Jazz Jam Session HOWTO

This document: http://bit.ly/dubjazz

Before starting a tune, establish: Which key is it in? Will anybody play an intro? (Who?) Is there a tag at the end? Or an outro? Who will play solos?

Tune structure

  1. Count in, or an intro by a single instrument
  2. Head (the melody)
  1. A short head (e.g. a 12-bar blues) is played twice
  1. Solos, from the highest pitched / lead instrument (Sax/trumpet/trombone) to the lowest pitched / comping instruments, ending with the bass or the drums.
    Use eye contact.
  2. Head (same as the first head)
  1. A ballad / long head can be shortened (e.g. BA only on a AABA form)
  1. Optional tag – repetition of the last phrase
  2. Optional outro, vamp over the root chord

Some tunes have specific, idiomatic intros and endings. You can learn them by listening to jam sessions or jazz records.

The universal symbol of playing the head is pointing at your head. Use it when you want to go to the head and finish the tune.

First time at the session

If you’ve never been to a jam session before, consider coming and listening only.

When you decide to play, learn one tune well. Make sure you can play the head and know the chord changes by heart. (Even if you won’t play the head!)

Singers, make sure you know:

  1. Key. The band does not know your key, and can’t play without knowing it.
  2. First chord. The first chord of the tune is sometimes different than the key. For example, Autumn Leaves in G minor starts with C minor.
  3. First note of the head. You can ask the band “can I have a G?” to make sure you start the melody on the right note.
  4. Tempo. Make sure you count the same way as the chord chart is written. Ballads are especially prone to errors. It’s easy to count the band in twice too fast or twice too slow. Sing the first phrase to the band to illustrate the tempo.
  5. Solos (Optional). You will sing the head, once at the beginning and once at the end. If you want to take a solo, feel free to do it, ideally start it directly after the head.

During the tune

Make sure to follow the tune structure in your mind, even when not playing.

When playing your solo

If there are many people on stage waiting for their turn, limit your solo to one chorus, or skip your solo for that tune. Less is more. If you are not taking a solo, please be mindful of the soloist/s by not playing over them. Sometimes horns would do some background chords or riff, depending on the tune.

When comping

Make sure you always hear the head and/or the solo. If you can’t hear the head or solo, play softer or stop playing altogether, until you hear it again.

When something goes wrong

There’s no single recipe to solve problems on stage, but here are a few ideas. If you lost track of where you are in the tune:

  1. Ask people around you, where are we in the tune?
  2. Stop playing and listen to the others, especially to the rhythm section.
  3. If the tune isn’t going well in general, consider cutting it short, and going back to the head.
  4. If everyone in the band seems lost in the form, just go back to the first chord of the tune, and wait for a lead instrument to start playing the head again.
  5. When a lead instrument starts playing the head, consider “resetting” the form, just starting from the top, no matter where the band was before.

List of tunes

In most cases, we play tunes from the Real Book vol. 1. If you would like to play something else, make sure to bring sheet music.

We made a list of tunes we often play: http://bit.ly/dubjazztunes

Enjoy yourself at the session!


Contact: https://www.facebook.com/dublinjazzjam/