St. Louis Blues

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Listening Analysis Paper

Alex Kosarko

MUS 185, Summer 2009

For my listening assignment, I chose the piece, “St. Louis Blues” by Bessie Smith and Louis Armstrong, recorded in the late 1920s. At this time, the country was in the transition from country blues (a single artist accompanied by a single guitar) to city blues (a single artist accompanied by either a piano and/or several instruments). In city blues, the form was based on a very rigid 12-bar blues structure, which used mainly the I, IV, and V7 chords in similar progressions each time through. Lyrics were typically sophisticated, dwelling on themes of love, and typically sung by women in a refined manner.

“St. Louis Blues” is in the style of city blues. It had a rather slow tempo and more sophisticated lyrics than country blues. The instrumentation (a solo cornet, piano and single artist) was somewhat avant-garde for the time. There was a narrow range to the melody. The melody was simple and refined. The scale type was the blues scale, which fuses a major and minor scale together. The motives were not even one measure long but repeated every verse. The melody was more diatonic and had less motives with larger intervals. Harmony was not present in the song and all harmonic rules were followed. The rhythms were simple, with no layered effects. However, in the cornet solos, the player (Louis Armstrong) would play improvised riffs in reaction to what the artist (Bessie Smith) was singing in the line preceding his solo, providing an interesting texture to the song.

Another interesting aspect of the song is the texture. Since it was made in the late 1920’s, the recording equipment wasn’t as sophisticated as it is today, so the clicks, scratches and hisses are present in the recording. Regarding dynamics, the song did not have much dynamic contrast. The piece had only one dynamic, and it was a comfortable mezzo forte throughout. The improvisation in this song really made the song...
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