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Thread: What qualifies as a "jam"?

  1. #1
    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default What qualifies as a "jam"?

    If you're invited to a jam, or attend one that you see advertised/posted, what do you expect it to be in order to qualify as a jam? I know we've all seen versions of "ground rules" and expectations for typical jam sessions, and I know it varies from group to group. But what do you think is the baseline structure and operating rules for a jam? What makes it a jam, and what makes it ...something else?

    The reason I ask is because I've gotten used to the weekly jam that I've been attending, and it seems to work like what I understand is a typical jam. People sit in a circle and take turns calling a song. They pass around opportunities for a break, and it's an informal affair with acoustic instruments, and light banter in between. Even when I invite my buddy over to play guitar while I play mandolin, it still feels like a jam session. But since I've been looking to reach out further and find more and more people to play with (and get more exposure to local musicians), I attended a "jam" last week that I saw listed on a bluegrass organization's website. I was sort of expecting it to be like what I'm used to, but it was not that at all.

    This "jam" was set up in a community center hall, and featured some musicians sitting up on a stage, facing an audience. As more people with instruments showed up, they seated themselves on either side below the stage, facing towards the center (i.e. with the audience on one side and the stage on the other side). All the instruments being played on stage were plugged into amplifiers which were turned up so loud that I couldn't even hear my own instrument when I tried to play it.

    But the weirdest part was that it wasn't the people playing instruments who necessarily called the tunes. If you wanted to call a song, you had to see a woman to get your name put on a list. And she would call the people up to the stage according to her list. Most of the music performed while I was there consisted of audience members getting up to sing a song at a microphone while the musicians on stage played along. The stage musicians did pass it back and forth a little between them, but it didn't really go to the players seated below the stage. The audience applauded at the end of each song.

    It felt more like an organized talent show than a jam. But I admit that my exposure to jams is pretty limited. Is this sort of thing normal for gatherings which are billed as jams?

    To be honest, I only stayed about half an hour into it. Being seated next to one of the amplifiers and not being able to hear myself play sort of killed the fun for me, and I was a little baffled by the whole thing. The folks there were very nice, and several of them caught me on the way out to tell me they were happy I came, etc. But I'm not sure I'll go back since it doesn't seem to be the same level of informal circle-style music that I associate with a "jam".

    So I'm interested in the spectrum of structure and setup that you folks see at your jams.

  2. #2
    Lost my boots in transit terzinator's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Never seen anything like that, if it was advertised as a "jam"... We've had "invite-only" jams, at a coffeehouse, and there might be an "audience" or whatever, but it's still a jam, in a circle, with no hierarchy or song-list woman. How many players were on stage, and how many off-stage players did there wind up being in attendance?

    I'd probably have asked them if this was a normal jam, or something else... just because I'm curious about things like that.

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Dunno what that was but tweren't no jam. Never seen the like of it.

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Sounds more like Karaoke with a live band.
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Oddly, the description you give matches almost exactly with one of the 9 circles of Hell from Dante's Inferno.

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Yep, that durn thing sounds like it would not be the best durn ride.

    My kinda jam is much looser. Even a circle that goes around can get old. Not to say I want to hog anything, but when it *has* to follow a circle, it becomes a real circle-jerk.

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Yeah, sounds more like jelly than jam, for sure.
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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Quote Originally Posted by terzinator View Post
    How many players were on stage, and how many off-stage players did there wind up being in attendance?
    On stage were two or three acoustic guitar players (plugged in with mics), one electric guitar player, two fiddle players (also plugged in with a mic), and a woman with a huge dulcimer (you guessed it... plugged in). Off-stage playing acoustic only, there was one other fellow with a mandolin besides me, and two other guitar players. I think there was a dude in the audience who was playing a harmonica in some of the songs, as well as a woman who occasionally played a fiddle. But other than that, there were maybe 20 people in the audience. Many of whom would get up to sing when their names were called.

    I don't necessarily mean to slam what they were doing, since it appears that they do this on a regular basis and have fun doing it. And like I said, they were all very nice and welcoming. But I just didn't understand the concept as being any sort of jam.

