Urban blues

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Under Urban Blues styles are taken of the blues that have been developed in the cities and maintained. Often the sound in the cities is softer, technically refined; some of the lyrics are more vulgar and less autobiographical. The urban blues were also played in combo formations . In particular, the piano was an important instrument in this genre. In Chicago blues and the electric guitars have become increasingly important since the 1940s.

Development of the Urban Blues

Since the early days of the blues, there has been a blues alongside country blues that dealt with urban issues. The migration of large groups of the population to the cities in the first decades of the 20th century brought them their respective blues style. The city's blues changed: it took on urban themes and connected with the music of the cities, for example the ragtime stride. Some of the texts contained drastic statements on life in the city. People were looking for work and better living conditions, but also for entertainment.

The blues was performed in vaudevilles . Especially through recordings, it became an overarching expression of understanding among the Afro-American urban population, as records were available and reached more Afro-Americans who could not go to every place of entertainment and culture. The record companies, however, were more interested in entertainment than authenticity. The blues responded to this huge growing audience by taking on new roles and expressing more urban attitudes. It expressed city life, industrialization, dance music, party music, and personal pleasure such as music that encouraged group participation.

The blues singer not only nostalgically reminds the audience of "the good old (rural) times" (down home), but also had to deal with modern expressions and attitudes towards the city . First, pianists with ragtime experience began to accompany the blues singers, which expanded the singers' style, because they had to adapt to the accompaniment and reorient themselves vocally. Often, however, the singers had a different rhythmic concept, which did not go well with the accompanist, but all this prevented both of them from recording together.

Accompanying wind instruments also approached the style of singing. The exchange between Louis Armstrong and Bessie Smith at the time, for example, was impressive. The recordings of Duke Ellington's band from the late 1920s also show a multitude of examples of the instrumental adoption of such vocal effects: growls (growling, humming) and wah-wah effects, scoops, vibrato, grinders. The original sound of the blues was thus partially preserved and incorporated into the new urban styles: the heavy sound of the Mississippi , the lighter Texas blues with its dexterity and its one-note line solos, and that of the eight- or ten-piece bands of Kansas City, which came into being in the 1930s formed the structures of the blues for dancing until the 1940s.

As the blues migrated to the cities, similar styles formed in different cities. For example, Jelly Roll Morton in New Orleans and James P. Johnson in New York combined ragtime and blues styles in their own way. In Kansas City, instrumental blues were molded into an orchestral style that adopted blues riffs, breaks, and other inventions that took over who developed pianists like Mary Lou Williams , Benny Moten, Count Basie, Pete Johnson and Jay McShann from boogie woogie, other blues styles, ragtime stride and the burgeoning swing style, which began to exert a great influence in the following years.


In Kansas City in particular, urban blues influenced jazz. The Kansas City Jazz that was created there, in turn, had a major impact on the development of rhythm and blues .

supporting documents

  1. Billy Taylor, Jazz Piano, chap. 7 Urban Blues, Wm. C. Brown Company Publishers