Jam Sessions – You’ll Hear It

Today, Peter and Adam tackle an email from a listener asking what to expect from a jam session and how to better organize one.

Adam Maness: I’m Adam Maness.

Peter Martin: And I’m Peter Martin.

AM: And you’re listening to the You’ll Hear It podcast.

PM: Daily jazz advice comin’ at ya.

AM: How you feelin’ there?

PM: I’m feeling pretty good, man.

AM: Feelin’ pretty good?

PM: Can we talk about our new sponsor?

AM: Is it Old Grand-Dad? Wait, what is it?

PM: Old Grand-Dad.

AM: Yeah, Old Grand-Dad.

PM: I feel like my old granddad is. So you bought a bottle of Old Grand-Dad the other day for the You’ll Hear It podcast.

AM: Can I tell you the story even though you were there?

PM: Yeah.

AM: So we went to lunch, we went to this new spot that has a bunch of coffee, and cigars and wine and beer and bourbon. And I didn’t see any bourbon on the shelf, so I asked the lovely young woman working there, I was like, “Do you have any bourbon, where’s the bourbon?” And she said, “You know what? Hold on, I’m gonna go across the street and bring you some bourbon.” And I was like, “Damn it, now I have to buy something she brings back.” She left and went across the street. So she came back with three bottles and she said, “This one’s expensive, this one’s medium, and this one’s cheap.” And I was like, “I’ll take the cheap one please, thank you.” But it was actually a really nice bottle of bourbon.

PM: So, we have this like really strong Old Grand-Dad here. It’s good though.

AM: Yeah, well I mean it’s Friday. Hump day!

PM: Hump day, oh! Now see, he finally gets it, I like it.

AM: I was teasing you.

PM: Alright, so today we’re talking about something and this is a listener question via email, all right?

AM: Yeah.

PM: Okay, so this is something that we really get a lot of questions from different situations, different channels, so I think it’s good. And it’s funny, ’cause I don’t really think about this a lot, but we’re talking about jam sessions.

AM: Jam sessions!

PM: I don’t think about it because, not that I don’t go to jam sessions still, but it’s always so spontaneous. Right?

AM: Right.

PM: And I think this might be kind of from a different angle.

PM: So I would imagine your life and the jam sessions relationship at this point is like, you’re at a fancy jazz festival somewhere, and then people are hanging at the hotel afterwards and playing, and someone is, you know what I mean, is that accurate? Or like a house session–

PM: Yeah, well, it’s more just like the promoter will be like after the gig “Oh, we wanna take you out to dinner and drinks, please come with us.” And then we get there, turns out it’s a jam session, and then people start coming over and saying, “Oh, I loved that performance”–

AM: Come one!

PM: “It’s so great that you are gonna be playing”–

AM:  Stop it!

PM: It’s like a free gig for them. So I’ve a little bit of an aversion at that, but I usually end up doing that because I actually love music.

AM: Yeah, of course.

PM: And so, yeah. It’s such a big part of the history of jazz and over the years there’s different types and stuff so it’s important.

AM: Our friend Bob Deboo, host of the jam sessions here in St Louis every Wednesday night, seven o’clock, check it out, Kranzberg Arts Center. If you’re in St Louis or around St Louis, and so sometimes he does the thing where the first set will have special guests like good pros come in and play, sometimes he invites me to come play which I’m honored to do. And so then I’ll hang for the jam sessions–

PM: You’re kind of an old pro.

AM: Yeah, I’m an old pro. So, we have a question here from Geertjan, who asks “What are your thoughts, experiences on jam sessions? Do you like going to jam sessions? What do you expect from a session you enjoy? How do you think I can organize my jam session better in order to maybe enhance it musically without changing the concept?” So, Geertjan had a very long email to lead up with this about jam sessions that he hosts in Belgium. He’s a bass player, and he’s worried about the quality of the music at jam sessions. So the first thing I will say is that a good jam session should cater to the players that are there, first and foremost.

PM: Situational awareness.

AM: And any good jam session might flux in quality, violently. I mean if you’re at a place like New York, it could be very, very sad…

PM: Right.

AM: …one minute. And then the next tune could be unbelievable.

PM: That’s right.

AM: You know, it could be amazing–

PM: And if you’re somewhere else it could be very, very sad, and stay that way. (laughs)

AM: I’m not, you know, even here it could be a lot of beginners who’re just trying to get through “Now’s the Time,” and it’s not really happening, and maybe the drummer’s left-handed and drags. And then maybe the next tune, it’s like a bunch of cats show up who are touring or some local cats or whatever and it’s happening all of a sudden. I think, gotta have to let some of that go, especially if you are the host of the jam session. But I do think there are some things you can do for you to help make it better, like move it along, let’s not ramble at the jam session, that’s just bad etiquette. You’re not there to take a hundred choruses of “Cherokee.”

PM: Right, and I think this is the number one pet peeve of rhythm section players or the people waiting, and the audience, it is the tunes being too long, such an easy thing to solve. I mean it should be easy, should be simple, but it’s not, it’s simple, but it’s not easy. But I think this idea of the audience should be the first thing we think about. I know it’s usually the last ’cause we’re like, “Oh, the jam session, that’s for me, me, me. I get to play this, I’m gonna sit in, I get to do this.” And normally, there is still an audience there, ’cause otherwise it’s not a jam session.

AM: Yeah, there is usually an audience.

