Review By Chuck Lambert
Several months ago the Jersey Shore Jazz and Blues Foundation were asked if we would critique the manuscript for the book and workshop “Spread The Jam” by Joe Kennedy. It only took me a minute to decide that long time member and elder statesman of the blues, Chuck Lambert, was the man for the job. Chuck has hosted jams all over the Jersey Shore and could certainly review this tome with an experienced view. I think any musician, or those who are in awe of they can do, will enjoy what he has to say. Tom Baldino, President JSJBF
A letter to Joe:
My first reactions to your book were a mix of emotions that reflect my own musical journey. The Acknowledgement had me thinking how lucky someone must be to have parents who support their child’s dreams and aspirations. To bring them to music venues and have them meet professional musicians. To be able to talk with those men and women and gain insight and instruction from them. That early interaction is so valuable. It reminded me to always listen to my own daughter’s ideas and desires with an open mind and loving heart. It also reminded me that I wasn’t so lucky. My parents had no desire to see me become a professional musician. I think the phrase they used was, “It’s just a hobby, you can’t make a living at it.” Acknowledging that supportive parents are essential to any child’s creative development is monumental.
The Preface had me in agreement with some of your thoughts. As the host of a several Blues Jams over the years, you are correct about the valuable assistance you get from more experienced musicians. What you don’t mention here is that some musicians are threatened by a new face and a new talent. Some won’t give you the time of day let alone the key and structure to a song. Ego is a very green monster. My point here is that if you’re going to give someone a map about how to get from Point A to Point B, you should warn them about the pitfalls, walls, and chasms they must cross.
Chapter One: The Beginning is spot on point. Your descriptions of the different types of jams one will encounter was perfect. I’ve walked into cafes with expectations, only to think to myself 15 minutes later, “I don’t belong here”. Letting people know what kind of jam is happening is very helpful.
Chapter Two: Forms. Explaining the different forms of blues songs and ballads by reading is difficult. It was helpful to have the audio files to go along with this section. It must be very different in NOLA to go to and be at a jam. It’s been my experience that most cats in NJ aren’t going to be able to follow this section. Jazz players in NYC and metro area will have no problem. If you asked a guitar player in Asbury Park NJ to follow an AABA form with a double tag, he’s going to answer with “Isn’t that a rock band from Sweden”. Maybe this chapter should be towards the end of the book.
Chapter Three: Listening and Communicating. Your explanation about the connection that musicians should have with one another is excellent. The exercises are helpful (Starting in the middle of a song or at the end and picking up from that point). I especially tapped into your description of the roles of instrumentation in a group and a jam. I also thought the basic theory part was very helpful.
Chapter Four: Styles. Your description about the different styles of playing and what a musician needs to know was a little confusing. A professional musician who goes out to a jam or that’s sitting with a group will need to have an expansive palate. From Jazz to Country. Rock to Reggae. If a pro wants to work, he’s got to be able play it all or at least fake his way through it. Weekend Warriors and Newbies not so much. They tend to stay in genres they’re most familiar with and comfortable playing.
Chapter Five: Going to The Jam. In a nutshell, this chapter was detailed and informative. It was Easy to understand and precise.
Chapter Six: Calling A Tune. This chapter is specifically for a lead instrumentalist or vocalist. The explanations are complex. For many musicians that come to my jam sessions and others that I’ve attended, a I-IV-V in a major or minor key is about as good as it gets. As you have stated, getting players on the same page is the most essential ingredient of a successful jam.
Chapter Seven: Networking and Jam Etiquette. This chapter filled with great advice for a musician at any level. There is some wisdom here that have a “Zen” quality to them. Kudos!!!
Chapter Eight: Improvising a Solo. This chapter is very technical and heavy on theory. I am no one’s sight reader when it comes to charts. I can get through a chord chart well, but scales and nomenclature are a language I never got to translate. I wish I had that part of musical education in me.
Chapter Nine: Tips and Ad Libs: You describe a very good practicing technique. (Listen, Play, Rest). I tried this out myself and found it well worth the effort for any musician on any level. The analogy of having a conversation and musical interchange is very important. Trading solos and giving space to a song adds so much to a piece of music. It also lends truth to the “one” note theory.
Chapter Ten: Wrapping Up. Not much more to say than that this is a wonderful conclusion to an interesting viewpoint.
If I were you, I might change the order of the chapters? The chapter about “Forms” could be better understood if it were next to the one about “Improvising a Solo”. But that’s just me.
Thank you for allowing me to read your manuscript. It opened my eyes up to some things I hadn’t seen before personally and professionally. Hopefully it will be read by younger musicians who can benefit from your guidance and knowledge, as well older cats who need to expand their horizons.
Peace to you and yours,