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  • Writer's pictureJay EuDaly

JAM! Chapter 4


JAM! Chapter 1: 1984-1986: The genesis of the Saturday Afternoon Jam, an open jam session in Kansas City that's been happening since August of 1984 up to the present day. Much of that story necessarily centered on singer Jim LaForte.


JAM! Chapter 2: 1991-2004: The story of coming back onboard after a 5-year hiatus to join Mama Ray and the Rich VanSant Band on the Saturday Afternoon Jam at Harling's. I focused on Rich VanSant.


JAM! Chapter 3: 2004-2023: Allen Monroe takes over the keyboard chair. The Jam moves to the Embassy Bistro then to B.B.'s. Focus is on Mama Ray.

 

The Real Story!

 

One of the things I have learned about playing music is the way - mostly unbeknownst to me - that my performances have affected people. Most of the time I'm clueless about that, I just love to play the guitar and I'm grateful that I've been able to make more-or-less of a living at it over the course of my life thus far. When I'm onstage, I'm focused on my playing, the world of the song that I'm immersed in at the moment, and the musical conversation I'm having with the other players.


Musicians tend to be pretty self-centered, some more, some less. It comes with the territory and I think it's a necessary component to be able to do what we do. Speaking for myself, one of my strategies for compensating is to hook up with and rely on a good frontman/singer, who is generally more tuned into the mood of the crowd, the demographic and the vibe of the room, which gives me the freedom to just do what I self-centerdly like to do - play the guitar. That would be someone like Mama Ray - or any number of people in this town who are great at it.


When I do my solo gigs where I'm the frontman/singer, I'm constantly redirecting my attention away from the internal and towards the external. I have to consciously ask myself, "What's the demographic of the room? Males? Females? Age ranges? Are they responding? Are they showing interest? How can I make them feel good? What do I need to do to sell more drinks?" I make my song selection choices based on answers to those kinds of questions. I rely on the audience relating to the song because, let's face it, I'm not Mr. Sparkley Personality Entertainment Guy. My point is, I'm a musician who happens to sing as a survival technique (guitar players are a dime-a-dozen), not a singer who plays guitar. And as such I'm more internally oriented.

 

That is why I can be oblivious to the effect that my music has on people. Intellectually, I understand that music affects people because it affects me (see how self-centered that statement is?) but I'm not always aware of my music affecting people.

 

But it does - it really, really does. This brings us to you - the audience.

 

A situation like what happened at Harlings, the Embassy Bistro and now is happening at B.B.'s, is not just about the music. It is about the music, but not just about the music. All kinds of variables - many of them uncontrollable - have to line up. The ambience of the venue, location, time frame, the owner, the staff, the musicians, the music, the charisma of the frontman/singer - or in this case, the frontwoman/singer - how consistent are these factors - the gestalt of the whole situation etc ad infinitum - when a sufficient number of those variables line up what happens is relationship, community, communion, life. It's way bigger than playing a little jazz/blues jam session. Even the concept of a jam session is players coming together - communion - who may not even know each other and trying to spontaneously create something musically unique to that moment.


The people who plug into a situation like Harlings or B.B.'s go through significant periods of life together; that's what it is, life together. Yeah, it can be very messy - you can fill in the blanks here - but that's life, isn't it? It's messy. Speaking of self-centered, I'm going to quote myself;

 

"...the real story here is bigger than me, Mama Ray, Rich, Jim LaForte or the music. All those things are important and the story would not be the same without them but the real story is about the scene, the community and relationships that were created around that Saturday afternoon jam. People have married people they met at the jam. People got divorced because of people they met at the jam. They celebrate birthdays, marriages, divorces, anniversaries. There are memorials, funerals, wakes and benefits to raise money and provide support for individuals and organizations. It's family. It's church. Musicians who are now out gigging in various places around the world got their start at the jam. In New York, a jam session can be a brutal cutting contest; in Kansas City, it's an affirming love-fest. THAT is the real story here."

 

This could be illustrated by literally hundreds of stories, but I'm only going to tell the one story I know best, my own.


In a previous post I alluded to the accident in late 2007 in which I broke my face. What you can read below is copy-and-pasted from an open letter.

 

An Open Letter to Friends, Family, Students, and Fans - January 3rd, 2008

 

As many of you know by now, on Dec 8th, 2007, I suffered a fairly grievous and traumatic injury. I slipped on some ice and broke multiple bones in my face, requiring facial reconstruction surgery. It is not my intent to go into the gruesome details here.

 

The purpose of this letter is to express my heartfelt thanks to the many of you who sent Andrea and I encouragement, prayers, money, and food. The degree and quantity of the response was overwhelming. Several times we have been reduced to tears by the generosity and gifts from people that I have no idea who they are.


Two Sundays in a row Mama Ray and her husband, Will, came by with literally a truckload of food. Our living room was filled with boxes and boxes of food. This was donated in large part by people who have come to Harlings, and now the Embassy, on Saturday afternoons, to listen to the band, or participate in the jam session that has been going on there for over 20 years. Along with the food, we received checks and cash from family, friends and fans. Many of you who gave cash I have no idea who you are, how much you gave, or who to thank. So allow me to tell you of our circumstances, and just how timely your gifts have been, and how I intend to thank you.

