Author: Campbell, Bruce

Duck Season? Wabbit Season? Jamming Season!

October is winding down, and with it, my bluegrass season. It’s a pattern I have observed for the past 5 or 6 years as a performing musician. As the leaves turn, the gigs start to dry up, and musical activities switch from paying gigs to jams. I’m not complaining -- the respite from the pressures of rehearsals and gigs means more time to spend with friends and family, and jamming is a great way to socialize and improve my chops, while staying warm and dry.

It’s interesting how the “bluegrass” season’s patterns match our own social patterns – it’s a uniquely social music. In the early part of the year, as the weather warms up, then bluegrass blooms like a flower, and folks gather in numbers for festivals, and enjoying the long warm California months with a surfeit of festivals all over the state. Then, as the weather cools, the music becomes a cherished bond among smaller groups of friends and family.

Frankly, I love it. In jams, nobody knows what’s going to happen. Someone calls a tune and if a quorum knows it, off you go. Unless the players are expert, expect some ragged moments. Lots of ragged moments! But then, in nearly every jam, something wonderful happens. Somewhere along the way, all the moving musical parts get lined up. The rhythm finds a groove, a pocket. And then this happens, it frees up the soloists, and they find access to riffs and melodic motifs that have previously been hidden.
You could tell when these moments are happening even if you were viewing a silent video of the jam. Watch their faces: everyone starts out looking determined, and maybe even a little grim, as the players probe their places in the musical mix. Then, like an engine warming up, the rhythm starts to smooth as everyone settles into their space, and then, when the pocket is there, you see broad smiles on everyone as the magic happens. It’s a great feeling, and even the rhythm players grin as the lead players hit their stride.

Onstage, of course, this wouldn’t be acceptable – you’re supposed to have all that stuff dialed in before the band begins to play. And you’re supposed to sustain it for the duration of the performance. Which is fine – why should it be any different.

But when you’re jamming with friends (some of whom you met for the first time at that particular jam), the joy is in the ebb and flow between “huh?” and “wow!”. At the end of the evening, your memories will be filled with the high points, which effectively and permanently replace the memories of when you had in your capo at the wrong fret for the first third of some song, or the solo you attempted that crashed and burned piteously. No, instead, you’ll remember that perfect harmony or that killer G-run, which is how it should be!

Honestly, though, every year I wonder if the gigs will come back after the new year. So far, they always have. But what if they don’t? I guess I’ll just jam more!

Posted:  10/28/2009

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