Questions about Jam Sessions: History, Function, Experiences

kb

Very well Known Member
Joined
Aug 7, 2005
Messages
1,363
Reaction score
88
Location
SF Bay Area
Old Drummer, where are you? You mention several times about what you think is going on "locally" but never state where you are....
 

JDA

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 7, 2005
Messages
11,297
Reaction score
1,165
Location
Jeannette, Pa.
"Open Stages" of the past 10 years? I think that's where the idea of "The Walking Dead" TV series came from..... "
 

SteveB

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 5, 2005
Messages
7,794
Reaction score
160
Location
South Hampton, NH
Then there are those times when things didn't go so well. I was invited by Rick Russell to drop down to the House of Blues in Boston to sit in with a variety of blues guys. When i got up to the fully mic'd kit and started playing I realized the snare was revolving around in circles. The clamp was broken and the guy just put a plumbing clamp on the post. Add to this the fact that they used a clip on mic, so every time the snare moved the mic would wack the rack tom, sending a crash out into the room. I had to keep my hihat knee up against the side of the snare to try to hold it in place...embarrassing to say the least. I couldn't begin to play so i just kept time through everything. How the owner of this kit dealt with this I'll never know.

Then another time this guy had his crash cymbals real low and hanging directly over the rack toms.There might have been 6 inch clearance. I was having a hell of a time I tell ya! ;-0 Honestly I debate how much you can show of your talent in this format, playing someone else's kit...unless you want to play like everyone else who sits in, which sort of misses the point...if you're looking for work.
 

RIDDIM

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 5, 2005
Messages
3,345
Reaction score
262
Location
MD
Nice article. I had to chuckle over the first point. Yeah, it's got to be a hassle hosting jams and getting blamed for everything. I also suspect that the third point is on target. As best as I've been able to calculate, there's not much money to be made out of jams. I think, though I'm not sure, that the club owner of my nearby jams doesn't do much better than break even over the long haul, although he gets to keep his club humming on a weeknight and thereby strengthen its reputation as a live music venue. The house band also doesn't make much money--just more than they would on a weeknight staying home!

But the second point isn't consistent with my local observations. The club that hosts the jam is not a dive, but one of the premier live music venues. There just doesn't seem to be enough consumer demand to keep any club humming every night with retail bands (and this club also has weekly stand up comedy). Also, although they may exist, I'm unaware of any professional musicians who are living off of performing. The pros seem to play in 2-3 different bands with different concepts (soul, blues, classic rock, etc.) but still only pick up mostly weekend gigs a few times a month. Ironically, being in the host band for weekly jams may be the steadiest gig there is. One old pro bought into a club years ago so survives that way (another lucked out and got appointed minister of culture with a fat salary). Maybe somewhere there are 6-nighter gigs, but I haven't heard of them. My impression is that every musician is part-time and living off something else.

I think local markets vary, making it hard to generalize, but I'm pretty sure that in some local markets pros are playing in jams in part because there simply aren't enough paying gigs to keep them busy. To work full time and live off it, they have to go to another country. Meanwhile, venues with DJs or music videos proliferate. I suspect there's been some cost-shifting away from live music and jams are a symptom (although otherwise jams are fine).
- I suspect they've been around forever. I've lived all over the planet and generally I have found them in more musically active areas; plenty in DC, Baltimore, NYC, Boston, Philly - fewer in Comiso, Angeles City,Dover, STL ,San Antonio.
 

RIDDIM

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 5, 2005
Messages
3,345
Reaction score
262
Location
MD
Then there are those times when things didn't go so well. I was invited by Rick Russell to drop down to the House of Blues in Boston to sit in with a variety of blues guys. When i got up to the fully mic'd kit and started playing I realized the snare was revolving around in circles. The clamp was broken and the guy just put a plumbing clamp on the post. Add to this the fact that they used a clip on mic, so every time the snare moved the mic would wack the rack tom, sending a crash out into the room. I had to keep my hihat knee up against the side of the snare to try to hold it in place...embarrassing to say the least. I couldn't begin to play so i just kept time through everything. How the owner of this kit dealt with this I'll never know.

