Academic journal article MEIEA Journal

Beyond Jamming: A Historical and Analytical Perspective on the Creative Process

Academic journal article MEIEA Journal

Beyond Jamming: A Historical and Analytical Perspective on the Creative Process

Article excerpt


The goal of this project is to document the creative process of a jazz group often referred to as "jamming" from a historical, social, and musical perspective, and offer strategies for transfer of the findings to any group setting. While there are some authors who have drawn parallels between the creative process of jazz musicians and general creative thinking techniques,1 this article adds an in-depth historical and social perspective based on personal interviews, surveys, and a variety of historical documents. The broadened scope of "jam" settings and historical evolution enlightens the dynamics and social context of the creative process and also preserves essential historical facts of the first century of jazz history. In addition, analysis of the "jazz jam" process reveals seven factors that facilitate group creativity. Definitions and examples of these factors frame a possible model for innovative group interaction, thus serving the needs of our current creative economy.

Originally used as a verb, jam indicated cramming as many musicians as possible into one room. Carr, Fairweather, and Priestley (1987) suspect though that the idea of cramming the maximum number of ideas into each solo comes closer. The term jam session came to denote informal gatherings of musicians allowing for extended playing opportunities away from the demands of their regular jobs. The sessions also bring together artists from different bands and diverse playing levels.

Paul Berliner (1994) points out that sessions may arise spontaneously when musicians drop in on each other at practice studios. They might arrange invitational practice sessions lasting a long time, often playing one single tune for hours. Such relaxed environments were ideal for learning and the exploration of new ideas. Of course, nightclubs often offered more formally organized sessions during afternoons, after hours, or for Sunday matinees. Art Farmer recalls2 just walking the streets at night and going from one place to another. Sometimes musicians would distinguish those sessions in terms of skills of the participants. Certain clubs hosted groups with more advanced players and potential jammers would not dare to sit in until they knew the repertoire. Probably some of the most documented and well-known sessions were in the 1940s in Minton's Playhouse, Monroe's Uptown House, and Small's Paradise Club in Harlem. On the other hand, other settings often not perceived as jam environments, such as "Jazz at the Philharmonic" or performances by "Riff' Big Bands were crucial in developing the language and etiquette of jazz performance in form of a repertoire of common beginnings and endings, accompaniment patterns, stylistic conventions, as well as musical skills for the participants.

Throughout its historical development from the New Orleans red light districts to concert halls, from party music to art form, from segregation to worldwide integration, from musical illiteracy to integration into the university curricula, the model of the jazz combo combining improvisation with collaboration has proven successful as an incubator for innovation and creativity. As economic development increasingly depends on novel ideas and creative group interaction, the study of the dynamics of the jazz model and factors influencing the process of group creation could encourage new models of entrepreneurship and business innovation. In his book Jamming - the Art and Discipline of Business Creativity (1996) John Kao takes a similar approach by analyzing the process of creative thinking as an analogy to a group of jamming jazz musicians.

This article presents an analysis of the historical and social context of the jazz jam session as a tool for training young musicians, developing creativity, and professional networking. Based on interviews and excerpts from oral histories with prominent jazz musicians as well as survey data and personal experience as touring jazz musicians, a series of factors were identified that shape the creative group process in the jam session model. …

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