Klezmer Style Guide

What is a Jam Session?

Not a slow jam, but a pro level jam session?
It’s about the pursuit of excellence.

© Stuart Brotman, Berkeley 2016

A jam session is a musical event, process, or activity where musicians play (i.e. “jam”) without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements.

Jam sessions are for players to interact with other players and make music in a freewheeling environment, to play for their own enjoyment, without having to be concerned about pleasing an audience.

A jam is not a rehearsal. It’s not a class. It may evolve its own process, rules, or style. But it doesn’t have to be a democracy. If it tries to be too polite or politically correct, it’s in danger of becoming a Slow Jam.

Being part of a high-level jam is a privilege, not a right. So joining one that’s already in progress may be sensitive. Ask if you can join. You might try applying The Eyebrow Test: Try looking around with raised eyebrows, looking for an inviting glance.

Beware the Grudging Assent. Be willing to take no for an answer. Don’t cut in when players are concentrating on working something out together, or are involved in a cutting contest. If you’re invited, be courteous and considerate, don’t hog the stage.

Don’t Be High Maintenance — learn to start without a lot of fussing with your instrument or the sound system. Don’t close your eyes and get way into your zone; how will you know how much is enough?  Or if somebody’s glaring at you?  Or if people are leaving?

It can be an Invitational, MC’d or Moderated, there can be someone in charge, a signup sheet or blackboard.

It can be loose and spontaneous, or someone may need to suggest or start a tune, however bravely or timidly.

The focus can also be on types of tunes, or keys, rhythms, dances, tempos, instrumentation, or particular repertoires.