Wow! Twenty Tip Jar Jams! We’ve been jamming for five months! And, my goodness, how the students have improved.
Last night, as you can see from the title, we had all three Bobs present. We also had Jack (and his wife Judy) who were visiting us en route from Florida to their home in Vermont. When I was introducing the other jammers to Jack—ten of them—I knew he’d never remember any of the names so I said, “Just call everybody Bob!” And then I pointed a finger at each Bob and said, “You behave! And you behave! And you behave!” Bob V said, “Why are you saying that?” I said, “We’re from the South and we have company. You’re supposed to behave when you have company [pronounced ‘compn’y—two syllables].” Bob Mc promptly “acted out” by turning his chair around so he was facing backward to the circle. I’m sure he gave his grammar school teachers fits. Suzi chimed in saying, “I can tell Jack is a Yankee by the way he talks.” So I shushed her and said, “You behave, too!” She just laughed.
Jack had come in for two marathon lessons on the Monday and Tuesday before the jam. He wanted some help in learning to “take breaks” as he called it. I thought he meant that he already knew how to play the lead to a number of songs but that he hadn’t had much experience in coming in for his break in a jam. So I spent a lot of time finding out what songs he could play (“Start with your easiest ones and play them slow”) and finding out if he could vamp. (He could.) We were working hard on Banjo in the Hollow (which he could already play), playing it with the guitar and doing the vamping and had gotten to the stage of trading breaks with each other. Which he could do easily. So I was puzzled. Apparently he could already take breaks. It took some judicious questioning on my part to figure out that he really wanted was to learn to improvise. We were having a communication problem!
Improvising, however, is something I can teach. So we started in on learning to improvise to Bury Me Beneath the Willow. I’ll spare you the details (which I just deleted). The licks don’t translate well to paper, which is why I teach by ear! (And it’s all on our Improvising DVDsanyhow.) He picked up on the concept quickly and I am proud to say that he was able to kick off Willow Wednesday night in the jam, using the improv break! You go, Jack! I only wish you lived closer so we could do more lessons.
The other six pickers at the jam were: Janet, Kenney, Kathy, Kasey, Ben, and Nancy (on mandolin). We stuck to our standard repertoire and did a lot of playing in unison—slowly—to start off many of the tunes. That gives everyone a chance to work out the kinks in their breaks before they have to fly solo. Bob A, who is working on his singing as well as his lead guitar playing, sang two songs: Beulah Land (A Do Lord clone) and New River Train (pretty much a Roll in My Sweet Baby’s Arms clone). We also capoed up to C (five frets) for some “women singing” and did I Saw the Light and Mountain Dew. Kasey is working on her singing, too, and has a great voice. She says she’s not ready to fly solo yet on the singing, and I told her she didn’t have to, so she sang on the choruses. As always, she looked like a million dollars wearing her new black Vann tennis shoes (I hope I got that name right—they looked like Keds to me, no offense, Kasey!). Brightly colored Vann no-show sox completed her foot attire. She took off her shoes to show me! Father Ben wanted to take off his boots to show me his manly white sox, but I said NO WAY!
With only five minutes left in the jam, we closed out by letting Kasey show off on a tune. As I said, “When Zac is here, he gets to play fast, and when Logan is here, he gets to play fast. So now Kasey gets a turn to play fast.” Ben took over on bass and Kasey fired off on Lonesome Road Blues, starting with the low break and moving easily into the high break. She did great. I was so proud of her. Her teacher, my Casey, would have been proud of her too. And naturally, I told Ben that Kasey could have done even better if hadn’t kept messing up the bass part! (Love ya, Ben!)
When Kenney took his bass back, he requested “just a little bit more of that” so I said, “You’re killing me, Kenney” and launched into the fastest version of Lonesome Road Blues I could play. He hung in like a trooper. I finished off with Earl’s signature LRB ending lick and said, “That’s all you get for a nickel!”
Kathy came up to me afterwards and said, “That’s a challenge just to vamp that fast!” I agreed. This stuff is not easy!
NOTE: We will NOT be jamming next Wednesday, April 24, as Red and I are heading to Florida to see his mom. I’ll have my I-pad along for that interminable ride. I’m in the middle of Stephen King’s The Dome and am so hoping all those bad, bad people get their just reward—on Earth.
Don’t forget about our Longest Day Jam on June 21 (9 am –9 pm) to raise money for Alzheimer’s. And our All Women Banjo Camp July 19-21. Also, I will be doing my first book signing on June 8 at the Winchester Book Gallery! More details on that later. There will be music. Or you might say “Singing to go with the signing!” Y’all come!