“Jam bands are musical groups whose albums and live performances relate to a fan culture that originated with the 1960s group Grateful Dead and continued in the 1990s with Phish. The performances of these bands often feature extended musical improvisation (“jams”) over rhythmic grooves and chord patterns and long sets of music that cross genre boundaries. While the seminal group Grateful Dead were originally categorized as psychedelic rock, by the 1990s the term “jam band” was used for groups playing a variety of genres, including those outside of rock such as funk, progressive bluegrass, and jazz fusion.”
Stylistic origins: Folk, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Bluegrass, Country
Virtually, all American forms of popular music are fair game for a jam band.
Cultural origins: United States 1960s with The Grateful Dead
Continuing into the 1990s and beyond with bands like Phish, Umphrey’s McGee, Bela Fleck, Modeski, Martin and Wood among many others. Each group has unique inflections, stylistic influences and performing styles that help to create a loyal fan base, merchandise and an identifiable brand.
Instrumentation: Guitar, Bass, Drums, Keyboards – Guitar Dominant
Characteristics of Jam Bands:
- Jam bands may be vocal , instrumental or a combination of both. The “jam”part is instrumental and improvisational. It is typically dominated by guitar.
- Taping, collecting and trading was pioneered by the Grateful Dead. This culture contributed to the popularity of the Dead and led the way for the jam bands of the future. This was so encouraged that direct feeds from the sound board were provided for “tapers” who wanted to archive the shows.
- Medleys, that is the stringing of songs together as a continuous song was typical.
- Song Quotation is the use of a small section of a famous song in the beginning, middle or end of another song.
- Theme – Extended Improvisation – Theme is not only the format of jam bands but as I’ll point out, characteristic of all types of musical styles and contemporary performing groups.
- Jam bands can exhibit one particular style or a fusion of different styles. This explains in part why there is such diversity among jam bands.
Each characteristic of a jam band is shared with a jazz group like The Chuck Anderson Trio. Jazz itself along with Blues is the original “jam band” music. An early example was jazz saxophonist Coleman Hawkins and his “All Star Jam Band”. In a very real way, the word “jam” is a synonym for extended improvisational jazz.
What often differentiates one “jam band” style from another is the sophistication of the chord progressions, melodies and improvisational excursions used in live shows. Virtuosity of soloists is typical though not essential.
Jazz, particularly guitar jazz, mirrors the approach of the jam band. Long extended improvisation is the rule not the exception. Perhaps the connection between jazz and jam bands has been blurred because so much of traditional jazz has been dominated by horns and piano. I have my own belief in the jazz guitar as a market in and of itself. It’s not necessarily a subset of jazz. The guitar has its own market and legion of followers.
I hope that jam band followers will take a listen to guitar jazz in general and my music in particular to hear the same spirit of freedom that they hear and feel in the jam band.