Secrets from a Jam Session Leader

Most jazz musicians have attended many jam sessions. Few of us have hosted a recurring jam session over a long time period. Here are some things I’d like you to consider:

Hosting is hard. There are many points of consideration when trying run a jam session that might not ever cross the mind of the average session attendee. It is important to remain a good positive rapport with the musicians you hire for the house band, with the regular fans, with younger participating musicians, with established/known musicians who might stop through, and with the servers, bartenders, and owner of the venue. Each of these groups might have a different set of needs and agendas. I often joke that the trick is not to try to please everyone, but just to decide who you’re going to piss off tonight. The understanding of the chemistry and interdependence of each of these categories of people is what sets a good jam session apart from a great one.

I want you to succeed. I want you to have a great musical and social experience which rewards your love for the music and challenges you to increase your skills and understanding of the music. Try to understand if things don’t exactly as you hoped this week. There might be 600 other considerations I’m juggling at that moment.

I’m your host. Please say hello and goodbye. It’s courteous and helps me know if I’m on the right track providing a valuable event.

Competition has it’s place. Most of the greatest musicians had storied “battles” that helped create their legend. These battles often happened at jam sessions. If you feel “defeated” or “cut” – come back next week and reclaim your stake.

Buy something. The venue is providing the scene and the lights and electricity. They are counting on your business. An appetizer and a soda go well with a late night set.

It’s cool to let me know you’d like someday to play in the house band, but it often puts me in an awkward place. I have a fairly regular rotation of players I use and I have spent a lot of time and energy cultivating a nice network of professionals whom I can count on for many reasons. Throwing a new cat into the mix isn’t always as easy as it seems. It’s not that your not KILLING IT!, but it’s not as easy as it seems.

It’s cool to come and hang out and listen to all the players without sitting in. I feel so many people are so apprehensive about sitting in that they’d rather sit home than come participate as listeners. But you can gain a lot of information just observing.

Play short – it’s a winning formula. Play one less chorus than you think and people will love you.

Young cats – please forgive me when I forget your name or don’t recognize you. I meet 100 new people every week. And you grew a beard or lost 50 pounds. It can throw me off!

Hope to see you this Wednesday, April 24th at Brown Bear Pub in West Orange!

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