Kick Out the Jams
It’s one thing to select a pizza off the menu, but when you’re at home or with friends, you can select and mix and match exactly what you all like.
OK, so that’s a weird way to start a music column, but what I want to talk about this time is “jamming”. Many people have seen the term, but don’t really know what it’s about, or think it’s just for musicians only, which is definitely wrong. Jamming is nothing more or less than musicians getting together and playing together. This could mean playing standards – those songs which are well known by all – or they could be experimenting with some new ways of approaching playing. Equally, the musicians in a jam could be well known to each other, or they may never have set eyes on each other. The one thing they have in common is the music.
Now, this might sound a bit “hit and miss” in terms of what the audience might get out of it, and it is to a large degree, but sometimes, fairly often, you will get a slate of musicians or a set of songs that take you to a whole new place. I have even been to gigs were the jam is better than the headliners, though we won’t actually mention that.
Jams tend to take place in folk music, jazz and blues. You could almost say that folk music is largely jams and solos. The idea of folk music bands is relatively recent. Jazz is well known for jams, and the Chicago scene had many jams which occurred when musicians got together after gigs. Interestingly these jams often played blues! Blues music is well known for jams. Here in Victoria, the Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society has a weekly jam session at the Royal Standard, and the Sleepy Hollow Blues Club runs a jam before its headliners each month.
Jams are particularly useful for new musicians. It’s a way to test yourself against others and to find compatible people for more long-term events. Many bands have started out from jamming. A few years ago, Sleepy Hollow had a float at Pako Festa, and after the parade the players jamming on the trailer of the float were asked to play a gig. Of course they said yes, and that’s how the band “Trailer Trash” was born.
When a club has regular jams that people know about, often you’ll get professional musicians drop in and play as well. Over the years I have seen Jeff Lang, Stevie Paige and people from Dreamboogie drop in at Sleepy Hollow unannounced. Players dropping in from other blues clubs is also quite well known.
So what’s in it for the audience? Over the duration of a jam, you have a continually changing line-up of players – at Sleepy Hollow each line-up can only play three items. The line-ups will be of varying quality, but you are pretty much guaranteed that at least one of them will make you sit up and listen – probably more than one.
For the players, especially new players, time to stretch your legs and your musical abilities, and have a great time, expand your repertoire, and make some new contacts which can help you along in your musical life.
It’s always the mix and match pizzas which are the best!
Written by Dr John Lamp. Presented by The Sleepy Hallow Blues Club