Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Hi All,

May I please ask you to try to define the actual technical differences between a Session and a Jam?

I have a discussion going with a friend and I want to offer more information for my side, which is that I believe there is a difference.

Bye for now,
Greg

Posted by .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I always thought a jam was when people improvised together, no previous actual tune or song in mind - like we used to in the 70’s, and everyone was stoned much of the time. It was actually quite creative sometimes and usually fun. Sessions are best done when we at least some of the people playing have half a mind to remember what we’re playing and what comes next, or maybe what might sound best after this tune or that one. Maybe I’m right off the track here?

I don’t mean to sound like it’s not fun, it is great fun. But this is actually participating in the tradition and they’re all real tunes, most, or at least some of which, have been around a long long time.

Now tear me down about this, someone!

Re: Rules for a ‘Jam Session’

These appear to be the recognised rules for a ‘Jazz Jam Session’ which should help you to understand how a trad session & a jazz jam differ.

1. Don’t be a solo hog. Say what you have to say in as few choruses as possible.

2. Don’t cut another soloist off by jumping in.

3. If you don’t know the tune, don’t solo. Nobody wants to hear a person who hasn’t paid their dues on their horn make a complete fool of himself by trying to make every one think he knows how to play.

4. Don’t tell the leader what to do. It’s their Jam. Not yours. You can always get your own jam someday.

5. Know when to play.

6. Know when to sit down and chill out and enjoy the other players.

7. Have respect for the other soloists ideas by not doodling’ around on your ax when they are playing.

8. If the other players start to riff behind the soloist, then go ahead and join in, but remember the balance, don’t cover the soloist up.

9. Remember the solo order so when fours come up, everybody gets a turn.

10. The Bass doesn’t need a solo on every tune.

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.

12. When playing a Ballad, split up the choruses in half, so the tune isn’t an hour long.

13. Don’t insist on staying up on stage all night. Play your 3 or 4 songs and make room for the other soloists who haven’t played yet.

14. Never be critical of another person on the bandstand. If you have something to say to someone about their pitch, tone, sense of time, or what ever, wait until the break.

15. Never be a mike hog. Always share.

16. Don’t call tunes in order to impress somebody. No one wants to hear Carla Bley Tunes with no Bar Lines performed at the speed of Cherokee. Or Anthony Braxton tunes performed with a polka feel.

17. Learn some tunes that you love, and do them.

18. Don’t judge other people’s tunes. If you hate the song Stella by Starlight, instead of complaining about it, go sit down and take a break.

19. As a horn player, when the singer sings don’t play. It’s ok to fill in between their phrases as long as it’s done tastefully.

20. Use space. Don’t play every Jamie Abersold lick that you know in the first three minutes. Save some ideas for later.

21. Be Mature. A jam is supposed to be about mutual respect for all the players regardless of ability, and not just a cutting contest. There is no room for "Higher, louder, faster," types of players who want to show off.

22. If the person ahead of you just took 8 choruses on the blues, don’t try to "better" him by playing more if you have nothing to say.

23. Play in tune with each other. Don’t have the attitude that "I’m right, Everyone else is Flat".

24. When ending a tune, look to the Bass or piano player for signs as to which type of ending will be used. Is it the 3 times a charm ending? Or that everybody stops at the same time with tight cut off ending? Is the rhythm section going to put a turn around at the end and vamp for a while ending? Turn on your radar.

Well, did that help?

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Dear Ptarmigan,

Wow, thank you so much for the wealth of valuable info. Your gracious considerations are very welcomed. I see that you concentrated on a Jazz Jam with brass included…

I’m actually looking for the "structured" differences between what we know as a "Session", compared to what they know as a "Jam".

And thank you fiddlefingers. I do understand where you are coming from and I enjoyed the humor. I also believe that a Jam is more improvisational than a Session.

Maybe if I offered the example of a bluegrass Jam vs an ITM Session, i.e. a bluegrass jam at a local pub, versus an ITM session at an Irish pub?

I see differences in how the tunes are played i.e. in a Jam, the tunes is played in a manor whereby each player in the circle has a "break". In the break, the player plays an "improvised" solo.

This is not the way an ITM session tune is typically played, in that usually all the melody players play the tune, and the tunes is usually played in it’s fashion such as 2-A’s, 2-B’s, and back to the 2-A’s, per se.

I’m looking for these kinds of applicational differences to support my contension that jams differ from sessions.