Then another time this guy had his crash cymbals real low and hanging directly over the rack toms.There might have been 6 inch clearance. I was having a hell of a time I tell ya! ;-0 Honestly I debate how much you can show of your talent in this format, playing someone else's kit...unless you want to play like everyone else who sits in, which sort of misses the point...if you're looking for work.
- Sometimes things are horrible. In those cases, it's about making the best of the situation. We play the instrument, it doesn't play us.
 

DanC

"Get in, sit down, shut up, hold on"
Joined
Aug 5, 2005
Messages
13,610
Reaction score
469
Location
Somewhere in Florida, behind a Rogers kit
Yes, many times the drumkits are badly junked up. And even when they are not so bad, they are often set up in a way that makes it very difficult to play with any kind of 'flair'. I'm 6'2, long arms and legs, and I like to sit high. More often than not, everything is down low - which makes it a struggle.

Drums are tailored to the owners physical dimensions and style, and it's not cool to go moving them all around just for your 25 minutes and 4 songs. Often, they are memory locked and clamped and not movable anyway.

It's the reality for drummers sitting in, and you just have to deal with it.

I have hosted many jams in the past, and my kit doesn't work for a lot of guys. I always watch to see what they are going to attempt to move, and I have had to stop folks a few times. Moving a cymbal stand or highhats is ok, but not much else. And they're vintage Rogers Memriloc stands (and tom arms and ft legs), not adjustable. The reactions of surprise and frustration can be....interesting.

"Hey pal, I have to deal with it myself when I'm sitting in - you'll survive."

And often I wind up with a bunch of dented heads as a little bonus at the end of the night. There's a lot of frustrated van Halen drummers out there, and many times they have no respect.
 
Last edited:

tommykat1

DFO Master
Joined
Oct 27, 2007
Messages
10,025
Reaction score
710
Location
Oregon
It's probably asking too much, but I'd really like some kind of quantitative chronological history of jams. Yes, back in and probably before the jazz/swing era there were jams, but my impression is that they were mostly after hours things where musicians would assemble after their paying gigs and/or limited to a few big cities in specific eras. Again, I lived multiple places between the 1960's and 1980's and never heard of one, yet DanC says there are dozens of them now in Tampa/St. Pete. Something has changed when a modest metro area has several (let's say instead of dozens). Jansara though remembers them during the 1960's, which prompts me to wonder where. They weren't anywhere I knew. Meanwhile, Blueshadow writes of choosing a college during the 1990's because of the jam sessions. That tells me that they weren't everywhere then. I think there's a more uneven history of jams than just noting they've been around for a long time, but I don't know what that history is or why it is.
I started going to jams in the Seattle area in 1976. There was a Sunday night jam at a place on Lake Washington in Kirkland called The Flame. That was back in the day when the same band played six nights a week, and the bar was rocking every night.
 

jaymandude

DFO Veteran
Joined
Nov 20, 2016
Messages
1,886
Reaction score
339
Location
outer limits
It's probably asking too much, but I'd really like some kind of quantitative chronological history of jams. Yes, back in and probably before the jazz/swing era there were jams, but my impression is that they were mostly after hours things where musicians would assemble after their paying gigs and/or limited to a few big cities in specific eras. Again, I lived multiple places between the 1960's and 1980's and never heard of one, yet DanC says there are dozens of them now in Tampa/St. Pete. Something has changed when a modest metro area has several (let's say instead of dozens). Jansara though remembers them during the 1960's, which prompts me to wonder where. They weren't anywhere I knew. Meanwhile, Blueshadow writes of choosing a college during the 1990's because of the jam sessions. That tells me that they weren't everywhere then. I think there's a more uneven history of jams than just noting they've been around for a long time, but I don't know what that history is or why it is.
I'll ask again... Where do you live ?
 

