Gioia’s Layers of Parallels

From “Delta Blues” by Ted Gioia:

“The earliest Delta blues tradition had been as much about creating sounds as it was about playing notes. The same had once been true of the jazz world, too. In 1923, King Oliver could construct a whole solo just using several notes, relying on his rich tonal palette to give texture and vitality to these simple phrases. But Louis Armstrong came along and played such an endless variety of notes and complicated phrases that the simpler, heartfelt solos of King oliver were seen by many — wrongly, in my opinion — as outmoded and primitive. One encounters a similar transformation in the history of the blues when the baton passes from Son House to Robert Johnson. If you transcribed House’s music on a piece of sheet music, the notes on the page would never do justice to the sound, to House’s mastery with the bottleneck or his hell-raising voce, and you might be tempted to dismiss the artistry involved in its creation. But you would never make this mistake with Robert Johnson’s music. Whether transcribed, played by another guitarist, ot transferred to another instrument, the inventiveness and versatility are unmistakable. True, something may have been lost in this shift from an African focus on sound to a Western preoccupation with notes. But, as with Armstrong, even more was gained. Above all, a folk music found the tools it needed to enter the mainstream of modern music.”

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