Our goal is to make the Madison Jazz Jam a safe environment to explore jazz improvisation and spontaneous creativity while giving our audience the highest quality listening experience we are capable of. To make this happen Madison Jazz Jam leaders will provide leadership and structure, and jammers are asked to follow a set of guidelines founded on respect for the music, the audience, and each other. Our jam session is run like a typical jam session anywhere. After attending MJJ you will understand what is expected at just about any jazz jam session.
Leadership and Structure
- We will make sure everyone that comes prepared to play a tune is given a chance to play. This means switching out musicians every one to two tunes.
- We will limit the number of people up on the bandstand at one time. This makes for better sounding music and allows us to get through more tunes. We will usually keep it to three horns, and a four piece rhythm section.
- We will encourage succinct solos so everyone has a chance to play.
- We will try to arrange the song order for maximum audience interest.
Guidelines for jammers
Sign up List
- Musicians that haven’t played yet are given priority over those that have.
- Please do not give the leader a hard time about the list, the order in which people are being called up, the tunes being played, etc. The leader is trying to keep everyone happy, including the audience.
Which tunes to play
- You should call any tune you want. See the list of common jazz tunes for ideas.
- If you call an obscure tune the band may not know it. But if you have a chart, they’ll be able to play it. Our house bands can play.
- You may bring originals but if they have unusual changes, complex arrangements , or are illegible the band may not be able to play them.
- We are a jazz jam session, so we prefer that you play jazz numbers!
- Decide on a tune before you come up to the bandstand. You’ll have a better time playing if you have memorized the changes and don’t have to worry about reading it.
- We try to make sure you get a chance to play on multiple tunes at each session, provided other jammers have had a chance to play as well.
- Singers: know what key you sing your tune in.
- Try to listen and play in tune with each other.
- Have respect for the music and musicians of all abilities – this is not a competition or time to show off. The point is to immerse yourself in the music, not see who has the biggest ego.
- If there are more than two horns on stage consider splitting the melody sections up so no more than two horns are playing at once.
- Try to remember the solo order so when fours come up, everybody gets a turn.
- If background riffs are played, make sure the soloist can still be heard.
- Try to decide an ending before starting a tune and be familiar with stock endings (repeat three times, tight unison cutoff, vamps).
- If you hear the band playing an ending other than what you have in mind, go with the band.
When not to play
- If you don’t know the tune and the changes, maybe think twice about playing that particular song. You can still learn a lot if you sit down and listen.
- Do not cut off another soloist by jumping in. Make sure they are done before coming in (conversely, signal the end of your solo: look up and make eye contact).
- Do not play unless you’ve been invited up.
- Do not talk on stage or noodle quietly when other soloists are playing.
- 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 whatever, wait until the break.
- Do not pass judgment on the tunes people call.
- Respect the jam session leaders.
As an audience member:
- Thanks for coming out to hear us! We’re happy to have you! Tell your friends to check us out, especially if they’d like experience playing jazz in a welcoming, supportive atmosphere.
- Please add something to the tip jar to show your appreciation. We are a non-profit, and we pay our house bands entirely with your donations. Help support Madison jazz by dropping some money in the tip jar! We appreciate every cent you contribute to the local arts community!