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Thread October 3, 2015 editorial: comments

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  • 9 participants
1 October 3, 2015 editorial: comments

Kick Out the Jams

I don’t tend to be a curmudgeon, but there’s one aspect of being a musician that brings out the Scrooge in me: Jam sessions.

First, there’s the inevitable opening question that nobody ever seems to have a good answer for: “What should we play?” Everyone sits there scratching their heads for a minute or two until someone hesitatingly says, “Ahh...I don’t know...blues in A?”

If you’re a guitarist or other soloist, there’s also the conundrum of how long to make your solo. Of course, you want to show off your playing skills, but you don’t want to be looked upon as an egomaniac who only wants to hear himself (or herself) play, so you have to tread that fine line.

I actually find organized jam sessions to be the most stressful type. You know, like a blues jam on a Tuesday night at the local beer joint. In addition to the aforementioned issues, there is the wild card of not knowing who you’re going to be thrown onstage with.

You sign up, and you wait through endless renditions of blues standards. At 11:30PM, when your name is finally called, you have the misfortune to be up there with a drummer who speeds up more than the getaway car in a bank robbery, and an obnoxious guitarist who thinks he’s Joe Bonnamossa and completely hogs the song while playing so loud your ears are bleeding. When he finally tires and you get a chance to solo, the jam session host, some poor slob who’s had to sit through endless renditions of “Crosscut Saw” and “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” every Tuesday night for the last three years — and who would much rather be somewhere else — is giving the band the high sign to wrap it up and get off the stage.

OK, I grant you, that’s a worst-case scenario. And you could get lucky and get called up with a group of musicians who turn out to be the touring band for a nationally famous singer, and who happened upon the bar on their night off. They not only have great chops, but also actually listen to each other onstage and try to play like a band, not a bunch of preening individualists. What’s more they’re considerate and friendly and genuinely having a good time. They even buy you a drink when you’re finished playing.

Alas, the first scenario, or at least some variation of it, is much more likely to occur than the second one, don’t you think?

What have your jam session experiences been like?

I agree whole heartedly. My favorite solos are just one verse or chorus long and are a variation of the song's theme. Worse than live jam sessions, are songs with long intros or instrumental sections full of "noodling". If you're going to solo, it better be as good or better than the rest of the song.
My favorite solos are just one verse or chorus long and are a variation of the song's theme.

I don't mind a solo that's long if it has a trajectory to it. That is, it goes somewhere musically, rather than just meandering.

I take it from your comments that you're not a Phish fan. :-D

[ Post last edited on 10/03/2015 at 11:12:04 ]

I envy you guys.. I usually work alone therefore I miss the jams but once in my life I had the opportunity to jam with the greatest guitarist of my country (Greece) who also was (among others) the lead guitarist of a great rock band of 70’s: “Socrates”. His name is Yannis (John) Spathas. For him it was just a test of some guitars in a Music Store but for me it was a revelation. What could I add to his session? Just some “harmonic backs” with the Yamaha SY77 that i was testing(!! Yes those days!!). Moreover I recently bought the new album of David Gilmour and I was watching, on the DVD, the jams, with Right and without, that he offers at the studio…. It is an atmosphere that I cannot experience due to the fact that I work alone…So I envy you guys..
(Standard English Spelling)
Yes, Mike. This is something I really empathise with. People often say: “Hey, let’s get together for a jam,” or “Come and play with us next time we do a gig,” or something similar. It’s a nice compliment, and I feel so sorry not to look more enthusiastic, “Ah... well, actually, I don’t do jams...” because many people do go in for that sort of thing. The thing is that, as you say, all people can suggest is a jam in a known format like blues, unless they actually produce a chord sheet for a particular song.

Sometimes, more than one person might know a standard rock or pop song, but can it be “jammed” to?! Actually, I think the idea of several musicians playing to a known song in a ‘jam’ or singing and playing around the campfire is pretty nice but generally those songs do need learning first! Pop ‘standards’ can be really surprisingly filled with chords (tricky ones too) and different structures within the song. Take just two examples of ever present pop hits from yesteryear, The Beatles’ Yesterday, 10cc’s The Things We Do for Love -- and some numbers by The Rolling Stones and Leon Russell – these are far from three-chord wonders!

