Archive for Eight Bar Blues

Keys, Blues, a House, and an Infirmary

Posted in Music with tags , , , , on November 7, 2021 by telescoper
Scott’s Corner

I’m not finding very much time these days to continue trying to teach myself how to play the piano but I thought I’d share a quick post that probably only demonstrates how little I know about music.

The other day I decided to try to play The House of the Rising Sun without the music, i.e. by ear. Knowing that it is basically an 8-bar blues for which I thought I could easily figure out the chords I looked up what key it should be played in. Google confidently told me this:

So I set about trying to pick out the melody in that key, but I couldn’t get it to sound right at all (even allowing for the fact that my piano is a bit out of tune). Then I realized that it’s not really in F Major at all. It’s actually in D Minor (the relative minor of F Major, so it also has the same B flat but with a scale that starts on A rather than F). Transposing the chords into D Minor makes it sound much more moody. It can also be played in A Minor as demonstrated by the Modern Jazz Quartet whose Blues in A Minor is unmistakably the same tune:

Anyway, fooling around with 8 bar blues in different keys I tried F Minor and it struck me that there was a marked similarity between House of the Rising Sun and another famous 8-bar blues St James Infirmary. In fact you can sing the lyrics to St James Infirmary quite easily to the tune of House of the Rising Sun.

Both of these tunes have very old origins: Jack Teagarden, for example, introduced his classic 1947 live performance of St James Infirmary with the words “the oldest blues I ever heard”. I always assumed both these tunes referred to real places, but that seems wrong too. There was no “House in New Orleans” they called the Rising Sun, nor was there a St James Infirmary. They are not the same song, and neither started off as an 8-bar blues, but they do have elements in common and may be derived from a common ancestor.

The most famous version of The House of the Rising Sun is the 1964 hit by Eric Burdon with the Animals (including Alan Price on keyboards, who did the arrangement):

Interestingly, Eric Burdon and the Animals made a much less famous version of St James Infirmary in 1968 which I think demonstrates the similarity between the two tunes:

Humphrey Lyttelton & Elkie Brooks – Trouble in Mind

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , on August 18, 2018 by telescoper

Mention the name Elkie Brooks to people of my generation or older and most will think of her popular hits from the late 1970s, especially Pearl’s A Singer which made the UK Top Ten in 1977. Elkie Brooks has however had a long and very distinguished career as a Jazz and Blues singer, including regular performances over the years with trumpeter Humphrey Lyttelton and his band. This particular track was recorded in 2002, when Humph was already in his eighties, but I think it’s a lovely performance so I thought I’d share it here.

Trouble in Mind is a very familiar tune that has been recorded countless times by jazz musicians. In fact an earlier manifestation of Humph’s Band made a very nice instrumental version way back in 1950 which I have on an old Parlophone 78. The tune is usually credited to Richard M. Jones, but it has its roots in much older spirituals and folk songs. There are a couple of things worth mentioning about it despite it being so well known.. Although Trouble in Mind is a blues, it is a slightly unusual one because it’s an eight-bar blues rather than the more usual twelve-bar variety. The other thing is that there’s something about this tune that suits a rhythm accompaniment in sixth notes, as exemplified by drummer Adrian Macintosh on this track when the vocal starts.

There’s also some fine trombone on this (by Pete Strange) and a nice bit of banter from Humph at the beginning. Enjoy!