The Jazz Guitar Chord Dictionary
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  1. #1

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    I know for many here, playing jazz in a band, gigs, or jams of any kind is often unavailable or rare.
    Lately for me there's been more jam opportunities, but I've been reminded about the frustrations of that environment.

    Getting to play just a couple of tunes, (so other's get time, too) often with people i've never played with, either on old warhorses or trying unfamiliar ones.
    Sometimes it's fun, sometimes it's awkward. I've had more fun lately with a private jam (not in a public bar) even though half the small group are beginners.

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  3. #2

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    I assume we're talking about the kind of situation where there's a host band, you sign up, get to play (maybe call them) two tunes and sit back down. I've done it occasionally and have found that it can be challenging for the following reasons.

    1. Typically, you quickly plug into whatever amp is there and check tuning as fast as you can. In my experience, I don't find out what I'm going to sound like until the tune has started and I may not be able to even reach the amp controls to adjust anything. Even on a gig, it can take some time to acclimate to the sound of the guitar/room/band, but that's not available in the open jam situation. So, I may be disappointed in my own performance, which isn't a great feeling.

    2. If there are open jams with the musicians listening to each other at a high level, I've missed them. My experience has generally been that things are loud, and stay loud. If I begin a solo quietly, to allow room to build it, I'm drowned out. Or, occasionally, another player won't even realize I'm soloing. I've even had that happen when trying to end a chorus piano so that I can come in at the top forte, but somebody else started to solo. The volume is often loud enough that I'm forced (because of hearing issues) to wear earplugs, which inevitably change the sound for the worse.

    3. When I was a novice jazz player, I didn't know enough tunes and open jams may not be conducive to reading, so that could be frustrating. What I've found since then is that open jam tunes are usually chosen from the most frequently played standards. In fact, if you call one, the host may reject it if it isn't one that the other musicians are likely to know. Since open jams often attract less experienced players, this limits the repertoire. What may happen is that the pianist will have a chart (in his phone nowadays) and the bassist will be looking over his shoulder -- and the guitarist is off by himself without even a music stand, expected to know the tune.

    That said, I like to jam, I just prefer a different kind of situation.

  4. #3

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    The only jam sessions I have enjoyed in clubs or bars have been blues sessions, and I haven't done those for a very long time. There's a lot of politics, I have found, and jam sessions over and above the musical issues that have already been mentioned. If there's a host band, they tend to defer to people they have played with before or who are friends of theirs, rather than treating everyone on an equal footing. Some jams are actively hostile, others are supportive.

    Locally there has been a long running jazz workshop (over 40 years now, as I understand it). This has been a user-friendly way for people to get their feet wet playing jazz with other people. Everybody can play on every tune, if they wish. Charts are encouraged. Everybody gets a solo spot, if they want it. if there are multiple chordal instruments, they may need to make some arrangements with each other about who is comping when. Experienced musicians do some coaching with newer musicians. I went to that for a number of years and generally really enjoyed it; there were some sessions that were not enjoyable with amplified musicians who were just too damn loud and unwilling to turn down even when told to do so directly. I ended up playing in my first quintet with musicians I met through that experience.

    I have also had some fortune using Craigslist to find folks to play with in somebody's living room, basement or garage. One of those has been a guitar/bass duo that's been going on for about three years now, once a week. He very much does not want to gig and I don't particularly care if I do gig (in some ways I prefer not to gig, too).

  5. #4

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    Reporting from Japan here. I can’t provide an overall view, though I have participated in open jam sessions in a number of places, from clubs in large cities to more regional venues. My experience has been generally positive in the regional venues and I like open jams. The sessions in the very large cities have been interesting, though due to many participants they can be crowded and overly managed. One place in Tokyo had some favoritism, as noted in a thread above, but as an amateur, I have never experienced anything like cutting. The overall atmosphere in my limited experiences, regardless of location, has been friendly and polite.

    At the moment, I am living near a small city that has one full-time jazz cafe, one full-time “music house” and a full-time “live house,” as they are called here. There are also several multi-purpose venues that have live music as part of their offerings and these might hold jazz jam sessions on occasion. Restaurants and hotels may hire a jazz pianist or combo, who at times may invite guests to join. I have sat in on a couple of restaurant and hotel gigs with friends. Overall, I find the jazz scene to be quite vibrant here. There used to be a full time blues club that held jam sessions twice a week which I used to frequent with a friend who plays blues harp, but I haven’t been there since before corona and it seems to have closed.

