Jazz Jam Etiquette Q
I'm a grizzled vet of blues jamming...been a host bassist for over 15 years...but have never played a jazz jam.
Planning to attend some local jams and will be "just listening" for a while. What sort of etiquette is expected of neophytes?
My experience with Jazz jams is that the players are stuffy and stuck up. It's standard open mic fare - you're playing for a whole bunch of other musicians who are waiting to play and judging every move the other players make. The Blues jams I've been to are always more inclusive, more fun and more laid back, but the Jazz jams felt like a competition. And the funny part to me is that if these folks were rally all that bada** then they'd be at an actual gig, not a jam night.
Anyway, I don't mean to be a downer, but I can only speak from my own experience. And no - I didn't really talk about etiquette. Sorry. :)
That's not my experience at all, but I suppose it depends on the session.
OP, you're going to listen and hang, that's the right first move. Enjoy yourself, meet some players and see what's what. If it has a good vibe, then you're home, if not, try a different session. As for how they work, it depends on the session, some have a signup sheet, some don't. Some have a house instrument, some prefer for you to bring your own. Go, enjoy, report back.
Like Troy said, just hanging and listening at first is a good start. Meet folks, show interest, check out the vibe. Some sessions are more welcoming of beginners, some are designed more for the experienced players.
Take note of the tunes being called up, learn some of those for when you do try to sit in.
Dress nicely enough for the venue (sorry if I'm being too basic here, but you'd be surprised how many people show up to a classy club in a ratty t-shirt).
Buy something, especially if there is no cover charge (again sorry to state the obvious, but I've seen jam sessions that got axed because the tables were always taken up by musicians with nothing but glasses of water).
When you are ready to sit in:
If the house band plays a set before the jamming starts, try to make it for that if you can. It shows respect for the band and gives you an idea of the way they play and what tunes they like.
Whether or not there is a signup sheet, introduce yourself to the house band on the break or before the show and mention that you'd like to sit in, if possible. If you want, you can describe your level of experience, as this can help them decide who to have you play with.
Ask for constructive advice on your playing. In general, if you project an attitude of wanting to learn you will make a positive impression, even if your playing is not up to the same level as the other musicians.
Well put, Michael, at least in Seattle, if you act respectful and show an interest in learning, people can be amazingly welcoming and supportive.
Good bass players are in high demand in jazz too. At jazz jams the practitioners are listening to find out if you actually know the changes. At blues jams, everyone knows the changes. If you know the changes, you'll be fine. After one or two songs, look up and look for the nod to keep playing or the "Thanks, now go sit down".
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