The power of jam sessions (Part four)

Picture this – a well known country rock band calls in for a jam session and a Hip Hop rapper, a Slam poet, a singer-songwriter and some singing “teens” come together to have a good time. How would this work out? What can be expected when these completely autonomous musical bodies “collide” on the bandstand for a jam? Will it fly? This truly unique stellar experiment was not conducted at Cern Labs near Geneva (http://info.cern.ch/) but in Luzern [An interesting piece of “trivia” for you folks – the World Wide Web, what we now call “The Internet” was invented at the Cern Labs, initiated by Tim Berners-Lee and Robert Cailliau, collaborator on the World Wide Web project and first Web surfer]

Estella and her Band (http://www.estellabenedetti.ch) invited for a jam session last Thursday in the Bar59 (http://www.bar59.ch/), a place which seems to be turning into a Mecca for musical ventures, experiments and sessions in central Switzerland. Estella is a very talented and seasoned singer with a strong and expressive voice. Her musical affinity jells towards Country Rock and Americana, but she is equally at home singing soul and blues, belting out her version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House” [The Red House in Haight Ashbury, San Francisco aka The Red Vic or Red Victorian, began as a resort hotel (the Haight was once a resort destination). In the 60s, the Red Vic became a hippie hang known as the 'Jeffrey.' Today, it's a bed-and-breakfast. See what Red House "over yonder" looks like http://tinyurl.com/6un476x ]. Michael Giger, the guitarist par excellence, laid a solid foundation with Mike Malloth (drums) and Richard Hugener (bass). The jam session started with two teenage girls coming to the stage and jamming an improvised version of “Sunny”. It was pretty ballsy of them - if such a term could even apply to girls - to improvise the lyrics of this well known song and I admire their guts for pulling it through.

It was high time Charlie Weibel (drums) and I played again. It’s been over 20 years since we made music together. Charlie was happy to come and play the drums to a version of one of my songs “How High Can You Fly”. Just about down to the end of the second verse, a young dude named “Cell” (http://www.myspace.com/ce11) came up to the microphone and started a Rap in free-style over the driving rhythm adding yet another level of rhythmic dimension to the song. That was a surprise! A completely unexpected one too, as I never thought of a connection between my song How High Can You Fly and free-style Hip Hop Rap. "Well, you’ll never know till you’ve tried it" I thought to myself and let it roll. The song was boiling over the tipping point and after an initial shock-freeze, everybody in the Bar actually grooved on this synthesis of Rock and Rap jam. The jam session progressed over various Rock, Funk and Blues standards including Stevie Wonder’s “Very Superstitious” where Estella and I alternated on vocal jams, over to Robert Johnson’s “Back Door Man” with Michael playing a smashing slide on his Dobro, down to “Roadhouse Blues” featuring Tony and his Slam poetry improvisation. Tony has this natural coolness about him that reminds me of Jim Morrison in his best days. The jam session closed that Thursday with us (Michael, Mike, Richard and me) doing a real slow and laid back version of Rose Royce’s “Love Don’t Live Here Anymore”, a song that was completely new for the band and it flowed– soft, sweet and slow like honey. Michael was the master of this anthem, playing magic with his guitar. What a closing song! What a night of experiment, of living music improvisation, of Rock, Blues, Hip Hop and Poetry. Jam sessions rock!

Jam sessions – talents unleashed (Part three)

There is a thrilling element of surprise when people, totally unknown to you walk to bandstand with you and the jam starts. It almost feels like taking a turn into an alley with unfamiliar sound and smells in an unknown part of a town. There’s a nervous chill, more of a shiver that goes through your body but the anticipation of what’s to come masks out all second thoughts that may pop up, even in the very last moment before the first note gets played – “jeez, what the hell am I doing here?” All that’s left with you is your own capability to make music that you make and the rest is an adventure into the unknown. Yes, that leaves you standing completely out of your comfort zone. Then the jam begins. Like the jam on the funky Wednesday January the 18th with the house band – Christian Winiker (guitar), Mike Malloth (drums), Richard Hugener (drums) and a fantastic young singer with a magical expression for improvised singing, Emilia Taubic (http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=734780573). This is a singer to watch out for and who clearly got a “wow” out of me as I entered the Bar59 and heard her unique voice for the first time. It was all fun and funk that Wednesday and a group of young music students made their band stand with well known jazz and funk standards. It is amazing how talents unleash when they hit the spotlight. The crowd was ready for the jam and it soon developed into funk frenzy with Christian, Mike and Emilia joined on stage by a fantastic funk bass player Thomas and Sam Mösching (http://www.facebook.com/sam.moesching?ref=ts), a soulful jazz guitarist playing a Les Paul Custom with a special mellow style of guitar playing. Improvisation, dynamic, fun and frenzy was the underlining groove. The jam unleashed yet another talent – Sam, the mellow jazz guitarist now playing some smash-hit funky drums to Sly and the Family Stone’s relentless “Thank you”. Thank you all for the Jam session revival and come on all you music talents – unwind and unleash!

