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The Blues​-​Tempered Clavier

by Art Wheeler



This is a concise audio history of America's singular art form, as played on piano, covering many essential styles.

The album begins with what is believed to be the origin of The Blues, and (by way of The Blues), Jazz. It is the distinctive musical moaning sound that originated with African slaves in England's North American colonies. We surmise it was an expression of their sorrow and anxiety, which they sang or hummed melodically on the minor pentatonic scale. Of course, no one living knows exactly what it sounded like. Art composed this track ad-hoc in the studio.

Next, a single track explores 21 rudimental riffs found in traditional Blues melody. It starts with the simplest riff and works toward more complex examples. Students of the Blues may use these riffs to better understand the building blocks of the music.

Tracks 3 through 18 explore Barrelhouse Blues on piano, named “Barrelhouse” because the early performances by African-American musicians were held in warehouses in the south which contained barrels of tar and other substances. Several distinct styles are presented including those of Memphis Slim, Cow-Cow Davenport, Otis Spann, and Jimmy Yancey. Track 14 is “Cow-Cow’s Blues", composed by Cow-Cow Davenport. All others were composed by Art Wheeler.

Track 19 leaps into modern times for a great performance by Guitar Slim Jr. from his album “Nothing Nice”, courtesy of Warehouse Creek Recording Corp. Art co-produced and played keyboards on the album. Not so much about piano, obviously, but this song by Slim serves as a fitting reference to modern Blues playing, and caps the blues section of this album.

The final section comprises 21 tracks that demonstrate the development of Jazz piano playing. These styles are presented on the 12-bar song form, commonly called the Blues song form. They span over a century, from Scott Joplin in the 1880s to the creative heyday of the '60s and into the present day.

Jazz on the Blues form? Explaining and demonstrating the development of Jazz music would not be easy, so Art decided to employ the very approachable and relatively simple Blues song form as a way to keep the examples comprehensible and cohesive.

The Blues is at least two things: a way of singing and a song form.

1: A way of singing: The minor pentatonic scale and bending notes. The minor pentatonic scale uses the 1st, minor 3rd, 4th, 5th, and minor 7th notes of the major scale. In the key of C, the minor pentatonic scale would be: C, E flat, F, G, B flat.

Blues singing uses a distinctive bending of notes that may sound like moaning and often expresses sorrow.

2: A song form: The 12-bar lyric shape, also known as “AAB”: 4 bars of A, four bars of A, four bars of B. The chords used are built on the 1st, 4th and 5th notes of the major scale.

The 12-bar lyric, played in the key of C in 4/4 time, would go like this:
A1 2 bars, 1st, C, I’m goin’ to Chicago, baby but I can’t take you…
A1 2 bars, 1st, C, rest…
A2 2 bars, 4th, F, Goin’ to Chicago, baby but I can’t take you…
A2 2 bars, 1st, C, rest…
B 2 bars, 5th, G, ‘cause there’s nothing in Chicago a monkey like you can do…
B 2 bars, 1st, C, rest and turnaround.

The examples presented here may move away from the pentatonic scale, but they stay within the 12-bar song form.

Track List: Unless otherwise noted, all instruments and vocals are by Art Wheeler

1. 1711 - moaning

3 through 18. Barrelhouse blues piano, various styles.

19. "Steal Away" from Guitar Slim Jr.'s album Nothing Nice, courtesy of Warehouse Creek Recording Corp. Guitar Slim Jr., vocals and guitar. Art Wheeler, keyboards. The Memphis Horns

20. Scott Joplin, 1880s - 1910. Scott Joplin apparently wrote no Blues on piano, so Wheeler composed this Blues piece in the rag-time style for which Joplin is famous, in order to represent the popular style from about 1880 to 1910.

21. "Jelly Roll Morton", 1910 - 1920s. Morton claimed to the inventor of Jazz. Most notable as jazz's first arranger, proving that a genre rooted in improvisation could retain its essential spirit and
characteristics when notated. Born Ferdinand Joseph LaMothe.

22. James P. Johnson, 1920 - 1930. Johnson introduced the "stride" style, in which the pianist's left hand jumped great distances across the keys.

23. Earl Hines, 1930s – 1940s, Fats Waller, Art Tatum, 1930s – 1940s. These artists drew on the influence of James P. Johnson, and added extraordinary melodies and chord substitutions in their styles.

24. Errol Garner. Garner made his mark in the 1940s and 1950s, though he continued to innovate into the 1970s. Garner is best known for his ballad “Misty”, but his playing style was high-energy and virtuosic.

25. Oscar Peterson, 1940s - 1960s. Peterson introduced block chords: 5-note chords that imitate the horn arrangements of Count Basie and Duke Ellington. He often invoked the early pianists.

26. Boogie Woogie, 1950 - 1955. Pete Johnson, Albert Ammons, Meade Lux Lewis, and others. This style directly begets Rock & Roll. The left hand in this piano piece resembles what Chuck Berry might play on his rhythm guitar.

