I get asked this a lot when out. “How do you qualify a band as jamband or not?”
Some would say they “have” to play Grateful Dead songs since they are “the original jamband” but at the same time, Phish isn’t the Grateful Dead, and Umphry’s McGee pushes the limits with every record they come out with. I don’t believe Jerry wanted the music to stop progressing when he passed.
Then you get into the bluegrass/newgrass side and you have bands like Infamous Stringdusters, Greensky Bluegrass, Billy Strings and while they will cover Grateful Dead, they are their own entities and greatness and their own “spunk”.
Myself, I think Little Feat is one of the most overlooked jambands probably because my generation and younger missed out experiencing it. I kind of brushed it off in the early ’90s when one of my older Deadhead friends asked if I had ever listened to them but when you dive into their whole collection you start to hear the diversity to their music. The Pink Pop Festival in 1976 video on Youtube looks a lot like the same crowds I experienced in the 80’s and early 90’s seeing the Grateful Dead. We truly missed out on greatness.
Looking at the roots of Blue and Jazz you can follow that path all the way back to tribal music and the unwritten music that flowed from the drums, instruments, and voices. Many great bands along time have studied tribal music to incorporate into their own. The ‘jam’ has existed since we started making notes and beats.
What I guess really defines it for my head isn’t necessarily the genre of music, but it is when I’m listening to a group of guys executing a great performance and they can look over and all of a sudden melt one song into another or just start playing around solos and the next thing you know, you’ve been dancing around for 20 minutes straight. I especially love bands that have great originals everyone is up and moving to and my hope is this page helps lift them up and out of the area. The idea of improvisation I think is what makes a great jamband. Anyone can cover songs, but to come out and make it yours even though it is someone else’s becomes the real art.