The first thing one notices on listening to Dallas Blues, incidentally one of the first published blues songs, is that it lacks the mournful sound often associated with the style. Its up-tempo feel with driving drum beat (we hear swung quavers on hi-hat or ride throughout the piece and syncopated fills to move us through section changes) and bright trumpet sound playing syncopated rhythms suggest a happier mood. The piece, however, represents the style particularly in its pitch material and structure.

The piece is built on a repeated 12-bar blues pattern, (I, I, I, I7, IV7, IV7, I, I, V7, IV7, I, V7), the basis of the quintessential blues composition. The pattern includes a number of 7th chords common to the style. This cycle repeats twice with the same melodic material before solos on tenor sax, trombone, trumpet and clarinet. When not featured in a solo, the ‘front line’ (solo wind and brass instruments) are relegated to an accompanying role, playing syncopated chords at a low volume, while the rhythm section (drums and upright bass) continue their roles as before with dynamic deference to the soloist.

Melodically, during the first two cycles of the 12-bar pattern, the piece firmly plays only the notes of the major scale (with the exception of the flat 7th in bar 4); it is not until the solos that we hear the quintessential blues notes (flat 3, flat 5, as well as flat 7). At the beginning of the third cycle, the tenor saxophone begins its solo on flat 3 and the characteristic blues melodic sound is heard.

Woody Herman & His Orchestra – Dallas Blues – Spotify