Is it the end, the beginning, or both? Musings on the 12-Bar Blues and New Year’s Eve

As I write this, it’s early evening on December 31st, otherwise known as “New Year’s Eve,” and a blues lyric has just popped into my head:

“Well here we are again… another New Year’s Eve,
Well here we are again… another New Year’s Eve,
I can’t wait for midnight to get here.. so this tired old year can leave.”

That’s not a real song, and it’s not how I actually feel. I’m just having fun with the rhyme “Eve/leave.”

At the same time, I’m remembering a “Jazz meets World Music” music workshop I attended at Wesleyan University back in the late 1980s. The trumpeter Don Cherry gave a fascinating lecture on his concept of the 12-bar blues.

Cherry, who was highly influenced by Eastern religion and philosophy, viewed the 12-bar blues as a cyclical form. He explained at length how in his mind, the final note of the 12-bar blues wasn’t the 4th beat of the 12th measure, as most people view it. Instead, the 12-bar blues continued until the first beat of the next cycle.

Don Cherry viewed the 12-bar blues as a circle, or a cycle. The end of one chorus was the same as the beginning of the next.

Cyclical form. It changes how we play the music.

Thinking about all this on New Year’s Eve, it brings up an interesting concept: What if the end of the year was the same as the new beginning? Not one and then the next, but both at the same time?

In a sense, nothing’s really ending, is it? At the same time, the new calendar brings a fresh influx of energy and the possibility of renewal.

What if we extended the “ending” a few more seconds, to merge with the first precious moments of the new year? To experience them both at the same time.

Just like jazz great Don Cherry and the 12-bar blues.

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