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. Except for the educational portion of the first set, our jam session is run like a typical jam session anywhere. After attending our jam session you will understand what is expected at just about any jazz jam session.
Leadership and Structure
- During the first set we will make sure educational feedback is given after every song.
- 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
- When you sign up make sure to list at least one tune. People listing “any tune” or its equivalent will not be called up as this suggests they do not have a tune prepared.
- Musicians that haven’t played yet are given priority over those that have. When there are many jammers for the second set those that already played in the first set may not be called up again until the final tune (which will always be a blues or something from the first set list, and where everyone is invited up without limit to the number of players on stage).
- 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
- For the first set you may list a tune designated for that session or one of the tunes previously worked on in the first set – see the list of previous first-set tunes. Review these tunes regularly and you will be ready to play on any tune in the first set, and will have a repertoire of common tunes to play at other jams or quickly arranged gigs.
- For the second set you may play any well-known jazz tune (see the lists of common jam session tunes).
- If you call an obscure tune the band may not know it or want to play it.
- You may bring originals but if they have unusual changes, complex arrangements , or are illegible the band will probably not play them.
- Do not ask to play a non-jazz tune.
- We will not do two ballads in a row.
- Decide on a tune before you come up to the bandstand. Make sure that you know it.
- Try to have a second tune ready, but don’t be disappointed if you don’t get to play it; we have to balance the schedule with the number of jammers. If you’ve played two tunes you should step down unless we ask you to stay.
- Singers: know what key you sing your tune in.
- 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.
- Don’t be a solo hog. Say what you have to say in as few choruses as possible. Two or three choruses is usually adequate, for ballads, half or one chorus.
- 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, don’t play.
- Be honest with yourself and know when to play and when to sit down and listen, eg, if an advanced player calls Cherokee and you cannot play it at tempo, sit down.
- 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. Once you play one or two tunes sit down unless we ask you to stay.
- 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:
- Be courteous to other players, do not leave immediately after performing. Stay for at least two more tunes and spend a little money so the venue owner has a reason to host our sessions.
- Please add something to the tip jar to show your appreciation.