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Open Letter to Musicians / MVBS Jams


The great thing about how the MVBS blues jams have taken off is that it brings a lot of people out who haven’t experienced open jams. One of the not-so-great things about it is that, well, it brings a lot of people out who haven’t experienced open jams. With that in mind, let us offer a few suggestions:

0. BRING YOUR OWN INSTRUMENTS, DRUM STICKS, AND MICROPHONES.  In the interest of minimizing transmission of contagions, we will require that people who sing or play wind instruments bring their own mics.  We will have a sound system, amplifiers, and drum kit available for your use.

1. FOLLOW SONG LIMITS. Three songs means just that. Be respectful of those waiting to play. Your one extra song could prevent someone from playing at all. And that does not mean two songs and a rambling, 12-minute jam. While we’re on the subject…

2. KEEP YOUR SELECTIONS TO A REASONABLE LENGTH. Most songs performed live last an average of 5-7 minutes. Many songs in collections of ‘50s blues averaged just 3 minutes apiece. Not saying you should stick to 3-minute tunes, but if Sonny Boy Williamson can say what he wants to say in several songs in a 33-min. album, it shouldn’t take you 15 minutes for a single song. We really, really don’t want to have to implement time limits.

3. GET ON AND OFF THE STAGE QUICKLY. Be prepared with both your equipment and your material. Have your ax out of its case and tuned up. People are not there to watch you taking your time setting up your equipment or listen to you tune it from scratch. Then when you’re done playing, get yourself and your equipment OFF the stage immediately, then put your ax in its case, coil your cords and put your pedals away stage-side. Wait until you’re out of the way to accept your well-deserved praise from fans and friends.  

4. THIS IS A BLUES JAM (Pt. 1). That means you should go there prepared to play blues, not classic rock, not hardcore country, not jazz fusion. Those styles are great, and there are places to play them, but this ain’t one of them. It won’t get boring; blues styles are varied enough to survive a full night honoring those styles. If you feel limited by the idiom, that says more about you than it does about the idiom. The idea is for others to play along with a song they may not be familiar with; don’t make it un-fun for them to do that. Bottom line: if you need to constantly shout out chord changes, it probably isn’t the right song choice. Choose a different one.

5. THIS IS A BLUES JAM (Pt. 2). This time with the emphasis on “jam.” We all have people with whom we love to play and with whom we’re comfortable. But the whole purpose of these jams is the chance to network, to play with new people and to try out new ideas, not for showcasing your band’s tight arrangements. Be open to jamming with whoever gets put on the bandstand with you. While we’re on the subject…

6. THIS IS A BLUES JAM (Pt. 3). It’s not your personal showcase, nor is it an audition (although it can serve as both if you do it right). Be sure you're playing together. Listen to what’s going on around you and don’t fight with the rest of the band, not musically and certainly not in terms of volume. In the words of a late great bass player from Boston, "Ninety percent of playing is listening."  While we are on the subject…

7. BE VOLUME APPROPRIATE. This is advice all too often ignored at all performances, but for some reason it seems to happen at the jams even more. Usually it starts out at a reasonable level, then by the midpoint of the jam set, it can border on painful. Keep in mind that the drums are usually unamplified (except occasionally the bass drum).  If you're having trouble hearing the drummer and the others onstage with you, then turn down your volume.  Be cognizant of that (and the drummer will be thankful for that).

8. BE OPEN TO CRITICISM AND ADVICE. Jams offer incredible learning opportunities and constructive criticism could help you sharpen your listening and playing skills.

9. Have fun.

10. When in doubt, See No. 9.

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