JAZZ: Scott DeVeaux, W.W. Norton & Company


12-bar Blues

You pick one key as the tonic.

[Deveaux demonstrating on the piano.]

I pick F as the tonic. And the standard progression is going to be like [demonstrating on piano] – now this is essentially saying a four-beat measure [counting out the measure on the piano].

Course, now you see, it has to have that kind of thing, a half-cadence to make you want to go on further so the cycle continues. That is sort of the most essential aspect of the blues cycle, that particular kind of framework. But of course a jazz musician is going to have any number of harmonic substitutions to add to that.

[demonstrating on the piano]

but you're still going to have that place, of that particular bar, that harmony is going to come in.

And the fifth bar of the chorus – now I'm not saying that most people when they hear a 12-bar blues are going to be aware of the number of measures or know that that's the fifth bar. But they are going to know that that harmony is happening at that time. And it's very interesting – when you look at all the things that jazz musicians can do with the blues you begin to realize that all kinds of aspects of the blues are changeable except for that moment. And it really is peculiarly the one place where I would say you could show me a blues that doesn't have that – and actually I can think of a few examples – but it's still pretty rare. Most everybody has their particular framework at that point. Everybody who becomes familiar with jazz begins to realize that when the harmonic progressions begin to get to be intense you can always pick out exactly where you are by the nature of that particular chord.