BennyK

DFO Master
Joined
Aug 6, 2008
Messages
13,949
Reaction score
946
Sue Foley is not an " Austin " guitar queen - she started out right here in Ottawa at the age of sixteeen, accompanied by her Dad at the weekly ' Blues-Tues. ' jam at the Downstaris Club on Rideau St . Our jaws dropped when she smoked everybody with her incredible bottle neck playing and natural pocket . This open mic get- together gave her the exposure and experience she needed to pull up a chair to the big table, so to speak .
 
Last edited:

funkypoodle

DFO Veteran
Joined
May 29, 2013
Messages
2,103
Reaction score
286
Location
Québec, Canada
I can vouch for jam sessions functioning as networking opportunities! See this thread: https://www.drumforum.org/threads/score-of-a-lifetime.162636/

I'm house band on this jam today again & the gentleman who sold me all his amazing gear is going to get a surprise today. I'm bringing the Blue Oyster kit with a Supersensitive and his personal set of cymbals so he can play them for a last time. I say that because I doubt I will be hauling this Super Classic to jam sessions very often. But I feel that I owe it to this gentleman, who refused an offer of a good bottle of scotch when I bought his entire collection last week.
 

moodman

Lone Wolf
Joined
Aug 4, 2005
Messages
3,907
Reaction score
350
Location
Quityerbitchin, USA
Jams are a good place to learn to support soloists. Some soloists want you to just play time, while some others might like you to chase the solo, interact to some degree. To me, it's about dynamics, listening closely and playing in the moment. There's a lot of grey area and you gotta be careful, you can Pzz someone off or, you might make a new friend. Experience is the only way to learn.
 

Old Drummer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2019
Messages
108
Reaction score
34
I'll ask again... Where do you live ?
Sorry, I took yesterday off from the internet.

I'm in San Jose, Costa Rica, a metro area of about 2.5 million, and the first place I've ever lived where I've been aware of a public jam session.

I've been told that while most of the musicians live in San Jose, most of the gigs are in the the tourist beach towns. This makes geographic and economic sense. The beach towns are too small and separated from one another to have much of a music scene, but filled as they are with vacationers spending money, they likely provide the bulk of the gig opportunities. However, while I suppose they exist, I'm unaware of any 6-nighters available for bands in the tourist towns (or in San Jose). Gigs seem to be one night at a time. The few clubs that try to have live entertainment every night seem to have different bands (or comedians etc.) every night.

The typical gigs in San Jose pay a percentage of the cover charge. Ergo, the bands are hanging their own posters and inviting their friends. The members of the band that host the jam sessions get $50 and one free beer each--this is for hauling their equipment, rehearsing enough to have some kind of song list, and probably not getting home before 3 AM on a weeknight--but as said it may be the steadiest employment for a band that exists. (Solo acts with iPods may offer steadier employment in resorts.) Working band musicians seem to play in 2-4 bands with different concepts simultaneously, and may average a gig or two a week, though I think the average is lower. Those who aspire to make it performing original material surely gig less frequently and hang more posters, but there's nothing wrong with dreaming. The guitarist who had a pro career played in in US and Europe. Now he's messing around with a concept band and a regular at the jam sessions.

To my knowledge, there's not much session work available either. Although people surely make recordings, when's the last time you heard of a hit song coming from Costa Rica? It hardly ever happens. Add that most people live in small houses or apartments without garages or basements. It's tough to find rehearsal space, and it usually has to be rented.

The situation therefore seems to be one of a lot of underemployed musicians with few gig opportunities and no place to rehearse--probably the right ingredients for public jam sessions.

But this is where I live now. The mid-sized Midwestern US town where I grew and gigged from the late 1960's through the 1970's had no public jam sessions. Maybe part of the explanation is that it was a half-union town. About half the venues and musicians were union, the other half non-union, and we were always playing one way or the other "illegally" while I myself was in and out of the union depending upon what band I was in and/or gigs I was playing. In any event, union musicians couldn't play for less than union scale while union venues couldn't have non-union musicians (and vice versa). Probably union rules made some exceptions for jam sessions, but they may have made them more difficult. Whatever the role of the union, in those days weekend gigs were plentiful and 6-nighters available, although those who wanted to go full time did have to travel. Also, disco cut into the opportunities as the 1970's wore on. However, in those days I couldn't have imagined showing up to a jam session to play for free, since I was busy enough playing for pay.