The power of jam sessions (Part two)

My love for jam sessions is unconditional – the more spontaneous a jam session is, the better it gets for me. The invitation to the “Blues Jam Session” that I got from Mike Malloth (http://www.mikemalloth.com) on Facebook read like a warm welcome to the brand new year. Last Thursday’s cold and gray night was just the right night for the promise of a hot jam session at Bar59. I finished dubbing some tracks on a new song in my basement studio, just in time to pack up my red Telecaster and hit the road to Luzern.

As I entered the Bar, the band was playing and the room was humming with people, more than one would usually expect on a Thursday night in Luzern, grooving to Patricia Bucher (http://facebook.com/patthy26), a petite with a powerful voice on lead vocals and a spontaneous chorus of two girls singing the backing vocals, rendering a soulful version of “Sweet Home Alabama”. Backed up by a tight rhythm section with Mike on drums, Richard Hugener (http://www.myspace.com/richardhugener) on bass and Christian Winiker (http://www.myspace.com/christianwiniker), an exceptionally talented blues guitarist, playing a Les Paul through a Hughes & Kettner combo (I love ‘em), Patricia went on to belt-out some powerful versions of Rock and Blues standards including “Mustang Sally”.

When I hit the stage with Matthias, a young drummer I’d met there for the first time, we started out by playing an old up-beat “Punk” song of mine (as Richard called it) that goes by the name of “View from the Top” to break the ice and to warm up. It sounded amazingly tight so I suggested the next song to jam to - “Gravity” by John Mayer that had been running in my head the whole week. As none of us had ever tried playing this song before, we agreed that it has to be played really slowly – “so slow, that you can count the coming bars as you play the first one” as we laid down the general timing of the song. After a jam that was built up on the roots of good old “Road House Blues”, a young man named Tony, who looked very much like Jim Morrison in his early days, came up to the stage to render some exceptional slam-poetry jam to Christian’s blues in minor. Patricia came back on stage for a Jazzy Blues version of “Sunny” with Christian playing some real guitar magic, slightly out of his comfort zone as he put it himself. I guess that’s where the magic sits – outside the comfort zone.

I can’t remember clearly how, but I found myself back on the stage with Christian, this time playing the bass, jamming to “Feeling Alright”. By the time I started punching out the intro chords of “Granted” (http://www.reverbnation.com/play_now/song_9235801), Mike and Richard were back on stage and even Lorenzo (Fausto’s brother) came around the bar with a look of pleasant surprise.

It was a magical night at Bar59 and I had unadulterated fun. There was spontaneous dancing and applause from the crowd and Kaye, the charming bar girl was sweet as ever. As a matter of fact, everybody in Bar59 was having fun last Thursday night.

I think I’m going to record “View from the Top

Musiker in 21. Jahrhundert

Der 21. Jahrhundert ist in vieler Hinsicht völlig andres als der sein Vorgänger. Besondere Merkmale sind die absolute Individualität des einzelnen wenn es um Kommunikation geht. Das trifft ganz besonders auf die Musikwelt und seine Exponaten - ja wohl - die Musiker. Die Musikwelt hat sich gegenüber dem 20. Jahrhundert radikal verändert - glaubt mir, ich war schon damals als Musiker unterwegs :-)

Die Möglichkeiten eigene Musik zu produzieren - d.h. arrangieren, aufzunehmen, für ein Album zusammenzustellen und ein Album zu veröffentlichen - haben sich seit anfangs 2000 komplett verändert. Ein Zwang in einen Recording Studio für Musikaufnahme gib es nicht mehr und jeder kann in seinen eigenen vier Wänden in bester Qualität Musik arrangieren und aufnehmen, sogar mit Musiker arbeiten und "Takes" aufnehmen, die gar nicht vor Ort stehen. Das eröffnet ungeheuer vielfältige Möglichkeiten die Songs zu arrangieren und zu Instrumentieren. Ein wenig vorausschauend hatte Frank Zappa diese "Technik" der freie Zusammensetzung der "Takes" bereits in der 70er und 80er Jahren perfektioniert. Sein Aufwand damals war enorm und für uns Normalsterblichen Musikern undurchführbar.

