Jam Reflection

Saturday Night I went to see Medeski, Martin, and Wood, the best musicians and the best improvizationalists I have heard in the industry for at least ten years (I mean, the date of the music, not the age at which I listened to it). As a kind of ironic artistic contrast to that, I hosted the first fortnightly jam session at my house the following night.

Briefly: it didn’t go well. Nobody had any confidence! We were all just kind of dinking around with our instruments, not really saying anything with the music (I don’t mean saying something politically or anything; a strong melody line “says something”). The most obvious contributors to the general lack of energy in the music were that two of our five musicians were playing on something other than their primary instrument, and that our guitarist didn’t have an amp, so we couldn’t hear him.

But another thing that I think generally took away from the spirit of the evening is that we didn’t pick very energetic baselines to start with. It was mostly slow bluesy stuff. The reason I had a tendency to pick those was to keep the bar low for everybody; I thought faster music would be more challenging to follow. But we did one high-energy jam right at the end (which I really enjoyed, but unfortunately tripped over the power to the computer, so the recording was lost), and everybody seemed to follow along better than they did the whole night. So next time: more tempo, more energy!

Another thing is that I didn’t really structure the music to take advantage of people’s strengths. That is to say, I didn’t structure the music to take advantage of my strengths, because I don’t know anyone else’s. However, others’ strengths are something that I hope to learn over time. I consider my strengths as a musician to be:

  • Composition
  • Solo (I mean completely solo, no chord progression, no background rhythm) improv
  • Single-note leads with bends

To be fair, it’s pretty difficult to work those things into a jam with multiple people… especially the second one. I didn’t work the third in as much as I could have, probably because I was feeling self-concious that Andrea, Jenn’s friend who is a jazz pianist, was there and I didn’t want to sound too “simple-minded”. I forgot that music is about making music.

I feel like I could work composition in, but that means I’d have to compose something. And thus far I’ve composed nothing without hearing it as I go. So it would be a challenge. But I spent two hours setting up the friggin music, you’d think that I could spend six hours composing something for us to work with. And I should take the challenge as a challenge, not as a demotivator. Hmm, it’s also hard to compose when you aren’t sure who’s going to show up. Maybe I’ll try that for the next session.

I really want to keep this going for a while, even if it’s a failure at the beginning. We’re human, and humans have a tendency to get better at things they do often.


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