Blues Jam Etiquette
1. The clue's in the name
It's a BLUES JAM, folks
- not an open-mic night. If you're a budding singer-songwriter looking
for a platform to showcase your latest collection of power-ballads,
you've come to the wrong place.
We play the blues.
2. Arrive as early as you can
We kick off at 8:30.
Things can quickly get busy, so the later you arrive, the slimmer your
chances of getting a turn onstage will be.
3. The List
Say hello to Helen. Tell her
your name and what you do (singer...guitarist...drummer etc.)
It'll help a lot if you tell her your full name, not just "Graham"
or "Steve ". This isn't compulsory, but it avoids confusion
when calling people up to the stage - you wouldn't believe how many
Grahams, Daves and Steves we've got!
From the list, Helen puts together random groupings of players. Half
the fun of Stan's Blues Jam is that you never know who you're going
to end up on stage with, or just when your name will be called out.
Each set normally consists of two songs. If by some happy accident you
turn out to be the only other bass player in the house, be prepared
to have a busy time of it - lucky you!
4. Come equipped
Always bring your own instrument, and tuner. In an emergency, a fellow
player might well consider lending you their gear, but you should never
just turn up and expect to borrow stuff.
Guitarists - you won't need your pedals. A booster pedal is provided.
Setting up your own pedals is going to use up vaulable jamming time
so just use the equipment provided.
Drummers just bring sticks...
5. Make like a Boy Scout - BE PREPARED
As soon as you've got yourself a drink and found a seat, make it your
first duty to get tuned up, check all your gear and be ready to roll.
Arriving onstage unprepared and then spending the next 10 minutes tuning
up and fiddling is a real pain in the neck for everyone else. It's disrespectful
to the audience and it robs your fellow jammers of precious playing
time - a guaranteed way to make yourself VERY unpopular.
6. You're a band-member, not a one-man show
On nearly every jam set, you'll find that the band is led by an experienced
player/singer who will choose the songs and hand out the solos. They'll
always try to make sure that every other player who wants to play a
solo gets at least one opportunity per number. When that opportunity
comes your way, go for it!
The rest of
the time - no matter how impressive your chops might be - revert to
being a member of the rhythm section. "Sit in the pocket"
and give your fellow jammers room to breathe; squash that urge to fill
every spare moment with a note or riff; don't splurge all over someone
else's solo or let your rhythm-playing drown out their lead. Remember
that "Less is more" when it comes to the blues.
Above all, keep eye contact with your fellow players and WATCH THE BAND-LEADER
for signals, stops and tempo cues.
7. Advice for new singers / band-leaders
When choosing songs, stick to material that falls into the kind of 'core'
blues repertoire your fellow jammers will be most comfortable with.
In general, any 12-bar blues song that follows the standard I-IV-V chord
pattern is a good call. Everyone will know how to pull this off.
Any blues song that stays on the one is also a good choice. Any of the
standards are also good (Sweet Home Chicago, Kansas City, Bright Lights
Big City, Help Me, Red House, Stop Messin' Around, Every day I have
the Blues,, etc). Play
blues. This is a blues jam. They don't want to hear your rendition of
Sweet Home Alabama. For the popular jamming song selections... see the
back catalogue of Youtube videos...
A jam set is not the
place to break in new, obscure or quirky numbers. Likewise, don't expect
anyone to be able to read sheet music.Similarly, charts are not needed.
If you speak the language of blues music you don't need them.
it's your responsibility to call the songs clearly so that everyone
else onstage knows what kind of number to expect. If it's a well-known
blues standard, by all means give the title, but don't assume that everyone
will know how it goes. Describe it. "Easy-going shuffle in 'A'
- quick change (ie if in key of A it goes to D in second bar, then back
to A for 3rd and 4th bars) - watch me for the stops" or "
Straight 12 bar in E - stay on the E till I start singing" or "
A quick change 12 bar in C with a turnaround intro" - that's the
kind of information your fellow musicians need.
song, don't let yourself be a slave to the particular version you're
familiar with. It doesn't matter how many verses / solos the original
recording had: you have to ensure that all of your fellow jammers get
a chance to play a solo if they want one. When handing out solos, make
it very clear who it's being offered to, and make sure they've got the
message. Big, definite gestures are better than a subtle nod or a vague
waft of your hand.
IMPORTANT NOTE ABOUT
SOLO LENGTHS: Time-wise, soloists are always given "twice round
the block" - i.e. two complete 12-bar progressions. Any shorter
than that and they won't have time to develop what they're doing, and
both the musician and the audience will feel cheated.
8. Volume ...I said VOLUME!!
Don't worry: we'll let you know if you're not loud enough - and we'll
let you know if you're too loud. Keep it sensible. Remember, it's a
pub, not Wembley Stadium! The Blues is a subtle genre, full of dynamic
highs and lows. If you start out at ear-bleeding level, you'll have
no dynamics to play with - and, very quickly, no audience to play to!
If we turn you down and you turn it back up, we turn you down again,
and you turn it back up...you'll find you won't get a second go.
9.. Calm down, dear - it's only a Blues Jam
It's your first
time with us. You don't know anybody (yet). You've summoned up the courage
to put your name down on that list - well done! - but now you're nursing
a drink and feeling a bit nervous: worried that when it comes to it,
you'll lose your way in the middle of a number, make a fool of yourself
and "let everybody down"...
Relax. This isn't
the X-Factor! Nobody's here to judge you, least of all your fellow jammers,
'cos we've all been where you are now and we know what it feels like.
At Stan's Blues Jam, players at every level of talent and experience
- from complete newcomers to seasoned pro's - get up onstage together
with one simple aim: to have fun playing the music we love. And y'know
what? It works!
(Our thanks to The
Coach & Horses Blues Jam in East London for the basis of this