I then lived in two towns in the US South, neither union, and gigged sporadically in both. I was unaware of any public jam sessions in either, despite being a semi-pro musician. My main home was Athens, GA, then a flourishing music scene. I knew of no public jams there. If they existed, you'd think I would have heard of them.

But by the end of the 1980's I moved from sporadic gigging to full retirement, so really don't know whether or not there were public jam sessions after then. I didn't hear of any, but wasn't in the network either.

Anyway, my experience as a working semi-pro musician in three US towns between the late 1960's and the late 1980's is of no public jam sessions at all. Of course I had heard of them historically, just never lived anywhere they existed. Now in San Jose one is near me, and indirectly I'm hearing on forums like this one that public jam sessions are fairly common in many areas. I have to infer that these public jam sessions are more plentiful generally than they used to be and that, yes, there is a historical trend.

But apparently the facts underlying my experiences and impressions are in dispute, with some contending that there has been no general increase in public jam sessions over the last 50 years. I doubt though that declining paid gig opportunities over this same time period is a fact that's in dispute, but maybe it is too. But with facts disputed, there's no point in speculating about a relationship between them.
 

Old Drummer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2019
Messages
108
Reaction score
34
When I got back into playing 20 years ago, they were essential for me. . . . It knocked whatever nervousness I had right out of me. . . . I get to play with all the full-time players, and it gets me fill-in gigs from time to time. For keeping your name and face out there, they are great...
More than knocking out the nervousness was my initial motivation! I hadn't played in a band for 30 years or even owned drums for a dozen. I honestly had no idea whether or not I could still play. True, I bought some drums to fool around with at home and spent a few minutes most days pounding out rudiments to get my wrists into some kind of shape, but whether or not I could still drive a band (or even keep a beat) was unknown. After I heard about the jam, I reasoning that I had to find out. If I fell flat on my face, which I half expected would happen, at least I would know that I had no business sitting behind the skins ever again.

Lo and behold, playing drums is like riding a bicycle. It all came back to me and I was able to turn on auto pilot to play the songs, which I believe I played well (at least for a jam). I know that I received multiple compliments from both fellow musicians and audience members while the club owner gave me a beer and encouraged me to come back. Since then the guitarist who manages the players almost always puts me with the pros rather than the slugs, and I always receive compliments. While nobody can be a fair judge of themselves, I honestly think I'm playing as well or better than the other drummers.

A funny part of this is that several people favorably mention my "classic" or "old school" style. I honestly don't know what they mean by this. Hey, they're old songs and I just play them like I think they ought to be played. However, apparently I'm the Rip Van Winkle of drummers and people notice this. But whatever, it works.

But I do have to constantly remind myself to keep it simple lest I start something I can't finish (which unfortunately I sometimes do). That is, I am a worse drummer than I was and can't trust myself to get too fancy. Also, in protracted uptempo songs my ride hand gets tired, while my foot got tired playing a soul song with a lot of bass drum work. I'm not in pro shape, and this may show to others.

What I don't know is where if anywhere I want this to lead. I'm hesitant to join a band. I don't have or want a car, so hauling my drums to and from rehearsals and gigs is an expense; I don't like late nights and really don't want to be even across town at 2 AM; I definitely don't want to do overnights sharing hotel rooms or staying in hostels; and after asking around I can't see how the money makes any of this worthwhile. Add the issue of musical genres. I can't or don't want to play a lot of musical styles.

