I think there’s something special when a group of musicians get together and play just any arbitrary song, with any kind of ad hoc arrangements and musical parts. It’s one of those ‘once in a lifetime’ experiences concerning new music that is produced on the spot.
It does not even need to be very talented musicians, rather the right mindset concerning inviting anyone and ‘see what happens attitude.’
One of my best memories of a specific jam session was when three of us took Louie Louie, an otherwise torn-to-pieces-played song, and made constantly new arrangements and improvisations around this simple song. All it took was musical courage and not being afraid of doing mistakes while trying out something new.
The opposite — unfortunately — happens a lot in the Bay Area jam scene, and somehow I suspect it is not the only place where this is happening. For example, the jam band takes over most of the show, starts late and plays until 11am leaving little room for other musicians to take part in the jam. Either it is for practice purposes for a new play list, or then to show off their band rather than collaborating with other musicians. I don’t think a jam session is an efficient PR event. It should neither be.
Another situation that happens is that insecure musicians roll-call other musicians they know and feel comfortable playing with, in combination with picking the same songs over and over with the same musicians. The end result is the same, tired old songs played over and over. Another bad case scenario are those where the jam leader insists that the song should be played like the original, rather than doing a funky new arrangement for it all.
Worst of all, the audience is really bored. Tired of hearing Mustang Sally the millionth time. Or blue scales and shuffles that are so stiff and boring that it is not even sad. Nothing new under the sun. They usually can’t or don’t like dancing to a three minute long solo that has really nothing interesting to say. At some point those musicians who wanted to collaborate just fade away, so the same group of people get together week after week, same old songs, same old patterns. The final situation is that the jam club cancels the whole jam band, hoping that someone else will bring in new blood, for a while.
For me, I know some places and jam evenings where I know the musicians dare to experiment. I tried last year to go to a lot of different jam sessions just to have fun with other musicians, but as of tonight’s experience at a certain location in the Bay Area best not to disclose — that is it. From now it is better to be very selective, find out who else is going to a specific jam and then make a decision to go there. That or arrange private jam sessions with a selective set of musicians.
This all is really sad — there are so many famous jams that happened in NY in the late sixties with Jeff Beck, Clapton, Hendrix and others having fun. I hope the next generation of musicians will learn a lesson from this current generation that has lost all hope, interest and creativity concerning jams.
Feel free to comment if you feel otherwise.