I love playing the blues. The 12-bar blues is the quintessential American art form, and probably more ubiquitous than any other. It appears in every style of music I can think of, and new genres in the 21st-century will undoubtedly adopt it as well. I could play the blues all day and night and never repeat a song; I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that half of all the jazz tunes ever written have been based on the 12-bar blues.
“Play It Back” is a 24-bar blues by the great organist Lonnie Smith. Unlike most blueses, it never goes to the “4” chord but stays on the F chord until it goes to the turnaround. I’ve played this at many gigs because it’s easy, fun and funky, but the band usually solos on the standard blues. I find the blues form is so ingrained in most people’s minds it’s harder for them NOT to play the 4 chord. On his Live at Club Mozambique recording the composer himself accidentally plays it a few times.
This one comes from John Scofield’s album Still Warm, part of his run of funky releases on Gramavision in the 1980s. He is backed by impeccable studio musicians in Don Grolnick, Darryl Jones and Omar Hakim, who are mostly content to lay down funky grooves and let John’s guitar take the spotlight. The compositions on Still Warm lean more to the pop side of the jazz spectrum, and wouldn’t sound out of place on a record of Joe Zawinul or Yellowjackets outtakes.
An interesting aspect of this tune is that Omar ignores the bar of 6/4 at the end of the bridge, effectively turning his backbeat into a “frontbeat” for the last A section.
Here’s a pretty short ballad by Misha Mengelberg. It’s on the album Senne Sing Song, which finds Misha accompanied by Greg Cohen and Ben Perowsky. The band uses every rest and fermata as a jumping-off point for flights of fancy and free improvisation, so it takes them six minutes to get through the form just a few times. This is another song I like playing with a second horn in place of a piano or guitar.