What to Sing at a Jam Session?

We have had a request for some suggestions for new jazz songs to learn. Here are the 6 Golden Rules although no-one knows why…


Rule No 1; You can start with Summertime, Autumn Leaves, Route 66′, Georgia and other standards, because almost everyone else does, but if you want to sing them again and again, you had better come up with a new take on the tune. One Note Samba as a swing tune, Autumn leaves in French or 5/4 time or both, Georgia in 12/8, Route 66 with three or four singers, Caravan ditto. We have done all of these in the past, by the way.

And probably won’t be doing them again unless you ask nicely.


Rule No 2: Work out what the song is about. Find out who wrote it, and why. Listen to different versions. Try and relate it to your own experience. Cry Me A River is all about a bastard, so sing it with venom, Girl From Ipanema is about poignancy, with a sad back story for its creators.


Rule No 3: Mix it up – some fast some slow, blues, latin and slow ballads. An all blues set or an all funk set can be crashingly dull, an all swing tunes set gets tedious, and an all Bebop set often doesn’t work as well with vocals, and in any case needs to be played with conviction by heroin afflicted black musos with anger management issues to be at their best.


Rule No 4: Emotion: Charlotte Nicdao once reduced an audience to tears by singing Moon River, Sevil Sabah has done the same with Billy Preston’s You Are So Beautiful. Annie Smith regularly reduces an audience to tears as well, but these are generally tears of laughter.


Rule No 5: Singing is a specialised and demanding area of musicianship. Practice as hard as the musicians behind you. Get some formal training and feedback on your technique.


Rule No 6: Ignore Rules No 1 to 5 completely and do what pleases you most – we, the audience, will enjoy it all the more!

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