NEW YORK Not often does an awards show open with a 15-minute funk improvisation and get away with it. Not unless, of course, the show is in honor of the art of the jam.
A virtual who's who of jam bands, related artists, presenters, producers, journalists and fans came together Thursday at Irving Plaza for the genre's first awards show, the Jammys.
Pushing aside the long-winded acceptance speeches associated with mainstream award shows, the Jammys let the music speak for itself. Paying homage to influential jam artists Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Bob Dylan, Bill Monroe, Carlos Santana, Frank Zappa and the Grateful Dead, the evening's artists performed extended covers of their jamming forefathers.
Dubbed the Jammys Orchestra, the opening all-star collaboration which included organist Merl Saunders and guitarist John Scofield delighted the packed dance floor with a funk jam loosely based around the vamp of "Watermelon Man" from Hancock's 1973 jazz-funk crossover album Head Hunters.
Colorful co-host and Moon Boot Lover guitarist Peter Prince then rendered the tongue-in-cheek "Jammys Theme," which included lyrics mocking the commercial success of pop stars Ricky Martin and Britney Spears. Prince twitched and contorted as he sang "Ricky with his bonbons/ And Britney with her pompoms/ And a butt thong/ Would reign supreme."
"Settle down, kids, settle down," Primus bassist Les Claypool said, jokingly mocking the spirited but typically gentle hippie crowd. "You know, management here told me to tell you there's too much crowd-surfing going on in here."
Claypool, whose recent collaboration with Phish guitarist Trey Anastasio and ex-Police drummer Stewart Copeland as the rock uber-trio Oysterhead has been embraced by the jam-band scene, joined the Disco Biscuits for a medley that featured Pink Floyd's "Have a Cigar" and the Beatles' "Tomorrow Never Knows."
"Les just oozes coolness," 23-year-old Joe Chapman of New York said. "I dug him with Oysterhead, but he's just laying down some nasty sh-- here."
The evening was produced by JamBands.com, a web site devoted to extensive coverage of the burgeoning genre.
Connecticut funksters Deep Banana Blackout offered their take on Santana's "Everybody's Everything" and Zappa's "I'm the Slime."
"So funky, so funky," 25-year-old Scott Bishop of Burlington, Vt., said of DBB. "I'm sweating my ass off in here, but dude, it's great. I'm having a great f---in' time."
Blues singer Susan Tedeschi sat in with Frogwings, a jam-rock conglomeration featuring Allman Brothers Band drummer Butch Trucks, guitarists Derek Trucks and Jimmy Herring and bassist Oteil Burbridge, as well as keyboardist Kofi Burbridge.
Vermont rockers Phish, perhaps the quintessential modern jam band, took home the award for Live Set of the Year for their seven-hour Millennium Eve set in the Florida Everglades.
"The idea of going out there for seven hours without any sort of plan whatsoever seemed to encapsulate the essence of improvisation," Phish bassist Mike Gordon wrote in an acceptance sent via e-mail. "The location was beautiful, and the jamming was relaxed. We are honored to be a part of this community of great people and amazing music."
Canadian jam-electronica group The New Deal performed perhaps the first techno tribute to bluegrass pioneer Monroe. Dripping synth effects and club-ready dance beats accompanied the band's 25-minute reading, electrifying the capacity crowd.
"The New Deal are the new deal," 24-year-old Christine Durant of Burlington, Vt., said. "I've never heard them before, but they blew me away."
New Hampshire's Percy Hill won the Studio Album of the Year Jammy for their self-produced LP Color in Bloom.
Peter Shapiro, owner of popular New York jam-band breeding ground - the Wetlands Preserve nightclub - presented B.B. King with the Wetlands Award for lifetime achievement.
"Music is my life, my living," King said, accepting the award via a videotape shot at his newly minted blues club across town. "And jamming, you get to exchange ideas with people it's wonderful. I thank you all."
Release of the Year
Grateful Dead, So Many Roads
Jam of the Year
Disco Biscuits, "Akira Jam," Dec. 31, 1999
Live Set of the Year
Phish, Dec. 31, 1999, Set II
Live Album of the Year
Studio Album of the Year
Percy Hill, Color in Bloom
Future Jam (musicians award)
New Groove of the Year (fan vote)
Home Grown Music Award
"The Music Never Stops," Barry Smolin, KPFK-FM, Los Angeles
Fan Web Site
Strangers Helping Strangers
Topper Award (commitment to the scene)