Posted by fiddlepogo on Sunday, December 2, 2007
About eight months ago, I got invited to a folk jam run by the local folk music society. I knew about the jams, but had never gone, thinking it wouldn't be something I'd be interested in. But, seeing as I'd been invited, I went. First time, there was a clawhammer player there... needless to say we networked, and have gotten together to jam a number of times since. I have continued going to the general folk jams as a regular thing. The guitarists often like bluegrass songs, Carter Family songs, or other country-folk songs that are easy for an Old Time fiddler to play along with.
After a few months, I sounded out the president of the folk society about starting an Old Time Jam, and she encouraged me to go ahead. Turnout has not been overwhelming, but except for the first time, and one time where there was a banjo concert scheduled at the same time as the OT jam, we have had decent attendance. Last month at the general folk jam, another Old Time fiddler showed up, I told him about the Old Time jam, and he came to that too.
Yesterday afternoon was the general folk jam, and I really enjoyed it... in fact, it occurred to me that I was enjoying it more than the Old Time jams! For one thing, since both fiddlers were Old Time, we were flavoring everything that way... actually, the only banjo player was Old Time, too. And with the 3 of us, we were getting in at least 3 fiddle tunes every time around the circle. And somehow it worked out so that no hard keys were requested- all C, G, D, and A, oh yeah, maybe an Em and an Am. So it was really easy to find fiddley sounding parts sounding sort of like a cross between Skillet Lickers, Grayson and Whitter, and maybe Tommy Jarrell to boot. The lady that hosted the jam is a bluegrass guitarist AND bluegrass banjo player... but she didn't bring her banjo yesterday, I guess because she was hosting. Anyway, she always lets me know afterwards that she really appreciates me being there... and yesterday she let slip the reason why: "You've got rhythm!" And I jokingly replied: "Rhythm fiddle, huh?" And it dawned on me that I was fulfilling a function in the jam that I hadn't realized... I was helping coordinate the rhythm, and keeping the multiple guitars from getting out of sync, since the fiddle either soars above, if playing melody, or can lay down a driving shuffle underneath (which I tend to do if I don't know the melody, or if a guitarist takes a flatpick lead break. Either way, the thing that makes it work is the Old Time orientation of my fiddling: 1. I never get too far off of the recognizable melody. 2. Nearly everything I play is overtly rhythmic, whether melody or rhythm backup, and is shuffle based, except for waltzes... and even when I play waltzes, I don't let the rhythm "amble" very much. So it makes it much easier for everyone to get on beat. And the funny thing is that a hot bluegrass fiddler wouldn't have fulfilled the same function as well, except perhaps on the rhythm backup. And it's challenging, which is fun- you never know what kind of tune is going to be next. Occasionally the keys are a stretch, but it's good to be stretched now and then. And you never know whether the tune is one you know or not... and if you know it, it may be in a different key than you're used to... like yesterday, I had to do Golden Slippers in A, when I normally do it in G and D! And many of the tunes I don't know on fiddle are nevertheless familar, having heard them in various places over the years... and it fun to see if I can find the notes on fiddle, and I usually can... if they're folk-based. Anyway, who would've thunk an Old Time fiddler could have so much fun in a general folk jam?!?!