I do realize that I may be splitting hairs here, but I feel like the hair is thick enough to split 🙂

Best Regards,
Greg

Posted by .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

well, in a jam, you try to "break out"…while still in a given chordal or rhythmic mode

in a session you try to fit in

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Greg, the bluegrass jams I used to play in were structurally different from Irish sessions in the following ways:

- each person takes a break, a solo, while everyone else plays accompaniment. In Irish sessions, all the melody players play together, simultaneously.
- improvisation and harmonizing are encouraged. If you don’t know a tune, you are expected to make up a break that fits the chord progression. In Irish sessions, if you don’t know the tune, you are expected to listen, and only join in if you can pick up the tune—the actual melody notes—cleanly on the fly.
- songs (with instrumental breaks) outnumber pure insturmentals. In Irish sessions, tunes far outnumber songs, unless the "session" is really a song circle.
- tunes and songs are played individually, rather than in sets. You play them as many times as you need to for everyone who wants to to take a break. In Irish sessions, tunes are usually grouped into sets, and the players fall into a pattern of playing each tune 2 to 6 times through before going on to the next tune.

Old timey jams are a bit more like Irish sessions, in my experience. Everyone plays the tune together, there may be a higher ratio of tunes to songs (though not often as high as in an Irish session), and tunes often come in sets. But many old timey jams are more open to improvisation and harmonizing than any of the Irish sessions I’ve ever been to, and they may hang on a single tune for 20 or more iterations.

Of course, there are other structural differences—the types of insturments played (double bass adds a whole nuther dimension to bluegrass and old timey that’s rarely found in Irish sessions), whether most people play sitting or standing (which then affects the shape and acoustics of the jam), and the types of tunes played (3/4 time is much more common in bluegrass and old timey).

Hope this helps.

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I think it is a matter of different folks using different terms. As a result, there will be differences in the way that people get together and play music. It all depends on the tradition as to what it is called and how it is structured.

BG player jam, Jazz musicians jam, Irish musicians are in a session, etc., there is no absolute definitional difference, just different names for similar acts.

So if the argument is that there is a difference in the two terms, you are right but the difference is not in what they define, but who defines them

Mike Keyes
http://www.banjosessions.com/oct05/interview.html

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Jazz jamming rules that should be applied to ITM sessions:


3. If you don’t know the tune, don’t solo. Nobody wants to hear a person who hasn’t paid their dues on their horn make a complete fool of himself by trying to make every one think he knows how to play.


4. Don’t tell the leader what to do. It’s their Jam. Not yours. You can always get your own jam someday.


7. Have respect for the other soloists ideas by not doodling’ around on your ax when they are playing.

NOTE: there are no "soloists" in ITM sessions, but the no "Doodling" part still applies.


21. Be Mature. A jam is supposed to be about mutual respect for all the players regardless of ability, and not just a cutting contest. There is no room for "Higher, louder, faster," types of players who want to show off.


