Jam sessions are not exclusive to jazz. They happen in virtually every genre of music—folk, bluegrass, rock, Indian, Afro-Cuban, freestyle rap, sometimes even among highly trained and disciplined classical musicians, when they think they won’t get caught. In classical music, attitudes toward improvisation have softened a bit.
André Previn told me a story about touring in Europe in the 1990s with his trio that included bassist Ray Brown and guitarist Mundell Lowe (pictured, Previn and Brown). One of their performances was in Vienna’s venerable Musikverein, where Previn had often been guest conductor of the Vienna Philharmonic. Some of the members of the orchestra attended the concert. Afterward, he said, the lead player of one of the Philharmonic’s sections visited him in the green room backstage.
“Maestro,” the man said, “it was wonderful, but how did you memorize so much music?”
“We didn’t memorize,” André told him. We were improvising.”
In disbelief, the lifelong classical musician said, “You improvised in public?”
Richard Michael doesn’t mind improvising in public. The pianist, educator and founder of the Fife Youth Jazz Orchestra found himself in a pub in Orkney where a group of local folk musicians were jamming on a typical Scottish chord sequence. A YouTube contributor who identifies himself as Keep Turning Left was there with his video camera. He posted,
I was in a bar in Kirkwall when this happened – the locals were sawing and plucking away when this bloke joined them—well I thought it was an astonishing thing to witness.
Following the jam, Professor Michael stayed around to socialize.
Richard Michael was a friend and associate of the late Joe Temperley. To see his extensive comment about the great Scot, baritone saxophonist and stalwart of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, who died in May, go here and scroll down.