Blues Etude #1: “Blues for Dr. John”
Blues Etude #1: “Blues for Dr. John” is an intermediate-to-difficult-level boogie-woogie. If you're still a relative beginner, you may want to skip this piece for now and come back to it when you've developed more technique and hand independence. If you think you've got what it takes, read on!
Dr. John (AKA Mac Rebennack) is one of the most famous blues pianists to emerge from New Orleans. As you read in Chapter 11, the Crescent City is a hotbed for piano blues. Dr. John is heavily influenced by such players as Champion Jack Dupree and Professor Longhair and is himself a part of this lineage of master bluesmen. His style combines R&B, early rock-n-roll, funk, and swamp grooves together with boogie-woogie and jazz. His jazz influences center on Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
Is Dr. Teeth from the Muppets band, Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem, based on someone?
Apparently, Muppets founder Jim Henson was a big fan of the sharply dressed New Orleans pianist Dr. John. The Muppet Dr. Teeth even mimics Dr. John's raspy voice and uses musician's lingo when he talks.
Dr. John's piano style is smooth, flowing, and syncopated. He sometimes uses the following rhythmical motif: . You were introduced to this rhythm in FIGURE 13-13. Practice this pattern separately at first before incorporating it into the etude. In other words, practice this rhythm until it rolls off your fingertips with ease. It should not sound forced or staccato; rather, it should be attached and legato.
FIGURE 15-1: “Blues for Dr. John” Bass Line Without Octaves
FIGURE 15-2: Blues Etude #1: “Blues for Dr. John”
As previously mentioned, this etude is one of the more difficult pieces in this book. A big reason for this is the fancy left-hand pattern. As you will see, the left hand moves up and down the keyboard in octaves. As a result, you must play very accurately. There's nothing worse than a sloppy left hand when playing a boogie-woogie bass pattern. If you're having a difficult time playing the bass line in octaves, try simplifying it. The best way to do it is to take out the octaves altogether. Use the pattern in FIGURE 15-1 (see page 220).
It is highly recommended that you learn the piece one hand at a time. When you're ready to put your hands together, play the etude at a slow tempo. Remember, clean, articulate playing is essential in boogie-woogie.