Monday, 23 May 2016

Jamming And Gigs

Oscar's Inn in Newark, Notts. Sunday afternoon, 22nd May. We're in the middle of a jam session. The session known locally as Sunday Revels is organised by a couple of guys who turn up at 4pm with a whole lot of binders each of which contain a numbered selection of songs. The idea is simple enough. If you supply song sheets to people who for the most part are complete strangers, then you can all sing from the same songsheet.

The more astute of you will notice that not everybody in the picture has a ukulele, and indeed on this occasion regular guitar players outnumbered the contingent who were playing ukes. However, the ukulele playing community of Newark presented a good turn out, and everybody had a damn fine session. The very essence of this sort of occasion is spontaneity. Everybody joins in because everybody can join in. Even those without instruments sang along. There were some outstanding performances and I would choose to nominate the guy with the left handed electric guitar as the man of the match. What this clearly was was a jam session, and not a gig. There is an important distinction between the two.

A jam session is by it's nature spontaneous and open to all. When it works well musicians do listen to each others contributions, and if they are courteous give a little individual performers a bit of space to strut their stuff. It is unlikely that there will be agreed arrangements to the material other than those which are already well received into our culture eg. Everyone knows the intro the Sunny Afternoon.
There is also no clear distinction of roles between performers and audience. It is open to all comers, and the idea is to have fun.

A gig on the other hand is a different animal. With a gig the performers have prepared, usually with a set list and, if they are professional in their approach, they have rehearsed, and worked out agreed arangements. There is a clear distinction between performers and audience, and generally when there is audience participation it is by invitation and with encouragement from the performers. eg. Joining in on choruses, singing along with well known and loved lyrics. Most bands would draw the line at instrumentalists in the audience trying to join in. It's unwelcome because it's a distraction. A few years ago Paul Jones of the Blues Band once stopped in the middle of a number and said to the audience, "Please don't clap on the on beat. It's rude."

So, at an open mike session, is it a gig or a jam session. There's no reason why it can't be both. All I ask when I get up to the mike is that if anybody wants to join in they've asked me before hand. Open mike sessions are usually the spaces that novice players take their baby steps. It doesn't help if, without their by or leave, they are joined by somebody in the audience keen to show off. If you haven't squared it with the performer beforehand then do the polite thing. Hold off and await your turn.

It's funny how it is usually harmonica players who do this.

It's also funny how they are usually not very good at it.


From Lynell
Essays like this are so important to broadening people's horizons.

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