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Published: 2001/07/17
by Dan Alford

The 2001 Jammys: Impressions

"We appreciate everyone's open minds tonight." The
words came from the mainstage where Lake Trout had
just whipped up a furious musical onslaught that
belied their description as "minimalist organica",
the description that often appears in press releases,
and that often inspires knowing grins from fans. Like
so many of the bands that would strut that same stage
that same night, Lake Trout is a band that escapes any
true definition. They bend the boundaries of what can
be done and forge new paths to those musical
boarder-lands. As if to emphasize the point, the
words came from the mainstage just before Marky Ramone
and Jerry Only (Misfits) joined the Baltimore band for
short, potent renditions of "I Wanna Be Sedated" and
"Blitzkrieg Bop". The words came from the mainstage
where Soulive would be joined by Black Thought (The
Roots) and George Porter Jr. for "Billy Jean" (yes,
that "Billy Jean"); where the Tom Tom Club had
performed their shortish version of "Sand" from the
Mockingbird Foundation's Phish tribute album; where
old sire John Popper would join the golden princes of
the jam world, the Disco Biscuits, for Jane's
Addiction's "Three Days". The words came from the
mainstage of New York's Roseland Ballroom during the
2001 Jammys, and in a rather circuitous fashion, the
words spoke volumes about the event.

The Jammys offered a snapshot of a musical scene
constantly in flux. Many will remember the tag from
last year's Jammys was "A Celebration of the Scene",
whereas this year the phrase was "A Celebration of
Live Music." Perhaps, however, a different
description would have captured the true idea behind
the event. For the Jammys, and the jamband movement,
is nothing if not a celebration of diversity. The
myriad bands that we've all come to embrace as our own
unquestionably come wildly varied roots. Only in our
realm will you find a successful melding of bluegrass
and hip hop. But also consider the multitudinous
influences of those bands, influences that literally
include all the panoply of the world's musical
offerings. To borrow a phrase from the late Buddhist
thinker Chogyam Trungpa, the musical manure from which
nightly grows inspired improvisation and kick-ass
grooves, is rich indeed. It is not only filled with
the nourishing vibrations of John Coltrane and the
Grateful Dead, but with those of U2, the Sex Pistols
and Grand Master Flash. And so we find ourselves
celebrating ourselves, musicians and fanatics alike,
with the music of Michael Jackson and King Crimson and
not being overly surprised at the juxtaposition.

It is this diversity, this openness and this freedom
that is at the very core of what makes jamming such a
transcendent art form. Those traits allow us to
travel collectively to new spaces and to form new
ideas. It is the nature of improvisation to take not
only the road less traveled, but to take the road more
commonly traveled to new places, to travel it in new
ways. The Jammys was a prime example of that
exploratory spirit. "On every level, this show
personified improvisation," editor of jambands.com,
Dean Budnick, is quoted as saying. "It made manifest
everything we've been trying to accomplish."

But as exciting as it was to be granted musical X-ray goggles, to see bands pay homage to their roots, to see what makes them tick, that was not my personal highlight. No, the greatest moment, or rather the greatest collection of moments, had to do with a musician when he wasn't performing. Last year Les Claypool entered the jamband scene, first with Oysterhead, and later with the Frog Brigade. Unlike many others, I did not welcome him with open arms. Certainly his performance with the Disco Biscuits at the 2000 Jammys was a standout, but I could not help feeling that here was a musician, well known and well respected, who thought he could simply come on the scene and be a star. Certainly he had connections to the jamband world, through Phish and more notably through Ratdog's Jay Lane, among others, but I needed more than reputation and a few credentials. But my skepticism was clearly misplaced, as anyone who has seen the Frog Brigade can attest. Les is, in fact, someone who is more enamoured with jambands that many jam fans. While lingering backstage at this year's festivities, I watched Les Claypool stand transfixed as each band took the stage. His eyes were glued to the house stage, where the Derek Trucks Band repeatedly stupefied the audience with loose, jazzy skwonks and blistering climaxes. I watched him speak quietly with other performers, watched him lean against the wall, chatting with fellow West-coast bass guru Bobby Vega. This was a man feeding off the energy in the room, and thriving on it. When Les received the Jammy for Live Release of the Year, on behalf of himself and his band, for Live Frogs Set 1, he said something that has stuck with me. The gist was, "It's great to be playing for people who want to hear musicians play their instruments." What a simple and profound statement. In the age of boy-bands, where corporations do more to create music than many musicians, what a wonderful thing it is to be part of a world where it is about the creative process, about the MUSIC, first and foremost. Watching Les put things back in perspective for me; it excited me and reminded me how important it really is to celebrate diversity, to celebrate live music, to celebrate the scene.

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