Thoughts on History: Buddy Guy, Jazz, and the Mississippi River by Anja Wade

I am a big nerd (insert nerd emoji here). I always have been and always will be. And I find history fascinating. When I was younger, I remember reading an interview with Derek Trucks that made an impression on me. Trucks was quoted as saying that it's not enough to study a certain style of music - you have to study the tradition and history of it as well. Otherwise what you soak up from that style is superficial knowledge and superficial artistic fluency. Deepening your understanding of who played the music, where they played the music, and how they played the music can only deepen your understanding of the music as a language and force. Learning about music history reminds me that I play a role in a much larger fabric woven from intricate threads of time, space, and energies greater than humanity. In other words, learning about history kicks my ass to stay aware, stay humble, and stay grateful. And to shed. Heh.

Regarding history, one of my long-standing fascinations has been the Mississippi River and its role in the development of jazz and blues in the US. I was in St. Louis, Missouri a few months ago and I remember seeing signs for something called the Cahokia Mounds. I found out later that the Cahokia Mounds were structures built by indigenous Native Americans who lived in the area and thrived off of the land near the Mississippi. There's so much about the Mississippi that stands as a metaphor for the development of music in the US. If you think of the Mississippi as a cradle of civilization and life (much like the Nile in Africa), it makes sense that it would also be a cradle of musical civilization and life. When you think of early jazz and ragtime what do you think of? A popular image is that of jazz played on a steamboat as it chugs up a river. And that's just what the Mississippi has been - a pathway along which musicians, cultures, languages and innovations have traveled.

Today, September 25th, 2016, marks the 59th anniversary of blues guitarist Buddy Guy's journey from Lettsworth, Louisiana to Chicago, Illinois. In 1957, when Buddy Guy made the trek northward to pursue his musical career as a guitarist, he was among several million African Americans to move north in what was known as The Great Migration. It's no mistake that Chicago is a major metropolitan area not too far removed from the Mississippi River. During the Great Migration, the Mississippi was a byway for travel. Though Guy himself traveled north via train, others before him made the trip via the mighty river. From the traditions of the south, styles such as Chicago blues emerged up north. While iconic in his own right, Buddy Guy is a symbol of the Chicago blues style. This style is known for its electrified energy and spotlight on instruments such as the electric guitar and harmonica. Chicago blues would not have emerged without the influence of earlier southern blues traditions straight from the Mississippi Delta. Blues music originated in the Delta and moved northward with the musicians who made the journey.

There's so much more to say and learn about this topic (Napoleon! the Mississippi River and westward expansion! the influence of French culture on Creole music and early jazz!)... but my coffee is wearing off and I am getting sleepy. So I will save that for another time soon. Know that history is cool, though, and I for one will raise a toast to any kindred spirit who savors learning about it. Goodnight, goodnight, goodnight. Talk soon.