The Jam Session: Every Musician’s Nightmare or Dream Come True
Friday night from 7:30-9:30pm, Nik hosted BMF’s first ever Teen Jam Night. Uncharted territory for all involved. Amazing, scary, and ultimately totally worth doing dozens more times.
But what exactly is a jam session?!
For many, it is some abstract concept that has to do with jazz musicians and dark smokey clubs. Many think it has nothing to do with classical or pop or rock music. A jam session is mythical and something you’ve read about in a jazz history book. For others, jamming is only something done by Dead Heads. It is something that means never-ending guitar solos and drug induced fans noodle dancing.
Well, let me tell you my story of jam sessions, from the beginning.
To me it meant getting up the nerve to face others and say something musically. Well, ultimately that’s what it became…But it didn’t start that way. My very first jam sessions were with my brother and his friend Jeff Jones. I don’t think that Jeff played anything so I’m not really sure what he did, but my brother picked up guitar about the same time I got my first drum set. Jeff did bring over Van Halen I and Running With The Devil quickly become the first jam of choice. To be clear, I know we couldn’t play the whole song & most likely just worked on the opening riff over and over. We jammed the same few bars of music until we got bored. In the beginning it’s a whole lot of what parents call, ‘co-playing.’ Not a lot of listening to each other, instead a bunch of working things out on our respective instruments. Eventually, Lij (my brother) & me began to listen to one another and we graduated to playing Jimmy Hendrix covers.
The Evolution of the Jam Session.
By the time I reached college, I had pretty strong opinions about music I liked and how I thought music was supposed to sound when played (or jammed). Jam sessions turned into specific, almost goal oriented activities. Gone was the openness to whatever might happen. Gone was the blissful release. Instead, jam sessions that allowed for stretching my boundaries and practicing new and more difficult music prevailed. Things got brainier, things got more serious. Sessions also got more exclusive. I only wanted a certain level of musician to be at the jam or I wanted ‘jazz’ people, not rockers. I began to limit my view of music. Yes, I was learning a ton and certainly getting better at both piano and drums, but my world view of music was shrinking. So was my pure joy with music as I would later find out.
Going Pro with the Jam Session.
I moved to the big city (New York) when I was 27 years old. I was ready for the big time and so I came to the center of modern jazz. I knew very few musicians…certainly less than 10. The jam session is the pro musician’s version of a networking event. Ideally you are invited to a session at someones apartment and you know at least one other musician (this gives you immediate cred), but in many cases, you attend places like clubs like Small’s or St Mark’s bar. There is a house band hosting the jam session and dozens of young (and terrified) horn players, singers, and rhythm section folks all hoping to get their five minutes of fame. This was the point where real, palpable fear entered my definition of music. I spent hours coming up with reasons for NOT going out each night (I’d use excuses like I was ‘too good’ or I already had gigs or I was too old). Eventually, though, this was how I was going to meet people like myself. The jam session was full of young and hungry musicians just like me.
The jam session was where I would find my community. Bottom line is that even in a place like New York we are still desperately searching for our community. We need to find our people. In the arts, this need borders on obsessive. Musicians spend too much time alone in a small space working on their craft…trying to master an instrument. The jam session is ultimately about getting all of us out of that room and into life. Music can be the essence of life: emotion, communication, a spiritual journey of self discovery. But life is meant to be shared with others.
The Jam Session is where music and it’s magical benefits are shared.
Nate’s Jam Session History, an assessment:
Was the music great. Rarely.
Was I scared to play. Yes.
Did I play every time. No.
Did I always try to meet cool people. No.
Did I make a few life long friends. Yes.
Do I still play with those friends. Yes.
What is a jam session?!
It is a great question and one that a dozen kids came to begin answer for themselves on Friday night. The beautiful thing about kids (even teens) is that they have yet to read those jazz history books or watch those Grateful Dead documentaries, or get scared about meeting new people. They are open books. They are excited. They love making music. They just want to explore and discover. The teens that showed up Friday night, showed up with their instruments and they showed up to play.
Teen Jam Night, Nate’s Assessment:
Was the music great. Sometimes.
Were the teens scared to play. Yes (actually only a few….)
Did all the teens play every time. No.
Did they all meet cool people that night. Ask them…
Did a couple make a few life long friends. I hope…
Will they still play with those friends in 20 years. I can dream…
See you at the next one (if your a teen…)