The Method Behind MJJ's "Featured Tunes"

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.


July 15, 2018 Jam

Hi all,

I apologize for not posting this sooner. We return from our break this Sunday, July 15. Our house band will be Ken Hoffman (ts), Doug White (pno), John Widdicombe (bs), and Keith Lienert (dr). Featured tunes are Coltrane's "Cousin Mary" and "Bossa Antigua" by Paul Desmond.

I can't say more at the moment because I'm at work. But stay tuned for an announcement about our next batch of featured tunes.

Come out to play music with us at North Street Cabaret this weekend!



July 1, 2018 CANCELED

Hi everyone. Unfortunately we have to cancel the next session scheduled for July 1, 2018. Our hosts at North Street Cabaret have another booking that day, one that they confirmed long before we moved to North Street from the Rigby. Rather than arrange for a confusing temporary move to new quarters for one session, we've decided to cancel instead. We return to North Street on July 15. A new schedule of house bands and featured tunes will be up sometime in the coming weeks. In the meantime, keep practicing, hearing live music, and contemplating the wealth of jazz talent we enjoy in Madison.



June 17, 2018 jam

We had a blast with Lem Banks's performance as part of the Isthmus Jazz Festival on June 3. Lem performed a bravura set of classic songs backed by MJJ regulars Ken Hoffman, Paul Muench, Matt Rodgers, and Rodrigo Villanueva. Those guys had a telepathic mind-meld going on despite having never performed together - evidence of the rare wealth of talent we enjoy as Madison residents.

We'll celebrate that wealth of talent again this weekend as we return to our regular jam format with a house band composed of Dave Cooper (tpt, fgh), Dave Stoler (pno), John Schaffer (bs), and Joey Banks (dr). These are precisely the kind of skilled, well schooled improvisers and veteran educators that make Madison a great town for jazz fans. Jammers can join them on a couple of featured tunes: "Lester Leaps In" and "Night and Day." First off is "Lester Leaps In," a mid-tempo rhythm changes feature for Lester Young when he was with the Basie band. "Night and Day" is one of the great Cole Porter compositions performed by all manner of vocalists and instrumentalists.

As always, we look forward to seeing you at North Street Cabaret on Sunday! Bring friends!


Isthmus Jazz Fest/June 3, 2018 Jam

The Madison Jazz Jam is proud to participate in the 2018 Isthmus Jazz Festival with a special performance by veteran Milwaukee vocalist and multiple WAMI nominee, Lem Banks, on June 3. Lem will open this week's jam session with a full set of classic American songs, backed by local luminaries Ken Hoffman (ts), Paul Muench (pno), Matt Rodgers (bs), and Rodrigo Villanueva (dr). We'll follow Lem's performance with two sets of our regular jam session. The jam takes place at North Street Cabaret, 610 North Street, Madison, from 4:00 to 7:00pm. As always, there is no cover.

The Madison Jazz Jam is open to musicians of all ages who would like to learn from the best players in the area. We are an educational jam session - low key and supportive - founded to promote improvised music while supporting the many talented players who enrich our lives in Madison. Whether you are an experienced player or a beginner, you will find a welcoming community and wonderful opportunities to celebrate improvised music at MJJ.

For regular updates on MJJ events and featured tunes, make sure to like us on Facebook!

May 20, 2018 jam

We had a great time, a great turnout, and a great jam at last week's session at the North Street Cabaret. We are very lucky indeed to have such a great venue to support local jazz!

For our next jam, we'll thrill to the playing of Paul Dietrich (tpt), Dave Stoler (pno), Ben Ferris (bs), and John Lombardo (dr). They'll back jammers on two Charlie Parker numbers. Bird wrote a lot of music using rhythm changes and blues forms, represented here by "Anthropology" and "Barbados," respectively. Neither of these are harmonically challenging, but the melody of "Barbados" is a tad tricky in my opinion, especially at bright tempos. They can be found in Real Books I and II.

We'll see you next time at North Street Cabaret!

May 6, 2018 jam at North Street Cabaret!

This weekend we move the jam to our new home at North Street Cabaret. Located at 610 North Street on Madison's east side, North Street Cabaret is a new venue that hosts live music from local and touring acts, especially the exceptional jazz community that enriches our lives in Madison. Here you can enjoy great music in an appealing room with great acoustics and killer Cajun food.

