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TERRY GROSS, host:

In the 1960's electric guitarist Grant Green was one of workhorses of the Blue Note jazz label. He recorded dozens of albums under his own name and even more as a sideman for Stanley Turrentine, Sonny Clark, Big John Patton, and many more. Green's first Blue Note album has now been reissued. Jazz critic Kevin Whitehead says it demonstrates the durability of the Blues.

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Professor KEVIN WHITEHEAD (Music Department, University of Kansas; Jazz Critic): The Blues, that musical form usually 12 bars long with three basic cords moving underneath it, ranks among the 20th century's great contributions to world culture. The Blues is as indestructible as titanium and malleable as gold, whether coming from Memphis Minnie on a Beale Street corner, Count Basie at the Reno Club, or Cream at the Royal Albert Hall. Even one musician's Blues can contain multitudes. And Grant Green's, "Grant's First Stand" from 1961, five of the six tunes are Blues, all played by a stripped down trio.

The challenge for Green is to expound at length on one topic without repeating itself. Sometimes he roots his lines in earthy, well-worn patterns. Other times he gets a bit more abstract. Here's is a little Blues medley to make the point.

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Prof. WHITEHEAD: Grant Green didn't go in for distortion or other special effects. He liked a neutral amplifier tone to let you hear those metal strings ring. Jazz musician's Blues are usually slicker than a straight ahead Blues guitarist. Green has a solid swinger's neck with skippy, airborne jazz rhythms, but some of his lines wouldn't sound out of place in a Chicago Blues bar if he had a more gritty tone.

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Prof. WHITEHEAD: Green's compadres are drummer Ben Dixon and organist Roosevelt Baby Face Willette. Like the guitarist, Willette played gospel music coming up. It fed his approach, the way spirituals inform the Blues in general. Blues is sort of a flip-side of spirituals. Religious folk even denounced it as the Devil's music. The duality of the sacred and profane is implicit in jazz organ groups, splitting the difference between the rituals of Saturday night and Sunday morning.

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Prof. WHITEHEAD: Bluesy organ groups like Grant Green's were very popular by 1961, then fell way out of favor on some circles. Later, they become fashionably retro, ceding hip-hop with a billion samples and loops. The Blues has had it ups and downs as a commercial property too. But with times like they are now - could be making a comeback.

GROSS: Kevin Whitehead is currently on leave from teaching at the University of Kansas and he's a Jazz columnist for emusic.com. He reviewed the reissue "Grant's First Stand" by guitarist Grant Green on the Blue Note label.

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GROSS: Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews a new literary history of American women's writing. This is FRESH AIR.

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