Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Jazz Jam Etiquette

Our monthly Jazz Jam at De Ossekop
I regularly go to jam sessions and I am currently hosting one myself in the village of St. Oedenrode. Another one that I started 15 years ago at the Crow in Eindhoven (Jazz at the Crow) is still going strong. So I have seen a great many jam nights. Some really great nights, many so so and some pretty awful. I did some research on jazz jam etiquette and then added my personal experience and that of a few other experienced players to come up with some guidelines for effective jazz jams. I have sinned against many of them myself in the past so don't get too upset.
  • It is a good idea to have a rhythm section (backline) consisting of piano or guitar, bass and drums. The session leader usually starts off playing a couple of tunes with the backline, after which other soloists can take the stage. Two chord instruments in the backline makes no sense at all and will unnecessarily clog the music and kill the transparency of it. So choose either piano OR guitar OR keyboard as chord instrument. But not all at the same time (which I have actually seen happen quite often). Guitarists should behave like horns if there is a piano in the rhythm section. 
  • Piano players should be careful with their voicings. Comp sparingly and use space. All too often piano players (or guitarists) utilize the full tonal range of their instrument with huge chords (bass, mid and treble notes) and all kinds of extensions and alterations without listening to what the melody suggests or what others are playing which makes the comping pretty ineffective and counterproductive. Comp lightly with two voice or three voice chords. Use many spaces so that the music can breathe. I hate the cacophony of sounds that I hear at so many jazz jams. 
  • If you are in the rhythm section/backline do NOT take a solo on every tune, especially not if there are many players out there that want to play. Reshuffle the backline regularly when there are more rhythm section players.
  • Find out if your musicall skills more or less match the general level of the jazz jam. Otherwise it can get embarassing. Check out first what is going on before you leap on that stage. Some jams are great for beginners, others not so. 
  • Play a few tunes and then get off that stage. Nothing is as annoying than a guy that is on that stage all night. Two or three tunes will do. Then leave the stage for others to play.
  • One of the most annoying mistakes made by musicians in jam sessions is to take too long solos. If your solo doesn't really fly, end it, there will be another tune. But if you really feel your solo comes directly from outer space, do carry on!
  • Learn some tunes that you love, and do them. It is probably not a good idea to sit in on tunes that you don't know. If everybody on stage is buried with their head in their Realbook or iPad, chances are that the interplay is not going to be that great.
  • On ballads split up the head and solos into half choruses so the tune doesn’t go on too long. The standard “road map” for AABA ballads is typically to split up the melody in half by two different players, have two players solo half choruses, and then jump to the bridge melody out.
  • When a singer joins you on the stage, play just ONE short solo and let the singer shine. I always pity the ladies that have to wiggle their butts on the stage for minutes on end without singing. It can get really embarassing. 
  • Call standard tunes and do them generally the standard way. No one wants to hear Carla Bley tunes with no bar lines performed at the speed of light. Do not take your own tunes for others to play.
  • Remember the solo order so when trading fours come up. Not always will the bassist be involved. 
  • Bring your own instruments. Guitarists and bassists can probably use the amps on stage, but ask before you plug in.

1 comment:

    Great read! Best, Staffan William-Olsson