The Professor’s Guide to The Blues

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Ask any jazz musician worthy of their craft, and they’ll tell you “you can’t have jazz without the blues.” While I believe this to be correct, it’s not a statement you should think too hard about because it inevitably leads to the question:

What is the blues?

And that’s where we run into some trouble. The blues is a concept about which the more you try and identify it, the more elusive it gets.

The blues is hard to define, like any emotion. It’s like asking what is love? (Well, these days it’s swiping right on Tinder. Forget that example.) But you get the point. The blues is a feeling; and we, each in our own way, all know what it’s like to get the blues. And by playing/listening to the blues, we feel better. The blues cures the blues. It’s a little confusing, but like I said, don’t think too much about it.

Although it came out of a unique and very tragic time in American history, the blues is a concept that is universally understood. Take me for instance. I’m Australian. And as an Australian, I can get the blues if, for example, my kangaroo runs away from home, or my pub runs out of beer. These heartbreaking events can best be expressed with the blues. Here’s an acceptable Aussie blues:

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“When I woke up this morning,
I was feeling so alone,
I said when I woke up this morning,
I was feeling so alone,
Because my kanargoo gone and left me,
And all my Vegemite is gone.”

And although the blues can be hard to define, there is a certain list of identifying factors that are considered compulsory requirements in order to have the blues.

So here we go with The Professor’s guide to The Blues:

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Firstly, you need to “wake up this morning.” You can really only have the blues “when you woke up this morning.”
If you didn’t wake up, the blues would be the least of your problems, and you’d certainly be in no condition to write a song about it. But if you wake up with the blues, what you do next is most important. You can’t wake up with the blues and then go to brunch. (A $20 Eggs Florentine is an immediate disqualification.)

The next step, after waking up, is realizing that your baby done left you. This is probably due to you behaving like an arse (drinkin’ and foolin’ around), and to be honest you probably deserved it. But hey, I’m not here to judge why your baby left you. I’m not a relationship counselor.

Now, once you realized your baby has done left you, you gotta drink, and I’m talking booze, people. I’m talkin’ beer, whisky, scotch. No Frappuccinos, no Shirley Temples, no Snapple, no excuses.

Now, if you think you got the blues, and instead of drinking you done gone to a yoga class and then you feel better, then you never done gone had the blues to begin with. Spandex pants are not an acceptable blues outfit. (Furthermore, if you have any sort of health club membership, you don’t got the blues. So stop your whinin’ and get back on your stationary bike.)

Here are some acceptable locations to have the blues:
Basin Street,
Beale St,
St Louis,
in fact anywhere is ok as long as you’re going to Chicago.

Unacceptable locations to have the blues:
hot air balloons,
Olive Garden,
inflatable bouncy castles,
riding a Unicycle,
Walmart (unless you’re working there).

I hope that clears the issue up for you people. Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to drink a Fosters. I woke up this morning and my baby left town with my favourite kangaroo, and someone stole all the shrimps off my barbie.


Reedman extraordinaire Adrian Cunningham is the leader of Professor Cunningham and his Old School Jazz Band, based in New York City. Adrian Cunningham was voted in a 2017 Hot House Jazz Magazine readers’ poll the Best Alto Sax Player in New York. His most recent album is Swing It Out! issued on the Arbors Jazz label. Visit his both his sites on the world wide web: www.adriancunningham.com and professorcunninghamjazz.com.

The Professor is delighted to field your questions regarding jazz and a variety of other germane topics. Write him at [email protected]


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