The other night, I was invited to be a part of a really nice jam session at a friend’s house. It’s always a little daunting for me, because I have to deal with the fact that they “expect” a certain level of performance out of me, while at the same time, I must be able to defer to the other players who want to play and be heard as well. There was another fine guitarist there, who I’ve known for quite some time, but who I never actually played with, and there was also a (get ready) HARMONICA player! Well, when I see a harp player at any jam, I know there is the potential for problems, as they can often “step on” whatever anyone else is playing. Just as in guitar playing, they have to learn the discipline of backing up other players while they aren’t soloing and wailing on their own!
Well, it turned out that he was just fine at “restraint” with the harmonica, and had a nice Little Walter-esque mic and amp kind of sound. The other guitarist was fine, but he would lay down these ethereal, fairly meandering tunes and parts that were a bit too “dreamy” to jam too, even though, given time, I was starting to figure them out. But once I started laying down some real “straight ahead” tunes and jam parts, the jam session really started to fall into place. We were playing “Mystery Train”, “Treat Her Right”, “Ode to Billy Joe” and several other tunes that were easy to groove to, and to understand the chords, even it the other players didn’t know the songs from before!
The important thing was that everyone felt included…..it’s critical to do this! Each player, regardless of level or knowledge, should really be given the chance to musically speak and feel like they are truly a part of the jam. Believe me, they know if they are not really good enough, but they are there for the experience, and everyone needs that kind of experience if they ever expect to get better as a player.
So, in the end, it was an evening that everyone enjoyed, and nobody was making excuses for themselves, which can sometimes be heard after many a jam session. Rather, this time, everyone felt like they learned something, and most of all, like they were allowed to be heard and included! A great time was had by all…the way it should always be!