As for fill-in gigs, I suspect that I'll sooner or later be asked, but am not holding my breath. At last week's jam there were 11 drummers, a few decent, so I doubt that finding a drummer to fill in is difficult. A few of them strike me as ambitious too. I think there's some competition going on. Also, I can't say that I especially want a fill-in gig. Playing gigs or even in front of audiences isn't my goal.

But I'm not sure what my goal is. Playing a few songs at jam sessions on another guy's drums doesn't seem quite enough, but most of the endgames involved in playing in bands aren't appealing to me either. I suppose I'm looking for something in between, but I'm not sure that exists or what it is if it does exist.

In the meantime, I might be the quintessential jam session player--just an old guy who likes to play a little but lacks the ambition (and maybe the chops) to go at it whole hog.
 

Old Drummer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2019
Messages
108
Reaction score
34
Jams are a good place to learn to support soloists. Some soloists want you to just play time, while some others might like you to chase the solo, interact to some degree. To me, it's about dynamics, listening closely and playing in the moment. There's a lot of grey area and you gotta be careful, you can Pzz someone off or, you might make a new friend. Experience is the only way to learn.
Actually, I think this has long been one of my strengths. I now "naturally" work with the soloists and as far as I can tell they appreciate it. If one wants me to sit back and just keep the beat, I'm not their drummer. However, I notice that very few if any of the younger drummers do this. They just keep the beat. My impression is that they need experience and are doing the right thing attending jam sessions.

As a side note, I was watching a baseball game last night and found myself thinking that drummers are like catchers. Unbeknownst to many, the catchers largely control the game, even calling the pitches. But their role is fundamentally a support role too. Their job is to get the pitcher to pitch as well as he can and the pitchers get the glory.
 

Old Drummer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2019
Messages
108
Reaction score
34
Then there are those times when things didn't go so well. I was invited by Rick Russell to drop down to the House of Blues in Boston to sit in with a variety of blues guys. When i got up to the fully mic'd kit and started playing I realized the snare was revolving around in circles. The clamp was broken and the guy just put a plumbing clamp on the post. Add to this the fact that they used a clip on mic, so every time the snare moved the mic would wack the rack tom, sending a crash out into the room. I had to keep my hihat knee up against the side of the snare to try to hold it in place...embarrassing to say the least. I couldn't begin to play so i just kept time through everything. How the owner of this kit dealt with this I'll never know.

Then another time this guy had his crash cymbals real low and hanging directly over the rack toms.There might have been 6 inch clearance. I was having a hell of a time I tell ya! ;-0 Honestly I debate how much you can show of your talent in this format, playing someone else's kit...unless you want to play like everyone else who sits in, which sort of misses the point...if you're looking for work.
The drummer in the house band where I play is a little guy with little drums and everything is set low. The other night though his snare was really low, so I tried to raise it. When I did the post came out of the base leaving me holding the snare by the post. I was like, "What's with this puny snare stand?" I got the post back in the base and just played it low--not as bad as your experience--but definitely not an ergonomic setup for me.
 

Old Drummer

Well-Known Member
Joined
Jan 14, 2019
Messages
108
Reaction score
34
- I suspect they've been around forever. I've lived all over the planet and generally I have found them in more musically active areas; plenty in DC, Baltimore, NYC, Boston, Philly - fewer in Comiso, Angeles City,Dover, STL ,San Antonio.
The hypothesis is occurring to me that its the number of musicians in an area more than the number of gigs that encourages public jam sessions. Of course, the two are probably related in some ways, but a critical mass of musicians decent enough to pull off a jam is probably the essential ingredient. Jams held in small towns with mostly amateurs showing up wouldn't appeal to an audience.
 

bongomania

DFO Master
Joined
Oct 16, 2008
Messages
3,283
Reaction score
326
Location
Portland, OR
Audience? At nearly every jam I've been to, the people in the chairs were all just waiting their turn to get on stage. And their reluctant partners.

Of course that's different in the rare cases where one or more celebrity big names are known to be there, they can draw civilian audience, but most jams have no celebrities, and nobody coming to watch the amateurs figure out their chops.
 

Latest posts



Top