    All of these places host open jam sessions. I’m a regular participant at the live house, which holds a blues, bossa, funk, jazz open session once a week and an acoustic jam once a week the includes jazz, depending on who shows up. Both are open sessions with no house band. The club owner is a musician and he participates in and may lightly manage sessions, though most of the time jam sessions are self-managing owing to cooperation among participants and the generally welcoming attitude toward newcomers and beginners. Pros show up from time to time. For example, at the acoustic session a couple weeks ago four local pros should up with a friend who was visiting from Tokyo and it turned into an all night jazz jam. There’s a backline including a Roland JC, a Fender Twin and a bass rig. Some participants bring their own amps. I did a solo show there on a few occasions and brought my own gear, but usually the backline suffices for jams. Some players bring pedals. There is a cover charge, equivalent to around $5, and a one drink minimum. They also have a light dinner menu. Sessions run for about 3 hours, and the number of tunes one can play depends on how many people and what instruments are present. At one session, there were five guitarists, so we rotated two at a time. At other times, I found myself with just a bass and drums playing for a solid hour.

    The jazz cafe has live jazz several times a week, featuring regional pros and an occasional domestic touring act. They also hold an open jam session twice a month. There’s no house band, though the owner sits in on drums on occasion and sometimes a pianist will stay on stage with whoever happens to be there. As with the music house noted above, jam sessions in the cafe are self-directed by participants. The social vibe here is a little culturally insular at times, although being from New York for some reason endeared me to participants so I’ve more or less fit in. This place has no cover charge, but does have a one drink minimum. Most participants order a meal or several drinks. A session here typically lasts about three hours. Depending on how many people show up on any give night, each participant may end up calling from 3-5 tunes. Not as many guitarists here as at the music house; it’s mostly piano trio with horns, though they have an old Polytone and a small Yamaha combo for guitarists.

    The other places hold occasional jam sessions, once a month or every couple of months. These are run more like the “jazz workshop” described in a previous post. They’re hosted by regional pros, but they don’t perform as a house band. They invite participants up who can sometimes call tunes, or who may be asked to play on a tune called by someone else. At one session, a singer did “New York State of Mind,” and they invited me up for that tune. These sessions seem to prioritize mix-and-match spontaneous groupings of whoever happens to be there on any give day. Participants confer briefly about what tune to play, and the pros are the rhythm section. They will occasionally offer commentary or background on tunes, etc. These places charge an admission of around $20, sometimes with a one drink minimum.

    For repertoire, there is a two volume “Jazz Standard Bible” that most venues have on hand and which many players own. It functions like the “Real Book” would in other countries, in that if offers a common core of tunes, although the specific selection of tunes is somewhat different as are individual musician preferences within the books. Everyone also uses iReal Pro, which is handy when singers call tunes in keys other than those in the books. I’ve gotten a little better at reading simpler heads cold, and can get through most tunes using just shell voices. Though I never wore glasses, I’ve had to get a pair made to read charts on stage!

    Since I live about 30-40 minutes from all of these places, I can play up to three or four times a week, although depending on my schedule or workload it’s usually once or twice a week. I feel that it’s a real blessing to have all these opportunities to play with others frequently. I’ve learned many of the oft-called standards (All the Things, Autumn Leaves, etc.) well enough to play with most anybody. I look forward to going to sessions and I enjoy working up less well-worn tunes to call. I also make note of tunes called by others and then take that as an opportunity to learn something. While my tastes lean toward hard bop, jazz blues, and Monk, I enjoy playing everything and have learned to revel in the unexpected. For example, a very accomplished local pianist who gigs full time has been showing up at the open sessions, and called “Very Early” by Bill Evans. I’ve never played it before, but I managed to eke my way through the chart and am now working on it. I may not have considered this and other tunes outside my comfort zone had it not been for the opportunities offered by open jam sessions.

    All told, and in light of my very limited observations, I can say that, yes, I do like open jams.

  6. #5

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    I’m the house band leader at a small club that hosts a one hour+ open jazz set after our Thursday night show and a 2 hour open blues jam after our Sunday brunch show. These are separate bands, and we back the jammers as necessary. There’s a sign-in list, and the club owner calls players up and fits both time and number on stage to the length of the list and what they play. I manage the choice of tunes, since many want to play obscure or original tunes unknown to others - and our motto is (or at least tries to be) “if you don’t know it, don’t play it”. We also get a fair number of good local singers. I make sure that everybody gets to solo if they want to, which can be hard if one decides he or she is the star and hogs the tune.

    Running a jam is tough! There’s a responsibility to the owner to fill the seats and entertain the audience while they eat and drink. We have to support players of widely varying abilities, helping the less skilled or experienced to feel comfortable, sound as good as possible, get better, and enjoy themselves enough to keep coming back. We have to let the good players be themselves but keep them from disparaging, embarrassing or otherwise alienating the newbies and more rudimentary players. And we have to stop more than a few from trying to force alien genres into clearly identified and promoted blues and jazz jams.

