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Jammers and Players

  11/22/10 00:07, by , Categories: BFMN Exclusive, Monday Morning Musical Musings, Paul Bourgeois , Tags: blue monsters, dan grigor, jammers, mancini, paul bourgeois, peter gunn, players
Paul Bourgeois

Last week our great and glorious leader, Dan Grigor, wrote an article, Only Two Kinds of Musicians in the World. Now, don’t misunderstand me. I think Mr. Grigor is a magnificent musician from classical to folk to metal and all over the board. But I wanted to scream, rant and rave after I read what he said. I wanted to say to Mr. Grigor that, in looking for a “tight” band, Mr. Grigor had become a bit too “tight” himself. A bit too curmudgeonly perhaps, and his beard had grown, maybe, a bit too long. But I won’t say that. Because, Mr. Grigor, I believe I am one of those lowly good-at-parties-but-could-never-be-in-a-band Jammers.

Golden Melody

Dan, I’m defending Jammers everywhere, because after your article all the lowly Jammers would be too embarrassed to speak out for themselves. I don’t like the term, but you picked it, so let’s stick with it.

According to you, the Jammer has this marvelous intuitive sense for music, this ability to listen and play along with anything, without the need of theory or practice or any of those boring things that come with hard work. But we Jammers should be embarrassed about our ability, because we are lazy and don’t apply ourselves to practice or theory. In fact, we, the Jammers, lack discipline and skill so that we can never become Players. We will always be stuck jamming along, always a microbeat behind the bassist, dependent upon the rhythm and making up the melody, because we just can’t learn the song, because we are not secure enough to step up to the mike. Because, with no discipline, we just don’t understand ego as it is used by the true musicians you have referred to as the “Players.”

I guess we Jammers are what you call those “idiot savants.” To tell you the truth, man, I feel much more like an idiot than one of them there “savants.” I don’t believe that stuff just comes to you with no work. You’ve gotta know the keys, the chords, the theory. You’ve gotta work those riffs into your body with hard practice and then you can start to play. And I have had to work really hard before I ever got to the “play” part of play. And I’m still learning. Sometimes the song comes out “the same.” Sometimes the song come out “different.” That’s the nature of songs. They move from band to band, from person to person.

I have a band, Dan. It used to be a five piece until: (1) The acoustic guitarist got drunk with the drummer’s (a solo folk guitarist) $2000 Martin, and then ran off with the borrowed guitar. (2) The bass player went off to be with his own band, a magnificent band called The Drama Queens. Heiki is now in Helsinki studying. But, boy, can he ever rock a house. I am not worthy to kiss the man’s platform boots, and have been honored and blessed to have played with him. (3) And, finally, I found the drummer to be, to put it politely, a much better solo artist.

Blue Monsters

I still write, arrange and perform with Eric. But that’s exactly what happens with bands. That’s part of the beautiful dynamics of bands. The players have to feel each other. They have to move together. They have to jam. It has more to do with chemistry than it has to do with skills and ability.

But I love jamming. I love getting up there with people I don’t know, and I love finding a way to move into a song I never heard. And, yeah, I follow the rhythm. You is supposed to follow the bass player, or the rhythm guitarist, or the drummer… or the girl with the tambourine. They are trained to hold the rhythm. That’s why they are there.

Henri Mancini

What about The Peter Gunn Theme? I would call Henry Mancini a player, wouldn’t you? But he wrote the piece for jammers, didn’t he? It starts out with this solid rhythm. In the Mancini version the brass holds the rhythm. The sax (actually a woodwind, don’t get me started) comes in with the familiar melody and repeats it, doing a variation on the theme. And then each member stands up and jams their own variation of the melody. And all through, Mancini is jazz riffing through the piece on piano. It is a jam piece, and it is a piece made for jamming because of the set structure and the rock steady rhythm. That’s why people want to play it. The musician just wants to stand up and show his stuff. And then everybody comes together in the end with one great big “Bop, bop, doowop!” Blaaat! And pay attention. Mancini extended the ending way beyond the expected. He dropped out when he felt like it. Can conductors be jammers?

