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December 15, 2016

About jam nights and why every session musician should go to them

I’ve been talking a lot recently about my experience of how I got into working as a session musician – I think it’s something that should be talked about more openly and hopefully there is some useful advice in there for people who are considering leaving their well paid jobs to live the dream.

This might be my last advicey blog for a while as I want to steer things a little more towards nerdy bass gear talk (at least for the next few posts). But before taking it there, I thought I would talk about a topic I’m sure every working musician has an opinion on – Jam nights!!

Some of the most common advice I was given as a young buck wanting to head out into the glamour of session musician-ing was, “go to Jam nights”. Probably the most vague bit of advice going, so here are my reasons on why I think every musician should go to Jam nights and what you can expect.

  1. Make some mates and play with new musicians
    I briefly mentioned this point in my last blog post about how to promote yourself as a session musician and get gigs. Having friends in this industry is one of the most valuable assets (that is, friends, not just contacts), not only do mates want to work with mates – but actually the importance of having someone to depend on for advice and encouragement has been crucial for me to keep believing in myself and being persistent.I can’t stress this point enough here – don’t go to jam nights thinking that Gary Barlow is going to see you, be totally blown away by your playing and flock to you with his phone number begging you to play for him. When you say it like that it sounds stupid (Ok, I exhaggertaed little), but this was my mentality at first, and I’m sure it’s the mentality of a lot of other people that have been given the advice, “go to jam nights” when asking, “how do I get a gig”. Infact, I would say the opposite, don’t go to jam nights expecting a gig at all – you will be seriously dissapointed. Instead, go to be socialable and enjoy playing with other great musicians. Once you’ve had a play, chat with the people you played with, get numbers, go for some food after (there is a great little Italian takeaway place opposite Ronnies), nerd out over gear – basically, be normal! Your goal isn’t to use people to get gigs, it’s to get to know other, like-minded musicians.
  2. Build your confidence
    I remember the first jam night I went to – it was at the Troy bar and the level of musicianship was so incredible (pretty sure it was Rick Leon James on bass…if you know, you know!) that I decided I never wanted to play bass again! Twenty minutes later, I decided that was a stupid thought and that I had just wasted a great oppurtunity to better myself by being too scared to play.I started going down to jam nights a couple of times a week and, in a similar way in which I imagine Bear Grylls forces down a goats testicle, I would force myself, against every part of me that wanted to just go home and have a qiuet night, to get up and play. Actually, non-surprisingly, there’s not really anything too it – it’s always that first step that takes the most confidence. I used to think of it as “faking confidence”. I think it’s a key skill to have though as a musician, it translates to more than just getting up on a jam night to play to having the confidence to walk into a last minute gig, or having the confidence to sugest an arrangment in rehearsals, or having the confidence to audition under pressure – think of it as a training ground to build up your confidence in your own ability.
  3. Grow your repertoire
    Having a good repertoire is a big weapon to have in your arsenal. It means not only can you jump on any song at a jam night, but you can also hop on function gigs easily with very little preparation, or join in when the whole band decide to soundcheck by playing superstition (*cringe*).Seriously though, repertoire is a big advantage for jam nights and for your musical career in general, so to help out I’ve made a Spotify playlist of songs that quite often pop up at jam nights – but also that I think are just good to know!Disclaimer – I’m sure everyone and their dog will have songs to add to this list – it’s not a definitive list. Feel free to leave comments about what songs you think are good function/jam night standards though.

    https://open.spotify.com/user/skirrow/playlist/5XbQJybmLGJeaQ8ZA42XT1

  4. Show your face
    Again, this was a point I made in a previous post, but showing your face regularly is a great way to stay on people’s mind, and a great way to build relationships with people. The more you go to jam nights, the more you will be recognised and eventually you’ll be asked to come up on stage to play rather than having to ask. So be a regular, on jam night will not land you all the gigs…which leads me on to my final point of why you should go to jam nights.
  5. Get all the gigs
    OK, this is not actually the point at all, infact, I think it’s fair to say that in about 7 years of going to jam nights, i’ve never been given a gig…perhaps that says more about me now I think about it!But here is the thing that has definetly been true for me; good relationships, self confidence, a large repertoire (and a good ear) and regular catch ups with other musicians will eventually lead to getting you gigs – and these are all skills that you can learn and develop whilst at jam nights.

Where are the jam nights?

There are so many jam nights that happen in London, some better than others and sometimes the good ones will have a hen night going on in the same room and end up with a bunch of drunken middle aged women who don’t play instruments getting up and giving it a good go anyway…true story. But here are some that I’ve definetly frequented in the past:

Ronnie Scotts

  • Ruby Sings – every Tuesday, ยฃ8 on the door (or email rubysings@ronniescotts.co.uk to get on the guest list for ยฃ6 – limited places available)
  • W3 Jam Sessions – this is a great jam night by the way and will be packed out! Every Thursday, ยฃ6 – ยฃ8 (depending on what time you arrive).

Troy Bar

The Troy bar actually do music most nights, but I think the best ones are:

  • Spirit & Soul – every Tuesday – this is more of an open mic night, so good for vocalists
  • Fusion Jazz Jam – this is my FAVE. If you want to see amazing musicianship, and get up to play and really push yourself, this is the one. Every Friday night

Marmelade Jam

Disclaimer – i’ve never actually been to this one (yet) but my friend Chelsea who is well cool runs it so it must be good!! Plus, it has it’s own website – http://www.musicmarmalade.co.uk/. Every Wednesday night…Chelsea, I’m coming down I swear ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ciros – Music Box Live Jam

My experience of Ciros has been limited but great – the first time I may have had a bit too much to drink, stormed up on stage like a bull in a china shop and i’m pretty sure I played awesome…but that last bit might be open to interpretation (the picture for this post is from that night…photo cred to my mate Loucas Hajiantoni…superb keys player, and not so great photographer). The second time I burst through the door and knocked the bouncer over who then kicked me out…so that night wasn’t great. It’s brilliant musicians though and a great intimate vibe. Every other Monday (I think) – it’s a bit vague, but it’s called the music box jam, so if you search that you will find a post on facebook from someone, somewhere about it!!

For most Jam nights, I would aim to get there for about 11pm…any earlier and you’ll be that nerdy guy who get’s everywhere too early. Just kidding, punctuality is well cool. But they run late, so get yourself a nap in the evening and expect a long (and thoroughly enjoyable) night.

As usual, I’d love to hear your thoughts and comments, my hope with this post is to make jam nights seem less pressured and daunting to people who have been told they should go, but don’t really know why!

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