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LJS 51: Everything You Need to Know About Jazz Jam Sessions

Welcome to episode 51 of the LJS Podcast where today we are talking about everything you need to know about jazz jam sessions. Learn why they are important, how to be prepared, and how to network. Listen in!

Listen to episode 51

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In this episode

  1. Ask LJS: A listener asks what other musicians look for in jazz drummers and what they dislike.

  2. Why jazz jam sessions are important.

  3. 2 kinds of jam sessions.

  4. How to be prepared for a jazz jam.

  5. Good jam session etiquette.

  6. How to network at a jam session.

  7. What if there are no jam sessions in your city?

  8. What if you don’t feel you are “good enough” to attend a jam session.

Listen to episode 50: How to Become an Expert Jazz Comper

Mentioned in the show

30 Days to Better Jazz Playing eCourse

A 30-day audio eCourse that walks you through focused, goal-oriented practicing, where you will be working on things that actually improve your jazz playing.


Have anything else to add to today’s topic? Leave us a comment below.

Brent Vaartstra
Brent Vaartstra is a professional jazz guitarist and educator living in New York City. He is the head blogger and podcast host for which he owns and operates. He actively performs around the New York metropolitan area and is the author of the Hal Leonard publication "Visual Improvisation for Jazz Guitar." He's also the host of the music entrepreneurship podcast "Passive Income Musician."


  1. Hi Brett
    I wanted to ask your advice. I play saxes and fretless bass. I am not a full time musician but have been playing these for a long time. Mainly bass live with a range of band, and sax more recently.

    I recently started go to a jam session which actually is very supportive. I have gotten up on both at times (more recently on bass as that is what I have been playing live a lot so my chops are up). I had great feedback at two recent sessions from pro's and turned up to play the other night. I turned up and was ready with my instrument when a heap of pro players turned up and even thought there was support to get up I lost confidence and ended up frozen hanging talking to people bu not able to get up and play. In the end a group were up who sounded great and I felt it not right to break the vibe by getting up. And also not being a pro I felt less than worthy though the other quieter jams I had great feedback.

    So essentially I vibed myself out of it and walked away pretty disappointed and annoyed with myself. Mainly because the jam goes till 2.30 am in the morning and I hung embarrassed to leave earlier with my instrument and having not played. So the next day was pretty written off at my work and annoyed I did that.

    I had a lot of enthusiasm and confidence turning up and then lost it not knowing how to break in or get upon stage and then when the opportunity came made some lame excuse. The musicians who were running the jam looked disappointed and overall it made me think about not going back.

    But it comes down to a confidence thing and feeling I belong there. I see others way less down the track than me up playing and yet I bail when even winging it I could play more convincingly! I am never going to be a full time pro musician but I want to play great music and be at that level. I already play regularly in a group on bass with a pro drummer and guitarist who love what I do. Do you have any thoughts on this?

    Love your work, podcast and input.

    Cheers Phil

    • Sorry when I say sax more recently I meant playing sax live with a band behind me. I have done around 50 small gigs like this over the past two years leading groups. Both bass and saxes I have played over the past 30 years and am definitely at an intermediate level but mainly self taught through books, playalongs and online resources like yours.

    • Hey Phil!

      Thanks for reaching out, and thanks for being a podcast listener. First off, I think everyone can relate to your story at some point in time, including myself. I've had times in my career where suddenly some huge jazz musician comes walking in the door (I live in New York), and even though I'm feeling great and playing great, I suddenly lose my confidence. I think it's a natural thing to get intimidated by musicians with more experience and talent.

      But I will say this: just play from where you are at and own it. You said it was a supportive jam session, which is great. Unfortunately, not all of them are. So take advantage of that and get up there and do your thing. Who cares if you're not the best guy up there! All that matters is that you are having fun and improving for yourself. You got this, Phil!

  2. I'm definitevely going to start Jam Sessions now, sounds really cool and really challenging.
    learning more standards now : )

  3. Thanks Brent. A quick question, what are your thoughts about having music memorized for a jam session? I went to what was billed as a pretty low-key session and I wound up getting dressed down by a sax player because I didn't have the changes memorized (I play bass), and that he has all of the music in the realbook memorized. I see where he is coming from, but that's a pretty high bar for someone who is just starting out. Can you do a podcast on memorizing tunes?

    • Hey Keith, sorry for the late response! Sounds like this sax player may have a slight issue with a big ego. Though, as you acknowledged, there is something to his complaint. Have you considered asking the question on the Podcast Questions Hotline: 910-557-2278. That's probably a question many others have as well!

    • While having "all of the music in the realbook memorized" is sorta weird (really, how many times is that sax player calling Carla Bley tunes?) the easy answer is: you have to have at least a small repertoire of tunes that are memorized. 10 songs, and that's excluding Rhythm Changes and blues. As a bassist, you're lucky in that its highly unlikey you'll be playing the melody at a jam, so learn the changes to a small group of tunes that are popular at jams (which are usually tunes with 32 bar or less forms and can be played at a medium-up to up tempo, so probably not All the Things You Are…no eager horn player wants to have to wait so long to solo).

      If you live in an area where the session is dominated by 1 guy or a particular style, then learn a few tunes you know the locals play. Example, I spent time in a city where a pianist who worshipped Bud Powell ran a session, so I learned stuff like Un Poco Loco and Obliviion.

      Here are 5 eye-roll tunes (songs everyone is sorta sick of playing but its the only one everyone will agree to play) and 5 songs that, in my experience, people actually like calling. All are simple enough and some allow the horn players to play alternate heads:

      Eye-rollers: Beatrice, What Is This Thing, It Could Happen to You, Four, Lady Bird

      Tunes people seem to like calling: Chick's Tune (You Stepped Out of a Dream changes), Black Nile (or substitute "Asiatic Raes"), Inner Urge (easily BS'able changes), Lazy Bird, Our Delight

      Obviously, some of those tunes would be considered "advanced", but if I'm a horn player at an average jam, if the bass player can sound the changes with good time and not get lost, then I'm pretty good to go.

      Hope that helped!

  4. Thanks for a great episode. One tool that I would add to be really useful for networking, organizing private jam sessions, is In Vancouver BC our jazz meetup group has over 200 musicians, and we have private sessions a few times a month, with several people hosting.


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