Monday, July 26, 2010
"Jam Sessions" by Rich James
Rich James on Jam Sessions 25th July 2010
Reading through the Musician Profiles and Interviews on Maison de Blues website has been a rewarding experience for me. Every time I read someone’s comments about their own personal likes and dislikes, or the equipment they use, or whether they like, or don’t like jam sessions, I reflect on myself and see a lot of everyone else in me, and me in everyone else.
Who has not had the experience of turning up at a jam session, not knowing how you are going to be received, or at what time you are being called on to play?
It can be quite nerve-wracking to go to a new jam, even though we may feel secure in knowing the people in charge are musicians just like ourselves. Some of the inner thoughts and feelings can be, what songs are going to be chosen, am I tuned up, which amp am I going to use? Is the bass player going to be friendly or not?
It can be quite intimidating at a jam. Often, we are the stranger in the midst of others. We look around to find a friendly or familiar face. You can’t hide or slink away; everyone saw you bring your guitar case in. You have to just sit there and wait. Do you put your name on a list, or do you just ask the lead singer when you can get up?
Most times, your are in a bar. But be careful, don’t drink too much – it won’t help the playing. But how do you pass the time? Sure, you can listen to the house band and other jammers, but you want to be fresh and focused when you go up. Too many extra sounds can spoil one’s own concentration.
Keep your ears open for the magic call, when your name is bellowed out the speakers – “next on the list we have Rich; are you tuned up?” You sure better be tuned up before you go on stage; it’s no good fiddling with the pegs when the band is about to start. At least you are up there – now you can relax; your name was called and you have the stage for the next little while. Things went smoothly this time. There was a list.
Sometimes, there is no list. The host band’s friends may be playing a lot more than others in cases like this. Not all jams are run democratically. In this case, one has to ease oneself into the limelight enough to get noticed and hope for the best. Sidle up to the lead singer and let them know you are there to jam. They may not have a list – ah, this is where things get complicated. Keep reminding him you are there to play.This part can get hard after the 2nd set and the band has gone outside for a prolonged break!
How long do we get to play as jammers? A majority of jams I’ve been to only let the player on stage for 2 or 3 songs at the most. If you are very accomplished, you may stay up longer.
What about equipment? Some players bring their own amps to jam. Others use the house equipment; but there you are taking a chance – another unknown quality to be reckoned with in a jam! Can I get the sound I’m looking for with another person’s amp?
The most often complaint I’ve heard about Jams is that they are too loud. The worst case is when the House Band starts off too loud. You can be sure, friends, as the evening wears on, it going to get even louder!
Hosting a jam can be difficult. You are dealing with all kinds of players - and personalities too! There are the impatient ones, who constantly ask when they are going to get up. Some are jealous and say “ I was here before him or her, but they went up before me!” The host has to try to balance all these things.
One interesting suggestion I heard from Guillaume Boux, of the Black Hats, was that the host should discuss what songs people want to play before they get up there. There are obvious advantages to that – musicians can be more prepared and the music will probably be better.
What about the focus of a Jam? Well, here I think thorny and dark the path is. Sometimes the house band sees it as a mild inconvenience to allow other players up, but suffers them because it’s jam night.
Other house bands enjoy the diversity of players and see it as a chance to meet and interact with other players. Some of the best evenings I have been to have been jams.
So, with all this in mind, how can we, as jammers, and those who are hosts, approach the “dreaded” jam night.
My take on it is this. Hosts, be friendly and welcome the jammer. Get his or her name on a list as soon as they present themselves. Tell them when they can expect to play. Keep the person(s) informed, and DON’T skulk off for a prolonged break without warning, leaving people uniformed. After all, the jammers are your bread and butter that night. Treat them with respect – you’ll make a new friend and ally, or bring an old friend closer to you.
Jammers, be patient and appreciate the difficulties of running a jam. Be prepared when it’s time to play – no tuning up on stage. As a jammer, I usually prepare a note of 5-6 tunes with the key written in, so that when I’m up there, if I’m called on to do one, it’s ready.
There are probably many more tips one could add to being a good host or jammer. I hope some of us will write our own and share them on this site. A Jam Session is a great way of bringing musicians together and also paying the rent. The bottom line is: we are there for each other.
Posted by Maison de Blues at Monday, July 26, 2010