on a Jam Session

Added on by Taylor Smith.

I played in a semi-formal jam session last week. The music was part of a benefit event to honor my high school band director, Jeff Tower, who passed away earlier this month. The idea was that there are a lot of people who were in band and/or worked with him that are still active musicians, that a good way to “honor” Tower would be to pull many of them together and have a “jam session.”

I went into this event both excited and nervous; excited that I might get to see some friends that I haven’t seen in seventeen years or more, but nervous because my jazz playing simply isn’t what it used to be (actually, none of my playing is what it used to be). Instead of getting better since college, I have gotten worse. I know that a certain amount of this is normal. Life happens to people. But, I was still nervous going in because a “jam session” is a pretty open-ended thing, and just about anything can happen.

I was lucky enough to go to high school with two phenomenal saxophonists. One, a woman I knew as Jessica, who now goes by a stage name, is a few years older than I; the other, who says he “doesn’t play all that much anymore” but still sounds better than just about anyone I know, is a few years younger than I. I didn’t really know her all that well—high school seniors aren’t generally in the habit of befriending freshmen unless there is a specific reason to—but I knew him quite well. He and I were roommates during a summer at Idyllwild Arts, and he asked me to be his accompanist for a super-prestigious competition. Both he and she showed up at the jam session.

A woman at the event wanted to sing “All of Me.” That was straightforward. Then, when no one else on stage piped up, a certain female saxophonist said, “Let’s play ‘A Night in Tunisia.’” That’s not a difficult tune, per se, but it has some less-than-straightforward things that could benefit from at least some discussion up front. It went alright, though not without hiccup. Then, she calls “Cherokee.” “Cherokee.” “Cherokee” is the piece you play when you’re certain that the audience wants to know what a ride cymbal smells like when it starts to melt. The chord changes are not hard, but they aren’t easy either, but, then again, few things are “easy” at 250 bpm. (Also, there is that whole, tuning-my-bass-in-fifths thing ... )

My first “jam session” in over a decade, and I get to fumble my way through “Cherokee.” Sheesh!

Here is Wynton Marsalis making all of us look bad.