December 3rd jam

Our next jam is this Sunday, December 3rd. Featured tunes are Song For My Father by Horace Silver, and Someday My Prince Will Come, from the Disney movie, Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.

Please see my previous article for Song for my Father. In that article I also talk about a newspaper article about the jam written by Cara Lombardo, John's daughter. I'm happy to report she completed her masters in journalism and is now back in NY writing for the Wall Street Journal. How about that?

Someday my Prince Will Come is a fun tune, partly because it is in 3/4 and partly because the chords are nice to play over. My favorite version is by Lonnie Liston Smith. He opens his solo with fascinating rhythms and then builds and builds his solo!

A Foggy Day

Gershwin's, "A Foggy Day" is the tune-of-the-week for our upcoming jam on Oct 16th. This is a nice one for beginning improvisors: the melody is memorable yet simple, and much of the chord changes are variations of 1-6-2-5 progressions, a common progression found in many other standards. One thing to watch out for are the 2 extra bars in the last section. These can easily trip you up if you're not paying attention.  You can find a play-along and sheet music at Learn Jazz Standards.

The rhythm section this week has played together for many years as the Rand Moore trio: Rand - drums, Paul Muench - keys, and John Schaffer - bass. They'll be joined by Paul Dietrich on trumpet. These guys really swing together!

Lately we've had drummers and bass player jammers but not so many horn players. If you play sax, trumpet, or trombone and want to jam there should be lots of opportunities to play. Come out and join us!

Sister Sadie

I just noticed I forgot to write about our next jam (Oct 2nd). It's kind of late now so this will be brief.

If you are a jazz fan, all you need to know is you are welcome to join us! You may learn a bit about jazz and will enjoy our music. The band tomorrow is terrific: Darren Sterud - trombone, Mark Davis - keys, John Mesoloras - bass, and Rodrigo Villanueva on drums. These guys are all college and/or high school educators as well as busy performing musicians.

If you are a jamming musician the featured tune is "Sister Sadie." It's an AABA tune and the A section chord progression consists of just one chord: G7. Like "So What" and other tunes of this type it can be challenging to fill all that space while maintaining interest and keeping the form. Thinking in 4 and 8 bar phrases can help you keep track of where you are, and alternating between ideas using different pitch sets like mixolydian , dominant bebop, and blues scales helps with variety. Alternating ideas between eighth note lines and more rhythmically interesting lines adds variety, too.

But Not For Me

Our next jam is September 18th and the band is Ken Hoffman - sax, Doug Brown - guitar, Matt Rodgers - bass, and John Lombardo - drums. If you are a guitarist, take advantage of this opportunity to play without bringing your own amp. You can use Doug's.

Our featured tune is Gershwin's, "But Not For Me." Let's say you've listened to a number of recordings, memorized the head and changes, and can play a decent solo. What else is there to work on? Try to work out an ending. Some common endings are tags, vamps, and the A Train ending. One type of vamp involves looping a 2-5-3-6 progression. That ending works well on this song. Play the usual 2-5 cadence but land on 3 instead of  1. Then move to 6 and back to the 2-5. Loop as many times as desired and end with a clear ending idea. Confused? Listen to this version below by Stitt and Ammons and you'll hear what I mean. These endings generate excitement in the listener and are fun for the musicians.


Upcoming Schedule and Senor Blues

I schedule the jam in 4 month blocks and our next jam starts a new block. Over the last 4 months we featured songs by Herbie Hancock and Thelonius Monk. I hope you like the idea of  working on songs by select composers because the next 4 months we'll feature songs by George Gershwin and Horace Silver. It was hard to choose from the many great songs they composed - I hope you like the songs we picked. The updated list is now on the schedule page. Band members for each session are also listed.

"Senor Blues" is the song for our next jam on September 4th. As always it is best to learn from a recording. It is also in one of the Real Books and a cool transcription including the piano line and horn harmonies can be found here.

Afternoon in Paris

Our next jam is this Sunday, April 3rd and the featured tune is "Afternoon in Paris." The pianist John Lewis wrote this song and, while it's not commonly played, it is a great song and has the chord progression we've been focusing on: a series of keys descending by whole steps. The home key is C major. It is fun to play and not difficult to learn. The melody is a sequence and it sounds good to use the same device when soloing - play an idea and sequence it through the keys. You will sound like you know what you're doing and it gives the audience something to grab onto.

Chord charts and playalong tracks are available on Learn Jazz Standards.

The Chicken

It's easier to write a calm post after a week goes by. Lately, I'm super pumped up after the jam.  The venue, the music, the crowds.... everything has been outstanding. Our next jam is March 20th and I expect it will be more of the same.  As always we'll have a super band. This time it will be Joey Banks - drums, Lucas Koehler - bass, Paul Hastil - keys, and Ken Hoffman - saxophone.