Die radikalste Veränderung der 21. Jahrhundert liegt in der Vermarktung und Verbreitung der Musik. Da wurden ganze Branchen der "Musik-Establishment" überflüssig - die Plattenlabels, der Schallplattenvertrieb, die Musikverlage. All diese Branchen haben ihr Macht und ihre Bedeutung für Musiker deutlich eingebüsst. Der reife und schnelle Internet eröffnete alle Musik schaffende ganz neue Möglichkeiten und Perspektive ihre Hörerschaft zu finden mit ihnen zu kommunizieren und ihnen die Musik zu beliefern, egal wo sie die Musik haben wollen. Das ist neu, ganz neu. Der schnelle Wachstum von einfache Tools für Erstellung von Webseiten bis zu MySpace und Facebook [https://www.facebook.com/actofchoice] haben für Musik-schaffende und andere (lebens)Künstler Kanäle eröffnet, direkt mit ihre "Fans" in Kontakt zu treten und sogar neue Fans zu finden.

Nun, der Zwang am Computer sitzen zu müssen um Musik zu geniessen, war schon mit "Walkman" (weiss noch jemand was das war?) bereits in 20. Jahrhundert gebrochen und mit iPod früh 2000 perfektioniert worden - der nächste Coup liegt in der Kommunikation mit Fans, egal wo sie sich gerade befinden - die bunte Welt der mobilen Kommunikation. Facebook und Twitter sind längst "Mobil" und jetz kommen die Musiker-Webseiten daran. Ich habe den Sprung zu eine eigene Webseite nie gewagt - schlicht aus Unbehagen, dass der Webseiten-Inhalt schnell veraltet und die Pflege davon sehr viel von meiner Zeit in Anspruch nehmen wird. Der Schritt zu meine eigene mobile "Webseite" - die kostenlose App - habe ich jedoch gemacht. Ich kann dadurch mit meine Musik-Freunde und Fans direkt und jederzeit kommunizieren - mein App für iPhone [http://itunes.apple.com/app/id474852384] und App für Android Geräte [https://market.android.com/details?id=com.reverbnation.artistapp.i60437&hl=en] kann kostenlos herunter geladen werden - live Blogs, Bilder, Infos, Videos und Musik sind immer aktuell und zeitnahe zugreifbar.

Das alles erhöht der Arbeitslast auf der Musiker - ja der "Primadonna" muss sich nun auch auf seine "Vermarktung" kümmern und nicht sein Platten-Label überlassen - aber der Ertrag ist um vielfaches höher als ein Platten-Label es alleine schaffen kann.

Das sind gute Werkzeuge - aber das Handwerk des Komponieren und zuvor, die Inspiration gute Musik zu schaffen, bleibt auch in 21. Jahrhundert unverändert - Gehirnforschung hin oder her. Wie Thomas Edison treffend gesagt hat - Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration - trifft besonders für geniale und erfolgreiche Musik zu. Für Musiker in 21. Jahrhundert sind die neunundneunzig Prozent Schweissarbeit, dank diese "Werkzeuge" jedenfalls deutlich erträglicher geworden.

The power of jam sessions (Part one)

I must admit that I started making music in times where "jamming" was the way to go and the means to communicate music ideas, techniques and styles. I've had the privilege to jam with some excellent musicians including the legendary Trumpet God Don Cherry and guitarist par excellence Jimmy Page and many more. I've always been thrilled by the concept (or the lack of a concept) of a jam session.

After a dark period in the 80s and the 90s of "music by plan and perfection", I'm delighted to see that young musicians have re-discovered the "art" of jamming. So when I got the invitation by Mike Malloth, a very dynamic drummer (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1285611021&sk=wall, http://www.mikemalloth.com), there was no way I'd miss the opportunity to make music with people I've never ever played with (not quite true in this case since Richard Hugener, bass (https://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1378906777&sk=wall, http://www.myspace.com/richardhugener), plays in my band Ajay's Act of Choice as well) - that's the thrill of a jam session. Mike organizes a jam session night with Estella Benedetti Band (https://www.facebook.com/pages/Estella-Benedetti/320853820208, http://www.estellabenedetti.ch/cms/) every second Wednesday in Bar59 (http://www.bar59.ch/). The band itself is fantastic and Estella's deep soulful expressive voice goes totally under your skin.

The atmosphere last night was comfortable and a few people did turn up - jam sessions don't usually attract huge crowds these days anyway - a remarkable young soul singer (sorry, I didn't catch her name) and a blues guitarist jammed an excellent low down easy and sleazy version of Hit The Road Jack.

I'm looking forward to the next jam in Bar59!

People arise! Grassroots revolution around the world

Little did I anticipate when I wrote "Taking the Night Away", a songs about political and social struggle against complacency, segregation, isolation, that people across the world, not only in the emerging regions of this world but also in developed countries like the U.S.A. and many European countries, will collectively stand up and demand their right to social justice and dignity. The speed at which all this is happening is amazing. I dedicate "Taking the Night Away" to the grassroots revolution and wish us all strength and perseverance. Ajay