phrases, sayings, idioms and expressions at

To jam

Posted by ESC on May 21, 2004

In Reply to: What is music jamming or song jamming? posted by Rube on May 21, 2004

: : What does the phrase "music jamming" refer to? Why does it have the word "jam" in it? What meaning of the word "jam" supports the intended meaning of the phrase "music jamming"?

: : With what intent do musicians jam music?

: Their intent is to make music.

: A jam session is a bunch musicians together improvising - not playing to any set score or written music.

: It is called a "jam" session from professional gigs. Say three bands played one night at the Blue Note or Funk House. After the last show, members from all three bands would gather together to improvise. They would have to "jam" (crowd) together on often small bandstands.

JAM - "The verb 'jam' meaning 'press tightly together,' first appears in the early 18th century (the earliest-known unequivocal example of its transitive use is in Daniel Defoe's 'Robinson Crusoe' 1719: 'The ship stuck fast, jaum'd in between two rocks') It is not known where it came from, but is generally assumed to be imitative or symbolic in some way of the effort of pushing." "Dictionary of Word Origins: the Histories of More Than 8,000 English-Language Words" by John Ayto (Arcade Publishing, New York, 1990). Page 306.

To "jam" musically first meant "to play without any arrangement." From the chapter "The 1930s: The Joe and the Jerk," in "Flappers 2 Rappers: American Youth Slang" by Tom Dalzell (Merriam-Webster Inc., Springfield, Md., 1996). Page 38.

Another source gives an earlier date of 1706 for "jam" as in "press tightly, to stick or catch." "The term 'jam session' an improvised performance by a jazz group, is American English, from earlier use of 'jam' a short, freely improvised jazz passage performed by the whole band ." From "The Barnhart Concise Dictionary of Etymology" by Robert K. Barnhart (HarperCollins Publishers, New York, 1995). Page 402.

What I am wondering is if the musical "jam" has any relation to the nautical "jam." "In 1899 steamship sailors, sailors without sails, men whose seagoing fathers had once clamored for berths on clipper ships, derisively began to call any merchant sailing vessel a windjammer, referring to the high spread of sails need to 'jam' or capture enough wind to move." From "Listening to America" by Stuart Berg Flexner (Simon and Schuster, New York, 1982). Page 164.