    To be fair, the community center seems to be organized/operated by a senior center, and most of the folks there were, um, well into their golden years. Aside from me, the youngest other person I saw was probably in his mid to late 50s. So I'm thinking that might explain the amplifiers. Perhaps acoustic music is hard for some of them to hear.

    When I got up to leave between songs, one of the fiddle players came down to talk to me. Real nice guy. He said he noticed that I only played a little and mainly just sat there listening. He gingerly tried to ask me if I knew how to play my instrument, as I believe he was under the impression that my lack of playing was because I didn't know what to do. I told him that I had just planned to listen in and see what it was all about. But in truth, playing was a waste of time since I couldn't even hear myself and I'm sure no one else could hear me either. I figured I'd have more quality time with my mandolin by packing it up and going home to play.

    I did get invited to two other local jams which I will likely visit as well. I just hope they're real jams instead of karaoke sessions with live backup.

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    A plugged-in dulcimer...how utterly stringy. Where was the spoons player?

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Sounds like last year when I cruised the music stores of my in-law's town in Florida. More than one suggested that I needed to check out the "Tuesday night bluegrass jam" at the civic center. Since I had my mando with me (even if not really a BG diehard) that sounded pretty good. I chose to leave the instrument in the car until I got a feel for their format and general ambiance, which was fortunate because... It really wan't a "jam" at all; it was a "performance", with 6 or 8 local musicians (mostly v. competent amateurs) up on the stage and a hundred or two in the audience on folding chairs. Not even, as in the OP's case, any walk-in players. They even charged a minimal admission to cover the cost of the hall, maybe $3 or so. Real friendly folks, good, music, and a nice time, but zero chance to interact with the performing musicians; nothing like what most of us think of as a jam.
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    Mando accumulator allenhopkins's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    I have been at "jams" that were something like what the OP described: a stage set up with PA, and different people or groups signing up ahead of time to take turns on stage. I haven't seen one where audience members had to submit written requests, but I have seen ones (there was one in Canandaigua NY for several years) where some musicians would pretty much stay on stage the whole time, backing up various others who had signed up to play.

    As a matter of fact, with the hypothesis that "jam" may derive from "jamboree," most of the "country jamborees" around here consist of a series of stage performances, with a house band, and other bands and individuals, identified ahead of time, taking turns on stage, performing for a more-or-less passive audience. This may be the template for some of the "jams" that are more performance, and less participatory.

    The participatory "pass it around" jam is also found, but there's no difference in terminology between those jams, and the "stage performance" jams. The second variety often attracts more people, since there are those who just want to sit and listen.

    I've also found that the "stage" jams, at least around here, tend strongly toward 1940's-'50's country music, and not so much bluegrass; lots of Hank Williams, Lefty Frizzell, Ray Price tunes, sung by solo guitarists, with fiddle, electric bass, lead guitar type backup. And the age level of participants and audience is pretty much what the OP described.

    I've played at these, staying up on stage for hours, backing up a series of singers. Can be fun, but not what most of us think of as "jamming."
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    A few of us host an open acoustic jam (no amplification, good old unplugged goodness)every Sunday evening at our favorite watering hole. We are the "house band" but we mostly are doing it to get people involved.

    Those that show up to play are always welcome to sit in with us and the tunes we play are mostly 1-4-5 tunes out of G or A. Guests will sit in and play our tunes, we'll sit in and play their tunes, and everyone has a good time. There is no "circle" and there is no specific genre the jam centers around. Sometimes it will lean very heavily towards bluegrass, but there are times it leans heavily towards classic rock but usually it's a nice mix of just about everything.

    We do have one or two younger folks that will show up on occasion and will request a solo set, which we are certainly happy to let them have the stage and do their thing.

    Plus it's "Dollar Draft Night", which means the meager tips the visiting musicians make will at least cover the cost of a beer. You can't go wrong with that.

