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Music Makes MeFred Astaire and Jazz$
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Todd Decker

Print publication date: 2011

Print ISBN-13: 9780520268883

Published to California Scholarship Online: May 2012

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520268883.001.0001

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“Jazz means the blues”

“Jazz means the blues”

(p.217) Chapter 7 “Jazz means the blues”
Music Makes Me

Todd Decker

University of California Press

In 1952, Fred Astaire remarked that “jazz means the blues,” and this chapter examines this comment in practical terms by detailing Astaire's varied use of the twelve-bar blues progression as a musical scaffold for dance making. All the important popular blues-based idioms turn up in his work, from boogie-woogie and swing blues (use of the blues progression by big bands) to 1950s rock and roll and 1960s soul jazz. Astaire danced to popular music, whose structural building blocks are straightforward: thirty-two-bar choruses built on eight-bar phrases in an AABA or ABAC arrangement, twelve-bar blues choruses, introductions, verses, vamps, and big finishes. There was nothing arcane or concealed about the musical forms he deployed: they can be heard easily if we attend just to the music—sometimes hard to do with all that dancing going on. Accompanied on-screen by a group of African American sideline musicians, Astaire created an extended solo dance to “Bugle Call Rag.” His final studio-era solo was a rock-and-roll blues number by Cole Porter.

Keywords:   Fred Astaire, jazz, twelve-bar blues, dance making, boogie-woogie, swing blues, rock and roll, musical forms, Bugle Call Rag, popular music

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