Author: Campbell, Bruce

I Have Seen the Jambuster and I is Him

We all know The Jambuster, or we think we do. Youíre at a jam, and everything is going swimmingly. The circle of jammers might be close friends, perfect strangers, or a mixture, but regardless, the jam is on a roll. Song and song is enthusiastically presented and participation is fervent. The groove is undeniable, three part harmonies are sprouting up spontaneously, and the whole universe is in sync.

But it canít last. The law of averages catches up with you, and something happens. Somebody suggests a song, and the next thing you know, the whole magnificent edifice comes crashing down in a heap of missed notes broken rhythms and awkward looks. The magic may be regained, but sometimes, it canít. Who is to blame for this?

Sometimes, itís obvious. Someone wandered into the circle, and paying no heed to what has been going on, suggests a song that is utterly unsuited to the existing energy. The jammers, being polite, try to play it, but a cohesive groove is too elusive. The newly introduced song may be too complicated, or too unfamiliar. Why did this oaf bust up our jam with this song?

There are an awful lot of bluegrass songs. Many are ubiquitous, some to the point of being overplayed. A jam that only recycles the most commonly played songs gets tiresome pretty quickly. So, the challenge, when it comes your turn to call the song, is to choose one that you can play well, and if many or most of the jammers say they donít know it, it should be a song you can explain the chord changes quickly and easily.

Some judgment is called for here. If itís going to take you ten minutes to go over the myriad chord changes, it probably isnít a good song for that jam. If several of the jammers say they know the song, that may help the group pick it up quicker. This weekend, I was at a jam session and called a song that no one knew. But I thought it was a simple song, and went over the chords, but probably too quickly. I launched into the song, and for the three minutes it lasted, (it seemed longer!), it was chaos, and I felt terrible. I was a jambuster!

Had it been a jam circle at a festival, the event might have caused it to disperse, but it was a jam party at a friendís house, so my boneheaded choice of song only caused three minutes of anguish for me. Things resumed just fine after that. But my embarrassment was acute. I pride myself on being part of the solution, not part of the problem, but there I was, bringing a lively jam to a screeching, awkward halt.

In the end, it was only a few uncomfortable moments, in 4 or 5 hours of jamming with some good friends. But I realized the Jambuster is not always a pathological buffoon, bent on destroying the good times of other. Sometimes, itís just a regular person who inadvertently overestimates his ability to convey a song to fellow jammers.
Posted:  2/3/2010

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