Jamming For Dollars
In short, you're seeking a saint. But they're out there. Maybe a good candidate is already working at your locale in another band, or at another joint in a band you've heard. Putting feelers out in area jazz departments will likely get you a slew of qualified, enthusiastic and interested individuals.
Certainly, someone already proven who is running a jam at another venue on another night, could be considered. I'd proceed with caution in this area. As a courtesyand courtesy is very important in the music businessI would secure the permission and the blessing of the club owner booking the other jam before thinking about raiding his or her talent pool.
As an aside, the jazz community and club/restaurant owners who book jazz need to work on the issues of cooperation and communication. No one suggests revealing business secrets, but just think about what could be accomplished if everyone worked together.
The Promo Possibilities
Promotional possibilities related to booking a jazz group have been detailed in our previous "Booking Jazz: A Subjective Guide" article and much of the same guidelines apply. And remember, not all of it is free.
In the instance of the jam session, however, I cannot underestimate the importance of area schools and colleges with jazz departments. Depending upon how much promo work you choose to do in that area, a good deal of your players and your audience could come from the academic contingent. And if the jam session director you hire happens to be on the faculty of an area jazz school, well, just think of the possibilities.
Consider special promos on jam night, like two-for-one drinks or meals for players and/or their parents, special evenings being "sponsored" by the jazz department of a school or college, extending an invitation to a special guest and hyping same, etc. Constant and consistently updated web presence on social media, the venue's site and a site like AllAboutJazz.com is a must. Via the web, keep all participants, past and present; and appropriate parties apprised of what happened at last week's jam, who came in, highlights of the night, and what's up for the future.
Is "Perdido" in Bb?
The one constant in jams these days is the sign-in sheet, broken down by instrument. Quite simply, those who have eyes to blow sign up. By and large, the night starts with a set by the house band. The length of their set is often determined by the number of those who have signed up. After a short break, it's time for the jam director to bring on the guests.
Methods of running the actual session vary, though the following can be considered "the standard" or the most common: Playing or singing guests are brought up one or two at a time for one or two songs, backed by either the house rhythm section or a rhythm section comprisedentirely or in partby guests. Much of this, naturally, depends on how many potential guests there are in the house. In the weeks it takes to get the word out that a jam session is indeed happening, the house rhythm section may play more and sitters-independing on their level of talentmay be asked to play more than a couple of numbers.
The person in charge will know, or should know, what to do.
A Unique Situation
For close to ten years, I played a considerable part in a unique, jam-type, and I emphasize the word type, situation in Naples, Florida. A fine singer named Judy Branch, who uses the professional name "Jebry," spent considerable road time in her younger days with giants like Harry James and Lou Levy. Decades ago, she was booked for a singing gig in a Dixie-type setting in Marco Island, Florida, just over the bridge from Naples. Looking to settle down, she has ultimately spent more than 30 years on Florida's southwest coast and continues to be among the top jazz attractions in Naples.
Backed by a rhythm section she's had, with only a few changes, for years, Jebry is the focal point of the night's entertainment, but it becomes a jam from time to time via a group of sitting-in "guests" who take to the stage during the course of the evening. In large part, and with rare exception, these singers and players are "regulars," i.e. a core group who show up to perform wherever Jebry may be booked.
Singer Joy Adams and I sat in with Jebry and her trio from the virtual moment we arrived in Naples. Though we were "flatlanders" virtually unknown in those parts, because we were pros who performed to Jebry's satisfaction, because we received a good response from the audience, and because we made it clear that we were not out to "cop the gig," we were asked back. Our association lasted almost ten years, and Jebry was kind and generous enough to let me play drums, saxophone, trumpet, piano, sing, and do everything on the stage but somersaults. Believe me, I tried the latter.