We’ve just posted our house bands and featured tunes for the next eight weeks. Speaking of our featured tunes, I thought I’d provide some insight into the process of picking them.
If you’ve spent any time at our event, you’ll know that we take pride in the educational nature of our jam session. In fact, MJJ was founded in 2010 as an explicitly educational jam session, one in which jammers and audience members learn together about improvising from playing, listening, or both. We facilitate learning in part by selecting two songs for each session that attendees can work on prior to the jam. The first tune of each week is an “easier” tune suitable for beginning and intermediate improvisers; the second is a bit more difficult. In this way we can usually count on several people arriving having prepared to play a given song, thus allowing multiple jammers to get experience playing together. And picking the tunes can help motivate you to practice and structure your practice routine by giving you a couple of numbers to work on that you know will be played at the jam. As with all other songs, our house bands are on call to comment on jammers’ playing on these featured tunes.
So how do we select the tunes of the week? Traditionally we’ve picked from the lists of standards found on our “Jam Tunes” page. These are classic vehicles for improvisation welcome at every meeting of the Madison Jazz Jam. But lately I’ve found myself falling into a rut of choosing the same small selection of songs. In order to spice things up a bit, I’ve started picking tunes of the week according to three categories or themes over a period of 8 jam sessions. In this way I hope to push us to play some new material rather than the umpteenth iteration of “Autumn Leaves” or “All the Things” (valuable as those can be). The categories are: 1) song titles; 2) genres; 3) composers. For the next 8 jams, we’ll play: 1) blues tunes named after women; 2) more or less Brazilian numbers (bossas and sambas); 3) pieces composed by Dizzy Gillespie. These categories yield some songs that are rarely heard at our jam but fit well for our educational purposes, like “Cousin Mary,” “Little Boat,” and “Woody ‘n You.” If you’re like me, you’ve probably been looking at these things in the Real Book for years and have never bothered to mess around with them. Let’s start messing around with them. We’ll learn new melodies and chord progressions, and we’ll be exposed to new recordings. We’ll stretch our hands, ears, and brains, and with luck we’ll make this educational jam session a bit more educational.
I look forward to seeing you this Sunday at North Street Cabaret, where we’ll play “Cousin Mary” (a blues named after a woman) and “Bossa Antigua” (a Paul Desmond number set to Brazilian rhythms).
And if you’d like to suggest a theme, I’d love to hear your ideas.