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A jam session is a musical act where musicians gather and play (or simply "jam") without extensive preparation or predefined arrangements; improvisation.

Jam sessions are often used to develop new material, find suitable arrangements, or simply as a social gathering and communal practice session. Jam sessions may be based upon existing songs or forms, may be loosely based on an agreed chord progression or chart suggested by one participant, or may be wholly improvisational. Jam sessions can range from very loose gatherings of amateurs to sophisticated improvised recording sessions intended to be edited and released to the public.

Jazz

The New York jazz scene during World War II was famous for its after-hours jam sessions. One of the most famous was the regular after-hours jam at Minton's Playhouse in New York Citymarker that ran in the 1940s and early 1950s. Las mermeladas de Minton's were a fertile meeting place and proving ground for both established soloists like Ben Webster and Lester Young, and the younger jazz musicians who would soon become leading exponents of the bebop movement, including Thelonious Monk (Minton's house pianist), Charlie Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. The Minton's jams were legendary for their highly competitive "cutting contests", in which soloists would try to keep up with the house band and outdo each other in improvisation skill.

Rock

As the instrumental proficiency of pop and rock musicians improved in the Sixties and early Seventies, onstage jamming also became a regular feature of rock music; bands such as Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, The Grateful Dead, Led Zeppelin,Santana and the Allman Brothers Band would feature live pieces easily over fifteen minutes in length.

Some notable recorded jams in the rock idiom:

Jam bands

More recently, the jam band has become a genre unto itself; following in the footsteps of jam band originators the Grateful Dead, performances by groups including moe., Umphreys Mcgee, Phish, and Widespread Panic feature extended improvisational sessions. Other bands, such as the Red Hot Chili Peppers also regularly perform live jam sessions. Progressive rock band Coheed and Cambria often end shows with a jam session to their song "The Final Cut" with different instruments.

Bluegrass

Bluegrass pickin'.
Bluegrass music also features a tradition of jamming. Bluegrass jams happen in the parking lots and campgrounds of bluegrass festival, in music stores, bars and restaurants and on stages. Bluegrass jams tend to be segregated by the skill level of the players. Slow jams for beginners provide an entry point. Open bluegrass jams are open to all comers, however, the players in an open jam will expect a certain level of proficiency. The abilities to hear chord progressions and keep time are prerequisite; the ability to play improvised leads that contain at least a suggestion of the melody is desired. Jams that require advanced musical proficiency are generally private, by-invitation events.

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