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Experience with a jam band?

Discussion in 'Band Management [BG]' started by brlottermann, Apr 21, 2012.


  1. brlottermann

    brlottermann

    Joined:
    May 14, 2011
    Hey,
    I'm a bassist in a funk/jazz/rock band and we feel like we've got a lot of potential, however our vocalist/keyboardist is extremely busy and can never perform. So the guitarist, drummer and I have been playing with the idea of doing some sort of Medeski Martin & Wood style jam band gigs as a trio. We would have a set of chord progressions or riffs or ideas that we would improvise off of on stage.

    Does anyone have any experience with playing in a jam band like this? I am just trying to gather as much info as possible in regards to what makes a good jam band, what level of preparation or rehearsal is actually required if most of what I'm playing is just improvised, etc. ye four of us jam every day for at least an hour, so we feel each other already when we play.

    Thanks!
     
  2. jmattbassplaya

    jmattbassplaya

    Joined:
    Jan 13, 2008
    Location:
    Just south of Atlanta!
    I've played in a number of jam bands over the years, but despite that experience I'm having a really hard time putting my thoughts into words! There's a lot that goes into an exceptional jam band, and a lot of it comes down to the talent (and ego) of the members in the group. Here are a few things to keep in consideration if you guys decide to go the jam route:

    - Listening is the key to any successful jam group. Band mates who don't listen well won't play well in these kinds of bands. That means each member can't have an ego and be all about the 'me show', and it also means that they have to be good enough to know what's going on and how to support the other parts as they happen on the fly.

    - Kind of goes without saying, but each band member needs to be talented. Unless you're planning on only sticking to preconceived chord progressions and riffs, your members will need to have at least a basic understanding of theory - that, or an amazing ear. You all will need to be able to do 'call and response' with your instruments, meaning if your guitarist plays a line you'll be able to either play it right away or play a response that harmonically supports it.

    - That said, have stock riffs and progressions. It's always good to have 'go to' riffs and motifs for songs. It's a good starting, middle, and ending point for jam tunes.

    - I touched this already, but a solid understanding of theory (from all members) helps A LOT. Your guitarist should be able to call out a key on the fly and without any hesitation you should know exactly what notes fall into the key.

    - Know when to stop a jam or at least when to return to the main motif. To me, this is one of the main things that really separates a good jam band from a great one, but unfortunately there's no hard or fast rule to this. All I'll say is that I've seen many talented bands lose their audience because they get too into a jam and neglect to return to the hook soon enough.

    - Transcribe a lot of music. By doing this you slowly will begin to understand how music works and what goes into making music you enjoy. You'll also begin to develop new ideas for lines and fills that you might never of considered before. I believe one old quote goes something like this - "good musicians imitate, great musicians steal". Take lines you like and analyze exactly what it is they're doing, digest them and add them to your music vocabulary, and then add your own spin to them when you're improvising.

    That's all I got for now. I hope it helps!
     
  3. svenbass

    svenbass

    Joined:
    Dec 12, 2002
    Location:
    Boston
    ^^^ +1 ...great response

    I might add, even though you are collectively entering uncharted waters, treating your open sections as a composition will do you well.

    I play a fair bit of 'free jazz' (among many other things) and what I've noticed from the guys I listen to is that they all can burn on the most straight ahead stuff ... therefore the music they are creating spur of the moment carries the DNA of a 'properly' constructed piece instead of a collection of unrelated snippets. I am fortunate enough to play in a well oiled group that, as Matt said, listens very well and we often succeed in our adventures. That said, there are some nights where the stars don't align and things run amok ... if that be the case we try to keep our jams short and proceed to the next springboard instead of beating the horse ... perhaps throw in an actual tune to re-align.

    IMHO, this approach to music walks a very thin line between magic and meandering drivel.
     
  4. tZer

    tZer

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2006
    Location:
    St. Louis // St. Charles, MO
    +1 again

    Make sure you create solid (expandable) structures - in points/out points - and know how to both leap off and explore as well as return to home as a unit.

    The exploration and expansion that happens in jamming is all about the musical conversation. Listening for opportunities and knowing how to take advantage of them.

    Beware of the never-ending ending. In my jam band, we find when we're in the lab and into our musical exploration, that frequently no one wants to be the one to say, "OK, that's enough" and end when an apparent end point is looming. After a long, successful jam that's had lots of great motive development and thematic variation, the piece starts to wind down and everyone relaxes feeling the end is near. Inevitably someone will hear yet another idea - a groove - a melodic statement - and instead of allowing the current jam to finally die, they put just enough energy into the thing they hear and fan the flames. Next thing you know... anther 30 minutes goes by before the new "ending" comes around... maybe....
     
