From The Folknik May/June 1998

Jam, Jelly, Preserves ?

(An Article on Jamming Ettiquette By Robin Mohun)

Editor's note: Robin (a stellar dulcimer player and jammer) posted this to the Sweet Music e-mail list, and kindly granted permission to reprint it. This comes just in time for this summer's festival season!

Princess Cha Cha enters the forum on jamming with a thoughtful look. As a veteran (with some scarring) of many jams, she says: "Well, Jack, some of the basic concepts I try to relay to new (and sometimes experienced) jammers include ..."

1. Practice before you go. Know a few tunes by heart before you set off. Try to learn the tunes in standard settings--arrangements that can't be played with a well known, standard version of the song won't do you much good. Know at least a D, G, and A chord; lots of goodmusic is played in the key of D, and a working knowledge of these chords will allow you to join in. As a bonus , learn a Bm and C chord--they will come in handy!

2. Be in tune. Tune with a tuner before you set off; this can help ensure your welcome into the group. Also, be able to adjust your tuning by ear, as you may find a jam where the participants are not tuned to standard. Although groups generally tune to the instrument with the most strings, it may not be in tune. And, because of weather and such, the instruments might not stay in tune and you'll have to adjust during the jam itself.

3. Check out the nature of the group. Is it a wide open jam, where a variety of tunes at different levels are being played, or is it four guys in matching outfits playing songs you never heard of, with a bunch of other people standing around listening (might be a band rehearsal, you aren't welcome to join in)? Is it a group of "hot dog" players who aren't interested in taking the jam to your comfort level? Is the group playing in keys that you never even thought about using? Will the instruments overcome your ability to hear yourself? Have you found the group in the open rec hall, or hidden away in a private room? You can choose to play with a group into which you think you could fit, start your own jam, or find a group that invites you in. A savvy jam leader will often see you at the edge of the group and ask you to join in. Take them up on the invite!

4. Join the group at the edge of the geometric shape (circle, lump, blob, whatever) they're using. You probably will not be well received if you march to the center of the group and set up your chair, music stand, tape recorder, and bar-be-que. Sit where you can hear yourself and what is going on around you, and where you can see the hands of the jam leader, the guitar player, or someone else to give you clues about what chords are being used in the tunes that are played.

5. Listen closely. The tune that the group is playing is often annouced before it starts, sometimes near the end of the tune preceding it. If you didn't hear the name, quietly ask someone near you what it was. Ask what key the group is in-- you already know the chords if they are in D.

6. Play! Join in on tunes that you know at the speed and volume of the group. If they're playing too slow, play at their speed. If they're playing too fast, rely on your chords, and play what melody you can. Want to make yourself unwelcome? Stop what the group is doing, yrll them you can't play that fast, and make them slow down to where *you* are comfortable. (Yikes!) A better tactic might be to finish the song , then say "Whew, that was fast! Could we play that one again a little slower?" Folks often agree to this suggestion.

7. Suggest tunes you would like to play. Jammers almost always say "Whaddaya wanna play?" at the end of every tune. Speak up! A good way to phrase the request might be, "Hey, have ya'll played Spotted Pony yet?" If someone says "Good tune, kick it off," you are on! You get to be the leader and to set the pace. Play loud and proud -- the others will join in. If you're not prepared to lead, you might phrase your request as "Does anyone do Renfrow Valley? I'd like to hear that one." If the group is familiar with it, they may play it for you. (Another tip on making yourself unwelcome --suggest a song that the group has already played, then insist that it be done again when they tell you so.)

8. Take your breaks when you are asked! When you hear someone say "Take it, Joe" (if that is your name), be loud and proud! Play your fancy licks, use your cheap tricks, go ahead and shine! No fancy licks or cheap tricks? Play what you know, loudly, as the star, one time through the A or B part (wherever you were when your name was called. When you are finished, smile at the group, who will besmiling at you! Return to group volume, and play on. If you hear someone else's name called, follow group volume, and let the other guy shine!

9. Be prepared to make new friends. Thank folks for their participation. Tell them how much you enjoyed playing with them, and how much you enjoyed the session. Ask someone to show you that lick they did when you played Boatman, if they have the time sometime. And show someone your version of Cindywhen they ask.

10. It is always a nice thing to serve refreshments if you are hosting a jam. Is too much information a good thing?" wonders Cha Cha, as she leaves the forum in search of a good jam.

"God means for you to share all the talents and abilities you were given. Think how quiet the woods would be if only the best bird sang!"