Be-Bop, 1940s – 1950s. Introduces replacement of standard chords with new Jazz chords.

27 & 28. Bud Powell, renowned for his ability to play accurately at fast tempos, his inspired bebop soloing, and his comprehension of the ideas his contemporary Charlie Parker had explored on saxophone.

Powell adhered to a simplified left-hand "comping" recalling stride. The comping often consisted of single bass notes outlining the root and fifth. He also used a tenth, which he was able to reach easily due to his very large hands, with the minor seventh included. He freed the right hand for continuous linear exploration, and facilitated in the left a statement of the harmonies typical of bebop.

29 & 30 Thelonius Monk, often regarded as a founder of bebop, though his playing later evolved away from that style. His compositions and improvisations are full of dissonant harmonies and angular melodic twists, and are consistent with Monk's unorthodox approach to the piano, which combined a highly percussive attack with abrupt, dramatic use of silences and hesitations.

Post Modern, 1960s – present day. Created still more chord color with extensions, alterations and substitutions.

The average listener may find the post-modern style elusive, and may say, “I don’t hear any blues in that.” In this style, we’re playing Jazz on the 12-bar song form. There’s no bass line or rhythm section, so some of it could sound formless to the uninitiated. Many solo pianists play like this now, no walking bass, no drums; the rhythm is mostly implied.

31. Herbie Hancock. As part of Miles Davis's "second great quintet", Hancock helped redefine the role of a jazz rhythm section, and was one of the primary architects of the "post-bop" sound. He was one of the first jazz musicians to embrace synthesizers and funk. Hancock's music is often melodic and accessible; he has had many songs "cross over" and achieved success among pop audiences.

32. Cecil Taylor, Phineas Newborn, Don Shirley – Introduces complete freedom on the 12 bar form even unto a Jackson Pollock splash and spill style.These virtuosos brought to the keyboard not only perfect execution or dexterity but the most modern and free harmonies that could even result in a kind of splash and spill ala Jackson Pollock.

McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett. They are the holy trinity that begat the newest school of jazz piano.

33 & 34. McCoy Tyner, Chick Corea style of accompaniment

McCoy Tyner: His early influences included Bud Powell, a Philadelphia neighbor. He played with John Coltrane's quartet from 1960 - 1965. By 1965, Coltrane's music was becoming much more atonal and free; he had also augmented his quartet with percussion players who threatened to drown out both Tyner and regular drummer Elvin Jones. About Coltrane's changes, Tyner said, "I didn't see myself making any contribution to that music... All I could hear was a lot of noise." Post Coltrane, Tyner continued playing through the 1990s, producing some of his best work.

Chick Corea: From 1968 to 1971 Chick Corea had associations with avant garde players and his solo style revealed a dissonant, orientation, previously unheard. His avant garde playing can be heard on his solo works of the period, his solos in live recordings under the leadership of Miles Davis, his recordings with Circle, and his playing on Joe Farrell's Song of the Wind album. In 1968 Corea replaced Herbie Hancock in the piano chair in Davis' band and appeared on landmark albums such as Filles de Kilimanjaro, In a Silent Way, and Bitches Brew. In concert, Davis' rhythm section of Corea, Dave Holland, and Jack DeJohnette combined elements of free jazz improvisation and rock music. In the early 1970s Corea took a stylistic turn toward a crossover jazz fusion style that incorporated Latin jazz elements.

35 & 36. Chick Corea accompaniment

37. Wynton Kelly, 1950s & 1960s. A child of Jamaican immigrants, Kelly made important contributions with greats such as Dizzy Gillespie, Charles Mingus John Coltrane, and Miles Davis.

38 & 39. Bill Evans and Chick Corea, including interlude

Bill Evans: His use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and trademark rhythmically independent, "singing" melodic lines influenced a generation of pianists including: Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett. Considered by many to be the most influential post-war WW II pianist.

In addition to introducing a new freedom of interplay within the piano trio, Evans began to explore extremely slow ballad tempos and quiet volume levels, which had been virtually unknown in jazz. His chordal voicings became more impressionistic, reminiscent of classical composers such as Debussy, Ravel, Scriabin, and Satie, and he moved away from the thick block chords he had often used with Miles Davis. His sparse left-hand voicings supported his lyrical right-hand lines, reflecting the influence of jazz pianist Bud Powell.

40. McCoy Tyner, includes interlude.

41. ROUNDUP: A solo with walking bass line features a look back at the various styles.
released 15 March 2012
Cover art by Marigene Wilson.


released February 9, 2019

Art Wheeler, Composer and Sole Performer except for Steal Away.

Cover art by Marigene Wilson.


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Art Wheeler Charlottesville

I’ve played keyboards since 1965. I love great music in ALL styles. I seem naturally to gravitate toward New Orleans jazz, any jazz, Memphis blues, Chicago blues, African-American gospel, Afro-Cuban and salsa music. Also, Gershwin, Beatles, Kern, Bach, Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven, ragtime, stride, swing and Motown. You name the style

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