Jazz Jam FAQ

Want to start playing early jazz/swing and maybe even join in on the monthly Community Jazz Jam in Asheville? Here are some questions that often come up. If you have questions we don’t cover, please get in touch.

What style(s) of music gets played in the jam?

It is for a swing dance (and part of the purpose is to train up musicians to play for swing dancers), so it’s going to be pre-bebop jazz, mostly from the 1920’s, 30’s and early 40’s. Sometimes the jam is more trad jazz (sourcing songs from groups/bandleaders such as Louis Armstrong’s Hot Five, Lil Harden, King Oliver, Kid Ory, & George Lewis), and sometimes it is more swing (sourcing sounds from groups/bandleaders such as Duke Ellington, Benny Goodman, etc).

What instruments are appropriate to play in the jam?

Most acoustic instruments will work just fine! Common instruments in the styles of music played are guitar (usually archtop), banjo (usually tenor or plectrum), upright bass, piano, drums, trumpet, trombone, saxophones, clarinet, fiddle, vibraphone and vocals. To keep the chaos to a minimum, we do try and keep it as acoustic as possible, but we do have a vocal mic set up and usually have a mic available for quiet instruments like fiddle.

I play a large instrument like bass, piano or drums. How does that work?

For large instruments where there is usually only one per band, sit-in musicians can take the place of the house band musician (on their instrument) for a few songs. Please speak to the house band musician who plays your instrument before the set begins to coordinate sitting in.

I know how to play my instrument, but not jazz. How do I get started?

First…LISTEN to music non-stop. Figure out who some of the historic greats were on your instrument, and listen to every recording you can dig up by then. Spotify and YouTube are great for this. You can’t figure out how to play something until you know what you want it to sound like. Pick a few easy songs from an upcoming jam, and try to play it. The iReal app is very useful for this, because it can be a ‘band in a box’ and play a chord progression for you to practice along with. Getting together and playing with friends, taking lessons, asking questions to musicians, and joining in on the jam are all good ways to start!

Do I need to know how to read music, or know music theory?

Reading music and music theory are helpful, but aren’t strictly necessary, especially if you play a rhythm instrument. If you have a good ear and listen to a lot of music, that can help compensate for not being a ‘literate’ musician. Note that it is usually easier to get by without music literacy in trad jazz than swing, as it tends to be less arranged.

Some things that are definitely good to know: Scales, arpeggios, common chord progressions, and how to read a chord chart.

What do you mean by ‘concert pitch’ and ‘Bb pitch’ instruments? Which charts do I use?

For reasons I won’t get into here, some horns are ‘transposed’ instruments, so when a piano plays a ‘Bb’ note, one of these instruments will call it a different note (for example, a ‘C’ if it is a clarinet).  We call the piano a ‘concert pitch’ instrument and the clarinet a ‘Bb pitch’ instrument, so you want to make sure you look at the right charts for what you are playing. For the Community Jazz Jam, there are separate folders for C and Bb pitch instruments. Note that this has nothing to do with the key of the song. A good rule of thumb: If you sing or play something with strings, you want the concert-pitch charts. If it is a horn, you will likely know if you need Bb (or Eb, etc) pitch charts.

I’m a beginner/advanced/etc… is the jam right for me?

We created the jam so that folks of all levels can have an opportunity to play. We have an excellent core band, so it’s very unlikely that you will mess up the music by not knowing what you are doing. We often have professional musicians join in, people who just had their first lesson, as well as long-time musicians who are learning the style. It’s friendly space and great music always gets created!

Can I call a song on the stage?

Short answer: not usually. We come up with the set lists in advance and post the charts, so that we are all on the same page when we are up there playing for the dancers. If you would like a song to be added to the set list, please let us know and we will do our best. We especially love when vocalists give input as to songs they’d like to sing (but please tell us what keys work for you). Drop us a line here if you’d like a particular song to be in the next jam.

That said, it’s possible that the other musicians know the song and have charts to share on hand, so you can always ask!

What if I don’t want to solo (or if I definitely want all the solos)?

If you don’t want to play a solo, you definitely don’t have to! Just let the bandleader know your preference. Depending on the size of the jam, everyone who wants to solo won’t always get to every song, so that the songs don’t go on too long. People usually take half chorus solos (playing through the AB or BA of a ABBA song structure, or one time through something like a blues).