Why we should all jam

Jam Session 2016A few weeks ago we started a jazz jam session series leading up to a showcase concert of Bloomington’s pre-college jazz talent on April 17.  The sessions are every Sunday 4-6pm at Player’s Pub in Bloomington. Why should we all jam with each other and what do jam sessions have in common with innovation groups?

The principle of jam sessions – getting together in an informal setting to explore new directions and mentor young performers – has been the main learning vehicle for jazz musicians for the first half of the 20th century. In fact, producer Norman Grantz built a very successful business on the principle of putting performers together for the first time and hosting a jam session. When we first moved to Tuscaloosa, AL in 1988, I wanted to learn as much as possible about jazz and every Sunday night I drove to Birmingham to Club 98 to participate in the jam sessions and get guidance from experienced mentors. Three years later we moved to Bloomington, IN and our first engagement was leading the Wednesday night jam sessions at the Student Union. The gig lasted for five years and some of my fondest memories were Eric Rosenwinkel, who studied Psychology, bringing in his famous brother Kurt and many hot nights with my fellow students, now leaders in the field, Rob Dixon, Mark Buselli, Nate Johnson, Matt Snyder, Shannon LeClaire, Kyle Quass, Cherilee Wadsworth, Brent Wallarab, and so many more. I also initiated a jam session series at Junior Achievement in Indianapolis and now for many years with B’town Jazz. What is so important about jamming? After all, the music is not rehearsed, often varies in quality from barely holding together to unexpected creative heights and audiences never know what to expect with tunes might possibly going on for a very long time. With the support and encouragement of my biggest mentor, David Baker, I decided to investigate further and find out how jam sessions work and how they might even be a model for any collaborative units in search for creativity and ideas. The result of numerous interviews and a survey was this paper for the Music and Entertainment Industry Educators Asssociation (MEIEA) Journal that not only documented the importance of jamming but developed a model with seven factors to be applied to any creative unit. As a result I presented the model to entrepreneurship conferences and found a collaborator from the business field, Maksim Bellitski at the Henley School of Business in Reading, UK. We developed two more publications currently in review on transfer options of the model. During my upcoming sabbatical semester this Fall, I will spend some time with Maks to develop case studies and teaching units for the Jazz Jam Session Model for Entrepreneurship. What is this model about?

Here are the seven factors that I extracted – watch my lightning talk for CEWIT here on the jazz model and I would love to get feedback!

1.Individual Competence and Knowledge of the Field
The more knowledge and skills people bring to the table, the bigger the results
2.Practicing Improvisation as the Ability to Overcome Self-consciousness
The ability to improvise and come up with new ideas can be practiced as evidenced in this study by Charles Limb et al.
3. Establishing a Mentoring System and Role Models
 The role of mentors has been crucial in jazz and beyond.
4. Democracy and Collaboration
When jazz musicians improvise they switch off being soloists and supporters who support collaborate to provide the best sound for the common good.
5.Leaders and Sidemen
Early on everyone needs to decide if they are more suited to lead the groups, find the gigs, put the programs together etc or if they’d rather be the (wo)man for any job needed when called upon.
6. Community Support
Beyond the musicians performing every surrounding factor influences the outcome including the venue size, audience, sound support, bartender, media support, community supporters, state funds, government legislation and so on.
7. Continuous Evaluation Systems
Throughout the performance, musicians communicate with signs and cues from the moment new performers enter the stage. Feedback is continuous throughout the performance and shapes the direction and outcome.
As mentioned earlier, please read the initial paper for further explanations and examples. I taught several classes on the model up to this point and the results are certainly promising. And of course – we’re practicing the model right now, every Sunday 4-6pm at Players Pub until April 17, be there!