Playing Blues

If you look to playing blues – here are some guidelines to get you going. Some obvious, some not.

The saxophone (especially the tenor sax) is a superb blues instrument as you can actually sing with the sax and the dulcet tones of the tenor sax fits the Blues perfectly.

 

Anyway, here are a few guidelines to prevent boredom for those who do love the blues and want to play it but are not sure how.

 

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 amateur ‘jam’ band and a ‘pro’ band are polished intros and endings (very important!).

5) There is a lot of room for improvisation 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.

6) Play some instrumentals. Learn some ‘soul jazz,’ blues jazz type of tunes that may still be danceable, and some funk tunes to play for variety. A few instrumentals actually help support and make the vocal tunes stand out, and vice versa. I personally prefer all instrumental blues.

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. Try playing acoustically – you don’t need a PA system if there is no singer!

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 never play over the singer (if you have one). There are some great blues books and 100 Blues Riffs by Andrew Gordon is one of them.

Ok, that’s enough. I could think of lots more, but if you apply some of the above, and you get 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.

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