PM: Otherwise, it’s like a house session or whatever.

AM: Yeah, but if you are a horn player and you see that the horn player before you has been playing “Cherokee” for eight minutes now, don’t solo–

PM: But most of them are like, “Wow! So this is an eight minute per solo kind of jam session.”

AM: Just imagine if you were the bass player having to walk quarter notes for those eight minutes, and the eight minutes before. Just take the next one.

PM: And if you are the person listening, and look, a lot of times jam sessions are free no coverage charge because they suck, basically to the listener, but why does it have to be… So somebody coming to hear jazz for the first time maybe, they’re like, “I’m not gonna buy a ticket but there’s a jam session, that seems like something I’ve seen in a movie.” Then they come and have the worst listening experience to like, whatever, 45 minute one “Cherokee” rendition.

AM: But then sometimes you can have this thing where this kid’ll get up and then blow this roof off the place–

PM: And you’re not gonna believe what he did on chorus number 12 (laughs).

AM: Another tip I would give you, Geertjan, is to organize your jam session. If you are frustrated about the level of some of the musicians and feeling like the better musicians are getting frustrated, you can, as the leader, you can obviously decide when and who gets to play, who and when they get to play, so you can, once you know the musicians, be like, “Maybe you, this group of players can play a tune or two together, and then the advanced guys can go for a cigarette or something, and come back.” I mean it’s Belgium, I assume everybody smokes. Come back and–

PM: Beer and smoking.

AM: And play together or maybe even break it up, only one beginner plays at a time, you know what I mean? Some strategies like that I think would be good.

PM: Yeah, and now I’m remembering, I’ve been to this festival couple times, I’ve been to Ghent, at least two or three times. And it’s an amazing jazz festival that they have there. And I’m so impressed, it’s not a big city, but Belgium’s like, is a really densely populated teeny little country that you can drive across and back again in the same day. But there is an outsized number of good musicians there. Holland, Belgium, what else is over by, for sure those two countries? And the thing is, that is really your talent pool, like what we’re talking about in terms of etiquette, and structure, and all of that. It always is gonna come down to the quality level. I mean, rhythm section, the horn players, whatever, because then that’s when you’re able to get away with the inevitable low in judgment maybe, in terms of playing too long or even the wrong thing or whatever, the wrong choices of how you’re gonna segue to the next thing or whatever. But if you got the kind of a good majority of good musicianship somewhere floating around the stage and in the wings, and everything, that can kinda make up for a fair amount of bad judgment, I hope.

AM: I think so, I hope so.

PM: You don’t look convinced though, you look skeptical.

AM: No I think, that’s a good point.

PM: All right, let’s talk about, let’s turn positive, let’s talk about some of the best jam session situations we’ve ever been in.

AM: Oh man, I mean, usually it’s when there’s just monster players all around, and it’s super fun, feels like a family, those kinds of situations. I love those.

PM: And I think those situations really for the audience can be thrilling.

AM: For sure.

PM: You know, because there is, you would think that there is more like of an inside job kinda like, “Yeah, we’re all together, and we’re doing this!” But really good players and then usually in that kind of situation because look, in a jam session you’re always gonna have more spontaneity than almost any kind of set gig. I mean we talk about like “That gig felt like a jam session, it was so random.” Because you don’t know what’s gonna be played, you don’t know what someone’s gonna sound like, you’ve never played together, mostly. And the unexpected is gonna happen. And so there’s some good things with that and so if you can harness that into a positive jam session experience, there’s kinda nothing like it.

AM: It can be very, very special, you’re absolutely right. Thank you Geertjan for the email, please keep ’em coming folks. And hey, we haven’t talked about, You’ll Hear it Premium all week.

PM: Premium, as opposed to You’ll Hear It Normale?

AM: Normale.

PM: As we are calling this now.

AM: No, there is nothing normale about this podcast, bro. But we do have a premium membership, support the podcast if you love it. You can go to youllhearit.com and it’s very affordable, and you get some really cool stuff.

PM: Yeah, and we were talking about, it’s taken us a little minute, let’s be honest, to kinda lean in to this idea of supporting because we’re not like, but we are kinda like big PBS NPR guys, right?

AM: Yeah.

PM: But the thing about this is this takes time, money and resources, and we wanna keep doing this, we wanna up the game, we’re looking at the new space to move in, even to get into here, and Andrew’s time, and the mics and everything, we really want this to be a fun experience for you guys to consume. And we are big podcast listeners and watchers, so we know what it’s like when even the content is good, and the quality is low, and so we wanna keep doing this, we don’t want to have a bunch of commercials, obviously we are sponsored by Open Studio. We do mention that from time to time, but we wanna kinda give you guys 10, 12, 14 minutes of fun. So we just ask for a little support if you’re feeling it, no pressure, you can do it later.

AM: You do get some benefits–

PM: Cheap skate, way to go.

AM: We get a new premium episode every month, you get a new premium video every week, little fun video, but the premium episodes are great. They’re at the piano, there is usually some kind of worksheet or transcription or notation of some kind.

PM: We got September coming up soon, we just had one so far for August, ’cause we just started.

AM: And it’s poppin’, it’s very popular. And then you get discounts on swag, you get the archive, Facebook group.

PM: You get to come into the community which is what we’re super excited about. So, consider it. And as you can and until tomorrow.

AM: You hear it… Normale.

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