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  6. Mushroo

    Mushroo

    Joined:
    Apr 2, 2007
    Location:
    Massachusetts, USA
    Make the audience feel that what they're hearing TONIGHT is special and unique, different than what they heard last night and from what they'll hear tomorrow, yet with enough of your own personality and "glue" they will identify it as the same band and hear some familiar signposts.
     
  7. abemo

    abemo

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2012
    Location:
    Arvada, co
    I actually had a near identical situation a few years back. We'd been playing/touring as a full jam band (bass, drums, lead guitar, acoustic guitar/singer) and we kicked out the acoustic guitarist/singer, and reformed as an instrumental improv act. A few pointers.

    As much as you may all want to improv, write some tunes. What I mean is, write3-4 riffs at a time, any of which can lead into any other. Pick one to begin on and one to end with. Don't necessarily restrict further improv once you're in the groove, but don't rely on instantaneous creativity for everything, some nights its there, some nights its not.

    Learn a few cover tunes. If a jam goes off course, it helps A LOT to have an organized tune to fall back on.
     
  8. abemo

    abemo

    Joined:
    Feb 27, 2012
    Location:
    Arvada, co
    I actually had a near identical situation a few years back. We'd been playing/touring as a full jam band (bass, drums, lead guitar, acoustic guitar/singer) and we kicked out the acoustic guitarist/singer, and reformed as an instrumental improv act. A few pointers.

    As much as you may all want to improv, write some tunes. What I mean is, write3-4 riffs at a time, any of which can lead into any other. Pick one to begin on and one to end with. Don't necessarily restrict further improv once you're in the groove, but don't rely on instantaneous creativity for everything, some nights its there, some nights its not. As an addendum to this, Improv the song, not the intro outro. You all need to know how to start and end the tune, so set that in stone, and improv in between.

    Learn a few cover tunes. If a jam goes off course, it helps A LOT to have an organized tune to fall back on.

    Think about adding a second soloist. We ended up with a second lead player. He wasn't always onstage with us, but it went a lot better with two people who could solo rather than one+bass solos. Just make sure both soloists aren't clones of each other. The idea is to give yourself a little change of pace here and there.

    This one is obvious, sounds like you have it covered. Aside from making sure everybody knows theory, can imitate each other on the fly, etc, make sure you are all extremely familiar with each other's styles. Different musicians react differently to different sounds/cues. Know what to expect from each other. You need to know that if you nod at your drummer he understands to put in a pause rather than a fill, etc.

    Lastly, understand your demographic and where/when to book yourself. When I did it we didn't do very well playing bars with scheduled set times, etc. We did great playing all night backwoods parties. Its a ton of fun though, just roll with it and see how it goes.
     
  9. tZer

    tZer

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2006
    Location:
    St. Louis // St. Charles, MO
    And watch out for creating complexity for the sake of creating complexity in your music.

    Odd time signatures are GREAT - if you make something happen that makes 'sense' and doesn't just 'add up'. Seems the jam genre is rife with cool melodies and grooves in odd time signatures. It's easy to think "let's just do something in 7" without thinking, "check out this phrase that works so nicely in 7".

    I am sure I am preaching to the choir - but part of an instrumental jam thing includes an enhanced necessity to create hooky phrases and melodies while stepping out of a very predictable box. Create what sounds normal in spite of the fact that it's form is apparently asymmetrical.

    That said - a rock solid 3-chord, 4 groove is a great relief sometimes.
     
  10. octaverazor

    octaverazor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2009
    Location:
    Houma, LA
    Also you have to pick your venue careful. Not everyone is into the jam band thing. We opened for a cover band once. They played mostly radio rock kind of stuff. We though we kicked ass, the crowd not so much.
     
  11. octaverazor

    octaverazor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2009
    Location:
    Houma, LA
    Another thing. Record yourself jamming. Sometimes in the mist of a jam everything sounds amazing. Then you listen back and hear the truth.
     
  12. octaverazor

    octaverazor

    Joined:
    Jun 3, 2009
    Location:
    Houma, LA
    I also have a good exercise you can do by yourself to develop you ear.

    Sit and watch TV with your bass and try to play along with music on commercials or on movies, etc, etc. You only got about 20 seconds of music on a commercial. If you can find the key and something harmonic in that short of time your on your way.
     
  13. gumbynotpokey

    gumbynotpokey

    Joined:
    Jul 3, 2010
    Location:
    Western NC
    Our worship team goes out with a list, but we have breaking into the "it" factor (the "flow") as a goal. Sometimes it happens and sometimes it doesn't. For us, it's like getting on a raft and going down river. We may stay up there for an hour and a half, or two, or whatever. It's always different. For us, tipping into jam-band is the best.

