Paving the Way to Blues

Before blues music was accepted into the mainstream society other genres had to pave the way.  In the 1920s and 1930s the other main genres of popular music were jazz, “tin pan alley” or American standards, and big band music.

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“Tin Pan Alley” music was the music that eventually became known as the American standards.  This music was the most mainstream during the mid-century.  In this genre artists would constantly cover each others songs, eventually creating the American songbook, a collection of original American songs recorded and rerecorded over and over again by singers of the early 20th century, such as Frank Sinatra and Judy Garland.

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Big Bands were, appropriately, huge ensembles.  They were comprised of both a horns section and a rhythm section.  The rhythm section included an upright bass, a guitar, a piano, and drums.  The backbone of the horn section was trumpets, trombones, and saxophones, however other brass, such as tubas, would occasionally be included also.  All together a Big Band included an average of about 16 people.  Because of their large numbers, Big Bands did very little improvisation, sticking to known songs and sheet music and playing primarily swing music.

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Jazz music was similar to big band music in instrumentation, however the numbers of the band were drastically cut down.  Additionally, this genre relied heavily on spontaneous improvisation on the part of both the instruments and the vocalist.  Singers would frequently mimic the sound of the saxophone with their voice.  While doing this singers would say nonsense words, a technique known as scatting.

Music culture is intricately intertwined, with different types of music gaining inspiration across the borders of genre, race, and class, therefore blues music contains elements of all of the above genres, and it would have been impossible for blues to break into the music industry without these genres coming first.