Got Blues?

If the stereotypical country-and-western song sounds like "My wife left, my dog ran away and my truck broke down," then the hackneyed blues song would go something like: "My wife ran off with my best friend, who stole my truck, knocked over my mailbox and hit my dog, then the electric company came and shut off my power on the coldest night of the year." But the blues aren't about wallowing in someone else's misery. They're about mutual wallowing--a kinship of wretchedness, knowing someone feels the same as (if not worse than) you.

According to Kenny Leon, who directs the Dallas Theater Center's production of Blues in the Night, the blues are life. "It is about people and our relationships with one another. It is an uplifting and powerful force that connects us and draws us together." In the play, the blues (in addition to jazz and pop songs) bring four lonely people together one night at a Chicago hotel in the 1930s. The three women have been wronged by men and sing about their emotions and experiences using lyrics and music by composers such as Duke Ellington, Bessie Smith, Benny Goodman Billy Strayhorn and Johnny Mercer, who wrote the tune that gives the play its title. A man himself slighted completes the quartet.

With this basic plot stringing the songs together, the music is allowed to tell the story itself. And to put these songs in context, the Dallas Theater Center hosts a discussion as part of the InPerspective series of post-play forums with University of North Texas jazz music professor John Murphy, who is also an ethnomusicologist and a saxophonist. Perhaps he can also explain why all those blues writers can't keep their women from running off.