A great jam session is one of the best things in the world, in my humble opinion. A great jam session in which you take an active part is an even better thing in the world.
You know that feeling; you’re playing something previously unrehearsed with other musicians, and the whole song just flows. It is like the music has started a life of its own, and you are part of its creation. Everything feels exactly right. There’s perfect synergy going on; the product is greater than the sum of the parts (the musicians) acting alone.
One way to spot that the other musicians are thinking the same thing, is when they give you ‘the face’: a combination of a grin, a tightening of the muscles around the nose as if about to sneeze, and a rhythmic nodding action of the head. This is usually paired with a (inaudible, due to the music) groan that was meant to come out as an, “ah, yeah, man!”, but somehow made it past your lips not fully formed.
Why can’t it always be like this?
Unfortunately, a great jam doesn’t happen as often as one would like, or expect. Most jam sessions are mediocre and merely satisfying. The big one comes when you least expect it.
There are some guidelines that make it more likely for a great jam session to take place, but I am going to leave that for another time.
One thing that you should always keep in mind though is that you should adopt a ‘serving’ attitude towards playing music together. Making great music with others is an act of collaboration. You should always make sure that whatever you do is to the benefit of the song and not yourself.
A jam session is like a conversation. You don’t just shut yourself off, and stare at the fretboard all the time, or take the solo spot for too long. Self-indulgence is a sure way to ruin a jam session, and turn it into a bad jam session. We’ve all been there, too.
Here’s an example of a great jam session (of which you were not part!)
Here’s a jam session I found a while ago. Take three great musicians, a simple jazz standard, and let it rip. Take note of the interaction going on between the three musicians. It’s as though they are having a conversation through their playing. Notice the eye contact at key points.
Listen, enjoy, and learn!