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    It sounds like you are attending a show...with special guests. It may have started out as a true jam, but evolved over time to a show. It is kind of like what happened here. Here it started as an open jam, with various levels of musicianship showing up, at a local country resturaunt. The audience came to expect a good show, not a jam, and the resturaunt owner saw that sometimes the audience (her eaters) liked the show, sometimes not. It got to be unpredictable what the jam would be like so the eaters stopped making it a regular dinner date. The owner then decided to motivate the musicians to show up with a free drink and a cheap meal. Well, once word got out, all the street people started coming in with their guitar or harmonica, strummed a few chords, then sat down for a free beer and a dinner. This also got some better musicians to show up, but the street people and real beginners would stand around hitting all the wrong chords like they knew what they were doing for the owner (they wanted to be fed of course). So eventually the good musicians stopped showing up again because the bad music wasn't worth a free meal. The owner then decided to find a house band, pay them some decent cash, cancel the free food and go from there. So today it is a house band, good bluegrass every thursday, with beginners standing off mic hitting all the wrong chords. Once in a while a special guest takes the main mic and the house band backs them up as they struggle thru remembering words. So overall it took about 3 years to evolve to this point...a good house band that controls the mics, gets paid, and puts up with one or two beginners on the main mic every night. Not a jam anymore, but a show. Everyones happy now, alot of eaters, good music, some pay.

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    Don't shoot the messenger xiledscot's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    My ideal number for a "jam" , is FOUR.

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Quote Originally Posted by mrmando View Post
    Yeah, sounds more like jelly than jam, for sure.
    It must be jelly, 'cause jam don't shake like that.
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    Registered User Randi Gormley's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    I don't have experience with bluegrass jams (except what I've seen at Grey Fox), but what you're describing doesn't sound much like one. ITM sessions are usually less orchestrated, but I have attended two where some of the players were miked and some weren't. For one, the guy who owns the bar calls the tunes and makes the decision on who gets a mike (he's a really fine guitarist and singer, so there's no objections) and most of the players sit on a raised platform (maybe six inches off the floor) until all the room is taken up, when the other participants (usually acoustic) sit on the floor next to the platform. there's applause at the end of each set. The other is just the leader and his students miked, but singers get a mike by moving one of the students over and the guests and other attendees go acoustic. Interesting dynamic. There's a tip jar, but it's not split -- I have no idea who gets the money or if it's used to pay for the drinks and the leader's dinner. The leader calls the tunes unless he's eating dinner, in which case he designates one of his students to start tunes; the guest usually starts a set or does a solo and the rest get a chance to start a tune when he does a round of jigs with each participant starting a different jig and trying to keep the music flowing. The other sessions are just standard ITM sessions, with people sitting around in a circle (or several circles radiating from the center leader) and all acoustic, with the leader starting most of the tunes until he blanks and asks someone else to start one.
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Sounds like a version of what we call an 'Open Mic Night" where people will perform their piece and others will join them. Tends to be used here for people to showcase their own songs or pieces they're working on, bits of sets etc. Can be focussed around a core session group or a house band. These nights often swap with a proper jam night on the same evening every alternate week.
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    What Tobin describes is precisely the same format used here by the various regional "Montana Old Time Fiddlers Assoc" gatherings--I believe they do this once a month during the summer months. Apparently, there's much commonality among Texas and Montana in this regard. I was introduced to this format by some fiddlers I'd met at Irish sessions and attended a few of these

    From my observations, the participants--by and large, folks beyond 55 or 60 or 70--are trying to preserve or recreate a performing opportunity...like in the good old days (it has been explained to me, thusly) when these folks would play for dances. As many guitars as fiddles--and as much C&W as fiddle tunes...

    As Allen mentioned--more "jamboree" than "jamming session"--complete with pot luck--and much more like a garden variety "open mic"

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    Middle-Aged Old-Timer Tobin's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    What Tobin describes is precisely the same format used here by the various regional "Montana Old Time Fiddlers Assoc" gatherings--I believe they do this once a month during the summer months. Apparently, there's much commonality among Texas and Montana in this regard. I was introduced to this format by some fiddlers I'd met at Irish sessions and attended a few of these

    From my observations, the participants--by and large, folks beyond 55 or 60 or 70--are trying to preserve or recreate a performing opportunity...like in the good old days (it has been explained to me, thusly) when these folks would play for dances. As many guitars as fiddles--and as much C&W as fiddle tunes...

    As Allen mentioned--more "jamboree" than "jamming session"--complete with pot luck--and much more like a garden variety "open mic"
    Ah yes, I forgot to mention it was pot luck. They had a table of covered dishes and desserts that people had brought.