    I hope we’re making our guests feel good about our jams. We have a strong core of regulars that includes some of the region’s best pros. We have a loyal core of decent amateurs, most of whom call the same tunes but work hard to get better - and they succeed, hopefully thanks at least a little bit to us. We get a few who come to be discovered, a few who come to promote their own shows / websites / recordings etc, and a few who are decent players with musical or personal quirks that have kept them from being an integral part of the local music scene.

    To be honest, it’s often a lot like playing weddings and Bar Mitzvahs - if you lose focus on at least one of the above responsibilities, it’s boring as hell. But if you’re committed to the mission and try to help make every tune and player as good as possible at the time, it’s rewarding. I’ve been doing the blues jam for 15 years and the jazz jam for about 4 (with a year+ off for Covid restrictions).

    I went to a fair number of regional jams from about 1990 to about 2005, a period in which the wedding business was taken over by DJs and I had too many other responsibilities to commit to regular gigs. I got called for the occasional 2 or 3 day regional tour and enough dates as a sideman to keep my book as full as I wanted it. Most of the jams were badly managed (if managed at all), and favoritism was rampant. Those experiences shaped my jam philosophy and led to my approach as described above.

    Run well, open jams can be fun and positive. Many are nether. But there’s been a strong shift in our area to improving that situation, and I know of several in and around Philly now that are excellent. I’d go to more, but at my age and with at least 2 gigs every week, I’d rather be with my wife, family and friends than out every night.

  7. #6

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    You people are lucky. I'm not even certain this kind of thing exists in Paris, it certainly doesn't in my neck of the woods. Or else in places I wouldn't consider hanging out...

  8. #7

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    I’ve only been able to find blues jams locally. My favorite experience what when I went on stage and the other guy said “rhumba in A” and I asked “what does that mean” and he said “you’ll be fine keep up 1,2,3,4”

    He was right, I was fine. I also found out I really prefer to follow along with whatever someone else picks instead of learning a song at home and singing poorly while trying to nod at people to solo.

    The host band tries to keep it interesting for them so Stormy Monday is regular and Trouble in Mind get played with a #IV° and a I VI ii V turnaround. Anything they play with an interesting chord progression I’ll work on at home.

  9. #8

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    I like all kinds of jam sessions, but not very often.

  10. #9

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    Great in-depth comments! I see common themes with some of my experiences.
    Two of my local jams are run by guitar players. They don't have sign-ups or charge.

    Truth to tell, lately I bring my other instrument, trumpet, because there's so many guitar players, and it's just easier to bring a horn, too.
    But the same dynamics apply, limited number of tunes, occasional favoritism, not always a supportive vibe. For me, it's better when it's not crowded with players or audience.
    Not often, but I've had some great experiences, though, playing with some top players

    Lately I'm seeing more people using real books, which used to be taboo. Me, I routinely practice about 40 tunes from memory, including old bebop lines, so I feel kind of over-prepared to play "All Blues" yet again.

  11. #10

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    My experiences with open jams have not been very positive, because it depends entirely on the quality of the players... and I don't mean their level of technique, I mean if they can actually play WITH people. The other guitarist in my band is a perfect example. He always has to be louder, go longer, and be "more" than anyone else. He has spent most of his playing career in situations where he was not only the only guitarist, but also the singer. So he's used to carrying alot of the weight. Unfortunately, that does not translate well into playing well with others... especially if there are other guitarists around...

    So my question would be: do these people at the jam know how to play well with others? Do they LISTEN as well as play?

    I've already decided: if I ever work in other bands, I will be the only guitarist. Not an ego thing- a conflict thing. At least with everyone playing a different instrument, everyone has "their highway open" to them.

  12. #11

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    Quote Originally Posted by JGinNJ
    I feel kind of over-prepared to play "All Blues" yet again.
    To expand my concepts (and to relieve occasional boredom), I like to try new ways of playing old tunes, both in my own group’s shows and at a jam if the jammers are up to it. Try All Blues as a 4/4 swing tune - it works for me! It’s cool in 2/4 too. You could swing Blue Bossa or funk up What a Difference a Day Makes. And for the really adventurous, there’s always my favorite - the So What Waltz

    A few interesting tweaks like changing the meter or style of a potboiler will also interest better and more flexible players and patrons. I also like to let the drummer start a tune or have the bass player do the head if he or she is up to it. Live it up!

