In the attic: Observations from an unexpected jam

The phrase “jam session” invokes both delight and horror in me. Impromptu musical get-togethers can be amazing and rewarding if there’s a common ground of literature or purpose, so to speak. Whether it means a group of players working through Monk’s “‘Round Midnight” or Thin Lizzy’s “Jailbreak,” some sort of agreement is crucial. Otherwise you might end up mired in an unending and directionless 12-bar loop (which in the hands of most is about as interesting as listening to paint dry) or with nothing at all to play.

Or so it would seem. Last night I found myself on the way to “jam” at the house of friends. And not only was the group decidedly not of the same musical background or direction, they weren’t even all musicians. Potential train wreck, I thought. But, in a sense it was an extreme instance of the fulcrum of experienced musicians and casual players that I’ve welcomed in the Association of Spacecraft Mechanics. So I was up for it.

Somewhere in the darkness I try to conjure Aynsley Dunbar, ca. Chunga's Revenge.

It turned out to be pretty refreshing and a hell of a lot of fun. For starters, I didn’t play guitar. At all. Instead, in a feat of multi-instrumentalism that would make Mike Keneally recoil in horror, I played organ and drums. I should point out that I began my musical life as a drummer around 2.8 million years ago and for quite a while I was a much better percussionist than guitarist. As for keyboard instruments, I have almost no technique but understand the relationships of notes.  So, right: My contributions to the sesh were a functional knowledge of music theory and a decades-rusty grasp of the drums. What about my partners in musical crime?

Our host Brock is, by his admission, a babe in the woods at guitar playing. He’s a thoroughly creative person and a fantastic visual artist—and a comparative noob at music (I’m certain I started playing well before he was born). He played a variety of unconventional and motivational things left-handed on a right-hand guitar flipped over, Doyle Bramhall II style. During my stint on the organ I did my best to keep an eye on what he was playing so as to compliment the goings on as I channeled my inner Agharta.

Also along was my wife Venus, who sings so well it gives me chills, but who is no veteran of free-form freak-out improv. She alternately sang odd melodies and warbled weirdness, reading text from items stuck to the wall, like a Fly era Yoko Ono. Or something. Very avant-garde, V. Nice job.

The true wild card in the mix was our friend Patrick, who as far as I know has no musical training whatsoever. He proved himself to be an earthy, visceral drummer, and probably nearly as steady as a couple I’ve seen play in bands recently. But he really hit his stride on the keyboard. Patrick—another visual artist and possessor of a Masters—surprised me. It’s my guess that an extremely studied approach to art in general served him well. Though essentially blind as to the ways of the keys, he exhibited a sense of space and balance that just worked. Who the hell knew?

This went on for maybe 90 Heineken-fueled minutes. If we’d recorded everything, I bet we could’ve sculpted an edit of which Teo Macero would  … maybe not approve, but not necessarily erase instantly.

And no one launched into “Sweet Home Chicago” even once.


2 Responses to “In the attic: Observations from an unexpected jam”

  1. Larry... the 'stone' guy next door Says:

    Hey there Van Horn… Larry here… the stone-guy from Indep. We had shops next door to each other, just below the Am. Family Ins. office on Hwy. 291. Been quite a while… glad to see you are frequenting the stage and travelling a lot.
    I told you that you’d get in a “Heavy Rock Band” in due time. You kept telling me “no way, I’d rather keep giving lessons than join a Rock group”. You wanted to play ALL Zappa-style music & I said that you’d get further,-FASTER if you just accepted ROCKIN’ in general. So, here you are… I still have that photo of your fingers on the frets & a photo of you outside your shop door… no beard.
    Anyway, I’ve tried to find your ph# but you must be in a gvt. relocation program??? E-mail me and we’ll talk… just kidding ’bout the “I told you so’s”, sort of..

    Take care and I hope to hear from you soon… or, just get the Federation together & drive all night and day to the SW Desert-Phx…(26 hrs- I’ve done it at least 8-10 x’s…) & play a few ‘venues here???

    Talk soon,

    Larry B. the Stone-Guy

  2. dukewisdom Says:

    Larry – Great to hear from you. Love to catch up. What’s your email?

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