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Jam band

Jam bands (or jambands) are musical groups whose albums and live performances relate to a fan culture which originated with the 1960s group Grateful Dead and continued in the 1990s with Phish and similar bands. 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 funk, progressive bluegrass, and jazz fusion. The term is also used for some groups playing blues, country music, folk music, world music, and electronica.

History

Origin and definition

Early use of term

The term "jam band" was established by at least 1937. In February that year, a glossary of terms used by dance orchestra musicians recorded, "A jam band depends entirely on improvisation, using no written music. In April that year, Coleman Hawkins recorded with a band named Coleman Hawkins and His All Star Jam Band.

Evolution of term

The first modern use of the term "jam band" was likely in the early 1990s. However, the Grateful Dead fan culture and scene, from which the modern use derived, existed decades earlier. In the 1970s, the Grateful Dead's fan base included a large core group which followed their tours from show to show. From following the Dead, fans developed a sense of community and loyalty. By the early 1990s, the Grateful Dead were touring less regularly and bands such as Phish inherited their fan base. The term "jam band" was first used by these fans to describe the Phish-type of bands.

Rolling Stone Magazine asserted in a 2004 biography that Phish "was the living, breathing, noodling definition of the term" jam band, in that it became a "cultural phenomenon, followed across the country from summer shed to summer shed by thousands of new-generation hippies and hacky-sack enthusiasts, and spawning a new wave of bands oriented around group improvisation and superextended grooves.

A similar term for jam band music used in the 1990s was "Bay Rock". It was coined by the founder of Relix Magazine, Les Kippel, as a reference to the San Francisco Bay Area music scene. In 1998 the jambands.com website started which promoted the term "jam bands". Relix was sold in 2000. The new owners also bought jambands.com, trademarked it's name and began promoting the name as an official, approved term for all generations of Grateful Dead influenced, or related bands.

In the 1990s, the number of music festivals also increased. Jam band-favoring festivals by size and number also included other "complementary bands who were musically related in cross-genre styles, though not at first culturally related. Jambands.com was co-founded by writer Dean Budnick and webmaster Andy Gadiel. In Budnick's book Jambands, Gadiel explains that "during that time (his) tastes in music had evolved to include bands even beyond the highly addictive [band] Phish. Although in 2007 the term may be used to describe nearly any cross-genre band, festival band, or improvisational band, the term retains adulation for Grateful Dead-like bands such as Phish. Gadiel states about the 1998 beginning of Jambands.com:

Inspired by the Grateful Dead, kept current by Phish, and progressing all the time by new and innovative bands, the music clearly had a link that would not only unite bands themselves but also a very large community around them.

By the late 1990s the number of types of bands and numbers of fans had grown so that the term became used quite broadly as is exemplified by the definition written by Budnick which appeared in the program for the first annual Jammys in 2000 (Budnick co-created the show with Wetlands Preserve owner Peter Shapiro).

What Is a Jam Band?

Please cast aside any preconceptions that this phrase may evoke. The term, as it is commonly used today, references a rich palette of sounds and textures. These groups share a collective penchant for improvisation, a commitment to songcraft and a propensity to cross genre boundaries, drawing from a range of traditions including blues, bluegrass, funk, jazz, rock, psychedelia and even techno. In addition, the jam bands of today are unified by the nimble ears of their receptive listeners.

Ambiguity

By the late 1990s some use of the term jam band had become quite ambiguous. An editorial at jamband.com pondered that perhaps any band of which a primary band such as Phish has done a cover might be included as jam band. The example was including New York post-punk band Talking Heads after Phish performed the cover of Remain In Light. A broad sense of the term also became used retroactively in jam band circles for bands such as Cream who for decades were categorized as a "power-trio" and "psychedelic rock," but who when active were distinctly unrelated to the Grateful Dead. In his October 2000 column on the subject for jambands.com, Dan Greenhaus attempted to explain the evolution of a jamband as such:
"At this point, what you sing about, what instruments you play, how often you tour and how old you are has become virtually irrelevant. At this point, one thing is left and, ironically, after all these years, it’s the single most important place one should focus on; the approach to the music. And the jamband or improvisational umbrella, essentially nothing more than a broad label for a diverse array of bands, is open wide enough to shelter several different types of bands, whether you are The Dave Matthews Band or RAQ.
The Jammy Awards have had members of non-jamming bands which were founded in the 1970s and were unrelated to the Grateful Dead perform at their show such as New Wave B-52's. The Jammys have also awarded musicians from prior decades such as Frank Zappa.

