How to Play Jazz Piano (Part 6: Jam with other musicians)

So far this series of articles has covered 5 ways to help you either get started learning jazz piano, or to improve your existing skills. Here’s another way:

How to Play Jazz Piano (Part 6: Jam with other musicians):

Don’t wait until you feel you’re ‘worthy’ before you start to play (or ‘jam’) with other jazz musicians. Find another aspiring jazz player, or vocalist, and ‘plunge in.’ Their instrument doesn’t matter: even a piano/drum duet will work fine.

When I was a high school senior, I painstakingly plodded my way through half of a very technical jazz piano book. The book was good and I was learning the basics of jazz piano. When I went off to college, however, I left the book at my parent’s house in order to get a fresh start in my new environment. I spent the next few months seeking out and jamming with every jazz musician I could find. After a few months of this, I returned back home for the holidays and was surprised to find that I could play anything in the jazz piano book, even the chapters I hadn’t previously covered! All the interactions with my fellow students had an excitement and vitality that helped me grow by leaps and bounds. I was then able to start with another book, at a whole new level.

Of course it would have been better if I had continued with the book at the same time as I participated in these jam sessions. We need to work on our playing from both directions at the same time. However, this experience showed me how important it is to play with other musicians. It’s essential to apply our technical and theoretical knowledge in playing situations where we interact with our peers. This places a demand on us to make our best effort, and also inspires us by hearing what others are doing and trying on their own.

Since we live in a time and culture without a centralized jazz ‘scene,’ like New York City’s 52nd Street in the 1940’s, we can each benefit from creating our own ‘mini-scene.’ In fact, when I first moved to New York, in the late-80’s, I met a doctor who did just that. He would host a jam session in his office every Thursday night. He played drums while the rest of us were a combination of businessmen, lawyers, and professional musicians. I learned a lot of new songs from these players! You also might be able to find a local club that hosts a weekly jazz jam session for both professionals and aspiring players.

Again, don’t feel like you have to be at a certain level before you can start this. If you’re a beginner, just find another beginner to play with. Learn 2-3 of the same songs, and you’re ready to jam!

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