By R. Gray Edenfield
Dog Star Tavern is a small bar right off the beaten path in historic, downtown Fernandina Beach, Florida. The main street downtown is called Centre Street, and as you walk along it you can hear live music all the way up and down the street, which is lined with tourists. Dog Star is one of the many pubs in the area, but is more popular with locals than it is with the tourist crowd. The interior is quaint, typical exposed brick walls, decorated with various psyhcedelia; a Dead Head would feel right at home. Dog Star is known for featuring a wide variety of acts, and on March 13, 2011, I had the opportunity to see The Josh Miller Blues Revue. When classifying Josh Miller's sound, it would fit into the genre of jazz. But the band's identification with blues is appropriate, given the blue's significant influence on the origin of jazz music.
Jazz music enjoys the distinction of being called a true American art-form, and like many other modern styles of music, Jazz is an amalgamation of many different influences coming together. The origins of Jazz come from the coalescence of African-American spirituals, and their secular counterpart, the blues, with the various folk music of European-Americans. Slaves brought from Africa to the Americas beginning in the 16th century, found themselves encouraged to take up Christianity, which was the religion of their masters. The new influence of Christianity, combined with traditional tribal rhythms created spirituals, or work songs. These were call and response melodies sang to help pass the time while working in the field, which often contained religious themes, thereby serving a dual purpose as many could be used as worship songs.
At the same time in the rural south, these same conditions led to the beginnings of another form of music, the blues. The blues would use African rhythmic structures, and call and response lyrics in a secular application. Blues was built around the use of third, fifth, and seventh notes of the major pentatonic scale (which are called “blue notes”). As jazz evolved it would always maintain a very close association with the blues, as many artists were able to transition seamlessly between the two genres, identifying with both of them. Examples include: Jelly Roll Morton, Bessie Smith, and T-Bone Walker. (Shuller, 1986)
Josh Miller and his band are a very tight ensemble, consisting of Miller on electric guitar and vocals, an upright bass player, and a drummer on a standard kit. The name of the group, Josh Miller Blues Revue, might be a bit misleading as their sound is much more representative of early jazz. The meter most of their songs is played in has a very straight forward jazz beat with a ragtime feel. The truest blues component of the act was Miller's chicken pickin' lead guitar, which was very twangy, with a country blues quality in many instances. Only one song played that evening could be classified as a straight blues tune. It was a song with a pentatonic riff, and a slow, driving back beat, that reminded one of the electric blues stylings of Muddy Waters. The sound of the upright bass adds very much to the early jazz vibe, and when if you closed your eyes, at some points the rhythm section could remind you of something from the early 20th century.
The band's jazz pedigree was especially prominent in their propensity to jam. Every song featured extended solos. On several songs there were solos not just by Miller on guitar (as is most frequent at most rock music shows I have attended), but by the bassist and drummer as well. Improvisation is one of the major cornerstones of jazz music, and the trading of solos by different instrumentalists is a very important jazz tradition. The structure of the set was made of long jams, not so much tightly packaged, easily discernible separate songs.
The music was good, and the crowd enjoyed the band, but it was a very chill atmosphere, with people conversing and nodding along to the music in the background. This was not the kind of show where people sang along with old familiar tunes. I didn't recognize any covers being done that night, and I believe the set list was constructed of original compositions. The musicians were seasoned, and the show was a good one, simple with no stage-craft paraphernalia, just as one would expect in a bar show. Nights like these are the reason Dog Star has been my favorite bar to attend since I turned twenty one (those under legal drinking age are not permitted inside), and bands like the Josh Miller Blues Revue are the reason I frequent the tavern. At Dog Star one can count on interesting music, quick service, and a pleasant experience, and the night March 13, 2011, was no exception.
|Josh Mill Blues Revue|
|Dog Star Tavern|
|Work Cited can be found on main page entitled "Live Jazz"|