Cover

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Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. i-iv

Contents

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pp. v-vi

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Introduction

Paul Devlin

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pp. vii-xx

"For Paul, Some fundamentals." That is how Albert Murray inscribed my copy of Stomping the Blues. Here is one of his most fundamental points: "You don't stomp the blues like this [pounds fist on table]—you stomp the blues like this [snaps with panache on the afterbeat]." Murray used this example all the time in interviews and on panels in order to illustrate that the blues is "stomped" with elegance, not force; with technique, not power;...

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1. The Blues as Such

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pp. 1-6

Sometimes you forget all about them in spite of yourself, but all too often the very first thing you realize when you wake up is that they are there again, settling in like bad weather, hovering like plague-bearing insects, swarming precisely as if they were indeed blue demons dispatched on their mission of harassment by none other than the Chief Red Devil of all devils himself; and yet perhaps as often as not it is also as if they squat obscene and vulturelike, waiting and watching you and preening...

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2. The Blues Face to Face

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pp. 7-20

Sometimes exposure through forthright acknowledgment of their unwelcome presence is enough to purge the immediate atmosphere, and no further confrontation is necessary. At such times they seem to vanish very much the way ghosts are said to do at the slightest indication that for all their notorious invisibility they have been discovered. There are times as a matter of fact when all it seems to take is the pronunciation (or mispronunciation) of their name with the proper overtones. Quite often not only...

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3. The Blue Devils and the Holy Ghost

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pp. 21-42

There are blue devils, and there is also the Holy Ghost. Thus not everybody defines blues music and blues-idiom dance movements in the same terms. What the dance hall seems always to have suggested to the ministers and elders of most downhome churches, for instance, is the exact opposite of a locale for a purification ritual. To them any secular dancing place is a House of Sin and Folly, a Den of Iniquity, a Writhing Hellhole, where the weaknesses of the flesh are indulged to the ruination of...

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4. The Blues as Music

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pp. 43-54

The blues as such are synonymous with low spirits. Blues music is not. With all its so-called blue notes and overtones of sadness, blues music of its very nature and function is nothing if not a form of diversion. With all its preoccupation with the most disturbing aspects of life, it is something contrived specifically to be performed as entertainment. Not only is its express purpose to make people feel good, which is to say in high spirits, but in the process of doing so it is actually expected to generate a...

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5. Blues Music as Such

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pp. 55-76

Definitions of blues music in most standard American dictionaries confuse it with the blues as such. They also leave the impression that what it represents is the expression of sadness. Not one characterizes it as good-time music. Nor is there any reference whatsoever to its use as dance music. Moreover, primary emphasis is always placed on its vocal aspects, and no mention at all is made of the fact that over the years it has come to be dominated by dance-hall-oriented instrumentalists to a...

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6. Singing the Blues

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pp. 77-90

As compelling as so many blues lyrics so often are, and for all the apt phrases, insightful folksay, and striking imagery that blues singers have added to the national lore, the definitive element of a blues statement is not verbal. Words as such, however well chosen, are secondary to the music. What counts for most is not verbal precision (which is not to say vocal precision) but musical precision, or perhaps better still, musical nuance. Even the most casual survey of the recordings of Ma...

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7. Playing the Blues

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pp. 91-128

Sometimes it all begins with the piano player vamping till ready, a vamp being an improvised introduction consisting of anything from the repetition of a chordal progression as a warm-up exercise to an improvised overture. Sometimes the vamp has already begun even before the name of the next number is given. Some singers, for instance, especially those who provide their own accompaniment on piano or guitar, use it as much as background for a running line of chatter, commentary, or mock...

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8. Swinging the Blues

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pp. 129-148

Once they started making phonograph records of it you could hear it almost any time of the day on almost any day of the week and almost anywhere that was far enough away from the church. Because not only did there seem to be at least one phonograph in almost every neighborhood from the very outset, but it was also as if that was the music that phonograph records were all about in the first place, which, incidentally, is also why the Victrola and the Gramophone, which were also called the...

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9. Kansas City Four/Four and the Velocity of Celebration

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pp. 149-178

Nowhere else in the nation and at no other time have blues musicians ever been more firmly dedicated to the proposition that it don't mean a thing if it ain't got that swing than in Kansas City in the early 1930s. Nor was the result of the dedication of this group of journeymen and apprentices to remain primarily a matter of local interest for very long. In no time at all riffing traditional blues choruses in medium- or up-tempo in a steady pulsing Kansas City Four/Four beat was picked up by...

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10. The Blues as Dance Music

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pp. 179-200

Sometimes you get the impression that many of the articles and books about blues music were written by people who assume that the very best thing that could happen to it would be for it to cease being dance-hall music and become concert-hall music. Over the years most of these writers themselves have been show-biz-oriented entertainment-page reporters and reviewers, whose contact with the workaday environment of blues musicians is somewhat similar to that of the movie reporter...

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11. Folk Art and Fine Art

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pp. 201-224

So far as some people are concerned, to be sure, the only authentic blues music is that which is made up and performed by folk musicians. As such people see it, the elaborations, extensions, and refinements of the professional musicians are not the means by which the idiomatic is given the more inclusive range, greater precision of nuance, and more universal impact of fine art. What it all adds up to in their opinion is a basic violation of the priceless integrity of folk art....

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12. The Blues as Statement

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pp. 225-254

Ordinarily blues musicians do not show very much conscious involvement with the philosophical implications of what they play. Most often their primary musical concerns seem to be those of the artisan. Accordingly, what they almost always seem to give most of their attention to are the practical details of the specific convention of stylization in terms of which they perform. Thus shoptalk as well as arguments about such professional matters as the characteristics and peculiarities of...

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Epilogue

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pp. 255-258

The main thing that it is always about is the also and also of dragging, driving, jumping, kicking, swinging, or otherwise stomping away the blues as such and having a good time not only as a result but also in the meanwhile. Which is also why whatever else hearing it makes you remember you also remember being somewhere among people wearing fine clothes and eating and laughing and talking and shucking and stuffing and jiving and conniving and making love. So sometimes it is also about the also...

Index

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pp. 259-264

About the Authors

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p. 265