Playing Is Best Done With Friends

I popped into Avo's for breakfast this morning and found my friends Seymour Sharpe and Sue Forebucks, the slide ukulele playing lawyer, so I joined them.

"I'm looking forward to the jam tomorrow," said Sue. "I missed last year's when everybody played late because they could sleep in the next day."

"Actually, I messed up last year," I said. "Avo's was closed then. They were doing some remodeling while the students were on break. But I talked to Rob. Tomorrow, they're open and we can jam."

"Great," said Sue. "I'll bring my cousins who are in town."

"I don't see what the big deal is," said Seymour. "The music isn't that good. I always thought the reason they called it a jam was because it sounded like someone trying to jam radio waves." He laughed by himself.

"Depends on where you sit," I said. If you're out in the audience, the mix can be truly odd and you may not hear any of the softer singers or the quieter instruments when they take a break. But if you're one of the pickers standing in the circle, it sounds a lot better. And depending on the number of musicians, how good they are, and the mood everyone's in, it can sound as good as anything on a CD."

"I don't think of the jam as a performance," said Sue. "It's not an event to be watched like a rock concert or football game. You have to participate to get the full benefits, just like with exercise or playing fun games with good friends."

"Oh it's even better than that," I said. "In games, someone always wins or loses. At a jam, about the only competition is who can have the most fun."

"I don't know about that," said Seymour. "Sometimes you guys compete to see who can play the fastest or strangest or who can come up with the weirdest song."

"That's just part of the fun," I said. "Kind of like poker night with the guys. Most of the time you play seven card stud or five card draw, but every so often you play some oddball variant with changing wild cards or low hand wins or something. Purists may say that's not poker, but it's still fun."

"And jamming is much safer for beginners," said Sue. "You don't end up paying money while you figure out the rules."

"The way we treat beginners is another reason I like the jam so much," I said. "Many regular jams only allow certain types of music and exclude beginners. Not this one."

"That's how they snared me," said Sue. "After sitting in the audience a couple weeks, I brought my ukulele and sat way in the back. But after a bunch of people left, the rest signaled for me to move closer. When I didn't, they just walked over and surrounded me, so I started a slow version of Liberty. By the time the tune made its way around the entire group, the melody was going quite a bit faster, but they wouldn't let it end until I played a final break."

"Yeah," I said. "We usually try to get the person who started the song to finish it, especially if it will be embarrassing."

"It was," she said. "I butchered the first half and totally lost it in the second part. But no one got mad. They actually busted out laughing and said I gave it a good shot and wanted me to pick another song. I had the most fun that night."

"No you didn't" I said. "We all won."