About a year ago, a guy I know took over running a local Arts Centre. They have all sorts of interesting things going on and I spend quite a lot of time there (nothing at all to do with the amazing coconut and lime cake they sell). Today, they had their first ‘Big Piano Blues & Boogie Jam Session’, which sounded like a huge amount of fun.
‘Jam Session’ can mean a couple of different things, and it’s worth making it clear that in this case we’re talking about a bunch of musicians getting together, with no real plan about what they are going to play. There’s usually a resident band who start the evening off, but anyone else who plays or sings can just turn up, and join in (instruments and mics are provided). If that sounds like a recipe for disaster … well, the potential for a train wreck is part of the excitement. But more often you’ll find the players really feeding off each other, and making some great music. Believe it or not, it’s also a brilliant night for the audience, too.
(If you’re curious about what else ‘Jam Session’ might refer to, try the Urban Dictionary? Be warned – some of the definitions are not for the faint hearted!)
The boogie jam I went to was being run by Steve on piano, who was being ably assisted by Paul on bass, and Andy on drums. The trio were playing some good old boogie woogie like St Louis Blues and Five Finger Boogie. As Andy was supposed to be working behind the bar, they asked me to sit in on drums after a couple of tunes.
I’ve never played with Steve or Paul before, and working with new musicians is always an inspiring challenge. As in the rest of life, a lot of the communication between musicians is unspoken. As you play, of course you are listening, but you’re also trying to read and interpret body language, and eye contact is crucial. As a drummer, you are the foundation – it starts with the drums, and the rest of the music balances on your shoulders … I love that responsibility – it’s my favourite part about being a drummer.
At a jam night, the music is largely improvised, and the words of legendary jazz pianist Thelonius Monk were ringing in my ears – “what you don’t play can be more important than what you DO play.” While the basic structure of the song stays in place, there is a lot of space for creativity – and that is where the goosebumps can happen. Improvised music exists only in the moment that it is played … and then it is gone. Those songs will never be played exactly like that, ever again – all of us in that room shared a completely unique evening.
If you fancy an evening out that’s a little bit different, maybe try a jam night? Whether you play or just listen, you’ll get to hear music in it’s most natural form – live, unrehearsed, and raw. And if you’re lucky, you might experience something truly magical.
Let’s go do it …
Sometime soon, someplace near you, there will be a jam session taking place. They come in different flavours – jazz, blues, rock’n’roll, or whatever, and it’s definitely worth going along and checking one out. They can be a little tricky to find … you’re better off searching local venues, then looking through their listings, rather than searching Google for ‘jam session near me’, or something like that.
‘Open mic’ nights are similar – but you usually have to get in touch beforehand to let them know you want to sing.