why they call it the blues!”

  27. Lots of great information. Neat to hear where the origin of the term ‘blues’ came from.
    Jeffrey Scott recently posted…Nostalgia TV – BMy Profile

  28. Oh, good, I thought I was missing something on your A post yesterday, but it turns out you were just saving the Blues for today! Great post. 🙂

  29. What an interesting topic. I look forward to learning more.

    Good luck on the challenge! We’re doing “I’ve Got The Music In Me” this year on The Road We’ve Shared. – looking at how important music is in the Down syndrome community. I hope you’ll stop by and see/hear!

    • Thanks so much for stopping by.
      You’re theme seems so intersting and important. I have a nephew who suffers of the Down Syndrome. I’m heading over to your site 🙂

  30. I’ve always liked jazz, but I have a feeling after reading all your challenge posts, I’m going to learn to LOVE it.
    Molly recently posted…Sunday Salon: April 3, 2016My Profile

  31. I love listening to the Blues… never realised that there was so much history behind it. Thanks for sharing this.

    Visiting from A to Z Challenge
    Pam’s Unconventional Alliance Team
    A Whimsical Medley
    Twinkle Eyed Traveller
    Rajlakshmi recently posted…Chasing Water Dragons #atozchallengeMy Profile

  32. Blues….such a moving genre of music. Thanks for giving me more insight into its’ history! Loving your posts so far!
    Tawnya recently posted…A to Z- Authentic Inspiration: Community #atozchallengeMy Profile

  33. Love listening to the Bles, so this was fascinating. Thankyou!

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