Debatability

Some artists such as Dave Matthews Band are known for resisting the jam band label. An example of a prior-era band that gained the label "jam band" through an active affiliation with the 1990s jam band culture is The Allman Brothers Band. However, Gregg Allman has been quoted as recently as 2003 by his fellow band member Butch Trucks in stating that rather than being a jam band The Allman Brothers are "a band that jams. Although Trucks suggests that this is only a difference of semantics the term has a recent history for which it is used exclusively. An example of this discernment is the "marked" acceptance of Les Claypool as jam band in the year 2000. Though famed from an entire decade with Primus (a band that jams) and solo works, it was in creating the Fearless Flying Frog Brigade with members of Ratdog and releasing Live Frogs Set 1 that as Budnick has stated "marked (Claypool's) entry into (the jamband) world. Budnick has been both editor in chief of Jambands.com and senior editor of Relix Magazine. He wrote Jam Bands (1998, ECW Press) and then an updated book Jambands (Backbeat Books, 2003) and is typically credited for "popularizing" the term "jam band."

Mid-1980s-mid-2000s

In the mid-1980s, the bands Phish, Ozric Tentacles, Widespread Panic, Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, and Aquarium Rescue Unit, began touring and playing jam band-style concerts. These groups' fame increased in the early 1990s. Bands such as Blues Traveler, and the Spin Doctors also came from the same scene, playing jam-friendly venues and festivals. In some cases, their improvisations have taken a backseat to more polished material, which may be due to their crossover commercial successes, MTV videos, and mainstream radio airplay. Most notable in pre-jam band history was the obvious influence of the Grateful Dead.

In the early 1990s, a new generation of bands was spurred on by the Grateful Dead's touring and the increased exposure of The Black Crowes, Phish, and Aquarium Rescue Unit. Many new bands were formed in the blooming scene. These were the first new bands to actually be called "jam bands", including Rusted Root, ekoostik hookah, Dispatch, Gov't Mule, Leftover Salmon, Jambay, moe., and String Cheese Incident. During the summer of 1995, the venerable Grateful Dead guitarist, frontman, and genre spokesman, Jerry Garcia, died, thereby ending the group's thirty years of activity. During the same period, Phish rose to prominence, and bands such as String Cheese Incident and Blues Traveler became successful.

Phish's rise in popularity in the mid 1990s may be attributed to the death of Jerry Garcia and the subsequent terminus of the Grateful Dead in 1995. However, a rapidly expanding concert-going market in the early 1990s saw Phish playing mid-sized amphitheaters already in 1993 and 1994. The band also reached new creative levels in the latter 90's that musically pushed them to the top of the jam band totem pole & earning them spots at venues like Madison Square Garden by 1994's end. The void left by the sudden departure of the Grateful Dead may have helped to give impetus to the fertile jam scene that came after. The surviving members created a band called The Other Ones, and then officially became The Dead.

From the mid-1990s to the mid-2000s, jam bands tended to be more influenced by Phish than by the Grateful Dead. Earlier jam bands, such as Phish, got their start playing Grateful Dead covers; but mid-1990s bands, such as The Disco Biscuits, started out playing covers of Phish songs.

Mid-2000s-present

The current state (2008) of the Jam band scene is multi-genre. Genre mixing has always been welcome in the jam band community (see the Grateful Dead's bluegrass influence), but is now much more prevalent. It is now usual for jam bands to include folk rock, blues-rock, jazz fusion, rock and roll, psychedelic rock, southern rock, country rock, and bluegrass sounds. Today's Yonder Mountain String Band and String Cheese Incident are generally considered to be newgrass, however both groups find themselves playing across several genres. Dirty Dozen Brass Band and The Primate Fiasco are traditional jazz bands who "jam". Many jam bands today are moving toward the electronic sound, such as Lotus, The Disco Biscuits and Sound Tribe Sector 9 (STS9).

Bands like moe. and One-Eyed Jack bring together a classic rock sound mixed with a psychedelic groove and extended jamming sessions. Global rhythm bands include Antibalas Afrobeat Orchestra. The Dead have continued to perform after the loss of members through death or other reasons. Spin-off groups from the Grateful Dead, such as Bob Weir & Ratdog, and Phil Lesh & Friends are still touring internationally. Many bands are forming Allstar jams, formed from a number of bands.

Jam scene

The diverse genres and styles of the jam band scene are held together by a common musical approach: an emphasis on creative improvisation and live performance as opposed to structured, arranged live performances and planned studio recordings. Additionally, another common thread uniting all of the jam bands today is a common fan base of festival-goers and touring fans.

The contemporary jam scene has grown to encompass bands from a great diversity of musical genres. A 2000-era genre of jam-band music uses live improvisation that mimics the sounds of DJs and electronica musicians and has been dubbed "trancefusion" (a fusion between trance music and rock and roll). Jam band fans also listen to progressive rock and progressive bluegrass bands.

Hundreds of jam-based festivals and concerts are held throughout the United States every year. The Bonnaroo Music Festival held each June in Tennessee continues to provide an international forum for jam acts. It has introduced these bands to a wide audience via film, albums and television. Other notable jam-based events in the United States are Jambaloosa Music And Arts festival in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and the All Good Music Festival held at Marvins Mountaintop, in West Virginia.

