Thursday, January 6, 2011

Jam Session Etiquette

The other day I had an interesting discussion with pianist Jeff McLeod (a fine musician studying at the Eastman School of Music) about the dynamics of the jam session. Having hosted my share of sessions at such places such as the Rex Hotel & Jazz Bar (Toronto) and Calgary's Broken City, it always amazes me as how to many people clearly don't get it...

The bottom line is this: check your ego at the door and use some common sense when sitting in ! A little professionalism goes a LONG way...

So here's a list that pops up frequently on the internet taken from the SaxOnTheWeb forum of a few things to consider when sitting in at your local session:

"Jazz Jam Session Etiquette" by Grant "King" Koeller

1. Don't be a solo hog. Say what you have to say in as few choruses as possible.

2. Don't cut another soloist off by jumping in.

3. If you don't know the tune, don't solo. Nobody wants to hear a person who hasn't paid their dues on their horn make a complete fool of himself by trying to make every one think he knows how to play.

4. Don't tell the leader what to do. It's their Jam. Not yours. You can always get your own jam someday.

5. Know when to play.

6. Know when to sit down and chill out and enjoy the other players.

7. Have respect for the other soloists ideas by not doodling' around on your ax when they are playing.

8. If the other players start to riff behind the soloist, then go ahead and join in, but remember the balance, don't cover the soloist up.

9. Remember the solo order so when fours come up, everybody gets a turn.

10. The Bass doesn't need a solo on every tune.

11. If there is more than one horn present don't all play the melody in unison. Use different harmony parts and chord tones to create interest.

12. When playing a Ballad, split up the choruses in half, so the tune isn't an hour long.

13. Don't insist on staying up on stage all night. Play your 3 or 4 songs and make room for the other soloists who haven't played yet.

14. Never be critical of another person on the bandstand. If you have something to say to someone about their pitch, tone, sense of time, or what ever, wait until the break.

15. Never be a mike hog. Always share.

16. Don't call tunes in order to impress somebody. No one wants to hear Carla Bley Tunes with no Bar Lines performed at the speed of Cherokee. Or Anthony Braxton tunes performed with a polka feel.

17. Learn some tunes that you love, and do them.

18. Don't judge other people's tunes. If you hate the song Stella by Starlight, instead of complaining about it, go sit down and take a break.

19. As a horn player, when the singer sings don't play. It's ok to fill in between their phrases as long as it's done tastefully.

20. Use space. Don't play every Jamie Abersold lick that you know in the first three minutes. Save some ideas for later.

21. Be Mature. A jam is supposed to be about mutual respect for all the players regardless of ability, and not just a cutting contest. There is no room for "Higher, louder, faster," types of players who want to show off.

22. If the person ahead of you just took 8 choruses on the blues, don't try to "better" him by playing more if you have nothing to say.

23. Play in tune with each other. Don't have the attitude that "I'm right, Everyone else is Flat".

24. When ending a tune, look to the Bass or piano player for signs as to which type of ending will be used. Is it the 3 times a charm ending? Or that everybody stops at the same time with tight cut off ending? Is the rhythm section going to put a turn around at the end and vamp for a while ending? Turn on your radar.


  1. 25. Don't call a tune that you don't actually have a cue how to play.

    26. If you don't know a tune; don't suggest that you'll play it from ear when you actually cannot play by ear.

    27. If you don't know a tune; don't suggest that you'll read the chart when you have no idea how to read or transpose music at sight.

    28. When you get lost in the changes and eventually stop soloing 10 measures short, don't look at the bass player to some how fix your awkward silence.

    29. After a bass solo, play the melody out. If your not paying attention to the form and forget to come in; don't ask the bassist if they are done soloing 10 bar's into the form when it's clear that they where finished 10 bars ago.

    30. When playing a really really really fast tune don't ask the bass player to play a solo, they are to busy playing bass.

    31. Having a conversion on the band stand during the bass solo isn't a good idea, especially if the leader is the bass player.

    32. Call Jazz tunes at a Jazz Jam session, not pop, rock, r&b, rap, space age funk or any combination thereof and expect anyone to know them.

    33. If you play a horn please do not accompany behind the bass solo. If your in the rhythm section you don’t always have to play behind the bass solo.

    34. When calling a really obscure tune and the rhythm section admits to not knowing the changes; don’t reply with “Really you don’t know that tune?” Beware; the tables can turn on you in a hurry.

  2. J Mc,

    It is also the height of lame for a jammer to play a tune and then leave the venue right away. It is polite to hang out, even for a little while, to listen to a few other players and generally contribute to a good vibe of a jam session.



  3. Why is there so much about bass solos in these lists? Does someone have a hate for Bass solos?

  4. Doesn't sound like hate to me; as a bassist, I would love for people to follow these rules. The bass solo is not the time to head to the bar. So damn rude.