The Jam Session
Also “jamming.” The most informal of jazz arrangements, and one which depends solely on the shared knowledge of the players. It was once a common practice among jazz musicians, often occurring after hours, in clubs or spaces set aside for musicians and their friends to be entertained and to learn their trade. Recordings such as Norman Granz’s Jazz at the Philharmonic were packaged jam sessions that were put onstage around the world.
A jam session is a musical act where musicians gather and play (or simply “jam”) without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements; improvisation.
Jam sessions are often used to develop new material, find suitable arrangements, or simply as a social gathering and communal practice session. Jam sessions may be based upon existing songs or forms, may be loosely based on an agreed chord progression or chart suggested by one participant, or may be wholly improvisational. Jam sessions can range from very loose gatherings of amateurs to sophisticated improvised recording sessions intended to be edited and released to the public.
The New York jazz scene during World War II was famous for its after-hours jam sessions. One of the most famous was the regular after-hours jam at Minton’s Playhouse in New York City that ran in the 1940s and early 1950s. Las mermeladas de Minton’s were a fertile meeting place and proving ground for both established soloists like Ben Webster and Lester Young, and the younger jazz musicians who would soon become leading exponents of the bebop movement, including Thelonious Monk (Minton’s house pianist), Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. The Minton’s jams were legendary for their highly competitive “cutting contests”, in which soloists would try to keep up with the house band and outdo each other in improvisation skill. A few historic jazz jam sessions still available on Amazon.