From spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants, and rhymed simple narrative ballads, the blues is one genre that has remained the same since its inception. Most blues features simple, usually three-chord progressions and have simple structures that are open to endless improvisations, both lyrical and musical. Think of artists such as Muddy Waters, B.B. King, Howlin Wolf and Bessie Smith, who have paved the way for the genre to come alive.
But are younger musicians learning the art of the blues? Last week, many did. The Blues Musician Ensemble Director at Columbia College Chicago & The Blues Kids Foundation proudly presented Fernando Jones’ 9th Annual International Blues Camp on Sunday, July 8 to Sunday, July 15 on the campuses of Columbia College Chicago, Chicago State University and The Logan Center for the Arts (University of Chicago). Through this priceless, fun-filled weeklong experience, the young musicians learned and performed America’s “roots” music in a structured program under the guidance of highly qualified instructors.
The Blues Kids Foundation is a nonprofit charitable organization that was established to preserve, perform and promote the blues among America’s youth, parents and educators. Its focus is on education, literacy, and music as a second language.
The 8 -day experience in Chicago was filled with extracurricular activities that included learning the blues melodically and expressively, public performances, skating and bowling parties. This experience allowed kids to gain the insight into their future as musicians.
Keyboardist and good friend of Jones, Morris Hayes, former Musical Director for legendary Prince for many years, was a special guest on Wednesday, July 11. He gave the kids an enlightening discussion about the “music business” and his relationship with Prince.
Hayes pointed out that he learned from Prince to respect the music, pay attention to yourself and everybody around you on stage because it’s all about teamwork.
“When you’re at the age and at this stage, it’s important to do it now,” Hayes told the Blues Kids. “Your brains are like sponges. I saw you guys last night, and even with the smaller kids, you guys blew me away. I was impressed. You have this thing inside of you so what you have to do now is nurture your passion, it’s a gift, grasp it now and learn the music side and academic side.”
Hayes got his big break in 1991 when he toured with the band “The Time.” At the end of the tour, he and a good friend formed a band called “G Sharp and the Edge.” They were the house band for Prince’s new nightclub, “Glam Slam.” Prince recognized their immense talent and hired the entire band to play with Carmen Electra on his “Diamonds & Pearls” tour in 1992. After the tour, Prince asked Hayes to join the New Power Generation officially.
Jones and Hayes conveyed to the kids that Prince was a bluesman; that was always his base and the blues genre was very important to him.
Hayes stated “I remember Prince listening to [blues musician Robert Johnson] and we were working on a record that had that Johnson’s vibe and tone to it. We used to do a thing called the “After Show” where we would find a club [Park West, Metro] after the show and jam with musicians. Prince would play the blues, and that was just a prominent thing he just did.
Parents, family, and friends were there to support and encourage all the kids as they took the stage at Reggie’s Rock Club on State Street. Guardians even had their time that night to share the stage as they performed a medley of blues songs such as “Downhome Blues” by blues singer ZZ Hill.
Laneen Blount [Southside of Chicago] parent of a teen participant, stated, “I enrolled my son in the blues camp because it was something new; he’s a musician. I like it a lot, it’s very different, and it keeps him busy.
Levern Danly, 15, from Wheaton, Ill, stated: “3 years ago my dad heard about it because of his fraternity [Kappa Alpha Psi, Inc. Jones is also a member] so he heard about it; I like playing, I love all kinds of music.”
Seventeen-year-old Ben Olmos from Orange County, Calif., came to Chicago for the camp plus he enjoys the city. “I love playing music. It’s like my ‘jam’ no pun intended, (laughs) and I play electric guitar and drums. I love Chicago… if I had the money, I would live here; the camp is fun, the teachers are nice.”
Jones is an internationally known American Bluesman, educator and songwriter from the South Side of Chicago. Jones has performed his compositions from basement parties to nightclubs in Havana, Cuba. Inspired by his older brothers, Jones taught himself how to play guitar when he was just four years old and has been playing ever since.
Jones is on the faculty in the Music Department at Columbia College Chicago as the founding director of the Blues Ensemble and Blues Camp for student musicians ages 12 to 18.
Jones has been recognized and celebrated by his peers and the press as being on the “cutting edge” of the Blues. He adds new blood and a fresh perspective to its legacy musically and culturally. As a composer, he has taken great pride in performing his original works publicly to help ensure the evolutionary development of this genre.
“I had a lot of fun and success in my life through my band, and I would like for them [the Blues Kids] to keep practicing; some of them end up forming bands with each other through the camp.”
To audition for next year’s Blues Kids Camp, visit: blueskids.com/earlybird. Students from all over the world are invited to audition. Beginner, intermediate and advanced placement in ensembles are available. For more information call (312) 369-3229 or email at info@BluesKids.com, or FernandoJones.com.