Jazz Soup Lines

Reading Harri’s (owner of SOTW) blog titled: Jam Sessions in USA and Greater Helsinki Area and was struck by the differences and indeed some of the sameness encountered at Jazz Jams overseas.

Alexei Zoubov, now an American jazz musician, writes in his piece titled Soup Kitchens and Jam Sessions, "Nevertheless, the image of a soup kitchen (or bread line) pops out in my mind at jams more and more often lately.

I guess that has partially to do with the present bad economic situation. There are less and less gigs, especially jazz gigs, less and less jazz clubs. And the expansion of jazz education produces more and more young players that just can’t find any spots to play jazz.

Except for jam sessions. These are the places where hungry for playing jazz musicians can get their “bowl of jazz soup” for free, or “at a reasonably low price” (see the definition of a soup kitchen above).

They sign up on a list, sometimes pay $5 or so (nothing bad about that, the money goes to the house rhythm section) and thus form a line to play a few choruses in a couple of songs."

P1010694 Sometimes I wonder if the jazzers I run with know how lucky they are to know so many great musicians and play in so many bands. We conduct sessions about twice a year and talk about doing it more than that. It’s usually a potluck where invitees bring some food and drink. And usually we’re reading out of Real Books.

Sometimes there are so many musicians at a jam that I don’t play or play very little. My favorite jazz jam was one where very few people showed up. So those playing got more time on the ax and those listening got more food.  :o)

I was actually able to record that session and my favorite part comes at minute mark 7:35 where I’m finishing a solo and Doug on trumpet comes in behind me. I’m surprised at first and then play an accompanist role which turned out kinda nice.


I often bring some four-horn charts to do to, but to date haven’t been called upon to hand them out. They are in the binders which I use as backup books for my combo, the Dissonance, a Jazz xTet. The idea there is that you get a four part arrangement and then solo sections that can be repeated a number of times.

Reading the Real Books is okay, but the cats I hang with don’t really do the four part harmony on the fly very much, so the protocol is to read the head, solo, solo, … and the close with the last reading of the head. If I’m on bari sax I will try to play an interesting bass line.

The success of any given jam session is usually based on the quality of the musicians and luck. But there are some down and dirty rules which if applied can almost always improve a session. Grant ‘King’ Koeller captured them in a blog post titled, Jam Session Etiquette.

My favorite is of course, “11. If there is more than one horn present don’t all play the melody in unison. Use different harmony parts and chord tones to create interest.” Getting a like-minded group of in tune and alert musicians together can be a real challenge. But once you find these folks, you tend to invite them into your bands and back to the Jazz Sessions for just a little more jazz soup please.


About Gandalfe

Just an itinerant saxophonist trying to find life between the changes. I have retired from the Corps of Engineers and Microsoft. I am an admin on the Woodwind Forum, run the Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra, and enjoy time with family and friends.
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