confuse "Jam sessions" with "sitting in." Let's make the important distinction between the two. "
If a Jazz venue advertises a policy of "sitting-in" that means that musicians are invited to play with the regular
band, typically after they have played a few sets as a group. This is really not the same as an "open mike" or "open
jam", but if you are a pro or semi-pro, you are certainly within your rights to ask to "sit in." Realize the
expectations will be higher than an open jam session, so if you are unsure of your abilities, this is not the time to find
out how good you are. These are the occasions when you'd better hope you can play Cherokee in B.
a working group may ask another musician to "Sit In" on a regular gig. This is an honor, typically bestowed upon
visiting professionals as a courtesy, and can often be fun for all. It is a SERIOUS breech for musicians of any level to ASK
to sit in on a professional engagement. If the leader and group members want you on the bandstand with them, trust me, THEY
will ask YOU !! Even if you are best friends with the leader or one of the sidemen, it puts them in a very
awkward position to either acquiesce or refuse. It will do more harm to your reputation among musicians than good for your
career if ask to "sit- in" where it is not the accepted practice.
Players who are new to the scene would do well to visit a few times without their axes, and check out the scene.
Get a feel for the type of tunes played, and how other visiting musicians are treated. Especially make note as to whether
or not reading on the stands is permitted. In general, at any session worth it's salt you will be expected to know the tunes
by heart. Less formal sessions may be more lenient. Regardless, don't assume that because the regular bass player who has
been there every Tuesday for five years is reading a chart that you will get the same courtesy. There is a sign on the bandstand
at a famous jazz club that reads… "If you don't KNOW the tune, don't PLAY the
tune." - 'nuff said.
It doesn't hurt to buy the leader a drink, and make some small talk
but watch how quickly a beer drinker can acquire a taste for Courvoisier when you do !! When you do get the nod, you should
be aware of the "house rules". Most sessions exist because the owner of the venue is interested in selling drinks
to customers. If you are short, there's not much you can do, but if you are a well-to-do retired professional then spend a
few bucks. You don't need to get stoned, but unless SOMEBODY buys drinks the session will eventually be cancelled.
You may get to choose your tune, but be prepared to have it chosen for you, and not necessarily in the key you are
used to. If you are a beginner, don't overstay your welcome. If you are invited back for a second tune, that's a good sign.
If you are not, don't leave in a huff, but promise yourself to woodshed more starting the following day. A sign-up list is
a great idea, but be prepared to be "bumped" if a local legend walks in, as they are typically rewarded the respect
of not having to wait in line. If you are lucky, you may get to sit in with the local legend, but unfortunately, people who
run jams will probably call the "A-list" players up for the legend.
Pianists are usually
happy for a break, especially after forty or fifty choruses of "Rhythm Changes." This is the best time to ask to
sit in on keyboards.
Horn players generally
have it pretty easy, but if you are a newcomer, it's probably best to avoid bringing your combo stand and setting up your
alto/tenor/flute/flugelhorn until you are a regular. This dates me, but I remember a time (pre-AIDS) when a horn player would
hand over an axe, mouthpiece and all, and let others blow when in a strange town and able to seek out some live Jazz. Now
musicians usually carry a mouthpiece and reed and it is pretty rare anymore to find players that will hand over a Mark VI
to a total stranger.
Also, just because a horn is mobile does not mean an "open invitation"
to wander back and forth at will. Play the tunes on which you are invited, but don't take advantage of the fact you can just
walk up and start blowing. If the House Band declares the last tune of the night "House band Only", then respect
the request and leave the bandstand. Don't be offended, but just come back next week.
Guitarists can generally use a house amp if one is available, but ask the guitarist first. If no such animal exists,
you should inquire first of the session leader before setting one up, and at least wait for a break if you need to tear it
down and leave. I have recently heard from a new bassist in town who was declined when he asked to use a regular bassist's
upright. You probably wouldn't think to haul your German flatback into a club where you might not even get to play a single
tune. As I said earlier, it is best to check a session out as a listener first, and just ask flat-out what the policies are.
Also, house bassists have probably already been told not to solo every tune. If you are a sitting-in bassists, it might be
appreciated to look for a nod. It is, granted, a jam session where you expect to blow. Bass solos are a controversial topic.
Use your own judgment.
the drummer will be left-handed. Statistics will probably bear out that left-handed drummers at jam sessions far outnumber
left-handed drummers in the general population, so you can safely assume this occurs to discourage drummers from sitting in.
Draw your own conclusions, but again, ask the drummer if it is alright to move his high-hat for a couple of tunes, but don't
expect to rearrange his kit.
singers tend to get "no respect" as jam sessions unless they are well known. Don't take it personally, but if you
do get selected, try to pick something unusual, but not TOO esoteric.. Unless it is a real strain, try to learn tunes in their
common "Real Book" keys.Charlie Parker was laughed off the stand as a young man.
Legend has it that ... THAT was his inspiration to practice hard. So Don't get discouraged if you feel you've been mistreated.
It's part of paying dues. Look how Charlie Parker turned out !!!