Here's the deal: I want to address another topic this week while I have as many eyes as possible looking for this tune. So... blah, blah, blah... "Shortyville"... technical flexibility... blues scale... blah, blah, blah... Trombone Shorty is better than us all.
With all that out of the way, I want to first acknowledge that the Hall-of-Fame Chicago Cub, Ernie Banks, was awarded this week with the Presidential Medal of Honor, our nation's highest civilian recognition. Banks will forever be known with the quote, "It's a beautiful day for a ballgame, let's play two!," a thanksgiving for the joy of playing a game. Keep that thought in mind in a time when we pay professional athletes millions of sponsored dollars for seasonal work... to play a game.
The other notable thing that happened recently was that a weekly blues jam that I've attended for the past six months or so has been cancelled. I am still learning all the details as to why the venue made the decision, but the signs seem to point towards the true source of it all: money. The bar could not afford to pay the host band because it was rarely a heavily attended event, Thursday nights in an industrial part of the city. But the music that poured out into the streets was hot, the bar staff was hospitable, and the food from the kitchen was soulful. The juke joint does still hosts live music on weekends, but for a cover price, and the decision to eliminate the blues jam is bad for business, bad for the musicians, and bad for the community, overall.
Blues jams are the potluck dinners for musicians, everyone brings something to pass around, and at the end of the night some secret recipes are exchanged. And from the jams a kind of energy is created through spontaneity and conversation that can not be replicated in a showcase setting. The energy expands beyond the stage into the audience, usually in the form of dancing as a way to let loose the troubles of the week, and a communal spirit is shared by all. Jams are an integral part of improving a music scene and strengthening a community.
But what always bubbles to the surface is the endless debate of where the money comes from, the business of everything. I never trust a jam with a cover price, simply for the fact that improvisation is never predictable as a product and the audience is usually not willing to watch how the sausage being is made. However, the value of a unique experience is priceless, and when given a good experience, money no longer has real value and tends to flow; more drinks are purchased, generous tips are handed out, and more drinks are purchased. It can be an endless cycle of gratuity, but all three parties must cooperate: venues must be willing to pay for its entertainment, audiences must be willing to pay for the experience, musicians must be willing to play for the joy of making music. It is a beautiful day, let's play two.
What we all need to remember is that a culture thrives upon itself, whereas an ego is its own worst enemy.
Here is YouTube video of an interview with Ernie Banks after receiving his award.
Recommended Reading: Scam School: Your Guide to Scoring Free Drinks, Doing Magic & Becoming the Life of the Party by Brian Brushwood. Published by Skyhorse Publishing.