Fiddlin' AroundNancy Buchan

We Be Jammin’!

Bob MarleyBy Nancy Buchan

The great Jamaican musician Bob Marley wrote a song back in the late 70’s about jamming. It was a celebration of sorts – an enthusiastic anthem for the Rastafari movement and an effort to take music outside of the socially deprived areas of Jamaica to an international audience and help foster regional peacefulness. He says the word jammin’ about 35 times in the song, but here are some of the other lyrics – “I wanna jam it wid you and I hope you like jammin’ too… Ain’t no rules, ain’t no vow, we can do it anyhow, I and I will see you through. ‘Cos every day we pay the price with a little sacrifice…”

It was troubled times in Jamaica in 1976 – rival political factions were warring on the streets in tense anticipation of the election between Michael Manley’s Peoples National Party (who were affiliated with Cuba and Russia) and the Jamaican Labor Party (dubbed CIAGA because of American Secret Service support). Marley understood all the unrest, but was planning a free concert that would not be in support of either party. “No bullet can stop us now, we neither beg nor we won’t bow. Neither can be bought or sold. We all defend the right – Jah children must unite – your life is worth much more than gold.”   

One day while the band and their families were smoking ganja and rehearsing, their peace was forever shattered by thugs with automatic weapons. Marley was injured, but not killed, and when he returned from his self-imposed exile to England the song turned into a more mystical ritual to cast out the plague of political violence. But the theme of this song has endured – “True love that now exists is the love I can’t resist – so jam by my side.” Love, peace and jammin’!

Now my stodgy old dictionary says that a jam session is a musical event, process or activity where musicians play by improvising, without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements. Fair enough. Jamming together often helps musicians develop new material, find appropriate arrangements, or simply exchange thoughts at a communal practice session. It’s also a great way for less experienced musicians or week-end players to noodle around within a loose musical framework that they can understand. It will help them hone their rhythmic skills and explore melodic possibilities in a less structured and friendlier environment. ‘Course it can also drive an experienced player nuts when the noodling gets redundant and no one will end the freaking song….

The Gibson guitar people claim the origin of the word ‘jamming’ is in reference to music played at the Black Musicians Union Hall in Kansas City in the early 1900s. The late night playing between the musicians got so popular that they crowded up or jammed up the stage – hence the name. In the ‘20s both black and white musicians would hang together after their gigs to play the fun stuff they couldn’t indulge in on stage. One story said Bing Crosby loved to show up and sing, and the jazz cats said he was “jamming the beat” – clapping on the 1 and the 3, instead of on the offbeat. Geez, just like a white guy…   For jazz musicians it was a fertile meeting place and proving ground, and the skill standard of the musicians was pretty high, so it kept out those who couldn’t keep up.  

Bluegrass players are always jamming – at a bluegrass festival usually the campfire and parking lot picking is as good and as much fun to listen to as the guys being paid to play on stage. Bluegrass tunes are fairly predictable, and the musicians are almost always welcoming and generous with teaching newbies the songs as they were passed down to them. In a circle of bluegrass players everyone will get the chance to lead a song, or at least to play a solo – about as democratic of a musical enterprise you’ll ever witness, and a whole lot of fun.

Which brings me to “Jam bands” – a whole genre nowadays of musicians who like to free-form it during their performances.  Of course the leader of that pack was the Grateful Dead, and there are lots of other bands who are known for playing in that style. Widespread Panic, Phish, Max Creek, Gov’t Mule, Leftover Salmon, Further, and others fall into this category. They will throw in ‘quotes’ – a melody from some other song that at least for a minute fits into what they are playing. Or someone will play a phrase that leads them into another loosely arranged section of the song. You gotta be on your toes and really listening to your bandmates, instead of just relying on counting or rehearsed parts – casual front porch jamming requires the same abilities and is a great training ground for this style of music. For the lazy players, the ability to jam can cover your butt when you don’t have the initiative to rehearse. Jam Bands initially were somewhat ignored by the media, as they usually don’t have big radio hits, but their followers are loyal and travel great distances to be part of a unique musical experience that won’t happen in the same manner ever again. The Dead encouraged, rather than prohibited, their audience to record them – knowing that the fans would generate a whole other side industry exchanging live recordings and collecting them (which of course meant going to see them live). That tradition has persevered, and in January you too can be part of the experience….

Jungle Jam 2014

The 4th annual Jungle Jam in Jaco will be held by those music-lovin’ guys from Doce Lunas Resort this coming January 16th to the 19th. In the past they have featured several Jam bands, and the musicians inter-mingled amongst themselves for big jams.  Several of the bands for 2014 have played together previously at various venues or have worked in the studio together, so no doubt there’ll be some of that going on this year as well. 

The line-up this year includes Slightly Stoopid, a San Diego based good energy kinda beach, reggae, ska, hip hop, funky metal mix of guys.  Cool horn section and harmonies. Another new band to the event who should draw well is New Orleans own Dumpstaphunk. If you don’t know quite what funk music is – these guys (and their female drummer), are seriously bad-ass funk players, all with pedigrees, and they will define it for you. It’s a New Orleans groove with syncopated nastiness – it isn’t some feel-good world vibe thing – it is inner city power funk for the masses and there is no way to sit quietly to it.  Son of the incredible vocalist Aaron Neville, keyboardist Ivan Neville started Dumpstaphunk in 2003, and was joined by his guitarist cousin Ian, son of Art Neville (I’m talkin’ the Neville Brothers – royalty of New Orleans music!). These guys, along with bassist Tony Hall, have played with the best, and bring a young, push the limits attitude into their unique but rooted sound. Look up www.junglejam – through their website I listened to all the artists that will be there this year and really liked the direction the booking has gone. They have camping packages, fancier accommodations, there will be night concerts at different club venues, beach concerts and a wide variety of great music on their beautiful stage at the Doce Lunas Resort.   

The music students from the Escuela de Musica Sinfonica in San Isidro have several concerts at the Complejo Cultural right downtown during December. Their Xmas concert is Dec. 8th at the Cathedral in the town square, and Dec. 13th, 14th and 15th are concerts with their choral groups, the Youth Orchestra, the Stage Band and their swinging Big Band. These kids are talented and dedicated and deserve our support! You can catch Ben Orton (aka Ben Jammin’ and the Howlers) and myself playing at the beautiful Roca Verde in Dominical most Friday nights, and he’s usually jamming out at Dos Locos on Wednesday nights. Check around the area as there is some great live music going on as the seasons change!   Blessings to our friend and drummer Niven – jamming out now in that heavenly band.

“That’s why I hate to get started in these jam sessions. I’m always the last one to leave!” Elvis Presley

“It’s very hard to write a song alone. It’s only by jamming that you can get a song together.” Maurice Gibb

“Music is the language of the spirit. It opens the secret of life, bringing peace and abolishing strife.” Kahlil Gibran