It is becoming a rarity to find open jazz jam sessions in cities across the world. I am not saying that there are not jam sessions ocurring…quite the opposite. Actually, in the Denver area there are a number of great ones that happen on a weekly basis. However, I have talked with people from a number of large metro areas across the world that do not have any sort of jam session. Jam sessions are an important aspect of continuing the jazz tradition and I highly encourage people to go to them (whether you play or not).

Why is going to a jam session important if you are learning to improvise?

  • Even though in today’s technological society we are the most connected we ever have been…we are also the most isolated ever. Notice how in public spaces people are more engaged with their electronic devices then those around them. Younger jazz musicians are spending more time by themselves in a practice room with technology then they are out playing with others. This in-person interaction is essential to growing as a jazz musician. The jam session becomes that place of personal interaction.
  • When you go to a jam session, many times you will run into someone you have never played with before. This gives you an opportunity to hear how they approach improvising. You never know what you might learn from others. If you go and open your ears you can learn from everyone at the jam session.
  • Jam sessions give you a real-time evaluation of what you are good at and what you need to improve. In the practice room, unless we stay on task, have a tendency to let things slide or work on what we can already do well instead of what we need to fix. The practice room can give you a distorted view of where you are really at. It is very humbling to public realize what you need to go back and woodshed.
  • Jam sessions also can be places where new opportunities are birthed.  You never know who you might bump into that you work with later on down the road. This is where the term the art of the hang is put into action. I may talk more about this in a future post.

There are a number of great resources online about what you should do to prepare for a jam session (i.e. what songs should I learn to be able to play in a jam, dress code, sitting-in, etc.). I would encourage you to read through those if you have never been. If you have, I highly encourage you to go to one at least once a month if your schedule permits. Get out there and jam!

I want to leave you with a humorous story about comedian Bill Cosby and his jam session experience. I could write about it, but instead thought it would be better if he told you. Check out his video below!

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