Jammin' -- Hosting The Jam
First of all, a big THANK YOU for your willingness to host a jam
for the Mohawk Valley Blues Society.
In an effort to maintain some level of consistency from jam to jam,
we have drawn up some guidelines for you to follow:
Equipment you must provide:
+ PA with at least 3 microphones (vocals, harmonicas, or other wind instruments)
+ Bass amp
+ Guitar amp, preferably more than one
+ Keyboard with amp is optional
Please do not assume that any of the equipment belonging to the venue is going to be functional.
The format is generally as follows:
+ 7:00 Opening Set by host band
+ 8:00 First Jam set (jammers should have their instruments ready)
+ 9:40 Closing Set by host band and any jammers who have yet to play.
If it’s a really busy night and/or there are any school-age kids looking to sit in, the Opening Set should be shortened to allow for an additional jam set. Jam sets are generally 20 minutes each, which allows for a very brief set-up time and an average of 3 songs.
Please be punctual! The Opening Set starts promptly at 7:00. Any delays will be counted against the Opening Set so the jamming can start at 8:00 at the latest (or 7:40 on busy nights or if there are kids waiting to jam).
Please remember that you’re here more to host the jam than to perform. We're counting on you to make the jammers feel welcomed and to keep the jam running smoothly. Jammers are called up to the bandstand pretty much in the same order as on the sign-up sheet. A comfortable jam-band size is 5 players — too many jammers can make for a train wreck and too few means running the risk that some jammers will not have the chance to play at all.
There are reasons why we prefer that you bring more than one guitar amp. We try to keep things easy for the jammers. Ideally each jammer shouldn’t have to do more than plug-n-play, something that is easy to do if there is an amp already on the bandstand for them. Host Band members must be available to assist jammers in setting up for every set -- dead-air time between sets should not exceed 5 minutes. If a jam-band is short a crucial instrument and there are no players of that instrument in the audience (for example, drums), the corresponding Host Band's member (in this case, drummer) must be willing to step in and play the set.
This is a BLUES jam. Granted, Blues as a genre laid the foundations for much of what has been popular for the past 50+ years, but this jam is about playing ideas based on Blues formats as much as it is playing specific songs. Since this a true jam in that none of the material in the jam sets has been rehearsed, playing songs with easily recognizable, predictable chord progressions is essential. There are lots of rhythmic variations that can be explored, such as jump-swing, shuffle, slow-Blues, and rhumba, so there’s no excuse for getting bored playing Blues.
Be mindful of the volume levels. Please don’t let anyone overpower the drummer, simply because the drum kit is not amplified.
If you have any questions about running the jams, or if issues come up, consult any of the Board members present at the jam. Ideally, one of the musicians on the Board or a Designated Regular would be working alongside you. These people know all of the regulars who play at the jams and can help you organize the jam sets.
Every once in awhile a newcomer shows up. Sometimes they're with a friend, and sometimes they come in out of the blue. Your job is to make them feel welcomed -- ask them questions about their playing, let them ask questions about the jam. Don't be judgmental until you've heard them play, because for all you know, you could be dealing with a modest monster or someone who is "all gloss and no groove."
Jamming is about taking chances, and this applies to working with the newcomers too. One thought is to bring them up on the first jam set, when most of the host band is still on the bandstand. Holding them off until the last jam set and/or putting them up with only the weakest players is an insult and can be very discouraging.
Kids should be brought up as early on as possible. Chances are they have school the next day and/or their parents don't want to stay out too late. Again you never know -- some of them could be serious prodigies and others just want to hack around.
Occasionally an entire band shows up and wants to play a set. This is not encouraged, because this is a jam, not a showcase. There's no problem with all of the bandmates coming out for the jam, but they should expect to play with others more than with their own bandmates. The same holds for people who want to request certain people to be on the set with them.
Sometimes "the numbers don't stack up" on the sign-in sheet, such as having more bass players than drummers, or we may have some "non-usual" instrumentalists show up. Do the best you can in the surplus/shortage cases. In the example above, the lucky drummers may get to play with 2 or 3 different bass players each. Find out if they want to do all of their sets at once or if they want to alternate sets. (Note about drummers -- a left-handed drummer is going to want to make numerous adjustments in the placement of drum kit components, particularly high-hat and cymbals, and maybe the floor toms too. If a lefty does show up, he should get all of his playtime in at once.)
Lately people have been showing up with saxes, electric violin, mandolin, percussion, and it's only a matter of time before another instrument makes its debut here. They often get free run and can play whenever they please. Feel free to put limits on their participation, especially if they're not fitting in well with the others players.
The bottom line here is to make the jam fun for everybody, and it’s up to you to facilitate the fun factor. The jam is about musical exploration and discovering something new, allowing people to network and play with others they may have never played with before, perhaps even bringing about some magic on unrehearsed material that will have the audiences holding on to their seats.