In Appreciation Of Jam Bands

In the study of guitar in the area of Jam Bands is probably the most overlooked, yet essential, to study for anyone wanting a thorough knowledge of improvisation.

A jam band is a band that spends large portions of their live performances through unplanned improvising and changing songs through a transition, such as jazz and bluegrass musicians. These bands generally experiment with jazz, world music, progressive bluegrass, and psychedelic rock.

Jam band songs are generally long and rarely stick to the traditional form of songwriting, that being some kind of verse-chorus arrangement. It is in part due to this that they never receive airplay and coverage in publications that cover guitar-oriented music.

Their compositions are usually purely improvised and just too long and complex to transcribe and put into tablature form. The chance of one reader actually learning the entire improvisation from beginning to end note for note is remote. So what motivation would a transcriber have to put a lot of work into something that was made up as it went along in the first place and would never be played the same way again?

Many mainstream guitarists become known for the 30 second solos they play wedged in between hard hitting verses and choruses. With much more exposure to airplay and mainstream acceptance they become more widely known than Jam Band players as guitar heroes.

In contrast, Jam Band guitarist play the whole time infusing improvisation melodies along with the verses and choruses. This is much more challenging than composing a mere 30 second solo. They are the more dominant overall musicians and unsung heroes of guitar just because they are not as widely recognized.

For those of you unfamiliar with jam bands whatsoever I’m going to list my top three all time favorite Jam Band groups and a song from each. These are in no particular order. Each is as awesome as the others.

Phish – “You Enjoy Myself”:

The only way I can describe this one is pure psychedelia influenced noodle-jazz rock fusion. It has a number of sections, themes and motifs. You can scramble your brain just listening to it. Just one listen will give you a strong impression of what a jam song is all about.

The Grateful Dead: “Dark Star”

This probably the most well known jam EVER and may last well over 30 minutes and can take the listener into “Space.” The Grateful Dead created the template that every other jam band in history has borrowed from and this song has influenced everybody. I also want to mention “Slipknot” which has a complex yet memorable melody incorporated into two guitars, which is my personal favorite over “Dark Star” but it just didn’t make the impact that “Dark Star” did.

The Allman Brothers: “Jessica”

This dual guitar song has the most happy jam melody ever. This one actually has gotten airplay (the 4 minute single version) and has been used in tons of movies, TV shows and commercials as background music. The unedited version clocks in at just under 8 minutes of hippie-trippy solos and melodies over a simple chord progression.

So take a listen to those tunes and hopefully they will open the doors to a new appreciation for a different style of music than you are used to listening to. Maybe soon you’ll be growing your hair and beard and be wearing tie-dyes!