    To help improve this, we practice being spontaneous. This is not meant to be paradoxical. We'll spend time in practice with a numerical progression, and when the leader goes into the flow thing, we follow. Something that's cool is trading roles. I'll keep the structure and the drummer will shift to a piano-like thing on the kit, using it more as percussion. Or, the electric will become the leader (usually the acoustic-electric has that job) and acoustic will chord over the band. Hard to explain.

    I think intentionality is important in developing jam-bandness. For us, it's a relational thing and being explicit in discussing wants, needs, expectations, suggestions etc beforehand helps a lot.

    Listen. Complement each other. Give each other room. Have fun.
     
  14. tZer

    tZer

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2006
    Location:
    St. Louis // St. Charles, MO
    Coming from a background of VERY rehearsed bands, encountering my first 'jam band' was very unsettling to my musical inner child. I was so used to coming to a rehearsal space ready to rehearse music that I'd practiced that coming to that same space with absolutely nothing prepared then launching into something made me feel very insecure and vulnerable.

    I learned a few really important things (IMO):
    1) Everyone in the room has to be OK with letting things evolve musically. That means fighting the urge to stop after a few minutes. Minutes in band time feel more like hours when you consider a typical pop song is about 4 minutes long so if the band is still 'feeling it's way' at the 2 minute mark, my normal response was to stop everything - talk about what we're doing, where we're going, start again and do that. What I learned is you have to keep going beyond the point where your own mind is screaming "stop this madness!" otherwise you won't find the magical musical gems that are waiting for you just beyond the 5 minute mark.

    2) Record everything and listen back to it a LOT. There are a lot of things that color your perception of what's going on in the moment that frequently obscure what's really going on. You may be in a bad mood or someone else my not really be 'feeling it'. If you don't listen back to the session later in the week and rely solely on your memory of the session, your perception of it will be negative. I have almost always been surprised at how off base my perceptions were when listening back.

    3) You have to have GREAT chemistry both personally and musically in a jam band. One 'dark personality' can really suck the energy from a session. Everyone has to feel safe, respected and supported by each other. Finding GREAT musical spaces requires people be able to take musical chances and not get 'the stink-eye' should those risks fall short. Everyone needs to be able to know that they can go for it - AND FAIL - and not 'break things' - better yet, everyone needs to be able to laugh about it and even take that failure and poke musical fun at it.

    4) Practice all sorts of music, techniques and other fun stuff on your own and when you get together to jam, break it out. The more turned on everyone is to music and being musical, the better the jams turn out. Quote, borrow, steal and make it all your own by taking it all to new, interesting places - or by bringing musical insanity in for a landing on very familiar ground.
     
  15. bluewine

    bluewine Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2008
    Location:
    WI
    Would someone define "jam band" for me?
     
  16. lucas vigor

    lucas vigor Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2004
    Location:
    Orange County, Ca,
    In general, rich, trust fund kids with the best equiptment, lots of drugs, sandals, bob marley T-shirts, smug self-satisfied grins on their faces and about 2 hours of mindless, diatonic noodling that goes nowhere and only appeals to modern hippies. In short, if you have ever watched "the wonder years" and remember the main character's sister's boyfriend (played by John Corbett) then you will know exactly who a jam bander is.



    Though there may be a couple of exceptions.

    ;)
     
  17. bluewine

    bluewine Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2008
    Location:
    WI
    I knew it had something to do with hippies. :)
     
  18. tZer

    tZer

    Joined:
    Mar 9, 2006
    Location:
    St. Louis // St. Charles, MO
    in-doobie-dably...
     
  19. Floridabwoy

    Floridabwoy

    Joined:
    Sep 18, 2008
    Location:
    Jacksonville, Fl

    This... Record all of your practices. Just so you can learn each players musical language.


    When jamming I am usually the opposite. I am like " man that sounded like ****", but then listening back, "wow that was a great turn, or I like where this is going". Not to replicate live, but to be a platform for the jam.


    100% improv takes AMAZING musicians.
     
  20. lucas vigor

    lucas vigor Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 2, 2004
    Location:
    Orange County, Ca,
    yeah, but these jam banders are not hippies quite like you remember them to be. These are hippies that will be Conservative Republicans by the time they are 35-40.

    :smug:
     
  21. bluewine

    bluewine Banned

    Joined:
    Sep 4, 2008
    Location:
    WI
    The hippies I remember were conservatives from day one. No difference from where I'm coming from.

    It's still hours on end of noodling and riffing free form, right?
     

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