Imagine, it’s your first day meeting them. You remember the stories told in your childhood that taught you to never trust them. When passing in the street, you were strangers. While buying from the same grocery store, you were still strangers. From your birth in the same hospitals until this very moment, you were still strangers.
But here as youth, you both are finally in the same room face to face with only instruments and voices of all kinds in hand to distinguish one band member from another. No script is available. A count down of, “a one, a two; a one, two, three” signals it’s time to jump in. Sounds melt and mold together, soon to create a semblance of unified ideas. You improvise a line of music in the jam, and to your surprise, so can they, in fact, quite well. A smile appears on your face as you think to yourself, “Let’s see what else they can do. Let’s see what else we can do.”
Welcome back from the daydream! Though you were about to have the time of your life, alas I bring you back to reality to discuss further the power of: The Jam Session.
There is much significance in utilizing jam sessions as an exercise in music intervention programs. In my opinion, a “jam session” cannot be defined in one way, since every jam session holds its own purpose. A jam session could:
- explore a certain sound, timbre, or feeling
- search for the next section of a song
- test the limits of an already established song
- practice the technique of improvisation
- challenge musicians by putting them “on edge” to produce new musical ideas on the spot
- create a bonding experience to connect individuals
One could say that jamming has a place in the creation of most genres of music at least at some point. One genre in particular that places much importance in jam sessions is none other than jazz.
In late January, the importance of jam sessions was brought to light by the current “The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad” program’s resident musical group while on tour in Zimbabwe. Stated by drummer and band leader, Michael Raynor, of The Dennis Luxion + Michael Raynor Quartet,
“To a large extent, the greatest musicians in this music [jazz] learned how to play simply by playing with other great musicians, getting on the band stage and learning right on the spot, and being in there, the atmosphere, hearing players that maybe already know how to play and then stepping up and trying to play what you have learned so far, right in that setting.” (The Zimbabwean)
The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad program is co-organized by the U.S. Department of State and Jazz at Lincoln Center “to share America’s unique contribution to the world of music and to promote cross-cultural understanding and exchange among nations worldwide.” (The Rhythm Road) Essentially, the U.S. State Department is employing music intervention techniques that empower youth and transform conflict as a diplomatic track.
Interestingly enough, this format of outreach combines several tracks of diplomacy. At the top level, there is Track I Diplomacy: government-to-government interaction. At the grassroots level, there is Track II diplomacy: informal interactions by unofficial actors of civil society. In this case, the U.S. State Department and Zimbabwean government of Track I diplomacy are supporting citizen diplomacy by using The Dennis Luxion + Michael Raynor Quartet as “cultural ambassadors” of Track II diplomacy.
Why did The Dennis Luxion + Michael Raynor Quartet choose jam sessions, besides the inherent importance of jam sessions in jazz, for their workshops with Zimbabwean youth? What are the benefits of using jam sessions in a music intervention setting?
For a music intervention program to succeed, the youth participants must be “put on edge” to deliver an accountable product in front of their peers and family. This is why much emphasis is placed on the importance of providing frequent performance opportunities, besides the essential purpose of performance in music. Not only must youth participants feel challenged by the responsibility of producing an exhilarating outcome when placed in front of peers and family, but as well consider what is required to plan that success. Am I improving in my daily practicing? How can I implement the instruction from my teachers? Do I feel good about the sound I’m producing? What can I do to improve my ensemble while playing/singing/rapping? How do I feel about my fellow musicians? These questions must be identified and asked. Sometimes the answers are not fully discovered until the performance.
This is where jam sessions can serve the benefits of in-the-moment, interactive music making. In the same fashion as a performance, jam sessions will put youth participants “on edge” to produce an accountable product on the spot, while flexing their creativity.When applied in a setting of conflict transformation, the results are of high-potential with the ability to ignite further engagement and reconciliation. Many youth involved in peace education who have participated in a jam session identify the experience as memorable, enlivening, meaningful, and of course, a whole lot of fun! They speak of an energy created immediately upon playing music together, and the surprise of how easy it is to musically interact with the “other”. By the end of the jam session, the conflict’s uneven plain dividing society is muted in comparison to an established space of equality. Subsequently, an individual is not initially recognized with the prescribed title of ‘Type A’ or ‘Type B’, but rather entrusted with the same inalienable humanistic needs for security and prosperity.
Want to know more about the Dennis Luxion + Michael Raynor Quartet and their travels? Check out their blog: http://michaelraynor.net/dlmr4/_______________________________________________________
1. “Commonly Used Terms.” Search for Common Ground. Search for Common Ground. Web. 06 Feb. 2012. <http://www.sfcg.org/resources/resources_terms.html>.
2. “Letter from Jazz at Lincoln Center.” The Rhythm Road: American Music Abroad. Jazz at Lincoln Center. Web. 02 Feb. 2012. <http://jalc.org/theroad/about_letterfromjalc.asp>.
3. Staff Reporter. “Jam Sessions a Big Part of Jazz Education: U.S. Jazz Quartet.” The Zimbabwean. Associated Newspapers of Zimbabwea, 30 Jan. 2012. Web. 31 Jan. 2012. <http://www.thezimbabwean.co.uk/entertainment/music-and-dance/55912/jam-sessions-a-big-part.html?utm_source=thezim&utm_medium=homepage&utm_campaign=latestarticles>.