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South Bay Old-Time Jam

Also known as the Monday-night jam and (prior to 2015) the Fandango jam.

NOTE: The jam is cancelled until further notice due to COVID-19

Jump to: How it Works | Sheet Music | Recordings and Tune Lists | History

This is an informal mostly-old-time jam session. The jam is acoustic, intended for old-time compatible instruments (stringed instruments plus the occasional accordion, flute, pennywhistle, etc.). Though the focus is intermediate players and playing by ear, relative beginners who can carry a tune and play in time with the group are welcome to give it a try. Unlike bluegrass jams, in this style pretty much everyone plays all the time — so it’s great for learning the tunes!

What We Play: The nominal theme is American “old-time”-style music from many sources (not all actually old). But we often have an eclectic mix that can include New England contra and Scandinavian fiddle tunes and a bit of Celtic and bluegrass, with the occasional song thrown in.
There's a list with examples of our typical repertoire on the Tune-Lists page  

Location: Our current location is the Unitarian Universalist Church of Palo Alto at 505 East Charleston Road in Palo Alto (tap or click for a Google map).
Parking is plentiful behind the church buildings; the entrance driveway is left of the church (as you face it from the street). We have often met in the Fireside Room, but starting in mid-2018 have been assigned to other rooms — usually the Lobby or Main Hall (campus corner nearest the street-entrance driveway; lower-right corner of the campus map below. Main Hall entrance is opposite the door to the Fireside Room.) Sometimes in warm weather we've met outside in the Patio; bring a jacket!
IMPORTANT: The church posts a list near the kitchenette entrance to the Fireside Room, that shows (under "Monday") what room is assigned for the Old Time Jam for the current week.  Check the list when you arrive. See the PDF campus map for room locations. (The parking lot is on the left side of the map.)
(In January 2015 we had to move because Fandango Pizza, our home for over 10 years, closed.)

Cost: To cover the room rental fee, we ask for a donation from participants. The suggested donation is $2 per musician, with occasional jams free if we collect more than is needed. Listeners need not donate.

Schedule: Every Monday (except possibly major holidays), 7:00-9:00pm. Since some people gather before 7:00 to eat, sometimes the music starts early. Questions? Call or email Pete Showman (see below)
Eat before the jam! There's no food service, but Jam participants and their guests are welcome to bring food to eat (or to share) between 6:00 and 7:00 — but all trash should be collected and removed from the room when we leave. There are several take-out options in the nearby Charleston Shopping Center (corner of Charleston and Middlefield).
We end at approximately 9:00 pm. Please help ensure the room is clean and arranged as we found it before you leave.

How it works

Usually something like 15-25 people participate, with everyone playing together. We typically play a tune 3-5 times, depending on the tune (and the number of people waiting for a turn), though a slow waltz might just be played twice. Here’s how we try to keep things from getting too chaotic:

Choosing and Starting Tunes: Each person takes a turn naming a tune to be played, preferably in the current key (see Keys below). See the tune list (on the Tune-Lists page) for ideas, and for tunes in the current key. Whoever picked the tune usually starts it off (setting the tempo, which we’re then supposed to maintain) — or may ask someone else to start it. It's also helpful to set the tempo by starting with a couple of measures of “potatoes” (shuffle bowing on fiddle) or strumming to lead into the tune.

Stopping: Whoever chose the tune should always indicate when to stop. This is usually done by raising a foot as we approach the end of the tune (preferably part-way through the last part of the tune, a few measures before we’re to stop). Calling out “one more time” or “last time” at the start of the last time can help too, especially if you can’t raise your foot, or it can’t easily be seen by the group.

Keys: See the Monday-Night-Jam Tune List for the common keys and modes — but in sum, mostly combinations with 0-3 sharps. Because some of the instruments must be re-tuned (or swapped) when the key changes, we strongly encourage sticking to one key for a number of tunes (e.g. 15-20 or more). If you decide to change keys when it’s your turn, please announce the change clearly, and then give those players time to adjust before starting your tune.

Tempo 1: Speed: Remember this is a jam, not a performance by a practiced band. The lightening speeds you may may hear on a CD or at a show are not appropriate for a large jam that often includes some relatively inexperienced players. Also, old-time music is not necessarily played at dance tempo, but is often more relaxed "front-porch" music. (And some tunes, such as rags and especially hornpipes, are not supposed to be fast!) So be considerate and don’t rush it when you’re starting a tune. And never push the tempo up on someone else’s tune! A slower speed also helps with:

Tempo 2: Staying Together: We have no conductor. We rely on guitars, and a bass when we’re lucky enough to have one, to hold us together. That can be difficult with more than a dozen or so players. If you can’t hear the beat (or you hear more than one!), look for feet tapping near whoever set the tempo — or for a consensus among the steadiest foot-tappers around the circle. Especially if you hear two different beats, it may help to drop out briefly to let it sort itself out. And as usual in a jam, if all you (or your neighbors) can hear is your instrument, please tone it down!

Sheet Music:

Most of us play by ear, and we encourage new players to learn how to play, and to learn new tunes, that way. If you do need music that’s OK but please put your stand where it won’t be in the way. And recognize that (a) you may not always hear the tune name before it starts, and (b) the group won’t be waiting for you to find the page.

Still, written-out music can be very useful for learning and refining tunes, so music for many of the tunes we play is available on my Tunes Page, along with corresponding MIDI files you can listen to.

Various versions of most of the tunes we play can also be found in tune-books and on the Web, often in ABC** notation. Two good places to start: ABCnotation.com and John Lamancusa’s fine old-time tunes website.

** ABC is a text-based way to represent music notation that’s commonly used on the Web. If you’re not familiar with ABC, there are many tutorials on the Web to help you learn it — but here are a few notes on ABC notation: a short ABC tutorial.

Recordings (MP3s) and Tune Lists (PDFs)

Recordings: Larry Joba records most of our sessions, and posts the recordings here. There's a folder for each of several recent years, and folder for each available jam date in the current year, with individual tunes in each folder. There are also lists in several formats showing what tunes were played on various dates, and who called them, and all the musicians who have proposed tunes in recent years.

Tune Lists:


The jam has changed venues from time to time, in locations from Palo Alto to San Jose. Earlier locations included Cuppa Joe and Fibbar McGee's in Mountain View, then the Bean Scene in Sunnyvale, then the Coffee Society in Cupertino, in Palo Alto at the Cafe la Dolce Vita and at Fandango Pizza (from spring 2004 at their original location on Alma, and from 2006 through 2014, until they closed, at their shared location with the Pommard Café on Middlefield). We used to alternate Old-Time and Irish sessions (hence the 'oti' in the URL) but dropped the Irish part after various other south-bay Irish or Celtic jams started up.

This page is maintained by Pete Showman.

Need more information? Email Pete: jaminfo2, at showman dot org, with subject: "Old-time jam query," or call (408) 255-0297.

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