Someone, I forget who, once posed the question. I can’t remember the question either, but it is as good a way as any of introducing this week’s Important Topic: which is What Are the Key Elements of a Successful Jam Session
These seem to be:
Joining in. A session where everyone gets to play badly is infinitely preferable to listening to the one or two good players all afternoon. And if,when playing, you can learn from other musos, you are already one of the better musicians. See “Listen!” below.
Dropping Out: Play for a bit, then step out so someone else can have a turn. This particularly applies to the good players: if you play all day, others will get discouraged by your brilliance. It equally applies to the profoundly average players: if you play all day, the good players (and the audience) will get frustrated. It probably applies to the bad players. But, as we haven’t had one of these turn up for 15 years or more , I can’t be sure.
Play as many instruments as you like, but only bring one each week. Multi-instrumentalists aim to be equally good on all their instruments, but inevitably end up equally bad. James Morrison excepted, but he hasn’t been to a jam for years. Similarly, I cannot recall an occasion when someone sang as well as they could, or played their instrument as well as they could, when trying to do both at the same time. Billy Joel excepted, but he only turned up for the same jam as James Morrison.
Not the Band! All jam sessions get visited from time to time by the Band-that-can’t get-a gig using the session as an extended rehearsal/promotion. Sometimes the music can be great, but it excludes all the musos that are not members of the Band-that-can’t get-a gig. If you are a member of the aforementioned band, it may be worth asking why you can’t get a gig.
Avoid The Comfort Zone: Get out of it from time to time. Mix it up. Play some latin, some blues, some swing, some bebop, some country and western. Oops, I didn’t mean that last bit. Or maybe I did. Tony Gould (Head of Jazz at Monash to you) once commented that just playing Bebop is a very small box if you confine yourself within it . Not now, Hortense….
Listen! It is a jam session: it is unstructured. Things happen, and if you listen to other musos you can respond to them – that is when the music goes to another level. If, on the other hand, you listen to the beautiful notes that you are playing, you might as well be in the back bar by yourself.
Embrace Chaos: when the Captain decides to call fours, play the coda backwards, or generally disrupt proceedings through careful direction, pay attention at least half of the time, otherwise do the opposite. Sometimes the train wrecks can be a lot of fun – we are not serious musos so it really doesn’t matter too much…