 

Right now, I am the sole support of a 5-member household. Andrea and I have 5 children but two of them are married and out of the house. The oldest of those still here is fairly self-sufficient, and will be leaving shortly. Andrea has home-schooled all our children and so for the past 25 years I have been the only support. The result of this is that we are very rich in most ways but poor in financial terms. In spite of this, we have managed to live comfortably and I have no complaints or regrets. In light of the fact that my kids are turning out well (so far!) due in large part to my wife and the home-schooling, and also due to the fact that I got off the road in the mid-eighties in order to be there for my wife and kids, I consider our lack of financial security a small price to pay. (Is anybody ever really financially secure?)

 

I usually maintain 1 to 3 months of income in a cash reserve (I call it my rat-hole). For reasons I won't go into here, I depleted the rat-hole about a year ago and had not replenished it. Several years ago I had started investing for retirement and was loathe to divert funds from my retirement investing to replenish the rat-hole. For every month of not investing a few hundred dollars now I will be out tens of thousands of dollars 15 or 20 years from now. Such was my rationale.

 

When I fell and broke my face, the rat-hole was empty and I was looking at a month (at the least) of being laid up and not working, with no cash reserve to draw on. I have temporarily halted the retirement investing to help deal with the short-term crunch, but the bottom line is; because of your gifts, it appears that there will not be even one late payment on anything, and we are eating very well!


This will definitely be the case if I can return to a normal schedule starting Jan 7th, which I am planning to do. At this point, I will deal with the medical bills that I am responsible for, replenish my rat-hole, and then resume the retirement investing. I have learned the hard way that I should maintain my rat-hole over my retirement investing. The crisis had to do with the short-term. Disability is my biggest vulnerability.

 

So, in terms of finances, what had the potential to be fairly disastrous has become a fairly minor bump in the road, thanks to you all.

 

How can I repay you? There is only one way - keep playing the guitar.

 

As I said in the liner notes to my latest CD, I've always loved music - always. The love of playing music is what keeps me going. I can't explain it, I don't know why it is, but I know that I know that I know that playing music is what I'm supposed to do. I've always known that, it's one of the main reasons I'm here. As I also said, at a relatively young age I intuitively knew that whatever good that came to me in life would be a result of my guitar playing, such as it is.

 

Even so, it's easy to get complacent, it's easy to believe no one is really listening, it's easy to get corrupted by the bullshit, the politics of the business, and the games that have to be played just to keep working. I learned many years ago that my love of playing the guitar can compensate for all this other stuff that is necessary, but repugnant to me. I just love to make music, pure and simple.

 

In all the many years that I have been doing this, I never lost the conviction that this is what I'm supposed to do. However, there were times that I have been discouraged, I have been burned out, I have been complacent, I have taken what little success I've had for granted. But no more. Through what has happened in the last month I have rediscovered the knowledge that we affect people in many, many ways we don't realize. People that I don't even know feel compelled to send me money and food to help me out in a time of need. It's amazing and humbling. How did this happen? It happened because I've remained faithful to my calling-in-life and just kept playing the guitar, no matter what.

 

And so that is what I will continue to do, for as long as I am able, with gratitude.

 

A couple more things:

 

To my musician compadres: remember; we affect people in ways we have no clue about. This is true of everyone, but especially true of people like us. We speak a language that is very difficult to define or understand, but it affects people deeply. Remember that the next time you have a bad gig, or have to deal with an asshole club owner, or the next time an irritating drunk pesters you to play some bullshit song you hate. Remember those many, many, many people you have touched and enriched that you know nothing about. Don't give up.

 

To everyone else: I do not have any particular person in mind here, this is generic, so don't take it personally - on second thought, I want everyone to take it personally:

 

If there is someone who means a lot to you, don't let years go by and don't wait until they get hurt before you tell them how much they mean to you. James Taylor said it well;

 

Shower the people you love with love

Show them the way that you feel

Things will be much better 

If you only will

 

Thanks for reading this. Thanks for listening to the music. See you soon. Check the gig schedule and come on out!

 

My story of how the Jam community had my back in an hour of need is just one out of many. I can't tell you how many times we have had benefit jams to help various people, usually musicians, with medical bills, emergency expenses and support in times of crisis. Like I said in Chapter 2; It's family. It's community. It's church. It's life.


It has now been over 25 years since I wrote that open letter and I have not forgotten. The kids are all grown, Andrea and I have 16 grandchildren and though we are not money-wealthy and never will be, life is easier for us financially than it ever has been (Can You Afford to be a Musician?). I have continued to just play the guitar, keeping my promise to do so. In addition to my teaching activities and many other gigs, part of keeping that promise and commitment remains to play the Saturday Afternoon Jam week in and week out, year after year. For as long as I am able or for as long as it lasts, whichever comes first.


No one who's ever been involved in this thing had any idea or expectation that it would last this long. It's a freakin' one-of-a-kind thing. And it's still going! No matter what you and I may not like about it, no matter what the criticisms might be (believe me, I've had plenty of my own), the damn thing just keeps being not-broke.


This Saturday, August 12, 2023 will be Mama Ray's 37th Anniversary Jam, and the 39th anniversary of when it first began with Rich VanSant, Jim LaForte, Chico Battaglia, Mike Rammel and myself all those many years ago. Come out and celebrate with me, Mama Ray, Allen Monroe, Kevin Johnson and a plethora of jammers, friends and fans at B.B.'s Lawnside Bar-B-Q from 1:00-5:00 in the afternoon. After all:

Who knows how many Jams are left?

 

You can download a PDF of this 4-part blog series here, Jam! Kansas City Style for free - or pay what you want!


There is a Blog Category dedicated to stories from the Jam called Jam Tales - check it out!

 

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