2 Aug 2016

The Art of Etiquette – blues jam sessions

From Upbeat, 1:20 pm on 2 August 2016
Julie Lamb

Julie Lamb Photo: julielamb.co.nz

Upbeat producer Zoë George finds out about the unwritten rules of the blues jam session from recording artist and jam organiser Julie Lamb.

Can I borrow someone else’s instrument? Can I perform whatever I want? When’s the best time to do a solo? When have I outstayed my welcome on stage?

What is a jam session?

Julie Lamb: An amalgamation of brilliance, stupidity and music-loving people. The jam sessions come in many forms. The Capital Blues Thursday night end-of-the-month session (that I help run) is a semi-professional jam session.

What are some tips for getting involved?

Julie Lamb: It doesn’t cost anything. Bring your own instrument. Talk to the coordinator and wait until you get called. Don’t bring your own technology – amps, mics and pedals – because it takes too much time to set up. It’s about being respectful.

Where and when should I tune my instrument?

Julie Lamb: Before you get on stage and out of hearing range!

What happens if I need to borrow an instrument off someone?

Julie Lamb: You have to know that person intimately! (It’s not something that happens often.)

When I’m on stage how long should I play for?

Julie Lamb: We say three songs, which means 15 minutes, not three 15 minute songs. In blues there’s a tendency to play a 15 minute song!

I’ve made it on stage… is it ok to crank out a solo?

Julie Lamb: Yes. The best time to do a solo is when someone has indicated to you that it’s your turn. In our sessions we have a house band that guide the session. Solos are awesome things.

How long do I have until I wear out my “solo” welcome!?

Julie Lamb: Music has that traditional 8-bar stretch, or 12 or 24. If you’re still going at 64 bars someone will yell stop! Read the crowd too. If they are enjoying it, then great.

How should I prepare for a jam session?

Julie Lamb: Know what you want to play before getting up. Be mindful as there are lots of others who want to play, too. Don’t mill around the stage.  It breaks the flow.

How do I know I’m good enough to participate?

Julie Lamb: You don’t. If you have the proverbial gonads, then you’re ready. There are some people who get up and are extraordinary and they don’t know they are. Others need a bit of encouragement – and Dutch courage! People have their own self limiter. If they think they can’t do it, they won’t get up.

Ah, yes, Dutch courage. Does it help?

Julie Lamb: If you’re going to get shitfaced, don’t get up on stage. People get better the more they drink… or so they think in their own heads! Sometimes what’s going on in their heads doesn’t come out of their mouths and fingers.

As our sessions are in a pub the conviviality can get out of control. People lean in and tell you what’s not working or what could be improved, while spitting beer and bourbon at you. People are just a little more disgusting than they think they are when they are drunk. There’s a level of respect that disappears.

What’s the difference between a jam session and an open mic night?

Julie Lamb: Open mics are usually a showcase, with solos and duos. Our jam sessions are a little different. We play songs everyone knows. It’s a chance to do a bit of mucking in with the boys and girls.

What’s the toughest thing for newbies?

Julie Lamb: If you have a song you want to do, bring charts, but be willing to accept that anything might happen. Someone might break form and most newbies have difficulty with that. But don’t worry – the guys in the band will always catch you.