23. Play in tune with each other. Don’t have the attitude that "I’m right, Everyone else is Flat".


~~~

To answer Gregs question… I think one of the biggest differences, besides what’s already been pointed out, is that ITM sessions generally happen around a table, or in a circle without a stage or mics — and everyone’s playing the tune in unison. (except for the back-up player(s)) and everyone’s generally playing. Also, there doesn’t have to be a "leader" neccessarily. A big clue about the difference is also evident in the fact that the term "session" is basically "jam session" but with the "jam" part left off. This is because, unlike jazz and most other types of music that have "jam sessions," the improvising implied by the word "jam" is out of context.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I disagree. The amount of improvising verses the amount of pre prepared music is the issue here, and I disagree that the balance is the defining differences. You improvise loads in diddley music, it’s just that the improvising is usually done in the minutia in the edges of the melody rather than as a broad sweep across the whole shape of it.

The answer to the question is:
when it comes down to it, there is no difference

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

But Michael, I played jazz for years before coming to ITM and the differences between a "jam session" and ITM sessions are monumental. The imporvising is done as a soloist and tends to completely rewrites the melody within the tonal landscape implied by the tune itself. The tune serves as an introduction and conclusion to the jam. In ITM sessions folks that can might excecute minute variations and improvise others, but it’s done while everyone else is still playing the tune. Everyone doesn’t suddenly stop playing while one person goes off into wild variations 2 or 3 times through, and then come back in all together to play the tune again.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Not to support one position or the other, but I’ve been to a few Irish sessions that blurred well into the territory of a jazz session, where the improv "completely rewrote the melody within the tonal landscape implied by the tune itself," but the players were major talents enjoying copious hours of the clear stuff and serious sleep deprivation. The music was mind-bendingly good.

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

But that was by far an exception and not the rule… right?

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I guess that’s one way to think of it. I was thinking more along the lines of a spectrum of what can unfold at a session, this being one example (probably fairly far along one end of the spectrum).

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

OK, but I play in jams all the time - old-time (or dulcimer jams) some are impromptu sit and plays and some are scheduled jams with lists of common tunes. Some feature some improv but most are focused on playing together and having a good time. I use the term jam to differentiate from Irish sessions. So, I think we need to be careful not to define a jam as being Jazz music and a session meaning Irish music. In the dulcimer society a jam is any time a group of people sits down to play together. Like I said some groups get together monthly (or more frequently) and play from a set list and others just get together at festivals and play whatever comes to mind.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

We were just using jazz as one example.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I know, but jazz has a different set of rules than traditional music and so it’s limiting to use it as an example or definition of a jam. The improv that is an integral part of jazz music means it is planned into the jam more so than in Irish music sessions. But that doesn’t mean that all jams have more improv planned in then sessions. Anymore than it means that people who jam have a less set list of songs than those playing in a session. I guess I’m one who sees the two terms as interchangeable though and the one used is just based on the preferences and traditions of the style that they play.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I suppose so, but everytime someone comes around and says, "Are you guys jamming" they think we’re just making it all up as we go. Or if someone comes along and says, "Can I join your jam session?" They have it in mind to sit and noodle along and play chops because they don’t know the tunes. So I’ve always associated the word "jam" with improvisation. Like I said earlier, the Irish omitted the word and only use "session" to distinguish what there doing from a "jam session."

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Will, come to edinburgh and you will find this kind of session all the time. We kind of have a saying that says what’s the point unless you feckk obout with it. As I mentioned in the thread about harmony, sometimes absolutly everybody goes off at tangents all at once, and miraculously come back to the tune just before launching into another. Very exhilarating.

I think what I’m trying to say is that at’s all a matter of degrees, there are no defining differences. Some Jazz get togethers are completely free, where any reference to any chord or melody structure that has been done before is frowned upon. Others follow strict "standards". It’s a very wide spectrum of playing.

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

But I agree with you Jack, If anyone asks if they "can join your jam", they immediately identify themselves as a noodler. So it is sometimes useful to have the two terms

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

…and a jam session requires a rhythym instrument to keep the , uhh, rhythym….in a session a rhythym instrument is not a requirement and too many can be detrimental

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

FWIW, here’re some Wiki definitions…always interesting to note the African origin of so much of American culture:

"A jam session is a musical act where musicians gather and play (or "jam") without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements.
The origin of the term jam in this context can be traced back to the 1920s. According to the Online Dictionary of Etymology, the term originally appeared ca. 1929, referring to a "short, free improvised passage performed by the whole band". The derivation of this usage is obscure, but like other novel terms that came into English through jazz music — such as the terms "hip", "hep" and "hepcat" — it is possible that it ultimately derives from the West African Wolof language.
The word ‘jam’ can be more loosely used to refer to any particularly inspired or improvisational part of a musical performance, especially in rock and jazz music. Jam sessions, however, are generally for the benefit of the performers and not part of a public performance.
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."

And for ITM sessions:

"Irish traditional music sessions are informal gatherings at which people play or sing Irish traditional music. The general session scheme is that someone starts a tune, and those who know it join in. Typically, the first tune is followed by another two or three tunes in a set, or medley of tunes. After a while the set comes to an end and after a brief interval, someone else starts another set of tunes. Sometimes there are more-or-less recognized session leaders; sometimes there are no leaders. Sessions are often held in pubs (with the hope that listeners will buy drinks for the musicians) and everyone who is able to play Irish music on an instrument is welcomed; ‘grab your instrument and join along’. A pub owner might have one or two musicians paid to come regularly in order for the session to have a base. The sessions can be held in homes or at various public places in addition to pubs. The objective in a session is not to provide music for an audience of passive listeners, but in pub sessions, the punters (non-playing attendees) often come for the express purpose of listening, and the music is for the musicians themselves.
