Originally published in GuitarSam eZine Vol. 23
Finding Jam Sessions
Most local papers now list jams and open mics by style (folk, blues, rock, jazz, etc.). Signup times are usually pretty early, like 7:30-8:00 PM. Some places provide a backup band; usually you find out by calling ahead (which you should do anyway to verify the protocol for signup, how many tunes you'll be allowed to play, etc.).
When I travel, I usually check the Internet for a website related to the local scene. The Association of Alternative Newspapers (AAN) lists websites for members at http://aan.org/smartconf/members_websites.phtml. I check that site every time I travel for the local alternative press weekly in the city I'm visiting.
Also regarding the Internet, I recommend joining a mailing list for musicians; there are lists for harp players (Harp-L; see the links at my website), bassists, guitarists, folkies, etc. You can then query other members on the list. I found a bluegrass jam in Salisbury, MD on my latest trip there by posting a question to the Harp-L list; it was a lot of fun, too.
Making the most of the jam
The most important objectives in most jam situations are:
- 1) to meet other musicians
- 2) to establish oneself as someone that the other musicians will be glad to see again.
Both objectives are accomplished by making the whole band (as opposed to oneself) sound really, really good. Usually that means not playing anything that really sucks, as opposed to playing something really great. (Sometimes it means not playing anything at all, if you can't think of anything that will improve what's already going on.) Ultimately, it means listening very carefully, and playing whatever makes everyone ELSE sound really good. If you make everyone else sound great, they will think you are really, really great, and you will be invited to play in lots of different situations.
Common Mistakes Made in Jam Sessions by Novices Include:
1) Playing in the wrong key.
Make SURE you know what key the band is playing in. When asked for the key of the song by a harp player, lots of guitarist will try to show off in a subtle way by telling the harp player what the key of the HARP is (in cross harp position), NOT the key of the song. Ask the guitarist what key he or she is playing in; let them know (gently, of course, and only if necessary) that you'll figure out which harp to use.
2) Playing too loud or too much.
Harp players usually have to fight to be heard, so playing too loud isn't usually an issue; but playing too much is a real danger. Listen carefully for the holes left by other players, and fill those, instead of filling up everything in sight. As an alternative, focus on one of the other instruments--guitar, bass, drums, keys, sax, etc.--and play something that reinforces that player's parts.
3) Playing the same thing on every song.
If you only know two licks, play the first one on the first song, and the second one on the second song; then sit down and listen for a while, so you've got a chance to learn some new licks.
4) Playing a style that doesn't fit with the style of the other players.
It may be exciting to some people to play their heavy blues licks over everything from bluegrass to modern jazz, but it basically stamps those people as hopeless amateurs to the people who came to play at a non-blues jam. Every style has boundaries, and when you play that style, you should respect those boundaires. (That doesn't mean you have to stay within the boundaries all the time, but you should know what they are, and you should make it a point to step over the boundaries only when you really mean it.)
All that said, remember that this stuff is supposed to be fun. You'll have maximum fun when the whole band sounds great, so spend at least as much time listening to the band as you spend playing. It's amazing, by the way, how much respect you get from other players when they notice that you're listening. I make a point of listening through the first 12 bars or so of every piece, every time I sit in, and the other musicians never fail to notice.
Finally, when you're done for the night, don't forget to get names and addresses for the musicians whose playing you really liked, and don't forget to give them yours.
By Pete Brunelli
Reprinted unedited from the Harp-L Archives by permission of the author
After a near miss last year, I finally saw Richard Hunter, live and in person, at the Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, CT. The Buttonwood is a reading room/performance/exhibit space and as was immediately apparent, has one of the most "live" rooms around. Stone floor, Big windows, hard walls, and high ceilings all contributed to an excellent room sound. I don't know if I would want a rock band in there, but the natural reverb was just about right.Read more
- "Hunter seems to have an uncanny instinct for judging just when to stop or start a harmony, when to bring out an inner voice, when to drop it, and when to change texture completely. . . One cannot have this kind of control without technique, and Hunter has it with gallons to spare . . . the effect is electrifying."
- Peter Muir, The Free-Reed Journal (a publication of the Center for the Study of Free-Reed Instruments, the Graduate Center, City University of New York) Read more
Photo Courtesy: Michael Will
The SPAH (Society for the Preservation and Advancement of the Harmonica) Convention is an annual gathering of hundreds of harmonica players; it typically includes more than a few of the greatest harmonica players in the world. This year's convention, held in Detroit, Michigan, USA from August 19-24, featured a seminar and performance by Richard Hunter, plus seminars and performances by jazz greats Pete Pedersen and Mauricio Einhorn, classical virtuosos Alan "Blackie" Shackner and Douglas Tate, blues great Jerry Portnoy (who has worked as a sideman to both Muddy Waters and Eric Clapton), West Coast blues star Mark Hummel, ex-Brubeck sideman Peter Ruth, session pros Rob Papparozzi (Cyndi Lauper, Bernard Purdie) and Kirk "Jellyroll" Johnson (the Judds), and many others.Read more
This interview was conducted by Pete Brunelli, and was published in the American Harmonica Newsletter in August 1997. The interview is presented here in its entirety without editing by permission of the author.
Over the past few years I have learned many things, and relearned even more. One big relearning event happened this winter. I can tell you straight, I know where I was when I heard Charles Mingus for the first time; when I heard Jaco Pastorius for the first time; when I heard Eddie Van Halen for the first time. They were all eye openers. I never knew music, or the bass guitar, or the electric guitar could sound like that. And the music was just pure. In January of 1997 I had the chance to see a local Harmonicist, Richard Hunter. I had not heard a note of his music. I saw his gig on Danny Wilson's list and talked my wife into going with me. All I knew was a note from a Harp-L friend "He's great, see him if you can". I know where I was when I heard Richard Hunter for the first time. It was a little performance space called The Buttonwood Tree in Middletown, Connecticut. On a cold New England night in January I found out what the little 10 holer I had come to love could do. The room at the Buttonwood is an acoustic miracle. About 30'x30' with a stone floor, hard walls, a 20 foot wide wall of windows and an 18 foot celilng. My wife and I sat in the reading room waiting for a sign of the impending show. The sign came in the form of a wail from a chromatic. I have to say that this only confirmed my preconception that I would be seeing a chromatic player in the "Toots" mold. Nothing prepared me for it. No amps, no tux, no chromatic, no intro..... no kidding. About 8 bars into "Peppermint Life" my brain slapped me like a baby's bottom. Wake up! Stand Back! Take Notes! The next hours were like a trip to MOMA. Just when I thought that I had heard his "bag", up popped another view. Swinging blues, tone poems, two part baroque soul, and so it went. All coming from a little Lee Oskar harp. And for the kicker, he's a really nice guy. So open to the audience, in fact, that he appeased the few harp freaks in attendance with the key and tuning for his harps before each number of the second set! That show led to a short review that I posted to Harp-L. I tried in vain to relate what I heard to my Email compatriots. A month later at a performance/clinic conducted by Richard, he mentioned the review. I must have been in some kind of fugue, because I blurted out "Maybe we should do an interview...." I should have known the answer would be "yes". I met Richard at his home and we ended up with a rambling conversation about life, music, art, and the harmonica.Read more