I haven't been on a stage professionally in three years. I haven't written a song in 18 months. I haven't been in a recording studio for as long as I can remember and I haven't done anything music-related regularly (other than listen to it) in a very very long time. However, like with all things that are meant to be on your path, music keeps finding its way back to mine and I couldn't be any happier.
For the last three months, I've had the pleasure of witnessing and partaking in some truly magical musical moments. From soulful performances at the Caveau Des Oubliettes with strangers to impromptu karaoke in front of the opera house and random freestyling by the river Seine, the magic of music keeps enriching my Parisian experience more and more often and in a way I've never felt before.
So why were these moments different? Why do they feel unique and stand out in my memory more than most formal concerts I ever did? Why do I feel infinitely more inspired today than I ever did when I was recording an album and working on television? I think the answer is abundantly clear. None of those things were planned and all of them were 100% authentic.
ALL of them were born out of the deep love for music the people involved shared and the joy we all expressed while performing together. There were no expectations. There were no rehearsals. All there was was a desire to play and a desire to share. The rest was unscripted and it was wonderful.
You'd think I'd leave it at that but being the humanity geek that I am, I had to dig deeper and find the reason why those moments were so wonderful. To my surprise, the things that make an impromptu music experience or a jam session good, are exactly the same ones that make life worth living. Check them out for yourself and see if you agree:
The 7 Pillars of An Epic Jam Session: An Abridged Life Manual
Be present: The beauty of a good jam session lies in the improvisation created by the chemistry between participants. In order to make magic, you must be fully present. Only then will you be able to understand each of your collaborators' energy and be able to flow with it. Energy, is like rhythm. Infectious. If you're not tuned in, you'll fall behind the music like a German tourist dancing reggaeton in the Caribbean. For anything to be truly satisfying in life, you must be present to enjoy it.
Be flexible: Nobody likes to jam with people who are too rigid or structured to the point where they make experimentation impossible. More often than not when you're jamming, a song that starts off sounding like something recognizable will end up being a surprise.
Some of the best moments in music come from moments where somebody in the band just takes off in a different direction because their muse pays them a visit. Call it inspiration, call it curiosity, call it testing the limits of the self. Whatever it is it needs to be integrated by the rest of group in the quickest and smoothest way possible in order to avoid any dissonance. This places a premium on flexibility. In life, like in music, being flexible is a great advantage because it makes you less vulnerable to your circumstances and environment.
Take risks: Jam sessions are largely enjoyable because they carry none of the expectations that shows do. There won't be a group of disappointed people if you perform poorly and nobody paid to get in. In essence, you don't owe anybody anything and that should feel damn good.
That said, with the elimination of expectations comes a freedom that should be taken advantage of, the freedom to risk! Because of that, jam sessions are the perfect opportunity to go out on a limb, to experiment, to 'screw up'. All jam sessions have a beginning, a middle, and an end and all lives do as well. What matters most in the end is how much you enjoyed the experience. If you risk nothing, you're likely to get a mediocre result. Are you ok with that?
Make room for others / Recognize its a group journey: Writing and playing on your own can be a lot of fun. That's true, and fine, and dandy. In my opinion it's not a true jam session unless you've got other's to play with though. On your own you miss out on so much of the growth and fun found in collaboration!
With that said and considering the previous pillar, it's important to note that for it to be a true collaboration everyone deserves their time in the sun so play nice and share the benefits of the spotlight if it lands on you. Nobody likes a microphone hog or a never-ending guitar solo unless you're Jimmy Page and you're playing Stairway to Heaven. Giving is oftentimes more satisfying than receiving.
Play on: Played the wrong chord or sang off key? Play on. Your friend screwed up a transition into another chord progression? Don’t sweat. Nobody likes to play with the guy who feels the need to correct everyone or stops playing when he makes a mistake. A good jam session stops for no one until the whole group is on board. Just imagine if we were to stop playing every time someone made a mistake with the music... The vibe, the chemistry, the magic(!) would be very hard to replicate and rebuild. In a jam session, as in life, the pursuit of absolute perfection is the enemy of fun and most importantly, impossible to achieve. Keep going.
Pick a good band: In a good jam session, as in life, it is crucial to surround yourself with people who understand that we are incredibly lucky just to be here. Look for people that practice the pillars we're describing here. Look for people with similar interests but also different outlooks to challenge yours. Look and surround yourself by better musicians and singers, you will only grow from the experience. You don't have to know each other to play well together. All you really have to do is come into the experience with a shared respect for each other and the desire to create and have fun. The rest is gravy. Now if I only knew that in high school...
Take a minute to take it all in and be grateful: The last but perhaps most important of the pillars in my opinion. Why? Gratitude invites more things to be grateful for in your life. By taking a moment to reflect and enjoy, you create a rose-colored filter through which you will see the world. The fact that you’re reading this means you’re alive and breathing. That alone is something to be grateful for. Why not start there and make a list? It may surprise you how long it is!
There you have them, I hope they prove useful to you.
It's been said that 'music speaks what cannot be expressed, soothes the mind and gives it rest, heals the heart and makes it whole and flows from the heaven into the soul'. I couldn't agree more. Music has been a key component of my journey into adulthood and into myself. Music is an integral part of who I am and will continue to be so in the future.
Moments like the ones I described at the beginning of this piece are what keep me curious and free-spirited. They teach me things about myself and life that I'm more than happy and honored to share with you. The more energy I devote to them, the sweeter they feel because they remind me of what really matters.
With that my friend, I ask you...
What is your 'music'?
What's the thing that offers you perspective in a unique way and connects you with life, others, and yourself? Whatever it is, give it your attention. It's bound to be rewarding. If the spirit moves you, write us and tell us what that is! We'd love to know.
(Cyrille Aimee is an extraordinary musician and singer whom I have much in common with (musicians, influences, performance style) but have never had the opportunity to meet. She learned many of her improvisation skills from Gustavo Rodriguez, a brilliant pianist who taught me a lot about Jazz and who I had the opportunity to sing with on more than occasion. Nuit Blanche is a beautiful example of what being present can create as she performs the whole song just her voice and a loop pedal.