Last night we had a wonderful student jam at my new teaching digs in Winchester. By my count we had eleven students picking, plus Zac’s mom, Kathy, who brought homemade pumpkin-chocolate chip cookies, and Lynn Morris, who stopped by to be neighborly, and moi. We jammed for two solid hours, from 7 until 9 pm.
The instrument count was like this:
5 banjos (Scott, Kathy, Bob Mc, Mark, Zac)
3 guitars (Bob Van, Todd, Janet)
1 fiddle (Sandy)
1 mandolin (Nancy)
1 bass (Kenney)
Of course, this being the 21st century, the jam couldn’t get off the ground without a certain amount of texting from jammers just getting off of work. When I got the first text, from Scott, I exclaimed, “Ooh, somebody loves me.” Bob Van immediately lipped in, “Must be your daughter.” I haughtily replied, “It is not. It’s Scott.” I read his message to the group: How late u gonna jam? I just got done work. Should I bring a guitar?
I texted back: Bring banjo. Come on.
To which he replied: Ok. C u in 10 min
Shortly after that, Chick texted. (Both he and Scott work at the Winchester Medical Center, formerly known as the hospital.) I also read Chick’s message to the group: Sorry to miss. Worked like a rented mule today. Just now leaving to go home.
I composed my reply, reading aloud as I keyed it in: We will miss you. But Scott says he will fill your shoes.
It wasn’t until I got home later that night that I read Chick’s response: Tell Scott he will need only one shoe for his little feet.
Good one, Chick!
But now, back to the jam. I feel sure you’re interested in the song list which went something like this ryecheer. [That’s Southern for “right here.”]
In no particular order:
Blue Ridge Cabin Home
Banjo in the Hollow
I Saw the Light
I’ll Fly Away
Lonesome Road Blues
A Face in the Crowd
Boil Them Cabbage Down
Somebody Touched Me
Old Joe Clark
Roll in my Sweet Baby’s Arms
Will the Circle Be Unbroken
Foggy Mountain Breakdown
Since this was a pretty large jam we stayed mostly in the key of G, venturing into A only to play Old Joe Clark and then staying there—in proper jam fashion—for a few more songs. When you’ve got this many people jamming, you don’t want to be fooling with capos too much because of the resulting tuning problems.
The jam was open to all levels so we had some folks who had never jammed before and we had some who were pretty advanced (Zac!). I told the group before we got started that I would try to make sure that everyone got their needs met....especially me. To which Fiddle Sister Sandy replied, “Some things never change!”
Everyone was playing exceptionally well and since they are all my current or former students I was bursting with pride--and enjoying the music, to boot! Sandy wowed us all with her solo version of Amazing Grace, which was a request from Mark. Her tone was rich and full and her bluesy improvs made me smile.
And speaking of improvs, Scott, who has been taking lessons only since January was gutsy enough to try breaks on most of the singing songs, even the ones he’d never played before! And he did great! And Mark, who had never jammed before, bravely stepped out on Boil Them Cabbage Down and Cumberland Gap. He said he could have done Banjo in the Hollow also but he didn’t realize at the time that we would be playing it so slow. And a huge shout out to Bob Mc who played the best I have ever heard him play. He is currently taking lessons from Casey, so naturally I told him perhaps he should have switched teachers sooner! He texted me after the jam: “I had a great time, lots of fun. I guess I will have to remember to only come when I am hungry. Must be the secret!” He had come straight from work and hadn’t eaten supper. That’s real dedication!
Kathy H. has been working hard on the most basic level of improvising, which means playing simple, first-position rolls over the chords and then adding some “flourishes” like the tag lick and slides. Since she hears chord changes so well from her folk-singing, guitar-playing days, she was able to take a break on most of the singing songs. I so wanted to sing Where Have All The Flowers Gone (which she and I have been working on) but with Bob Van sitting right next to me, I was too chicken. I can hear him now, “Expletive, expletive, expletive! That’s not a bluegrass song!”
I am planning to do this jam on a regular basis. We will pick next on Wednesday, November 28. Arrival time: 6:30. Jamming starts at 7 pm. If you want to come, please call, text, or email for directions and especially before driving a long distance.
“Can’t you hear those banjos ringing, bringing
Joy to all, hear them singing.....”