As cited in the December/January 2006 issue of Relix magazine and a contemporaneous issue of the Village Voice, the term post-jam has come to define a group of more song-oriented live bands with roots in the jam scene. Perhaps more unified by their fans than their sound, post-jam acts appeal to a contingent of concert-goers who grew up on jam bands but who shifted their interests to groups like Wilco and Radiohead largely through the festivalization of the music industry.

Taping

Jam bands often allow their fans to make tapes or recordings of their live shows, a practice which many other musical genres call "illegal bootlegging". The Grateful Dead encouraged this practice, which helped to create a thriving scene around the collecting and trading of recordings of Grateful Dead live performances. Most of the live shows on the Grateful Dead's 30 years of touring were recorded.

It was probably the trading of recordings of Grateful Dead shows which built the band's fan base. The bands sold "taper" tickets for a taper's section which had a soundboard line-out for the tapers to record from. This type of encouragement has spread to nearly all of the jam bands. Some jam band enthusiasts argue that if a band does not allow fans to tape their live shows, this band is not actually a jam band in the Grateful Dead tradition.

Fans trade recordings and collect recordings of different live shows because improvisational jam bands play their songs differently at each performance. Fans can collect various versions of their favorite songs. They can keep track of how many times a specific song has been played, and thus increase the momentousness of a rare song being dusted off and played live, or played for the first time.

Some bands play with this phenomena by throwing short little "teases" into their sets. Playing, for example, a few bars of a famous cover song or hinting at a popular jam and then either never getting around to playing the song, or coming back to it after an extended jam. The use of segues to blend strings of songs together is another mark of a jam band, and one which makes for treasured tapes.

Music downloading

By the 2000s, as internet downloading of MP3 music files became common, downloading of jam band songs became the logical extension of the cassette taping trend. Archived jam band downloads are available at Live Music Archive Nugs.net is also a source for music and provides MP3 and FLAC files. Streaming radio and downloads are available at JamRadio.org Peer-to-peer trading is also a common way for fans to trade recordings of live shows. The Furthur Network is a site for trading jam band recordings. In 2005, Relix Magazine lanuched its own podcast, Cold Turkey, hosted by writers Benjy Eisen and Mike Greenhaus.

More bands have been distributing their latest shows online. Bands such as Phish, The String Cheese Incident, Gov't Mule, ekoostik hookah, Umphrey's McGee, and The Disco Biscuits have been offering digital downloads within weeks of concerts. The Grateful Dead have begun to offer online, digital download only, live releases from their archives as well. While there is some obvious conflict of interest between the "free and open trading of shows" and artists packaging and selling the same shows for money, a dynamic equilibrium has been reached where die-hards trade and others are happy to pay for the convenience.

Some venues offer kiosks where fans may purchase a digital recording of the concert and download it to a USB flash drive or another portable digital storage device. Some bands, including The Allman Brothers, offer Instant lives, which are concert recordings made available for purchase on Compact Disc shortly after the show ends. Most major music festivals also offer instant digital live recordings at the event. The fact that these shows are available and freely traded doesn't diminish their commercial popularity. Every show of Phish's famous "Live Phish" series or the Dead's "Dick's Picks" series and their spin-offs are all available freely in lossless digital format should one be willing to dig or trade for them; and yet, people regularly plunk down large sums of cash for these "official" versions largely due to their excellent graphics, liner notes, packaging, and often superior, polished sound quality.

Venues and festivals

In the August 2006 issue of Guitar One on jam bands, the following places were referred to as the "best places to see jam music": Red Rocks Amphitheater; Red Rocks Park, Denver, CO; Jam Cruise, Fort Lauderdale, FL; The Gorge Amphitheatre, George, Washington; High Sierra Music Festival, Quincy, CA; The Greek Theater, Berkeley, CA; Bonnaroo Music Festival, Manchester, TN; The Warfield Theater, San Francisco, CA;[The Barrymore Theater, Madison, WI; Higher Ground, Burlington, Vermont; and the Jam in the Dam in Amsterdam.

One way to see many jam bands in one place is by going to a jam band-oriented music festival. Some popular festivals that include jam bands are: Bonnaroo in Manchester, Tennessee; Jambaloosa in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania the aforementioned High Sierra Music Festival in Quincy, California; All Good in West Virginia; Langerado in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Wakarusa Music and Camping Festival in Lawrence, Kansas; 10,000 Lakes Festival in Detroit Lakes, Minnesota; Camp Bisco in Mariaville, New York; Telluride Bluegrass Festival in Colorado; Hookahville in Ohio; Schwagstock in Missouri; moe.down in Turin, New York; Vegoose in Nevada; and Summer Camp Music Festival in Chillicothe Illinois.

Notable jam bands

See also

References

External links

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