A Jam Session is an informal musical process or an event where there is a liberty to improvise different chord progressions, beats, lyrics and musical nodes. As opposed to the popular belief about music, a jam session doesn’t require practice and predefined arrangements as prerequisites, instead, it’s more of a reaction-based art, and is considered more novel and pure in musical literature.
The jam sessions have been serving different purposes throughout the history. Most of the times, these sessions are meant to create new instrumental arrangements. By hitting and trialing, these sessions are popularly emerging as the ingenious settings which can formulate new chord progressions or the improvements in the existing ones. Sometimes, these sessions are meant for the accommodation of those who can’t perform in popular settings and are supposed to learn first through performing with different lyrics and instrumental arrangements, and that so, in a group setting can become a better player through this jamming practice.
The History of jam sessions can be traced back to the beginning decades of the 20th century, when jazz music was popular among black and white communities. Inspired by the Paul Whiteman style of Jazz, the gig artists used to perform in congregational settings and whenever a popular artist or a musician attended the session, he used to clap on the improvised beats, which people claimed as “jammin’ the beats”. And hence, these sessions became popularly known as “jam sessions”.
It is said that during World War 2, it happened to have turned out really popular because of this ‘jam session’ which used to take place after war activities. The main purpose of those sessions was the entertainment of the soldiers. Among the most popular ones was of Minton’s Playhouse in New York. Those jam sessions proved much fertile in engendering musical genius in the form of jazz musicians and instrumental kings. Ben Webster and Lester Young became the leading exponents of the progressive jazz music movement as a result of these jam sessions. Moreover, the performers used to perform under the theme of “cutting contests”. In these contests, performers tried really hard to outshine and outweigh their skill in improvising the musical art and winning the appreciation from the audience. Today- these performances have been replaced by reality shows that are all set-up in advance such as ‘”America’s Got Talent” or “The Voice”.
The jazz music movement left much influence on the Afro-Cuban and Rock music styles, and so did the jazz jamming sessions that emerged from them. Today there are jam bands in place which feature improvisational sessions. There are some other bands like Coheed and Cambria, and Red Hot Chilli Peppers, which often provide jam sessions to their existing songs, improvising new variety and taste to their established music. There are various other historical explanations about jam sessions but what’s common in all of them is the fact that there is a serial improvisation of the instrumental performance and other musical progressions, and an artist tries to stretch his imagination and art in different directions to learn the new dimensions of his taste, aptitude and audiences’ captivity. Open air festivals are the perfect place to hear new and fresh material being ‘Jammed’ by artists to express their ideas on a song that fans already know.
The jamming culture today is not just confined to the experts who broadcast it on TV and radio shows, but it’s a great approved way for amateurs to unleash their talent and learn the musical genres of their choice through improvisation of their musical skills.
Jam Session Guitar Forum