Jazz, Music, Philadelphia

The Session Obsession

The jam session is a long-standing tradition in jazz music.  In a storybook it might conjure the image a small crowd of great musicians, pushing each other to new heights in their music and interacting on a multitude of levels.  Or maybe these sessions would be a place where the young, aspiring musician could “go to school” while an older, seasoned musician leads the way with truth and power.  If these images are the true idea of a jam session, I, in my short time in Philadelphia, have yet to see it.

Often, while attending a session, I see a rotating cast of my peers playing with perhaps one notable, local legend of the scene to create the house band.  This is undoubtedly a great experience and opportunity for the musicians leading the session.  After a short set to start things off, the house band leaves the stage, bellies up to the bar and the free-for-all begins.  Sometimes this free-for-all is the lifeblood of the session but more often than not, it is the thing drives me away from these jams.  The same standard repertoire jazz tunes every night.  Bandstand etiquette and listening nowhere to be found.  Music rarely lives in these spaces.

As I write it is Sunday and I have the choice of going to FOUR different jam sessions in Philadelphia.  It is great to have a place to play and have the option on most nights of the week but this is overkill.  Aren’t we hurting the market for jazz music in this city by over saturating the scene with these sessions?  It is my understanding that these sessions function not only as places for musicians to collaborate, meet and be creative but as an alternative way for bars and clubs to drum up business on normally down nights.  Why can’t there be nights in this town where four clubs are having bands play their own music, be it the idiom or original?  “Inside” or “outside.”  A session could easily follow these performances instead of the jam taking precedent.

Wouldn’t it be wise for those booking these sessions to stagger jam sessions throughout the week?  What club will continue to open their space to music on a Sunday night while their returns continue to diminish due to copy cat actions?  It is yet unseen, but I feel like this continuing trend of over saturation could in turn effect how often these clubs will even book music, let alone a jam session.

A jam session evidently draws musicians to a club.  “Sitting in” with the band must be more enticing than sitting and actually listening to music for a lot of people.  But FOUR of these things in one night?  I think I might just watch the Phillies game instead.


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