Ethics of the Jazz Jam Session…

I am contemplating writing about the ethics of running and participating in a jam session. I’ve been running one every week here in Boston for about 10 years and I’ve pretty much seen and heard it all. Here’s the first tip:

It’s considered kosher to not play (blow) on a tune if you don’t know the melody to that tune. If you walk into a session and the band is playing a tune, it’s not polite to just pull out your horn and get in line to start an epic solo (unless the leader asks you sit join in). Wait until the next tune. When I experience a cat coming up to solo after we’ve already played the melody, 7 times out of 10 the cat is playing by ear, “skating” over the chord changes. This is rarely done successfully. When I was coming up I made it a point not to blow on a tune if I wasn’t there to play the melody with the band when they started….

Keep swingin!!



7 Responses to “Ethics of the Jazz Jam Session…”

  1. Ryan Hayden Says:

    Amen, please write more on this subject. A well run session is a hard thing to find. The music often takes a backseat to someone trying to prove something individually.

  2. Good stuff – sometimes the common sense stuff just gets left by the wayside. Another one that killed me in Boston – if you come up to play on a tune, you owe it to the other musicians to stay on the bandstand and listen to the other solos! We had one frequent customer who would try and walk up on almost every tune of the night, fake his way through the changes, and go outside for a cigarette, only to come back and jump up for the next one…

    Also, if the band wants to play a “house set”, respect that – most session gigs don’t pay well, and especially for rhythm session guys, it’s rough to schlep your instrument to a gig only to hand it over to someone you don’t know who’s been eating chicken fingers and ketchup all night… if you’re dealing with that, you’ve earned the right to play a few tunes up front to show off stuff you’ve been working on!

    • I hear you loud and clear on those issues Matt. I’ve seen those time and time again. What about this one:
      Sometime you’ll get a cat that comes down to your session at 7:15 when he/she knows very well that the session ends at 7:30. And this cat will want to play a tune with a long form like Pensativa etc., lol…
      Yes the house band should play a set that lasts about 30% of the alloted time of the full session depending on how many cats come down to sit in. We usually play for about and hour or so before we open it up. If there’s a crowd of musicians wanting to play then we’ll shorten the set for me (especially if there are alot of horn players). Many sessions also feature the house band to close the session…

  3. Hey Jason, I strongly suggest “promoting” Grant Koeller’s jam session etiquette guide… any and all jam session attendees should be familiar with its rules of thumb.

    • Thanks Vincent for the link. I agree with Grant’s assesments but I don’t really prescribe to the tone of that guide. A little too harsh and jaded for my taste….

      • The tone is a little strong, it’s true, but I get the impression that this guide was written out of frustration after years and years of seeing the same sorts of silliness over and over again. The main problem is… how does one get bad-etiquette jammers to read this (or any other) guide?

      • Yeah, I think that my main motivation for writing this is to reach those motivated players who frequent sessions in hopes that they will spread the word on etiquette to those not so schooled. I think that commication of any kind is the key to bringing the music and those who play it together.

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