Jazz vs. Blues: Chicago’s music #AtoZChallenge

ChicagoAs in years past, this month I’m participating in the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge. 2016 marks my fifth anniversary, so to celebrate, I’m hosting Friday Blog-Ins here in San Diego; you can find out more info about where we’re meeting each week on my A to Z Challenge page.

My monthly theme is Chicago From A to Z, so stay tuned from Monday to Saturday for new posts on the Windy City. Or sign up for my mailing list (delivered weekly, on Fridays) so you don’t miss a thing!


Is Chicago a jazz town or a blues town?

This is one of those rhetorical questions with no real answer, before you start to argue one way or another. Indeed, it’s just a simple fact that Chicago’s been at the heart of it all when it comes to music in general. But two of the city’s most strongly associated forms, historically speaking, are jazz and blues.

What’s the difference between jazz and blues?

Diffen.com offers a joke to help you differentiate:

“A blues guitarist plays 3 chords in front of thousands of people, and a jazz guitarist plays thousands of chords in front of 3 people.”

But to be serious, blues came first, and while jazz could be considered an offshoot of the blues, it clearly developed into its very own style over the years.

To further simplify, blues songs always have lyrics and are meant to be sung, whereas jazz is much more often purely instrumental – and great for writers who don’t want to get hung up on the lyrics of a song they’re listening to while they’re writing something of their own!

While the blues eventually spun off into bluegrass, jazz, R&B, and even rock ‘n’ roll, jazz remains its own genre, and can be “hot” or “cool.”

Much more than the blues, jazz is about improvisation and group collaborations to give a well known song a unique twist, and every performance is completely different than the last. I think perhaps this emphasis on “different every time” can be a barrier to some people’s appreciation of the genre, since jazz doesn’t offer the same kind of easy rewards as, say, memorizing the words to your favorite pop song and being able to sing along. Instead, the joy comes from the fact that the song will never be the same, no matter how many times you listen to the album, and that chaotic feeling of “change is good” seems to influence both the musicians and their audience.

Here’s a strange juxtaposition of jazz, blues, rock and metal from guitarist Jonas Tamas to give you some musical comparisons:

And check out “History of the Blues in 50 Guitar Riffs” for a crash course in blues styling:

But don’t miss this guitar lesson from BB King, King of the Blues:

Chicago musicians

Some Chicago blues musicians you may already be familiar with include Muddy Waters:

And Howlin’ Wolf:

Chicago jazz musicians include Nat King Cole:

Jelly Roll Morton:

Bud Freeman:

Benny Goodman:

And Louis Armstrong – who was originally from New Orleans, but became noted for his Chicago-based Hot Five and Hot Seven bands):

And you might recognize this jazz-inspired tune from the musical Chicago, the second-longest running Broadway show (behind The Phantom of the Opera):

One of my fellow A to Z Challengers, Sarah Zama, is exploring Jazz in its entirety over at The Old Shelter, so if you’re looking for some well-researched material on the subject, I highly recommend popping over for a read! Be sure to check out B for Blues and I for Improvisation.

Additional Resources

[author_list style=”heart”]


What do you think?

Which is your favorite Chicago musical style: jazz, blues – or something else entirely?

Giveaway: San Diego from A to Z

Want to read the book I wrote last April, based on my A to Z posts about San Diego? I’m giving away two paperback copies of San Diego From A to Z over at Goodreads, so click here and enter to win! AND I’m giving away one free ebook copy every day until the end of April to a random commenter here on the blog. Leave a comment every day for another chance to win!

Goodreads Book Giveaway

San Diego from A to Z by Laura Roberts

San Diego from A to Z

by Laura Roberts

Giveaway ends April 30, 2016.

See the giveaway details
at Goodreads.

Enter Giveaway


  • A. Catherine Noon

    Can you believe, I haven’t been to many of the famous blues clubs yet? I did see Brother Brother a long time ago, but I haven’t been to anything recently. I used to be in a band, but we did more folksy stuff; I’ve been getting the urge to go back to singing and it’s been getting stronger. I might have to go poke around in some of these links; the artists performing are just incredible.

    Thanks for another great post today!

  • George M.

    I would lean more toward jazz. I’m more of an instrumental person when I write. I think that would suit me very well. And besides, I have a story where the MCs go to a jazz club and get into some trouble.

    G. R. McNeese from
    Project Blacklight

  • S. M. Pace

    When I was in college, my friends and I used to go a small coffee shop that had jazz nights every Friday. I loved listening to those songs, and anytime I listen to jazz I remember that time and get nostalgic. Thanks for this :-)