The term jam band is still a bit ambiguous. Put simply a jam band is a rock band that focuses on creating unique concert performances for every show. Set lists vary from night to night and songs often serve as sketches for musical exploration rather than as defined structures. Jam band music incorporates elements from a variety of sources, including (but not limited to) rock, jazz, and world music.
The first band to function as a jam band in rock ‘n’ roll, and the group that still has the greatest influence in the genre today, was the Grateful Dead. No two shows that the Grateful Dead played were ever the same, and songs varied greatly from night to night. The Grateful Dead became stereotypical of the jam band aesthetic by selling more tickets than records. From the late 1960s to their dissolution in the early 1990s, the Grateful Dead played thousands of unique shows.
The closest jam band contemporary of the Grateful Dead was the blues-rock inclined Allman Brothers Band, who would take songs to new heights in the live setting. For example, the 22 minute version of the song ‘Whipping Post’ on their seminal Live at the Fillmore East album. While other bands would “jam” in concert, for years the Allman Brothers and the Grateful Dead served as the prime examples of the live show being the main outlet of artistic expression.
During the early 1990s there was a revival of the jam band scene. Bands such as the Spin Doctors, Blues Travelers, and Widespread Panic began to take up the legacy of the live show as their main form of artistic expression. This revival was due partially to the renewed success of the Grateful Dead, but this new wave of jam bands was lead by Phish, who in the 1990s became one of the major concert attractions in America without ever having much success on the charts.
The revival of the jam band aesthetic has survived and even thrived into the 21st century. Despite a temporary hiatus, the band Phish continues to be one the biggest concert draws in America. Newer jam bands, including moe., Umphrey’s McGee, and Tea Leaf Green, continue to explore music in the live setting. In further blog posts I will discuss current events in the jam scene. Also, each week there will be a “jam” chosen for your listening pleasure. Check out the Jam of the Week page this week for a great Grateful Dead tune.
Questions about a band? Think my history is a little lacking? Suggestions for next weeks jam? Add your thoughts to the comments section below.