The original title of the post was going to the five best blues heads ever - kind of impossible to objectify. So rather than doing the impossible and providing a rather arbitrary ranking of blues heads where important contributions would be left off, I decided to switch course slightly and simply recommend five blues melodies that are important to know.
These are all relatively simple melodies to learn and internalize. Even better - they each teach us something about the blues whether it be a certain time feel, or harmonic resolution, phrasing pattern, riff, I could go on. Just learning these blues heads will give you a substantial education in jazz improvisation and will provide you with a harmonic and melodic foundation as well as some solid jazz language.
Blues in the Closet
This is a great example of a riff that changes slightly to accommodate the changing chords within the blues. Specifically the Major 3rd of the I chord resolving down by a half step the b7 of the IV chord. This is one THE elements that improvisers must master to starting busting out of mere blues-scale ideas and into outlining the nuanced harmony of the form. Sound slightly complicated? Its not. Just learn the head of Blues in the Closet - that will literally train your ear to hear everything that I just explained, but in a far more profound way. Take a listen....
Blue Spring Shuffle
If you are a bass player, there is a good chance you are already very familiar with this tune because of Paul Chambers playing. Both his solo and his walking-bass introduction are must-know's for aspiring bassists. But it is the tune that I am focusing on in this blog. Riff blues with different 3rd phrase. That formula is all over the place in both blues heads as well as improvised solos. Not to mention Kenny sounds pretty cool in the key of F.
This one is a minor blues. Members can check out the tune analysis and improv guide here. (Yes - a shameful plug). Minor Blues provide a whole new world of harmonic color and this one is a good head to learn to start down that path.
Maybe one of the first blues heads that jazz musicians typically learn! If you have never transcribed anything before - this would be a great place to start. The melody is typically played in F and is the same riff for all three phrases of the blues. It is also super easy to harmonize.
This is the only "Bebop Blues" that is on the list. Bebop heads are an inexhaustible source for jazz language. They are also fantastic at building your technique. However, they tend to be slightly more difficult simply due to the increased amount of notes and chromaticism. Other really good examples include Au Privave, Billie's Bounce, Blues for Alice, and Relaxin' at the Camarillo. This one is really just a simple riff blues and is extremely learnable!
Honorable Mention: C Jam Blues
Honestly, this is just two notes. But, C-Jam holds a definitive place in jazz and jam-session culture. Above all else, Duke shows us how hip one can be with just two notes. So, if you don't know C-Jam, now you do!