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Improvising Art: From Jam Bands to Jazz

Jacob Hobson By

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Artists like Medeski, Martin & Wood, John Scofield, Robert Walter and Stanton Moore continue to improvise on jazz based funk tunes that fans of jam music find irresistible. The term "jam band" is simply an umbrella term that collects music from all genres. While folk, country, bluegrass, rock and roll, and soul are vital to jam music, jazz may be the most important, because not only does it bring improvisation to the table, it also brings emotion—and emotion and improvisation cannot be divided.

Any jam fan that makes the transition to jazz would be doing themselves a favor by exploring famous jazz covers of their already favorite jam bands. The Grateful Dead used to cover Miles Davis' "So What" and saxophonist Branford Marsalis played with the Grateful Dead numerous times throughout the 1990s. In 1991, Phish covered two Charlie Parker classics in its live set: "Donna Lee" and "Moose the Mooch." In 2003, the String Cheese Incident performed a lively cover of Herbie Hancock's "Chameleon."

While jazz continues to be a less popular music reserved for the intellectual and artistic, audiences for jam music continue to sell out festivals and arenas around the world. In dealing with jam bands, as with any other art form, it is important not to forget those who came before—the pioneers of improvisation who paved the way to artistic freedom.

Photo Credit Clayton Call

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