Tuesday, February 2, 2016


I (reluctantly) attended an after concert jam session recently. It has not been my practice to participate in such festivities for many years because for some reason, whenever I step up to take a solo at sessions, things have a habit of falling apart on the bandstand shortly after I begin to play. For a long time, I didn't understand why but it happened so often that I began to instinctively recognize the indicators: Pianists will start to comp with far too many percussive and dense chords, bassists break up the beat unnecessarily and drummers shamelessly obscure everything with excessive volume, rushing, metric modulation, hemiolas and all out non-stop soloing. These violations are much more evident when very young players are involved - especially recent graduates from university level music programs. (Of course there are exceptions) Unfortunately, unseasoned players sometimes use these sessions as unofficial audition situations, and take it upon themselves to "go for it, every time" at all costs. The result is often amateurish, unlistenable chaos and the most common excuse is usually "I'm sorry,  I thought that's what you wanted...."

However, at the aforementioned session, the issue was completely different. After I was called to play, (even though I had no intentions to do so) I was completely blindsided by several younger players who suddenly took out their instruments and stampeded to jockey for a place on the large stage. They hadn't been summoned nor invited by the host nor any members of the band but in as much as I enjoy hearing musicians play and express themselves, it was perfectly fine with me. I chuckled and welcomed them.

After a very loose and sloppy melody statement was made by one of the young players (who clearly didn't REALLY know the melody OR form) I stepped up to take one of my classically short solos (Charlie Parker length.) It was at that point, one of the young saxophonists all but bogarted his way to the microphone and blasted his way into the first chorus. As I realize that music is not a competitor sport, I laughed and marveled at his bravado and enthusiasm and let him "have it." After his solo that went on for far too long, another player did the exact same thing. He cut off someone else and elbowed his way to the microphone. This scenario went on with maybe 2 more players afterward.

Finally, when it came time for me to play, and after they had exhausted every possible avenue of expression and tested the patience of the audience by playing marathon-length solos, I waved off the opportunity and let the pianist play instead because the song had gone on for entirely too long. At that point, I felt that there was no reason to contributing to the cacophony. There had been at least five or six solos played already.

OBSERVATION: The behavior that was exhibited that evening is part of a phenomenon ushered in by a current generation of players who have not been taught or conditioned to show respect for those that have endured much more in the music. (re: elders) Their only aim and cause is to put on an exhibition of what they can do, despite the fact that much of it is not original or in the spirit of storytelling and embracing the spirit of artistic camaraderie. The attitude is one of pure selfishness and a lack of awareness of the staples and ethics of the craft. There is no way possible that I would have EVER bum rushed Lou Donaldson, Jackie McLean, Charles McPherson, Bunky Green, etc. or ANY elder at a session or otherwise. Not only would it have been foolhardy to do so in a musical sense but it would have been a showing of utter disrespect. I would have, with full humility, waited my turn, made a quick statement of maybe ONE chorus and then withdrawn back into the shadows to be seen and not heard. I would have done that simply out of reverence and acknowledgement of the social hierarchy and laws of the bandstand. It's called, "Knowing Your Place."

Teachers, please teach your students to adhere to the principles of grace and decorum in all musical situations.