If you’re new to jamming, then things might seem a little odd at first – especially when you give it a try. You’ll probably feel a little nervous and anxious, but don’t let that stop you from having some fun rocking out. In this article, we’ll be examining what jamming is exactly, exploring its history, and looking at how you actually do it
THE DICTIONARY DEFINITION
Let’s start out by looking at the dictionary definition of jamming. The dictionary is always a good place to start when researching the history of something, after all. Jamming, according to good sources, means to “improvise with other musicians, especially in jazz or blues”. Yes, there are plenty of other definitions as well, but they mostly concern the foodstuff. Jamming therefore essentially means to get together with other musicians and play as a group. Today, this can be in any musical genre. Traditionally this is done improv style, but jamming these days can be more ordered or structured as well. There really isn’t a right or wrong way to approach it. You can
just meet up with other performers and see where the music takes you, or have a rough plan already in mind for what you want to play. So, now you know a bit more about what jamming actually means, let’s take a deep dive into the history of jam sessions. We’ll explore the origins of the word and see what else we can discover about jamming.
THE HISTORY OF JAMMING
The history of the word jamming and other alternatives like “jam session” is something with a bit of mystery around it. There are various sources and possibilities for how exactly the term originated, and without a time machine, we can’t say for certain which is 100% accurate. However, the most popular theory about its origin is connected to the jazz scene in the 1920s. It was used to describe black and white jazz musicians playing together when they met after playing their regular gigs. At the time, these musicians wouldn’t be able to play together in a normal setting, but at these late night get togethers, an underground jam scene emerged. Musicians were free to play in a more relaxed, informal style that you wouldn’t normally hear back then in the 1920s.
The actual term jamming was used to describe the appearance of Bing Crosby at these events. The singer who would regularly attend these sessions was described as jamming to the beat of the performers, and over time these get togethers became known as jam sessions. Jam sessions at least in the early days were very jazz focused affairs, but over the next few decades, the format spread to other genres of music as well, like rock, blues, Afro-Cuban, and many more. Nowadays, jam sessions in places like clubs and bars are still very popular. Despite being something very relaxed and fun, jamming does actually have quite a significant historical meaning. Race issues in the 1920s were very prominent, but diverse jamming sessions did point towards a better future.
HOW TO JAM
While jamming is certainly very improv-based, and it’s really up to you how you do it, there is actually a traditional structure to things that most people will follow. After all, if you all just go crazy and do what you want, then you often won’t actually be
making music people want to hear. So, having some form of musical structure in place is likely going to be needed in a jam session. The most common way of
ensuring you have a good jam session is to agree on a predefined set of chords for everyone to follow. One of the most common sequences is what’s known as the 12-bar blues.
You could decide upon this as a group before you start, or let one person act as the lead and you follow. Some jam sessions may also base their performance around a particular song or group of songs as well. They can be completely improvisational, but this isn’t very common as there is generally too much risk involved. Jamming
might be more relaxed, but you still want people to enjoy the performance. That’s why following some sort of predetermined structure is usually for the best.
WHAT IS A JAM BAND?
If you’ve been reading through this think “jamming sounds like a lot of fun” then you won’t be alone. The more relaxed, care-free style of performing definitely appeals to a lot of people, which led to the rise of so-called jam bands. Jam bands as you might have surmised take the jamming approach and turn it into a longer performance. Rather than performing a standard set list of songs, the performers will adopt
the more carefree jamming style of performance. The rise of jam bands started around the 1980s, and they maintained a steady climb in popularity over the next decade. Performances typically involved musical improvisation over pre-arranged grooves and chords, with sets going on for hours.
Because of jamming’s versatile nature, bands from across different genres could take the jam band approach to performing. This included country, rock, pop, blues, jazz, folk, and many more. So, it’s highly likely anyone who has attended a few festivals has seen a jam band or two. Some of the most popular jam bands include the American rock band The Grateful Dead, often thought to be one of the first jam
bands, starting out back in 1965. Widespread Panic was another popular name in the jam band scene, and many other bands (while not traditional jam bands) have held jam sessions as well live on stage.
The Red Hot Chili Peppers are probably one of the most well-known examples of this. While they performed in the more traditional manner, they were also well-known for holding long jam sessions as well.
If you’re interested in jamming, then attending a jam night is one of the best ways to experience it. Jam nights are similar to open mic nights, but they’re open to instrumentalists as well as singers. Jam nights have been around for decades. In New York during World War 2, after-hours jam sessions became very popular, and the famous jazz club Minton’s Playhouse held them long into the 1950s. They also became a way for people looking for their big break to get their name out there and connect with legends in the industry.
Jam nights are still popular today, with many establishments in towns and cities holding them. Places like the Green Note and the Troy Bar in London are popular spots, and whether you wish to perform or simply stand in awe at amazing musical talent, we recommend checking them out. While at WeJam we do love a good jam night, just beware that not all of them are friendly towards beginners. If in doubt,
maybe go along to one first as a spectator to gauge the talent. Whilst most crowds are encouraging, nobody wants to be booed off-stage when they’re just starting out!
WHAT SONGS TO JAM TO?
So, while jamming is largely improvised, most people will want to pull a crowd by using a popular song as the base for their jam session. Over the years, a number of jam night favourites have emerged. In fact, there are so many we couldn’t possibly list them all, but here are just a few of the classics. If you suggest one of these at a rock jam, you can’t go wrong.
· Whole Lotta Love – Led Zeppelin
· You Shook Me All Night Long – AC/DC
· Born to Run – Bruce Springsteen
· Purple Haze – Hendrix
· Hotel California – The Eagles
These songs are so good in fact, that we’ve made them available for you to play in the studio, even if you’re a total beginner!
JAMMING WITH WEJAM
At WeJam we believe everyone should be able to jam together, whatever their musical ability and whatever their taste in music. As well as rock classics, WeJam gives you the chance to jam to your favourite tunes from all genres – be that pop, hip-hop, metal, or anything else you can think of! Even if you’ve never played an instrument or set foot on a stage before, at WeJam we give you a space and the equipment you need to enjoy your own personal jam session with friends. So if
you’re new to playing in a band, maybe try a WeJam session before you dive into the deep end at a public jam night. There’s no judgement here, and everybody’s welcome.