Update on the American Folklife Center by Steve Goldfield

At the Folk Alliance in Memphis, Judy McCulloh, chair of the Board of Trustees of the American Folklife Center (AFC), apprised me of the current status of the AFC. Back in 1995, when a bill was introduced to use the funds designated for the AFC to study unfunded mandates, about 150 people managed to contact their Congressional representatives to stop that bill. In 1996, the AFC was authorized for an additional 2 years, with the understanding that permanent authorization would be considered in 1998.

It is now 1998 and time to work towards permanent authorization. On October 9, 1997, Dr. James H. Billington, Librarian of Congress, asked Congressman William Thomas, chair of the House Oversight Committee and Senator John Warner, chair of the Senate Rules and Administration Committee, to sponsor legislation permanently authorizing the AFC in the Library of Congress.

Please contact Senator Warner, Congressman Thomas, and your own Senators and Congressional representatives to support permanent authorization for the AFC. Once legislation is introduced, the campaign will need to pick up steam. More information will be needed then, but it's not too soon to get things going now.

Please feel free to circulate the above as widely as possible. Senator Warner's email address is <senator@warner.senate.gov>. You can find your own congressional rep. via links at <http://thomas.loc.gov/>. The email addresses for Senators Boxer and Feinstein are <senator@boxer.senate.gov>, and < senator@feinstein.senate.gov>.

Reviews--Reviewers Desperately Needed

Upset that there aren't any more reviews in this issue? Then volunteer to write some!!! The following recordings are just sitting in the club offices waiting to be reviewed. These are listed in alphabetical order, so you can see quickly if we've got something you've been dying to listen to! Just contact the club office at 415-661-2217, and it will come! All we expect in return is that you review it objectively and send the review expeditiously to a folknik editor.


Becker, Kevin & Carol Reach Out and Catch the Wind
Bensusan, Pierre Wu Wei
Black Banjo Songsters Black Banjo Songsters
Brand, Oscar I Love Cats
Casey, Mike The Pleasures of Hope
Christian, Frank From my Hands
Connette, Dick Last Forever
Curtis, Catie Truth from Lies
December's Hearth A Holiday Collection
Delevantes Long About that Time
Dutton, Thom The Troubadour Harper
Dyer-Bennet, Richard Richard Dyer-Bennet
Dunn, Ken Winds of Emotion
Edwards, Star Arc of Promise
Elder's Wisdom, Children's Song Here I Stand
Four Shillings Short Kelptic OddYaSee
Gallway, Peter Small Good Thing
Gorman, Skip A Greener Prairie
Guthrie, Woody This Land is Your Land
Haggerty, George The Best of Just Friends
Holcomb, Roscoe The High Lonesome Sound
Jay, Taylor So There
Johnathon, Michael Woodsongs
Kallick, Kathy Call me a Taxi
Kennedy, Pete & Maura River of Fallen Stars
Leadbelly Shout On
Litwin, Ralph Ralph Litwin and the Band with a Thousand Names
Loon Loon
Lunsford, Bascom Lamar Ballads, Banjo Tunes and Sacred Songs
Mosquitos Garden of Love
Perlman, Ken Island Bay
Pospisil, Jim Acre Bay
Redfern, Lisa In the Asking
St. John, Barbara Emily
Seeger, Mike Close to Home
Seeger, Pete Birds, Beasts, Bugs & Fishes
Serah Out of the Wind
Smithsonian/Folkways Children's Music
Slightly Bewildered Swing Band Slightly Bewildered Swing Band
Sturr, Jimmy Polka Your Troubles Away
Thomasina A Peaceful Storm
Trischka, Tony & Beppe Gambetta Alone & Together
Wallace, Glenn Heartbreak and Hope
White, Josh Free and Equal Blues
Zenkl, Radim Strings and Wings


Cramer, Hank West by Northwest
Dandelion Wine NorthSouthEastWest
Lost & Found Lost & Found
Salestrom, Jim The Messenger
Shelton, Janice Mistakist

Virus Alert!!

If anyone attempts to teach you a tune titled Join the Crew, do not listen. This is not a traditional jig or a reel but is a Balkan virus in 13/8 time, whose insidious counter-Celtic rhythms will erase all tunes in the memory of anyone who hears it and replace them with random excerpts from Snoop Doggy Dog's greatest hits. Please send this message to as many musicians as you can. This is a new virus and not many people know about it. There are reports of sessions in as many as 42 cities (so far) being destroyed by this virus, with up to 300 former session musicians able only to sit helplessly and look at their mute instruments while reciting Snoop Doggy Dog.

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