Wednesday, December 10, 2008

In a Jam

One of my absolute favorite things to do is jam. There is nothing cooler than getting together with one to sixty-eight other musicians and playing. There is a connection there like nothing else I've ever experienced; in Greek there are four words for love (philos for brotherly love, eros for romantic love, storge for love of objects and agape for perfect love), but there is no word for how you feel about someone after you have jammed with them. (Or, for that matter, for the love you feel for someone who has set your words to music. I have had two of my poems set as choral works by a friend of my OTHER - there you go, Rich - choir director, and I feel a special connection to him that is definitely not eros so maybe it's closest to agape...?)

I have the peculiar problem of jamming once with a group and somehow becoming from thence forth a member. Eventually I have had to extricate myself from several of them, having still failed to master the art of bilocation, but that doesn't mean I didn't enjoy jamming with them!

My favorite jamming partner, of course, is my heirloom mandolin, Mandy. Here are some of the best jamming memories I have:

After playing the mandolin in a pick-up brass band led by a 101-year-old retired music teacher, I ended up at the centenarian's house jamming with an accordion player.

One year just before Christmas I jammed in front of the Christmas tree with a Mexican lady playing flamenco on her guitar. She proposed that we take our act to a local restaurant and I concurred, but then she got busy with something else. (What kind of an excuse is a baby, anyhow?)

Once in a school gym in Winnipeg (OK, so the setting wasn't the most exciting) the members of a semi-professional Renaissance music group jammed with our totally amateur Medieval music guild, part of a nationwide Medieval re-creation society. We all dressed in gorgeous Renaissance raiment and played for other people dancing in equally impressive garments. It was like watching jewels making graceful moves... in a school gym.

At a local bar there is a bluegrass jam once a week, and once when I proposed the song "Long Journey Home" ("Nothin' in my pocket but a two-dollar bill, Lord..."), the others said great, YOU get to lead the singing since it was your suggestion. They even gave me a sheet with the words on it, so there was no getting out of it. I stood in front of the microphone and started singing, and from behind me I heard a woman with a fantastic voice belting it out, so I backed off a little to let her take it. Wouldn't you know, she backed off too! So I took it up again and so did she, and we did this several times until I finally realized DUH, I was hearing my own voice coming out of the speakers! Nothing like being a natural blonde. (I once wondered why the woman at the next booth in a restaurant was staring at me until realizing the back of the booth was a mirror.)

This was a gig, not a jam, but once the plugged-in Mideastern band I play with was asked to play an acoustic set outside. It was a gorgeous setting beneath the trees on a lovely summer night, and all around the stage they had set up candles. The belly dancers danced on an Oriental carpet in front of the stage, and when one of our drummers went into a long African rhythm solo, they danced an African dance to it. Afterwards a couple of local musicians jammed with us.

My contra dance band was invited to play our Cajun repertoire at a benefit concert for the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Many other acts were on the bill as well, and at the end of the concert we all jammed on "When the Saints."

Perhaps best of all, my contra band was hired to play at a birthday party, and the birthday girl asked if her brother-in-law could play bass with us. We felt it would be in bad form to say no, so we said sure... and he was INCREDIBLE! It turned out he taught at the Berklee School of Music and had backed up a number of well-known jazz singers. He made us sound amazing!!

The best jams are often after a concert where several groups play, and at the end everyone gets to play together. I hate the word "synergy," but in this case the whole often is greater than the sum of its parts as you play off the ideas of both those musicians you jam with all the time and those you have just met for the first time.

Of course, there are all the times I've sung with random groups, like the high school choir that got on the free holiday trolley I was riding. The director asked if she could sit next to me, so I said sure, if I could sing with them. (I am a fairly competent sight reader.) So we rode all over town singing Victoria and "While By My Sheep" (the famous "Joy, joy, joy!" echo carol) and other wonderful Christmas songs. If you sing or play, drop me a line. We'll jam sometime.

Famous Hat

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