Chapter by chapter summaries



Chapter 3 begins with a list of several musicians Marsalis has performed with—from jazzmen to classical flutists to country singers to Motown artists. He asks, what could they all have in common? He answers, “The Blues.” Using metaphor, personification, and dichotomy, Marsalis discusses the deeply moving aspects of the blues — so deep that it can simultaneously generate feelings of great joy and great sorrow.

Analogies, personal reflections, philosophy, and anecdotes provide a technical chart of the repetitive 12-measure cycle of the three harmonies and three calls and responses of the blues. Marsalis calls them the “The Holy Trinity” of the blues. Traces of the blues are found in every class, every culture, and every genre of music, but Marsalis says “the blues is from America.” A deep sense of freedom emerges uniquely from the American psyche—a collective psyche shared by those who possessed freedom and those who only could dream of it. The blues shares the optimism of American composers such as John Philip Sousa, but the optimism of the blues often springs from pain and suffering. There is always the message that “Everything gon’ be alright …” but it’s tempered with the knowledge that there are “demons and angels sitting right at the same table.” It is this dichotomy of the blues that makes it different from other significant American music…

In the midst of the discussion of the depth of the blues, Marsalis shares a personal recollection of a time when he neither knew nor appreciated the aesthetic value of the blues…

Marsalis discusses the blues within this context of art and differentiates between playing the blues and reading about it; playing and listening. He links the study of music to the study of other art forms such as poetry and literature and he encourages the study of all art.

Chapter 3 concludes with a bit of self-deprecating awareness as Marsalis describes his interaction with older generation jazz musicians and his realization that what they played sounded “damn good.” He began to find his own “voice” as a musician … and “his own heritage as a human being.”