Bix and The Blues - again!

Bix and The Blues - again!

Nick Dellow
Nick Dellow

January 25th, 2018, 9:03 am #1


Although Bix wasn't a "blues" player as such, he often employed what are sometimes termed "blue" notes in his solos, i.e. flattened 3rds and flattened 7ths, and sometimes flattened 5ths. He would also sometimes bend other notes, landing on them perfectly in tune and then slightly altering the pitch (as he held the note) for effect. Many white jazz musicians did this and it doesn't necessarily make them "blues" players either! But Bix's deep appreciation of black jazz musicians and blues singers is well known, and one only needs to think of Louis Armstrong and Ethel Waters in this respect.

One always associates these so-called blue notes with Bix's cornet playing rather than his piano playing. As is well known, his piano playing was highly influenced by the European school of classical music and the impressionist composers in particular. Therefore, it is interesting to read that he occasionally played "the blues" on piano. The following comment comes from drummer Virgil Leech. Leech was a member of Jimmie Caldwell's band, composed of students at Northwestern University, including Don Murray. Bix was guest cornettist with the band when they played for the Senn High School Prom at the Edgewater Beach Hotel in Chicago on Thursday, January 26th, 1922:-

"Bix came down early the next afternoon [Northwestern campus] to run over a few difficult pieces in which Caldwell wanted him to play a "break". We had to go out and find him a clean shirt. Besides being the greatest on cornet, he could play what we termed a "negro piano". Playing the blues, he was terrific!"

Virgil Leech, letter to Philip Evans, 7/7/1973, quoted in "Bix: The Leon Bix Beiderbecke Story" by Philip R. and Linda K. Evans.
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Fred
Fred

January 29th, 2018, 3:13 am #2

"... he often employed what are sometimes termed 'blue' notes in his solos... flattened 7ths...."

A poster in Bixography, within the past year or so, noted that Bix eschewed flattened 7ths, preferring instead the natural 7th.
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Fred
Fred

January 30th, 2018, 1:46 am #3

I remembered reading the preceding from a Bixography poster. From what Bix-recording I can play in mind, it seemed to be so. However, I don't know Bix's notes well enough to concur. In other words, I hadn't intended to judge anyone's analysis, but instead only recall a poster's contrasting perspective.
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wellwisher
wellwisher

January 30th, 2018, 10:31 am #4

"... he often employed what are sometimes termed 'blue' notes in his solos... flattened 7ths...."

A poster in Bixography, within the past year or so, noted that Bix eschewed flattened 7ths, preferring instead the natural 7th.
Come on Brad, explain to people what 7ths are.
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Malcolm Walton
Malcolm Walton

January 31st, 2018, 10:18 am #5

This is the chromatic scale in the key of C.
C = root
C# = flattened ninth
D = ninth
Eb = minor third (or flattened third)
E = third
F = fourth (referred to as suspended fourth when used on its own over a triad)
F# = flattened fifth
G = fifth
G# = augmented fifth
A = sixth
Bb = flattened seventh
B = seventh (or natural or major seventh)

When soloing and, as it were, in "free-fall", most improvisors will use pretty well all of these intervals over simple chords. It is highly unlikely that anyone would think "ah-ha!I see an opportunity for a natural seventh note coming up". They are more likely to be thinking about the construction of the phrase, and what sounds satisfying to them in the round.
Some tunes actually start on the natural seventh, i.e. When it's sleepy time down south, Time on my hands, and many more.
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John Coffin
John Coffin

February 1st, 2018, 4:54 am #6

"... he often employed what are sometimes termed 'blue' notes in his solos... flattened 7ths...."

A poster in Bixography, within the past year or so, noted that Bix eschewed flattened 7ths, preferring instead the natural 7th.
One of the main factors that makes The Blues sound 'blue' is the use of 'minor' 3rds and 7ths against major chords. The blues can have a tonal quality that isn't 'normal' major or minor. Some charts will spell out the chords for the blues as all dominants: e.g. major chords with the 7ths flatted.

A single substitution of a flat 3rd or 7th is enough to establish a 'bluesy' quality. Or even bending a note in that direction. Bix certainly loved to bend notes...something a lot of imitator don't seem to have picked up at all.
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Brad Kay
Brad Kay

March 6th, 2018, 12:47 am #7

Come on Brad, explain to people what 7ths are.
Hey. Nice to be invited to explain.

The flattened seventh actually is the same as a "regular" seventh - you can make a normal C-seventh chord using it, and nobody would be the wiser. It becomes a flatted seventh when used in context with the blues scale: C, D, E-flat (flatted third); F, G-flat (flatted fifth), A, B-flat (flatted seventh). Since Bix was tuned in to ALL the possibilities at the piano, including W.C. Handy and Debussy, and didn't restrict himself to a purely blues use of it, he could go back and forth on that B-flat, using it now as a flatted seventh AND then as the seventh in a C7 chord.

I hope this confuses matters even further.

-Brad Kay

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