Russ Spiegel

If you have ever wondered why jazz musicians flock to a jam session, why they may wait sometimes an hour or more just to play on one or two songs, here’s the skinny: the Jam Session is one of the most important means of learning, developing one’s skills, and making contacts in the jazz world. It’s a place where musicians of all backgrounds and abilities meet and try out their chops in the quest to move up the ranks of established players, a chance to play with different musicians and to hang out with the cats.

It is almost always difficult coming to a session where you don’t know anybody and you yourself are unknown. Jazz musicians are a colorful but skeptical bunch with seemingly contradictory attributes  – extroverted/introverted, ambitious, sensitive, competitive and creative. Especially if no one knows you, you are under pressure to deliver the goods if you want to make an impact and establish connections. The general jam session attitude is: “Impress me. Show me you know what this is all about. Let me see you are familiar with the vocabulary and can express it.” A certain level of technical mastery of the instrument helps, but you’ve got to know the form and you better play in time.

Being that the jam session is such an open podium for all comers, not everyone is up to the task, however. Those who can’t cut it are the bane of any musical get-together: the musician new to jazz, who doesn’t know the music; the amateur who doesn’t have the chops; and the poseur, who acts as if he is God’s gift to music but can’t play a lick. Here’s one story….