In his "Field Guide to the Irish Music Session," Barry Foy defines a session as:
…a gathering of Irish traditional musicians for the purpose of celebrating their common interest in the music by playing it together in a relaxed, informal setting, while in the process generally beefing up the mystical cultural mantra that hums along uninterruptedly beneath all manifestations of Irishness worldwide.
The sessions are a key aspect of traditional music; some say it is the main sphere in which the music is formulated and innovated. Further, the sessions enable young musicians to practice in a group.
Socially, sessions (Seisiún in Gaelic) have often been compared to an evening of playing card games, where the conversation and cameraderie are an essential component. In many rural communities in Ireland, sessions are an integral part of community life.
Sessions are an excellent way to witness the real, amorphous identity of Irish traditional tunes."

No matter how much improvising is going on at any particular ITM session, I don’t think anyone passing by on the sidewalk outside an ITM pub session would mistake it for Minton’s. It would seem the musical form and the social form are strongly connected, no matter how elastic that connection can be. The degree of both change and memory in cultural forms is always amazing. Though there’ll be no hard line dividing the too activities, I believe there’s clearly a difference, intrinsic to the music.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

When michael said that "there is no difference" between the two, I was prepared to disagree with him. But as the discussion went on, and he began to disagree with himself, I found that I was in agreement.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

The wiki definition is interesting, and I agree with it generally, but I would never consider it the be-all and end-all definition of an ITM session. For example, I don’t think I’ve ever gone to a session with any expectations that the punters would buy me drinks. As evident in this forum, and even this thread, there is a wide range of concepts people will argue if you try to come up with an official definition. I still maintain that a session is whatever the people starting it want it to be, but if you’re going to describe what an ITM session generally refers to, I still would never call it a “jam.”

The session that Michael Gill describes is still the exception rather than the rule I think, at least in my experiences and observations. Every once in a while at a late-night party or music camp etc. I’ve witnessed a session to become very experimental like that, but by and large the vast majority haven’t included that sort of thing. When the few sessions I’ve seen evolve into a situation where the confines of the tunes are released into open-ended improvisations like that — I would call those "jams."

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

True enough, though I’ve never been short of a generous pint at the sessions I’m priveledged to attend, they come from session mates rather than punters.

I suppose an Old-Time Jam would have a jug of moonshine to pass around, while a Bluegrass Jam would have cans of diet cola, and a Jazz Jam - especially in the early days - would have had gin in coffee cups. I’ve read that the latter was certainly true of the after hours joints in the Fillmore in SF in the 50’s.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I never expect punters (or publicans) to buy my pints, but it (happily) happens fairly often, even when we tell them it’s not necessary.

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

We have a guy who loves the music and thinks the publican should be providing our beverages free of charge. To emphasize his assertion — he buys us a round whenever he comes in. To the publican’s credit, he does shove free drinks to us, and has his staff do the same, but keeps it at their discretion to avoid abuse if people come to expect it.

Did we hijack the thread? 😏

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Michael Gill is spot on yet again. There is no difference, or should not be, unless you get a couple of "purists" or some people who have read too many web sites about session "Rules".

Get along to your session and jam.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Your response comes as no surprise, Blisster. As for me — I’ll avoid the "jams" thank you very much.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Ok, avoid the jams, you’ll miss out on some fun music and some great people. I still feel that there really isn’t a difference when someone says they go to a jam session or a Irish session except that the Irish session determines that they are playing Irish music and in a jam session pretty much anything (though typically pre-set) goes.

So they are different, but not in a bad way. Old-Time jams are really no different than Irish sessions. Not the ones I’ve been to and I’ve been to a ton over the last thirteen years or so. People come together, people play a specific style of music, people play a fairly standard set of tunes with the occasional new or odd tune thrown in. So I really don’t see how it’s different than an Irish music session. Maybe it’s the people. Maybe the jammers are more relaxed and are there to have fun and aren’t so busy being worried about whether their jam is being insulted by being called a session or vice versa. Interesting thought, no? 😉

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I’m only using the term in how it relates to ITM. If it’s a "jam session" I’m going to be weary of it.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I should add that the term "jam session" would be something expected in other genres. If I was going to an old-time, country, bluegrass, etc. "jam session" I would expect to see the term, and I would expect to find musicians improvising in a way that goes beyond what you would find at a typical ITM session.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I can accept and agree with that then. If you limit your musical terminology to only relate to Irish music than I can see how you would develop certain prejudices against terms that are completely innocuous terms. Like jam sessions instead of Irish sessions.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

(in a hushed whisper, barely daring to give voice to the thought)…kinda like some people’s delicate aversion to the term "performance" in the context of Irish sessions.

Ooops. Did I say that out loud?
😉

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Oh no, you said it out loud - now what are we going to do …

😉

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Duck…

Posted .

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Oh, good idea…gonna go hide now…

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

hahahaha

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

Laughing at our peril? Watch out - you might wind up in the line of fire.

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I hope you saw my response to you on the "harmonies" thread, musicfan. 🙂

Re: Can we define: A "Session" vs A "Jam"?

I saw it…now duck… 😉