“Jazz means the blues”

Todd Decker

in Music Makes Me

Published by University of California Press

Published in print June 2011 | ISBN: 9780520268883
Published online May 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780520950061 | DOI:
“Jazz means the blues”

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In 1952, Fred Astaire remarked that “jazz means the blues,” and this chapter examines this comment in practical terms by detailing Astaire's varied use of the twelve-bar blues progression as a musical scaffold for dance making. All the important popular blues-based idioms turn up in his work, from boogie-woogie and swing blues (use of the blues progression by big bands) to 1950s rock and roll and 1960s soul jazz. Astaire danced to popular music, whose structural building blocks are straightforward: thirty-two-bar choruses built on eight-bar phrases in an AABA or ABAC arrangement, twelve-bar blues choruses, introductions, verses, vamps, and big finishes. There was nothing arcane or concealed about the musical forms he deployed: they can be heard easily if we attend just to the music—sometimes hard to do with all that dancing going on. Accompanied on-screen by a group of African American sideline musicians, Astaire created an extended solo dance to “Bugle Call Rag.” His final studio-era solo was a rock-and-roll blues number by Cole Porter.

Keywords: Fred Astaire; jazz; twelve-bar blues; dance making; boogie-woogie; swing blues; rock and roll; musical forms; Bugle Call Rag; popular music

Chapter.  12228 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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