Pat Blythe – The Blues and Jazz Brothers….instruments….and music….

Trying to touch on as many things as possible without boring you or losing everyone’s attention is challenging. Hitting the highlights, giving you a flavour without overloading everyone on the nitty gritty details is what I’m aiming for. There are musicians, the instruments that intermingle across all the genres and the endless music…. I am finding it fascinating to learn about how both blues and jazz evolved through the years. Every facet of music today has been touched and influenced by these two genres without many young musicians even realizing it. They don’t realize how lucky they are!

“By definition, blues is both a musical form and a music genre, while jazz is defined as a music art form. The blues refers to both a certain type of chord progression….the use of flattened or bent notes or ‘blue notes’…..and its sad, melancholy lyrics. Jazz is much harder to define because its range is so broad, encompassing everything from later 19th century ragtime to modern fusion music.”Greg Trivis

Born of a painful history blues and jazz music comes from one of the darkest chapters in U.S. history…..slavery. Both originated on the continent of Africa and both grew up in the U.S. Side-by-side, each one developed a unique style and sound of their own while sharing the same blood. As brothers are wont to do, each one spread their wings heading in different directions but carrying a piece of each other as they flew. Two divergent paths beginning with a single heartbeat.

Slave quarters in Louisiana

Emerging from the same communities, jazz developed with a strong European influence and is known for incorporating much of the popular music of the time (and still does today) using “blue notes”, syncopation, improvisation and what became known as the “swing note” (see YouTube demo below). Blues is known more for its chord progression and those flattened, bent notes. As jazz music flourished and grew, it took with it elements of the blues, gifts of an elder brother. Blues music, however, has remained true to itself, never assimilating the idiosyncrasies of its younger brother. Jazz music would never be considered part of the blues.

Swing vs. Straight Rhythm

The instruments…..

For blues and jazz musicians alike many of the instruments chosen are often the same. With various configurations and sounds some are more strongly associated with one genre than the other. However, the “basics” are always the same. I’ll touch on the brass later.


The harmonica is often the most recognized instrument of the blues. The traditional call and response style, upon which a lot of blues music is based, can be performed by a single artist with a harmonica. Sonny Boy Williamson is still considered the world’s foremost harmonica player. Cuban born, Toronto raised Carlos del Junco is as much in demand blues and jazz harp player, easily segueing between the two styles of music. Big Mama Thornton was also a renowned and highly respected harmonica player and shared the stage many times alongside John Lee Hooker.

Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Mama Thornton, Carlos del Junco

The guitar….

….where all that string bending and flattening comes from. “The inspiration for many starting blues guitarists is Robert Johnson. Legend has it that he met the devil at a crossroad where he traded his soul for the gift of music, and what a gifted musician he was. Guitarist Keith Richards said that “Robert Johnson was like an orchestra all by himself.”” From Johnson to BB King to Jimi Hendrix to Eric Clapton to the young guitarists of today, bending and flattening those notes is an obsession.

(top) Patt Metheny, Django Reinhardt

(bottom) Emily Remler, George Benson

The “jazz guitar” takes on a different persona. Jazz musicians began using the electric guitar in the 1930s simply to be heard. Big bands made a lot of noise. It also began to supplant the banjo as the chief “chordal” rhythm instrument in jazz for a couple of key reasons…’s slightly more muted tone blended easily with the upright bass, and the guitar’s chords had a greater harmonic complexity. The various jazz guitar styles included “comping” or complementing another musician’s solo improvisations “underneath the melody”.


Ah the drums….the backbone and heartbeat of all music. If you want to play the blues, learn the “blues shuffle”. Blues music has always been very emotionally expressive. No matter the size of the drum kit, to convey the sentiment of loneliness and despair requires a great deal of self-control and self-discipline. Although a blues drummer will use a kit similar to one used for rock, the “voice” of a blues drummer is the bass drum, with a measure of restraint….it’s all about the feeling….take it slow and simple. Famous blues drummers run the gamut from Odie Payne and Fred Below (who came from a jazz background) to Buddy Miles and Mick Fleetwood. They don’t teach the blues… feel the blues.

(top) Billy Cobham

(bottom) Buddy Rich, Buddy Miles, Fred Below

Today’s jazz drum sets take on all formats ranging from the compact four-piece jazz kit used by Buddy Rich and Gene Krupa to the larger and more powerful kits used by drummers such as Billy Cobham and Jack DeJohnette. Because jazz drumming styles involved swing, bebop, Afro-Cuban, the jazz kit and their various accoutremont have evolved and changed over the years. According to The Music Studio, “freedom has always been at the heart of jazz and it’s seen as an uncompromising style of music…a great way to broaden any musician’s musical horizons…since improvisation is a big component of jazz it helps with your creativity too.” There is no shortage of creativity and improvisation with jazz drummers.


You have two choices frequently used in blues music…..the bass guitar or the upright double bass which can either be bowed or plucked. Willie Dixon, one of the most influential bassists was famous for saying, “the blues is the roots, the rest is the fruits.” The “fruits” was jazz. Oscar Pettiford, a contemporary of Charles Mingus, was a performer, composer and band leader and known as a “one of the giants of the double bass”.

(top) Willie Dixon

(bottom) Reggie Workman, Billy Cox (w/Hendrix), Charles Pettiford

In jazz there were three distinctive band lineups and for each one, different instruments would be used. Common instruments for the jazz and swing bands were trumpet, sax, trombones and rhythm section (bass, drum, keys and/or guitar). The jazz trio simplified everything using only piano, bass and drums. Sometimes a vocalist would be called in to “scat”, imitating instrumental sounds. One of the most famous scat singers was Ella Fitzgerald. It’s probably safe to say “scat” is more or less a forerunner of today’s beat boxing.

One very distinctive difference between jazz and blues….blues almost always has lyric while jazz is usually instrumental. The primary focus of jazz, according to is, “The main focus of jazz music is the dynamics and improvisations of an ensemble, while blues music is usually centered on a single guitar player/vocalist and the personal lyrical content of the song.” Apparently an inside joke in the jazz and blues circles goes like this, “a blues guitarist plays three chords in front of thousands of people and a jazz guitarist plays thousands of chords in front of three people.”

Jazz, I’m learning, is not for weak of heart….or ears. Today, mastering the blues style of playing is still considered part of a young musician’s jazz playing education.


Don’t Throw Your Love on Me So Strong – T-Bone Walker

Sincerely – The Moonglows (with Fred Below on drums)

The Heavyweight Champion – John Coltrane (Reggie Workman on bass)

Softly As In A Morning Sunrise – Emily Remler

Glass Menagerie – Billy Cobham

Letter From Home – Pat Metheny

Bye Bye Bird – Sonny Boy Williamson

Mark Sepic & Carlos Del Junco

Spoonful – Willie Dixon

Billy Cox and Mitch Mitchell

Ella Fitzgerald sings & performs One Note samba (scat singing)


Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.

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dbawis-button7“Music and photography….my heart, my passions.” After an extended absence —  33 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry — Pat has turned her focus back to the music scene. Immersing herself in the local club circuit, attending the many diverse music festivals, listening to some great music, photographing and writing once again, she is eager to spread the word about this great Music City of ours…..Toronto. Together for 34 years, Pat little-red-headed-dancing-girlalso worked alongside her late husband Christopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who, beginning in the early 70s, photographed much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, BB Gabor, the first Police Picnic, Buzzsaw, Hellfield, Shooter, The Segarini Band….) as well as national and international acts. Pat is currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, 20 of which are a photographic history of the local GTA music scene beginning in 1974. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance! 

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