For the last several months our featured tune has either been a standard with chord progressions that descend by whole steps, or something simpler like a blues. For our next jam on March 21st  we feature "The Chicken." This song has a blues-like progression and a funky rhythm. It was written by James Brown's band leader Pee Wee Ellis, and popularized among jazz musicians by bassist Jaco Pastorius.

With a song like this rhythm is king. You can get a lot of mileage out of playing harmonically simple (pentatonics, chord tones), rhythmically interesting ideas, and playing them with feeling. Over the I7 IV7 vamp you can use scale tones from the  major blues scale based on the tonic, and play off the chords as well.  You might want to start practicing by singing lines over the form and trying to find them on your instrument.

I'm not sure "The Chicken" is available in a fake book. This site has a concert version. Make sure to transpose it if you don't play a C concert instrument. Here are a couple of versions to check out:

Tune Up next time at The Rigby

It continues to look like The Rigby is going to be a great venue for the jam. All I've heard is positive remarks about the location, room, and food. The house band is happy, jammers are happy, and even the bartender told me how glad he was to work today.

The audience was appreciative as well. We had a larger group of fans than usual, some of them popped up from the bar below and hooted and hollered with enjoyment. It was lively and the music....whew.... it was happening! At one point local pros Darren Sterud, Dan Flynn, and Ken Hoffmann made for an all-star front line. New to town, Lawrence, wailed on his soprano sax and showed he could hang with the pros, too.

The fun will continue at our next jam on March 6th and there is never any drop off in our house band, one all-star group after another. The band will be Dave Stoler - keys, John Mesoloras - bass, John Lombardo - drums, and Eric Koppa - sax. The featured tune is "Tune-Up."

"Tune-Up is credited to Miles Davis and is another song with 2-5-1 progressions descending by whole step. It is basically a 16 bar song with a 1st and 2nd ending. A chord sheet and playalong are available at Learn Jazz Standards. The 1st ending (bars 13-16) may seem unusual. There are several ways to think about these 4 bars and I suggest reading this forum thread if you want to learn more. At many jams this song is played very fast but we'll play it medium to make it less intimidating.

Here are 2 videos to listen to. First up is Miles, followed by Chris Potter playing solo.  The Chris Potter clip should keep you from becoming complacent, give you something to shoot for. :)

Next jam at The Rigby

A lot has changed in the last 24 hours. We found out yesterday Bourbon St Grille is closed, I met with the owner of The Rigby this morning, and we held our first jam there this afternoon.  It's really nice.... you are going to like it.

The Rigby is at 119 E. Main St in downtown Madison. Although it is downtown, parking is not a problem; it is away from the Overture Center and all the hubbub. Today, there were plenty of spots on the street. For long time Madison residents, this is the location of the old Casbah restaurant. You enter on the 1st floor and go up the back stairs to the 2nd floor. It seats 40 people comfortably and has more standing room if needed. There is a nice stage for the band, the room acoustics are very natural, and the food today was very good.

Rigby Stage
Our first jam at The Rigby (photo by Pete Mooney)


It was kind of amazing we were able to have the jam today. We are super thankful to the band: John Lombardo - drums, Francis Deck - bass, Mark Ramirez - keys, and Ken Hoffman - sax. These guys filled in at the last moment and the music was as good as ever.

We'll be back again on Feb 21st. The band is Paul Dietrich - trumpet, Mark Davis - keys, Rand Moore - drums, and John Schaffer - bass. The featured tune is Clifford Brown's, "Sandu," an Eb blues. It's nice to know a blues in something other than Bb or F, and this tune is commonly played at jam sessions. Here's the original:

Blues in Hoss Flat

One of the attractions of a jazz jam is it's unpredictability. You never know who is going to show up, what tunes will be played, or how well everything will sync. On Sunday, the trio of Paul Muench, Devin Drobka, and John Mesoloras were playing together for the 1st time and you would never have guessed. These guys were locked in and the result was snappy and crisply swinging, or as Devin said, "the music had bounce."

It was also fun catching up with bassist Nick Anderson. Nick was the house bassist for the jam for the 1st 6 months or so until he moved out of town. He lives in Philadelphia now and was in Madison visiting relatives. Nick said this is the 1st time he's played jazz since he left. Right now he's busy developing a pilot for a children's musical television show. Wow.

We also had another out-of-towner. Connor stopped in to play melodica and keyboard and I believe he said he lives in Fort Atkinson, Iowa. Connor must have had a good time because he plans to be back next time!

Next time is January 17th and the band is Darren Sterud - trombone, Ben Ferris - bass, Michael Brenneis - drums, and Paul Muench again on keyboard. The featured tune is Count Basie's smokin', "Blues in Hoss Flat." I was turned on to this tune a few years ago when it was played at the jam. It was a big hit and if you don't know it, listen to the video below and you'll hear why.

Sheet music will probably be hard to find, but it's a simple repeating riff so should be easy to figure out and remember. We'll play the main theme and if you learn some of the background fills you get extra credit! Here's a video of "Blues in Hoss Flat", and just for fun, a classic video of Jerry Lewis lip-synching to the same tune.