Our house band will be Ken Hoffman (ts), Johannes Wallmann (pno), Ben Ferris (bs), and Rodrigo Villanueva (dr). Of the two featured tunes, "St. James Infirmary" is the first, easier selection. It's a venerable eight bar blues associated with the earliest days of the New Orleans music that we now call "jazz." We'll follow it with the more harmonically complex "Stella by Starlight."

Come on out to make our first jam at North Street Cabaret a success! Tell your friends! See you there!

April 15, 2018 jam at Arts + Literature Laboratory

Our next jam will be held at Arts + Literature Laboratory, 2021 Winnebago Street, Madison. We'll meet at our usual time of 4-7pm. I haven't been to ALL yet, but I've heard great things about it. It's a new, non-profit arts incubator dedicated to showcasing the wealth of talented artists in our region, hosting everything from writing workshops to art exhibits to cutting edge live music -  not to mention our jam! ALL is an interim stop on our way to a new permanent home - more on that later.

We'll play Sonny Rollins's "Oleo" and the Cole Porter classic, "Love for Sale." In addition to their composers, both tunes are associated with Miles Davis. Miles cut a version of "Oleo" with Rollins on tenor on his 1954 Bags' Groove album. And he played "Love for Sale" on Cannonball Adderley's Somethin' Else (1958). You can call these and other tunes with the week's house band of Ken Hoffman (ts), Paul Muench (pno), John Schaffer (bs), and John Lombardo (dr). We look forward to seeing and hearing you at ALL on April 15!


We find ourselves in a bit of a pickle. The Rigby has decided to no longer host live music, and they've informed us that the jam this Sunday, April 1, will be the last time we can play at their venue. (And no, this is not an April fool's joke). That's a shame, because the Rigby is a spacious place with a nice vibe.

Now we need to find a new place to gather. We have some ideas ourselves, but we would really appreciate it if anyone else knows of a venue that might be interested in hosting 40 or 50 people a couple of Sundays per month. If you have any place in mind, please let us know!

Ideally we can get this figured out quickly so that our regular schedule is not interrupted. But I have never been in the position of finding a venue for the jam, so I can't make any guesses as to how long this will take.

In the meantime, we will meet this Sunday, April 1 at the Rigby for one last jam. The house band will be: Dave Cooper (tpt, fgh), Doug White (pno), Matt Rodgers (bs), and John Lombardo (dr). Featured tunes are Sonny Rollins's "St. Thomas" and Cole Porter's "I Love You." Come on out to the Rigby one last time, and keep your eyes open for a new home for the jam!

March 18, 2018 jam

Here's some insight into how we plan the Madison Jazz Jam. We try to book house bands out for "semesters" of several months: 1) to make sure that our jammers are supported, and 2): to accommodate the schedules of our house bands, many of whom have very busy playing schedules. Having done that, we move on to select featured tunes for each session.

If you've been to the jam before, you'll know that we suggest one "easy" and one "intermediate" tune for jammers to work on prior to each session. They can then play those songs with the house band and other jammers and receive feedback on their playing. In an effort to expose jammers to new material and to keep things fresh, I pick tunes by devising three categories for each semester and selecting featured tunes from them. For the next "semester" (March 18 through July 1), our categories are rhythm changes tunes, tunes by Cole Porter (plus other standards with Porteresque character), and songs titled after places. Given those themes, the featured tunes for Sunday, March 18 are Monk's "Rhythm-a-Ning" and "Hackensack." The former is a rhythm changes number and the latter is named after a place in New Jersey - see the categories? (N.B. Personally, I think of "Hackensack" as a rhythm changes number with a melody akin to that of "Well, You Needn't." And I think of "Well, You Needn't" as a kind of deconstructed rhythm changes tune anyway. But that's just me.)

Let me know if you'd like to suggest a theme for the jam. As a matter of fact, I chose the Porter tunes at the behest of John Wanner, the editor of our newsletter. Thanks, John!

The first house band to accompany us on our journey to Hackensack and beyond is the able combo of Paul Dietrich (tpt), Dave Stoler (pno) (I once heard Dave quote Monk's "Stuffy Turkey" in a solo, so I expect him to feel right at home with this week's featured tunes), Lucas Koehler (bs), and Matt Endres (dr).

We look forward to seeing and hearing you at the Rigby on the 18th. As always, if you know anyone interested in playing or hearing jazz, send them our way!