Monday Notes

Mo Better Blues, a soundtrack to understand the blues

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[Monday notes no. 159] Mo Better Blues is the title track of the soundtrack for the film of the same name directed by Spike Lee, who commissioned the music to his father Bill Lee. Mo Better Blues is has a funky feel but in many ways falls in the tradition of the more archaic blues. Let’s try to find out why.

Most blues have a twelve-measure form, which is repeated several times in a circular fashion. Mo Better Blues, on the other hand, has an 8-measure verse, typical of the more archaic blues. Within the 8 measures, we find, however, the three main degrees typical of the blues: I, IV and V.

Mo Better Blues - accordi principali

Another typical feature of the blues is the use of the pentatonic scale: in this case the main melody is built in its entirety precisely on the B-flat pentatonic: Bb C D F G. In the score the main motif of Mo Better Blues is highlighted.

Mo Better Blues - scala pentatonica

Another feature that assimilates this piece to the more archaic blues, and also to older musical genres such as spirituals and gospel, is the typical question-and-answer pattern. In fact, the main melody is answered by a second line, played by the rhythm section. Here are highlighted with two different colors the two parts that are alternating and dialoguing.

Mo Better Blues - proposta e risposta

While the score composed by Bill Lee is punchy and incisive, the same cannot be said of the film. Mo Better Blues is definitely not one of the most successful works of Spike Lee, who has often chronicled the lives of African Americans but in talking about a jazz musician ends up falling into the usual clich├ęs.

The main character Bleek Gillam is a stereotypical lady-killer musician who thinks only of music and ends up getting beaten up by gangsters. This episode is not entirely fictional; something similar actually happened to Chet Baker, who was beaten up by drug dealers and for a time could not play the trumpet.

Regardless of the film’s rating, Bill Lee’s song is very good and effective, the theme is very catchy, and you only have to listen to it once or twice to never forget it.

As usual, if you’d like to leave your opinion on Bill Lee’s Mo Better Blues, ask me a question about the topics addressed in this article, or even write your opinion about the film directed by Spike Lee, you can do so in the “comments” section at the bottom of the page.

Thanks, untilenext Monday!

The lead sheet of Mo Better Blues

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