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Jay Blakesberg’s JAM

by Josh Baron on December 23, 2013

“So much of what we do is inspired by intangible moments,” writes moe. guitarist and singer Al Schnier of live performance in the forward to photographer
Jay Blakesberg’s new coffee table book, JAM. “Every now and then, by some stroke of luck, the grace of God or maybe even a rare bit of skill, we’re offered a glimpse of true beauty. Sparks fly, we touch the void and our hair stands on end for just that fleeting moment of pure bliss.”

For the last 40 years, Relix has tried to articulate those moments, as intangible as they may be. At times, we’ve succeeded in conveying an accurate assessment of a live performance. At times, we’ve failed. Whatever the case, photographs of the performance or artist we’re writing about greatly aid our job.

The 300-plus photographs showcased in JAM from a pool of 30,000 are frequently those moments that Schnier is talking about—the ones that writers
strive a lifetime to describe authoritatively—that typically come deep into the show.

The images featured throughout the 200-plus page book crackle with energy: guitarists leaping in the air, bodies displaying charismatic elasticity and faces showing grimaces of a life’s worth of musical exploration that have all come down to that moment.

If there was ever a book tailored to the Relix audience, it’s this one: From the Grateful Dead, Phish and Widespread Panic to My Morning Jacket, Wilco and Dawes to Carlos Santana, Neil Young and Levon Helm, they’re all represented along with many more.

Given its subject matter—and Blakesberg’s longstanding relationship with Relix that dates back to the late ‘70s—it’s no wonder that Relix Co-Editor Mike Greenhaus wrote the introduction and contributor Aaron Kayce conducted many of the brief artist interviews describing the art of live performance and improvisation.

We caught up with Blakesberg shortly before the book’s publication.

How did you decide to organize the book?

The basics of it are by artist. The sequencing of the book also has a few themes and the end section of the book is “The Jam,” as in artists sitting in with each other. I wanted to start it with the Grateful Dead because that’s really where this scene first sprouted from. I also wanted to show Bob and Phil in 1979 when I got my first great shots of them onstage alongside contemporary shots of them. These guys have been playing together for just about 50 years now.

What are some of your favorite images in the book?
All of them! I could have done 200 pages with just five artists! Grace Potter could be 25 pages, moe. could be 50 pages and so many other artists could also fill many pages. I would give my designer 20 images and ask her to give me a four-page spread and she would come back and ask me to cut the
number of images in half. I’m proud of every single image in this book. A lot of thought went in to the final images, and we changed photos up until the very last day.

With a retrospective book released a few years ago, books devoted to the Grateful Dead, Les Claypool and The Flaming Lips, and now with the release of JAM, what’s next?

I do have a few other book ideas, but JAM really took a lot out of me. Between reaching out to these wonderful musicians for text and editing nonstop in front of a computer screen every day for about eight months, I really can’t take on another book project for a few years. I would like my next book to be my stories behind many of my photographs—mostly portraits—because those are the more intimate experiences and there were some great adventures! But my next big project is to hopefully spend some time working on a screenplay idea I have based on a bunch of true stories from when I was a teenager in
suburban New Jersey in the late 1970s—stuff that is so out there, but oh so true that you couldn’t make it up! It’s a story of a kid with a camera and how rock and roll saved his life.


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