Jam Session
A week ago I drove out to LA to attend the monthly jam session at the Blue Whale. This one was hosted by the Monk Institute. I arrived at the end of the first set, just in time to see my friend David Otis (who also performed with me for my Graduate Thesis Concert at UCI) taking a solo on a tune. Everyone in that band was extremely gifted. I was especially impressed by their vocalist- a talented young man who exhibited excellent control over his voice, singing arpeggios and runs as if he were playing a sax. The set came to an end, and the band announced that the second set would be open for sign-ups.

A line of musicians formed in front of the sign-up sheet, eager to get their names down for a chance to play. I commented to a friend who was with me that playing at a jam session is a high stress experience, and it is of greater value for a musician to play at a jam session at the Blue Whale than it is to play at a regular corporate gig. Why? Because your audience at a corporate gig is often not comprised of mostly high level musicians, listening to your every note, and judging your technique. At those corporate gigs, not everyone is listening. But at the jam session, all eyes are on the performer, studying him. It is an extremely valuable experience to a budding musician to get in that zone and try his best.

After you sign up, you wait in the crowd. The host band will delegate someone to call names from the list. Maybe your names gets called for the first song. Maybe not. When your name is called, you head up. You don't know ahead of time who you will be playing with, what song you will be playing, what songs everyone else knows, who's taking a solo first, how the song will start or end. It is expected that everyone has enough experience to make those decisions when they get to the stage. When I got to the stage I asked the horn players if they knew "Lady Bird." One did, the other didn't. I asked for "Nardis." No. They asked for "Beatrice." "I don't know it," I said. I made a mental note to learn it this week. We settled on "All The Things You Know," which is one of those songs everybody should know.

I'm glad I got up to play. I was definitely outplayed later on by some killer pianists, but that doesn't really matter to me. Performing live at the Blue Whale at the jam session forced me to play at my very best, to listen to everyone around me, to synchronize my rhythms to the band, and to focus intently on what I was doing. The goal for me was just to experience a few moments of synchronicity, which I did. Goal attained.

I should attend more jam sessions.