Tips for Jammers 

(Basic etiquette)

Much of this has been re-hashed in other sites ... but it all bears repeating :-)

Always check with the venue ahead of time

Even if you've been to the jam before, always - always - always call ahead first and confirm the jam is on for that night. The jam master could be sick. The entire host band could be sick. The entire host band could be in jail. The club could be shuttered. Anything can happen, and probably will.  Sometimes established jams get bumped because a touring artist is playing there that night. (Sorry but those bands make more money for the club than the jammers do.) If the venue is organized they'll have this noted ahead of time on their online calendar, which if it exists you should find linked here within the jam listings.

Know before you go...

Try to understand what kind of music awaits you at your particular chosen session... If you're not a blues person, then you should go to something other than a blues session. Don't go to a hardcore blues session and try to make everyone your Black Crowes backup band.  Similarly, if you're looking for a more "mature" musical (and maybe physical) experience, don't show up to a "zoo jam" where anything goes and get upset if the guys and gals wanna rock out a little. If you are a jazzhead who mainly loves playing in 5/4 and 7/8, make sure you only call 5/4 and 7/8 tunes that others are going to know, and know that there aren't going to be a whole lot of those.

Guitarists should know in advance if they need their own amp or not, althought they are generally NOT needed for established sessions. If you're a horn player, ask the master how long you will be allowed to play and whether the master is okay with you taking more than a few songs.  If you're playing a quieter horn (sax, flute) request a vocal mic too. Be prepared to double up on this mic if there are multiple horns on the stage with you at the same time, and yield the mic to whomever has a solo.

If you're not an advanced player and are counting on a totally "open" session where you're basically guaranteed at least 3 songs, try to arrive early. Don't show up at 11pm expecting to play if you're the average player who doesn't have any contacts with the house band that night. (And if you _are_ one of those players who is cozy with the house band, please please PLEASE don't be a stage hog!  Some of us don't get to play with these guys as much as you do.)

Sit down and relax. Put up your feet. Buy a drink, or three.

This last one is really important - how many times have you heard of the jam session getting killed by the venue and being replaced with a karaoke night? And why does this happen? Because the owner of the venue needs to earn his rent and pay the house band and thensome, and if the jammers don't *drink* or at least spend a little $$ then it isn't worth it for the owner. It's not just a free platform for you to play upon. Support the venues that support live music.

Make Friends. Really.

Bring your calling cards.  These are important networking events for you if you are new in town, and even if you aren't.  And if you're not a serious musician but just a weekend warrior, you're still going to occasionally meet people who are interesting and can help you in your work, your business, your career, and other things!   It's also fine to shout out your web site when your time is finished on the stage, but don't bring a whole stack of your CDs to sell because that might be considered bad form, and anyway it's not your gig.

If you wait all night and then get stiffed...

Well, don't feel too bad about this because sooner or later it happens to us all. You found an "open" session, arrived promptly at 8pm, signed the sheet or politely alerted the master, then waited.... and waited.... and waited... until last call at the bar and the master still didn't call you up. Pretty frustrating! (These are experiences that we like to know about at Jam The Bay as well.)   Basically, that night either something really special happened and the master just couldn't believe that such a "monster player" showed up and thus forgot to manage the time.... or you just got messed over, pure and simple. Take a deep breath. Then decide not to go back there, for a while. Decide to find a more-friendly and less-busy place to play, and perhaps one with players closer to your level and style.  Sometimes, if the session is a really popular one, knowing the right person on the stage or entering the establishment with the right person can make the difference here. 

I'm a vocalist. Do I get to play too?

Certainly!  There are many sessions that are wide open for vocalists.  However, vocalists should be thoroughly prepared with at least 10 very very well-known songs with lyrics, in order to avoid disappointment. The songs should be carefully selected for the jam format as well - pick only blues songs for blues jams, rock/soul songs for mixed jams, evergreen standards for jazz jams and so on. They should also be prepared to be limited to 3 songs, or less. Actually at many sessions (particularly jazz sessions)  giving a vocalist 1 or 2 songs is considered generous, even if they bring their own charts. Don't try bringing charts to a jam that isn't a jazz one because that's not going to fly - keep it simple and if the changes aren't standard ones, clearly explain them to the jammers backing you beforehand. If the jammers balk, just remember to flatter them well : "You guys are good, you can do this! " works wonders.

Why did the jam master cut me off in the middle of my 10-minute face-melting blistering hot Buddy Guy-esque solo? I was seriously on a roll there !!

Alas, you were cut off because, as brilliant as you might have been, there must be limits imposed on your greatness in a session where many others are waiting for their turn to demonstrate their virtuosity as well. ;-) Seriously though, these sessions are soooooo not about looping 10 minute solos - they are about giving everyone in the room a small taste of who you are and what you do.  If they want to hear more, well then they should hire you to do it for them!  Just think of it in those terms, and all will be fair winds and following seas.

I'm a jazz player and want to jam, but I don't read very well.

Most of the jazz sessions around here are reading sessions, reading out of the Real Books. This is not too exciting for advanced players that want to play off-the-beaten path tunes, but there's only so many tunes that players at this level can memorize, and, well... You're kind of stuck with the Real Book material if you want to play this game.  Once in a while, you may get lucky and find a non-reading session that plays exotic stuff, but these will usually be filled with top shelf players who already know 1000 tunes by ear (in every possible key) and you have been warned here that playing alongside these people is not for the faint-of-heart!

Gaaack! this is all too much for me, a lowly horn player.

If you are a horn player and you feel you aren't ready for the jam experience, but still want to get out of your bedroom, you can try a few years in a community band instead. Vocalists can check out numerous community choirs as well. These groups are for all levels of players including rank beginners, learning-to-readers, stage-frighteners and so on. Most groups are extremely supportive and welcoming to new players of all types. They usually rehearse weeknights and provide performance opportunities throughout the year.  More information about this will posted on this site shortly so check back soon!

Givin' it back, and keepin' it real. Since 2000.

All text content Copyright 2011