Jam sessions are one of the best parts about being a jazz musician. Whether it’s at a club or in someone’s basement, getting together with other people that love playing jazz just as much as you do is a great way to meet other musicians, practice playing in front of people, and show off what you’ve been working on lately.
There are, however, some unspoken rules at jam sessions that if you don’t follow, may not get you invited back or called for any gigs in the future. Jam sessions can and should be an awesome experience so here are some pointers if you’re new to it and aren’t sure what’s accepted and what’s not.
Jam Session Etiquette
1. Wait to be invited on stage
When you show up, unless you know the host and they expect you to take out your instrument and jump on stage, don’t do it! Instead, introduce yourself and ask if there’s a signup list to get up on stage. If there isn’t, this will convey to the host that you are indeed there to play. When you take out your instrument without even checking with the host your ignoring the etiquette that keeps the session organized.
2. While you’re waiting, listen to everyone else play!
Make sure that you’re listening and reacting to the other players at the session even when you’re not playing. Jams are a great opportunity to hear what others are doing, get new ideas, and meet new people, increasing your network. If you’re not listening to others play, you’re not only being disrespectful, but your missing out on a lot of great playing that you could be absorbing and learning from! When you listen and react for others, they will listen to your playing.
3. Don’t take 377 choruses!
This is a huge problem at many jams. Someone gets up on stage and plays a seemingly infinite solo. This might be ok to do on your own gig or when making a record but jam sessions are for everyone to get a chance to play. When you take a 4 minute solo, you’re leaving much less time for everyone else to take their turn. Don’t be that guy or gal!
4. Don’t stay on stage unless you’re invited
This goes along with the last point. When the tune is over start exiting the stage. If the host wants you to play another they will tell you to stay up and play more. Don’t be upset if they don’t ask you to play another. There could be many reasons for this. Maybe the list of people that wants to play is longer than the time they have, they may invite you up again later in the session. One of the most awkward things about hosting a jam is when someone wants to stay up for the whole set!
5. Don’t be a jerk!
This seems like common sense but it’s the best thing you can do to expand your network and get called for more gigs. No matter how you feel about your playing, whether you’re having a good day or bad, put on a smile and be nice to everyone you meet! I will hire the person I like to play with and is genuinely nice before anyone else that is ‘totally killing.’ Jazz musicians are usually pretty chilled out folks so don’t make yourself stand out in a bad way.
Hopefully this will give you a little bit of guidance next time you walk into a jam session. Most of all, just try to have fun, remember point number 5 and you’ll get along just fine.