The author Kurt Vonnegut once said, "Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow." The art of improvisation does just that: it makes the soul grow. The soul of the improvising performer is constantly stretched and twisted in search of that unnamed spiritual experience in which lasting art is created in one passing moment. Improvisation allows a musician to take the risk and venture into dark waters in the hopes of a triumphant return so that he may inform his fellow musicians that the water is fine. Nowhere else in music is the art of improvisation practiced as much as it is in jam and jazz music.
Venues often play jazz albums over the loud speakers before the start of a jam band concert. Hedonistic soul searchers, dreaded girls in beads, frat boys in shorts, fat men with beards, and every kind of person from every walk of life finds a way to groove to that jazz music. Although they might not call themselves jazz fans, they are fans of improvisation, and the two cannot be divided. In fact, the argument could be made that jazz and jam music are no more different than jazz and blues. Jam could not exist without jazz.
If one listens to jam music enough, they begin to understand the performers. They feel as if they personally know the performer, because in some ways they do. They know the performers through their sound. Jam music is full of unique improvisers, and just like with jazz, there is no room for the slightly talented. This music requires everyone to feed off each other and contribute equally.
Making the transition from jam bands to jazz isn't a particularly difficult one. One just needs an open earone that is fine tuned to the rigor and spontaneity of jam band improvisation. For many people, the easiest way to make the transition is through the organ.
The Hammond B-3 is a staple in jam music that traces its roots back to Gregg Allman
may be the single most important musician to bridge the gap between the modern day jam band and the straight-ahead jazz of the fifties and sixties. After the jam band audience has experienced Jimmy Smith
. Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970) opens the door for jam and jazz listeners alike. Just as the Grateful Dead used songs like "The Other One" and "Dark Star" as vehicles to explore its improvisational potential, this Miles Davis
said, "Tone-wise and lick-wise, there is only one organ player alive ... Jimmy Smith." Just as Jimmy Smith unknowingly helped shape the sound of The Allman Brothers Band, other jazz artists like John Coltrane