The Importance of the Blues: Stretching the Scale

Within the realm of musical genres and change, the hybridity of types of music has slowly formed and meshed into the popular music of today. Musical expression has always had a social situation and community or audience to accept the music that represents the times. As times change, so does the music, stretching itself beyond and spilling over boundaries untampered with.

With music, the genres that evolve are culturally specific and represent the events and atmosphere of different levels of culture. Some music has been inspired by what is considered to be of higher class individuals, while other music has come about through the roots of America and what is known as the lower working class. It all represents the culture specific genres within a time period, with a ‘learned collective meaning system’ involved (which sometimes has multiple subsystems within a culture).

Blues, jazz, and rock n’ roll has evolved throughout the decades into what is currently considered present day, or modern rock. Through the ages these genres have formed, molded, and remixed with each other according to their historical era, as well as previous influences and past traditions/styles learned of other lifestyles. These are the two main aspects that are imperative, effecting the contextual meaning of music today. The past and present happenings are alway imperative when forming new music or compositions, often times using what is previously created as a basis for one’s work.

Miles Davis and his friend George Russell, a composer and scholar, created the next step from jazz and blues to what would become the basis of rock n’ roll. A lot of music right before Davis’ ‘Kind of Blue’ Album came out, a common theme of chord progressions and repetitions within music was prevalent. It had distinct beats and often tempos that equally resembled each other. Russell made the sound of their music based off of scales instead of chords. Instead of the same repetition of chords over and over again with only three or four notes out of an octave, he took the whole scale and used it to make a similar sound that stretched the sounds of the music past just a few chords.

Louis Prima is another person I think of when it comes to jazz, blues, and a little bit of a different way of doing things. Some of his songs became epic cultural themes such as, “Jump, Jive, an’ Wail,” and “Oh Marie.” They too dared to bend the rules of the scale, but keeping much more of the bebop timbre. As mentioned, the change of stretching the scale was a progression that started before Davis, but that him and Russell mastered, ultimately leading to the base precedent for R&B, but I think Prima was a prime example of someone who liked to get creative in terms of tempo and range of music produced, which was the step before Davis and Russell. (See Prima’s “The Wildest!” album here)


As Russell and Davis collaborated, Russell said, “You are free to do anything,” meaning that he threw out the old rules of knowing what chords would be played next. You could tell where a lot of the chord progressions were going to go many times within other pieces of jazz or blues, and Davis and Russell didn’t want to do that anymore. Instead of repeating, they also linked chords, scales, and melodies, which created a flowing progression of music.

In a way this was a hybrid remix of the way music was played prior to Davis. Between him and Russell, they found a new way to mix musical notes to get out of the repetitive loop of bebop. Between the two of them, they hired Bill Evans to play the piano on the ‘Kind of Blues’ album. When a chord would be the sound needed in the song (say, a G Chord,) he would know how to hover around it, using the scales and notes without directly just playing the G chord. It created a flow to the music unheard of. John Coltrane was one of the saxophone players, following in Evans’ lead of relative notes and scales. Coltrane sealed the deal to this way of music by making his new album, ‘Giant Steps.’ This album was even more free than Russell’s composing or Evans’ playing which led to a wild compilation of scales chords and notes that flowed and became the beginning of a new era.

george_russell_1456284c miles-davis

A last note based upon the technologies used in this time period: the microphone was revolutionary and is something I feel is a little underrated now that we have mics that are extremely sensitive and can be a small bud taped to an actresses face as he/she sings the finale with ease. With the invention of the radio, microphones were mastered (after their original invention in 1876). New broadcasting microphones were created in 1942 for news purposes, and in 1964, Bell Laboratories researchers West and Sessler received their patent for an electret microphone, which offered better quality in general (lower cost, higher precision, smaller size).  The more it was worked on the better it sounded, allowing performances to be executed in a way that could really entertain larger crowds. Whether it was used in the studio for recording like with Davis or other celebrities, or in performances, it enhanced the sound of music. The mic now gave sound (and musical instruments) a chance to shine no matter its frequency, genre, or personal style.

Works Cited

“AllMusic.” AllMusic. N.p., 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <>.

Bellis, Mary. “The History of Microphones.” Inventors., 05 Mar. 2014. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <>.

Kaplan, Fred. “Why Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue Is so Great.” Slate Magazine. N.p., 17 Aug. 2009. Web. 01 Apr. 2014. <>.

Martin Irvine, “Popular Music as a Meaning System”