I agree that jamming necessarily involves a patch of soloing and it’s difficult to get the balance between exposing your skills and looking like a show-off. One jam which is quite pleasing to listen to is trad jazz with each musician taking his/her turn to improvise over a set pattern.

I think that an open-house session where several musicians do the songs they want to after each other, with others joining in if they know the piece or want to, is a slightly different maybe more satisfying endeavour?

This guy from a great cover band (French doing English songs!) said to me recently, “The next time we come to this venue, we’ll play one of your songs – just shout out the chords and by the end of a few bars, we’ll have got it!” I’d love to oblige but it’s just not realistic. For people to play along with my songs, I’d have to show them the chord sequence which would have to be learnt and gone through and the jam would not consist of a lot of playing but learning! (Although I think I’d prefer that but is it worth the effort unless those musicians are going to join your band?)

Creative ‘jamming’, if it could be called that, for the purposes of writing a song, in private and not for entertainment in front of an audience, is quite a different proposition.

So, I think you’re spot on, Mike!

Rock on!

Astra: Lead Guitarist, Singer-Songwriter.


[ Post last edited on 10/03/2015 at 13:31:01 ]

Ok: First sorry for my little English.
I have the experience (not my idea but transmittesd by an old belgium flamenco guitar master) that when you want tu be hear, and detect some egos working hard arround; the only thing you can, a part range your instrument and go, is to play more and more down (less volume) . At point the rest must make same for hear you. Is very possible that the drummer or the bassman qick understand your intentions and help making same. Quick the crier feel alone and ...the human shame make the magic.
Some classic lines transmitted also by that good old flamenco master
Hi Mike
Thank for a great forum as I have been reading it for some time..

I totally understand your frustration even with blues Jams and in Australia it's just as bad :lol:
Being an ex touring and record label recorded blues musician myself, I have a great solution that I have been forced to make because of those issues and egomanics you pointed out...!!!

I now frequent Jazz Jams yep.... JAZZ JAMS and before I get chastised profusely, I have been forced to go there and although some of those frustrations are still there eg like the level of experience of some hopefuls they are minimized greatly, trust me. There's a method to this madness. Here are some reasons why I have abandoned blues jams...

1. Because I read (well, it's getting better), I get to solo over the forms which is educational for me and sometimes I get to play for more than the standard 3 tunes....yay

2. Jazz jams seems to be lot more organised and the guys who run them read music and have all the charts they need from the Real books ect ect including the blues. Don't some of the guys who run the jams are not great musos by any means but they have a universal system that works and that is written music.

3. The music isn't two loud on most occasions and i say this cause sometimes it gets a bit loud especially on Funky tunes

4. Solos are kept to the form so egomaniacs "beware"

And finally, the musicians who can't read, still get to play, however, again they are restricted on how long they get to solo and play and the Jam as a whole works quite well catering for all :bravo:

[ Post last edited on 10/03/2015 at 18:53:57 ]

I'm with you on this Mike. It must be the same the world over. I can recall sitting in my local open-mic - which always ended the same way with the same bunch of guys gathered on the stage (which by now outnumbered the audience) - semi drunkenly boring through "Knockin' On Heaven's Door" - a version lasting at least half an hour with guitar solos aplenty and the would-be part-time Bruce Springsteen straining at "knaaaak knaaaaak knaaaaaaking at heaaaaaveeennns dawaaaawwawawawawwwwwwww!!!".

I always felt a pang of inadequacy that I was not asked to contribute to this weekly sing-along. But you've made me feel better about it now. Thanks for that.

[ Post last edited on 10/03/2015 at 16:49:05 ]

.... JAZZ JAMS and before I get chastised profusely

No chastisement from from me, Ratty_7 -- not a thing wrong with "Jazz" jams. I've been jammin' for a long time, and I agree that "organized" sessions can be a real drag... I much prefer the "impromptu" variety. But, as every musician knows, sometimes these things are unavoidable; too many hurt feelings if you outright reject these session invites.
Hi Jelnet
I am glad you feel better, and by the way
I don't know where ya from but I played in NYC at Mannies Car wash in the early 90's great time was had by all and that was cool...!!! Loved it. ;)

[ Post last edited on 10/03/2015 at 19:10:02 ]