Get Island musicians riffing about what makes a chord-sparring, memory-jarring, above-par, raise-the-bar jam session here, and the name Maynard Silva inevitably comes into the conversation.
Jam sessions are impromptu, improvisational get-togethers. Drummers may lay down a groove, guitarists kick in a lick and eventually everyone with an instrument is in. It’s where a band might try out new material or make something out of nothing. It’s where new musicians get a feel for each other. Wherever it is, it’s about fun — and for musicians, a happening jam session is better than, well, just about anything.
Rolling Stone magazine’s Best of Rock 2008 has named its best jam session: the Woodstock, N.Y., barn-based Midnight Rambles, put together by Levon Helm, former drummer of The Band. “For the past four years, Helm has invited artists including Emmylou Harris, Gillian Welch, Allen Toussaint, Elvis Costello and Donald Fagen to sit in with his killer house band — and break out their favorite songs or just jam on old Dylan and Band tunes,” the magazine wrote. “Inspired by the traveling shows he saw growing up in Arkansas, the Band’s former drummer began the Ramble after surviving throat cancer. Since then, the BYOB parties (admission: $150) have become the hottest ticket in town.”
This weekend, the Gazette suggests all music lovers check out a prime-time musical ramble Rolling Stone has yet to hear about, and with a bargain $20 admission: a benefit concert for the above-mentioned blues man, Maynard Silva.
Known as a sign painter and a survivor, the good guy in red high-tops, Maynard Silva is especially sought out as a musician — guitarist, harmonica player and vocalist — when it comes to jamming.
Recently, he told the Gazette how his latest bout of cancer had made him even more in tune with his fellow musicians (though anyone who has jammed with him says he always has been very much in tune). He said in part:
“When people help you it’s actually a joyous thing for both of you. I always thought asking for help was shameful, a weakness. I learned that to be connected to people that way was a joy, and that they liked it as much as I liked it. That made the way I relate to everybody different, including other musicians I play with and the people I play for.
“I am more inclusive of them. Really, I provide a context for people to play music in. I try to give people a safe place to take chances, to dig inside, to show their stuff. It’s okay to make a mistake playing with me.”
On Sunday doors open at 7 p.m. for a barbecue at Outerland, acoustic sets from Squash Meadow and Ballywho (the bluegrass band has changed the spelling of its name), rocking sets from Lucky Strike and Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish — and then there will be some jamming.
It is a fitting tribute to Mr. Silva and his musicianship. Gazette reporter Mark Alan Lovewell asked a few of the Island musicians who will be there on Sunday what makes a great jam.
Jeremy Berlin, pianist (solo, jazz duets and with Johnny Hoy and the Bluefish)
“Maynard has played with some of the most fantastic musicians, with the best,” said Mr. Berlin. “Yet when there was a jam, he would pull a band together with musicians who weren’t necessarily experienced. They’d all get a chance to work together. Maynard brought them together, brought them out. You’d give yourself. Maynard was volcanic.”
Barbara Puciul, lead singer (Squash Meadow, Lucky Strike)
“Music offers one of those special moments. You are not aware of time. You slip into the immediate moment and it is a great moment,” said Ms. Puciul, who has sung with the Island’s great bands.
About jamming, she said: “You are surprised. You have no idea what is going to happen, but being in the moment you feel close.”
Don Groover, guitarist, five-string banjo (Squash Meadow, Lucky Strike)
“I like to play every style,” said Mr. Groover, who was formally trained at Berklee College of Music. He said being in a musical jam is a comfortable ride, a welcome place, because it often takes him out of the usual box.
Brad Tucker, guitarist, lead singer (Ballywho)
“A good jam brings out the creativity in every musician,” said Mr. Tucker. “You never know what to expect. We will get together expecting to practice a routine song. But add a musician and things can change, roles change, the song can come together differently. We are kind of hoping that will happen on Sunday.”
Bob (Slim Bob) Berosh, rhythm lead guitar (Lucky Strike)
“Maynard’s music is pretty gritty, pretty improvisational. He is a master of that blue style. He has played with a lot of guys. The man has legendary status,” said Mr. Berosh.
The Maynard Silva music benefit, barbecue and jam session is Sunday at Outerland. Tickets are $20 and will be sold at the door from 7 p.m. All proceeds benefit Maynard’s medical expenses and care.
Funds are being coordinated by You’ve Got a Friend, an Island nonprofit organization. Those unable to attend the event can still contribute by sending checks made out to You’ve Got a Friend, to P.O. Box 1317, West Tisbury, MA 02575. A letter of acknowledgement will be sent.