The local jam session

I'm fortunate to have a monthly open jam session in my area, so close that I could practically drive there by bike. Jam sessions have been a part of the Burghausen music scene for over 20 years, with a brief hiatus during the pandemic.

In January 2023, the sessions were reignited under new leadership and organization. That has also been my first jam session as a listening guest, not yet as a performer. At the time I was a complete beginner in playing Jazz and especially walking bass lines. However, the atmosphere was captivating, and the level of playing seemed beyond my reach. Since then, I've been attending almost every month.

Jam session at 2023-10-06

I had already played "Mercy Mercy Mercy", which is considered a Jazz standard, before. So, at the third or fourth session, I took my bass and offered to play that song. Which I eventually did! It's a relatively simple song for bass, with a repeating 16-bar figure that does the job.

I just went out and did it. The same goes for the song "Blue Bossa", a simple 16 bar form played in Latin style where the bass can get away with playing only roots and fifths. You don't need to play the best line in the world to be accepted as a part of a (or at least this) jam session.

This provided some strong motivational boosts for my practice sessions at home, where I worked on "Tenor Madness" with a "real" and improvised walking bass line. Since then, I've always brought my bass with me to the jam session. Sometimes I use it, sometimes not. Nevertheless, every visit is a great experience. Not only the featured artists, but also the open part, is always guaranteed to have some expert playing. And the audience is consistently positive, enthusiastic, and engaging.

October 6th 2023

So, I was there again with my bass last Friday. First, there was a fantastic opening concert featuring the great vibraphonist Tim Collins. Afterward, during the open part of the session, I offered to play "Blue Bossa", "Tenor Madness" or "Mercy Mercy Mercy". Unfortunately "Mercy Mercy Mercy" had already been requested by another bass player, so I had no luck there. However it was a great performance by a young vocalist.

Next, "Blue Bossa" was called, and I went onto the stage and came through the tune quite well. I even received some specifically positive feedback from one listener. As I said: great audience!

In the next set of songs, "Tenor Madness" was called, with me on bass. We briefly discussed the tempo, and that I did not want it too slow. We started playing, and although I made some minor mistakes, I felt quite confident with my walking bassline. The other musicians on stage seemed to feel the same way, and they essentially forced me to take a solo on my own.

How did it happen? Well, all the melody players suddenly stopped playing, and I found myself alone with the drummer, with some occasional chords from the pianist. I guess you must call that a solo. I didn't have much time to think, so I just kept playing what I had played before - walking quarter notes to the blues progression. It passed quite quickly and surprisingly smoothly. In fact, I only had one real problem: not knowing how to end my solo. In my mind I knew that the signal is simply "to give a glance to the other cats". Only, my body didn't yet know how to do it. Eventually (maybe after four choruses?), the other players had mercy, and we returned to the ending head.

My learnings

Looking back, it was a great experience, and I've discovered a few things to add to my practice sessions:

  • Remember to look up from the fretboard; it won't go anywhere.
  • Imagine some co-players while practicing and trying to expand my awareness to include them. This is the only way, especially when practicing alone in the basement.
  • It's time to work on some basic soloing ideas, perhaps based on pentatonics? Or maybe I can utilize melodies that are already in my mind?

This experience reminds me that one of the secrets of so many great players is their ability to know how and what to practice, and they adjust their practice sessions according to their current needs.



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