    Sounds very similar indeed.

    Some of the music was pretty nice. A lot of gospel and old-time tunes I'd never heard. I could probably learn some good material just listening to the music and getting ideas for tunes to work on. And if I go back, it'll probably be for that.

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Quote Originally Posted by Tobin View Post
    Some of the music was pretty nice...

    And if I go back, it'll probably be for that.
    Some of those pies are pretty good too. Should be hooch in the parking lot too, ahem...in true old-time jamboree fashion

    IME, music ranges from good to god-awful (truly, Dante-esque ; )

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Seen that type of thing before. That's the trouble with the word "jam". Outside of something you put on toast, it doesn't mean anything specific. You can call just about anything a jam. Same with the word "festival". Now five punk bands playing in one bar is a "punk-fest".

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    Martin Stillion mrmando's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Quote Originally Posted by mandolirius View Post
    Now five punk bands playing in one bar is a "punk-fest".
    Only if they're all playing at the same time!
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    Registered User foldedpath's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Quote Originally Posted by catmandu2 View Post
    What Tobin describes is precisely the same format used here by the various regional "Montana Old Time Fiddlers Assoc" gatherings--I believe they do this once a month during the summer months. Apparently, there's much commonality among Texas and Montana in this regard.
    Also Washington State.... the local chapter of the Old Time Fiddlers Assoc. runs something like that (or did, I haven't kept up with whatever they're doing now). A structured "jam" with one or more microphones for the principals.

    From my observations, the participants--by and large, folks beyond 55 or 60 or 70--are trying to preserve or recreate a performing opportunity...like in the good old days (it has been explained to me, thusly) when these folks would play for dances. As many guitars as fiddles--and as much C&W as fiddle tunes...
    That last description -- "As many guitars as fiddles--and as much C&W as fiddle tunes..." rings a bell. It's been the cause of much grumbling among local OldTime fiddlers, who would prefer a more fiddle-tune oriented format and less singing cowboys with guitars. The local OldTime players who don't like that format have found other places, both public and private, to hold their more informal acoustic jams.

    My S.O. is a fiddler, and she has described some of these club events where people will be camped out with their tents and RV's, forming the usual scattered knots of players. The fiddlers want to play OldTime instrumental fiddle tunes, so they gather together and get some tunes started. Before long, the singer/guitarists will hear the fiddles, and start to join the circle. They gradually turn the focus into a song fest with fiddle accompaniment... with most of the fiddlers sitting with instruments in their laps because they don't know the songs, and don't want to play "breaks." So the fiddlers sneak off... one by one... to form a new jam circle away from the mobs of guitar players. And then the cycle repeats, with the singer/guitarists chasing the fiddlers around the campground. Someone should market a repellent spray that works only on singer/guitar players.

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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    I was invited to a JAM

    A dude stopped by my place and said "Hey going to be a jam over my place on Saturday night"
    I was like alright I ain't been to a good jam in years.

    He said "Now you know sometimes things can get a little crazy. Might be a lot drinking."
    I was like alright I ain't no stranger to some fine drinking I'll be OK.

    He said "Good. Now you know it may be some loving in between the sets."
    I was like heck yea man, I do need to get out more I have not be out in ages.

    He said "Great. Now I have to say when you have drinking, and loving, you bound to have a little fighting.
    I was like that's cool man I ain't no Mike Tyson, but I can hold my own.

    He said "Great. I'll see you at my place at 9PM Saturday night!"
    I was so happy I almost forgot before he left I yelled "hey man what should I wear?"

    He said "Don't matter. Only going to be you and me!"

    heehe

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    Mike Parks woodwizard's Avatar
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    Default Re: What qualifies as a "jam"?

    Have you ever been to an OT jam where the one fiddle player calls every tune? and when someone tries to suggest a tune it gets blowed off with something like " I don't know that one . Let's do something we know" (from the same fiddle player) and then it's back to every tune the same fiddle player calls. Even if he's the only one that knows the tune. I love to play OT as well as the next but that gets pretty old after awhile. I finally just stop going when the alfa male fiddler was there
    Last edited by woodwizard; Jul-30-2013 at 6:22pm.
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