And what about the band Phish?


Here is Phish in 1998 with Neil Young. Yeah, they went down by the river, and they jammed, and they had a great time. The guitarists, Trey and Neil, and the drummer (Jon Fishman) and keyboardist (Page McConnell) are all playing the same song, but within that they are are listening to each other, playing off of each other and seeing where they can go. And it goes on and on and on, with Hendrix-style feedback improvs and squished-up faces of joy as they squeeze the music into chaos and back into music again. Look at Neil Young and Trey Anastasio as they play off of each other, taking the music out to the edge. Have a look at this concert and tell me these guys aren’t Jammers at heart.


Here is Phish in 2010 helping induct Genesis into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. There is this incredible looseness. Yes, a cover, but with honesty and respect and closeness, and a feeling that they could take it anywhere, just like they did with Neil Young in 1998. This is a band that other musicians want to play with… but of course The Phish members wouldn’t work together in a band because they are all Jammers… er… oh wait… Or, maybe just maybe, Jammers can make up a band after all.

They have been called a jam band. I have heard them play pretty much everything. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s the joy of it. As a band leader I would much rather have a group of Jammers, if you still want to define them as such.

Ok, Dan, just like great painters, they have to be able to make a perfect copy, they have to have the music down to a fraction of a hair, to the tiny intricacies on a tiny note. Right. Right? Well, the little narrative that follows is how the whole process happens in my band.

No sheet music, except for the poor singer who can never remember the lyrics. “Let’s try this song.”

“What are the notes. You got the tabs for that?”

“Doesn’t matter. Just play something similar. Lead us in. We’ll follow. Try to lock into something good as we go.”

“Ok, man. Whatever you say.”

And halfway into the song it’s “Stop! Stop right there. Do that again. (Bow, bow, bow) That’s what we want!”

And then we go back and do it that way, if we can remember what we did, which we can, even though we have just jammed the piece.

And that is possibly also why a five-piece is now a two-piece, because there is little order. I don’t know nothing, and the truth is, nobody knows anything, really.

But that, for me, is the way a band should be. And it works. So for me it ain’t “Jammers and Players.” The jammers are players. So, Dan, drop the terms “Players” and “Jammers” and say what you mean. We are all players. It’s just that some of us are “bad players” and some are “good players.

Blue Monsters

And, it ain’t even that simple. I think I’m a “bad player,” and, to tell the truth, considering band chemistry and the dynamics of playing and all that stuff, I would rather play with a “bad player” if the chemistry was there. If they showed up with ears wide open, ready to learn something and ready to be surprised. There is something to be said about a roughness, about the joy of discovery while playing, about all those things you say a Jammer is.

Finally, and ironically, I think those characteristics you mention about “Jammers” – spontaneity, improvisation, the intuitive connection with the other members of the band – are the primary characteristics. Those are the attributes of the true player.




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This entry was posted by and is filed under BFMN Exclusive, Monday Morning Musical Musings, Paul Bourgeois. Tags: blue monsters, dan grigor, jammers, mancini, paul bourgeois, peter gunn, players
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Comment from: Wryman

I missed the original article. This is a near perfect description of the bands I (a Non-musician) like to listen to. No more going to memorized performances where even the band is bored to tears doing the note for note from the album 30 years ago (Roger Waters, are you out there). With bands like Phish, Widespread Panic, Ekoostik Hookah, Gov’t Mule, and a host of others you are not sure what comes next, or who might join the band on stage. Sure mistakes are made, but the sheer joy of the performance makes up for it. And the tradition is long, going back to Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, Charles Mingus, John Coltrane, and many more Jazz and blues artists. These are who I listen to.

11/22/10 @ 21:06