Has this ever happened to you? It’s after dark, you enter a bar, and the sound of music overwhelms you. Perhaps you recognise a song, or perhaps you just catch a couple of melodies that fuse with others, that harmonize and transform in the hands of musicians who seem to have just stepped out of the audience. In fact, it’s almost as if there were no audience, as if everyone in the bar were contributing to the melody, or as if every swaying individual were ready to rush on stage and start performing at any moment. If it’s like that then congratulations! You may have just walked in on one of Madrid’s many jam sessions.
Jam sessions were born in the US 1940s and 50s. The name was a improvised term which referred to those nights that magicians got together to improvise together. The term “jamming” actually comes from this same word. As the years passed, the term and the activity began to spread, reaching its peak popularity in the 1950s with those golden era jam sessions that Jack Kerouac illustrates in his novel (On the Road). But you don’t need a time machine to enjoy a real jam session. In Madrid jams are getting increasingly popular, and it’s not too hard to find yourself a venue where you can get into the grove of some pretty talented musicians.
Jam sessions are special. Normally frequented by professional musicians, looking to have fun doing what they do best whilst enjoying a cold beer and getting to know fellow talents. There are a wide range of jam sessions out there, although they can usually be divided into two main groups. Those in which participants can request songs to play with the band, and those “pure jams” in which (almost) everything is left up to improvisation. Musicians from all walks of life attend sessions of the first type, but for the second being a professional musician’s are prioritised.
Our favourite Madrid jam sessions:
Jam session in El Intruso with Groovin Santa (C/ Augusto Figueroa, 3 <M> Chueca, Line 5). From 22:00: 4€ with drink.
One of the most well known and established in the capital. Originally limited to jazz, this session has become quite open to different music styles. Forget about listening to Top 40 and sit back, relax, and let the sound of some incredibly talented improvisers wash over you. A true classic, if you’re looking for excellent quality of music (and the odd celebrity), this is your jam.
Heartbeat Afrojazzfunk Session, El Junco (Plaza de Sta. Barbara, 10, <M> Alonso Martinez, Lines 4, 5, 10). A wide-ranging jam session from 23:30. Entrance 6€ with drink.
Blues Jam Session at the Moe Club (Av. de Alberto de Alcocer, 32, <M> Colombia, Lines 8, 9). From 22:00. Entrance free.
Open since 2002. Every week features a guest artist. Genre: Blues.
Rootful Monk Jam Session. El Junco. From 23:30. Entrance 6€ with drink.
A Jam session by Jorge Mostaza. Quite a wide range of genres and a laid back style. A favourite amongst foreigners living in Madrid looking to meet new people and whip out their best musical talents.
Madafunk, Marula Café (C/ Caños Viejos, 3, <M> La Latina, Line 5). From 23:30. The smallest venue on this list, but also perhaps the most specialised. The musicians tend to have the last say on song choise, but you’ll enjoy it even more than they do.
Black Jam, el Junco. From 23:30. 6€ with drink.
The longest running jam at El Junco, and perhaps the most purist. Professionals on stage and soul music on the cards.
Let There Be Jam, Honky Tonk (C/ Covarrubias, 24 <M> Alonso Martinez, Lines 4, 5, 10). From 00:00. Entrance free.
The largest venue on this list, and the most laid back. Rock predominates, and although frequented by professional musicians, this jam has a particularly relaxed vibe. There’s also a list of styles you can choose from and the audience tends to be a little older.
Thundercat Club Jam Session (C/ Campoamor, 11 <M> Alonso Martinez, Lines 4, 5, 10). From 00:00. Free drink for anyone who dares take to the stage.
A young crowd, and favourite of University students. Known for staying open until 04:30 in the morning. Not a bad place to finish your night!
La Otra Jam, Moe Club. From 23:00. Entrance free.
Mostly rock music but with a reasonably wide scope of other genres. As the guitarist of Madrid band Mr Wilfred, Pablo tells us, “in Moe anything can happen.” Highly recommended. No song list, all improvised and the majority of performers are professionals.
(Trad. Sebastian Morgan)