Let’s take a break from visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art exhibition “Play It Loud: Instruments of Rock & Roll”, which has been the subject of a series of posts. Instead I want to talk about Phish. I have discussed them previously in a post about their 2014 Halloween show (https://roymusicusa.com/2015/10/29/ooh-scary-phish-perform-disneys-chilling-thrilling-sounds-of-the-haunted-house/) and my opinion of them has pretty much remained the same: I am generally unimpressed with their songs but I really like their jamming. The feature about their jamming that most impresses me is their ability to improvise structure within their jams. The appearance of these improvised subsections give the jams a suite like narrative flow. I find this a common trait among my favorite pieces of extended improvised music. A excellent example of this is The Allman Brothers Band’s Mountain Jam. The song goes through a series of musical sections that feel like you have taken a journey. Mountain Jam’s suite like structure however, evolved over a period of time, with a loose arrangement of the sections eventually becoming more formalized over time (for my discussion and analysis of Mountain Jam, see my post https://roymusicusa.com/2014/06/30/first-there-is-a-mountain/). The Grateful Dead, particularly in the early seventies, would sometimes play thematic instrumentals in the middle of larger jams. Though they were improvised, these sections were probably based on themes the Dead tried out in rehearsals, so when one bandmember suggested a chord sequence, the others could quickly pick up on it. If you really want to deep dive into the Dead’s use of thematic jams then here are links to several articles on the website Grateful Dead Guide:
This leads me to the videos put out by YouTuber Amarguitar. These videos start with background on the song and it’s place in the context of Phish’s history. The songs however are just the starting point for what can be extended improvisations that would go far afield from the song’s original structure. As one of videos explains, the jamming can be provided into roughly two types: Type 1 where the improv is based on the existing structure of the tune and Type 2, where new structures are created on the fly. The videos below are part of series that Amarguitar put out where he provides musical analysis for some of the more noteworthy Phish improvisations.
Phish – Anatomy of a Jam – 11.22.1997 – Halley’s Comet – Hampton Coliseum
Phish – Anatomy of a Jam – 8.17.1997 Bathtub Gin – The Great Went
Phish – Anatomy of a Jam – 2.28.03 Tweezer – Nassau Coliseum
As a side note, I realized that this is the five year anniversary since my first blog post. Wow. Thank you to everyone who reads my blog. I always get a thrill when I see someone from another part of the world (or my part of the world for that matter) checking out what I have to say.