CAGE Full O' Blues

by M.C. Handel

With this down-tempo blues tune, we have tried to create a very versatile selection that works well as a feature for beginning recorder players, but it can be much more than that. It is conceived so that it will work just fine as written, using the part provided in the magazine and the tape for this issue. It can also be used as an introduction to jazz performance at its simplest level for your recorder players or virtually any of your students.

The Key & Blue Notes - First, let's look at the structure of the tune. Actually, the tune itself as recorded is in the key of A. We show it in the key of "no sharps and no flats" on the published part because the four notes in the melody are C, A, G, and E... all "natural." These notes work in a blues in the key of A because the G (the flatted seventh) and the C (a flatted third or sharp ninth) are two of the "blue notes" that make a blues sound the way it does. Actually, you can play this entire song with just G, A, and C by simplifying the opening eighth notes to a G quarter note.

What Is Blues? - When we discuss "blues," we can sometimes mean a general style that has spread through jazz, pop, folk, and other modern music. The term can also mean a specific repeating set of chord changes which act as the basis for a song. The most common blues structure is a 12-bar progression that may well provide the basis for more songs than any other.

Do you need to know any of this to be able to play this tune? No, not really, but if you haven't dealt with this type of tune, this information might come in handy if your players have questions.

One thing you will need to know is the concept of "swing." This blues and most traditional jazz songs are based on eighth notes that are not straight and even as in rock, marches or classical piano music. Instead, all eighth notes are played as broken triplets, as is indicated at the top of the song. What's more, they need to be relaxed, not stilted. All too often, first-time jazz players will want to rush and/or play the eighth notes more like a dotted eighth - sixteenth note pattern. The recording provides a good model.

These Blues Are For Everyone - Even if you don't have a recorder program, you can have fun with this tune. It works great for Orff mallet instruments, electric keyboard instruments, or almost any elementary melodic instrument. (Transposing wind instruments aren't ideal as this may put them in uncomfortable keys for beginners.) And, of course, it also works for all of your singers, preferably using "scat" syllables like, "doo-be-doo-dah-doo." Or, better still, have your students create their own scat/nonsense syllables to the melody, or make up lyrics for the tune, using scat for the improv section.

Improvisation - It's Real Jazz! - The repeated section at bar 18 is designed for improvised solos. If you don't want to do so, just have all of your players play the written parts, which act as a call and response "shout chorus" answering the recorded jazz band.

We hope that you decide to let your players play improvised solos, though. The recorded model features improvised solos the first time through, and the written ensemble parts during the repeat.

Since improvisation is by its very nature "made up," there really are no rules, but using some simple restrictions will help your players enjoy success. We propose that you have your players use only the four notes used in the tune. If your players or singers have a wider vocabulary though, they could certainly add the D, E-flat and E above the C. You might also want to restrict the tune in other ways that will make your players think as they learn. You could, for instance, use only quarter and eighth notes, and maybe even restrict the number of notes they use in a bar. Stress that they should consider their solo as an "instant composition," in that they are composing a new melody as they play. Remember though, that there are no wrong solos. Make them feel good about any creative efforts! To begin with, consider having a new soloist every four measures. In jazz, this is called "trading fours," and it is a great way to have more soloists while shortening the time a soloist has to play, thus increasing the possibility of a successful solo.

End with a Flourish - As the ensemble (and the band on tape) sustains its last note under the fermata, consider letting your soloists improvise freely over the chord. You will hear several soloists doing this on the recording. It's the perfect way to give your players one last chance to shine. Be sure to let 'em take a bow!

Text is taken from Music K-8 magazine.