  13. #12

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit
    A few interesting tweaks like changing the meter or style of a potboiler…
    Thank you for reminding us about throwing changeups for the well-worn tunes! A tenor player here calls Softly in Cm but with the last A section in Bm; really pops back at the top. Shadow is always done here as a bossa so swinging it is fun. And I recently dusted off and tuned up my old Danelectro sitar to inject new life into jam mainstays such as Summertime and Autumn. Speaking of All Blues, a bassist here does the head on that with harmonics on a 5 string electric, and also does the Oleo head on an upright. One local teacher brings students to sessions, which can be humbling for the better players. Indeed, for me it’s a sense of wonder engendered by the unexpected that keeps open jam sessions interesting.
    Last edited by JazzPadd; 04-10-2022 at 05:06 PM.

  14. #13

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    After some time hearing live jazz in NYC, I came away thinking that, if the musicians know what's going to happen in advance, it's not jazz.

    That may be too extreme, but it's to get to the idea that jazz is best (IMO, anyway) when it is created on the fly by the musicians interacting.

    I'm well aware that some of the greats actually play memorized stuff for solos and that sort of thing.

    But, my point is, that, if you're going to create something on the fly, the musicians have to be working together towards that goal, and I don't think I've ever seen that happen in an open jam.

  15. #14

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    I frequent a weekly jam in my neighborhood that is well run. The house band are solid pro players. Participants are a mix of pros, solid amateurs, students, and beginners (singers tend to be beginners).

    The singer in the house band rotates people fairly. Generally 2 tunes, then you sit until everybody on your instrument has had 2, then you get called up again. There's no amp, so I bring one and let others use it, which buys me some good will and bandstand time.

    It's generally a very friendly scene with little in the way of vibing. Most players can think on their feet and the attitude is that ireal is OK, so people are willing to take chances on tunes they don't know. Since I started doing this ca. 6 years ago, my jazz playing and repertoire have both improved a lot (both had been stagnant for a long time). So I guess I'm fan.

    I'm in NYC, so obviously there are lots of other jams around, but most are too late night for me and involve a lot more waiting around. I try new spots occasionally, but mainly stay local. I'm actually more of a blues player than a jazz player, but IME, the level of musicianship at blues jams is discouragingly low. So I rarely do them.
    Last edited by John A.; 04-10-2022 at 07:34 PM.

  16. #15

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    But, my point is, that, if you're going to create something on the fly, the musicians have to be working together towards that goal, and I don't think I've ever seen that happen in an open jam.
    Have you been to Basik? it’s probably the only place I’ve been where I’ve seen something like this happen. No surprise I guess, a lot of New School students there. it’s seems very well managed and when on occasion you have the player that wants to cover themselves in glory and take 30 choruses on a tune and basically doesn’t listen to anyone else, steps up, they’re usually subbed out after one tune. I always try and pop in when I’m in NYC, though of course the last few years I’ve had zero travel opportunities.
    cheers!

  17. #16

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    Quote Originally Posted by JazzPadd
    Reporting from Japan here. I can’t provide an overall view, though I have participated in open jam sessions in a number of places, from clubs in large cities to more regional venues. My experience has been generally positive in the regional venues and I like open jams. The sessions in the very large cities have been interesting, though due to many participants they can be crowded and overly managed. One place in Tokyo had some favoritism, as noted in a thread above, but as an amateur, I have never experienced anything like cutting. The overall atmosphere in my limited experiences, regardless of location, has been friendly and polite.
    I’ve also had quite positive experiences during my trips to Japan.
    Ive mainly done my music making in Tokyo. There are a lot of players who have studied in the US, Berklee, New School etc, so there is a lot of experience around. Some highlights would be ‘Intro’ in takadanobaba. There are pictures of Herbie Hancock playing there in the 80’s. One trip, I was staying down the road and spent 7 nights out of 11 down at Intro around the Xmas new year period. I visited a friend in Yokohama who took me to a place called Far Out, which was laid back and chill. Another one which was unique was “Somethin” near Ikebukero. I believe its a chain as they have a branch in Bangkok and previously in NYC. Somethin is on two floors running a standards session upstairs and a more funk/ fusion setup downstairs. Since all these clubs are run by musicians the setups are great with the equipment provided. None of the rushed stressful plugging in to crappy gear that you can potentially find at other sessions, notably Smalls in NYC. Of course these are fun memories from a few years ago pre Covid, so not really sure of how things have been recently.
    Cheers!

  18. #17

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    Quote Originally Posted by ruger9
    So my question would be: do these people at the jam know how to play well with others? Do they LISTEN as well as play?
    unfortunately where I am that’s usually the case. It seems there are a lot of posers here, that are more concerned with branding than listening to others or even to the crap they are churning out themselves. More is more, always and if you can be louder than everyone else, it’s an added bonus. Can’t wait to get out of here!

  19. #18

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jazzism
    unfortunately where I am that’s usually the case. It seems there are a lot of posers here, that are more concerned with branding than listening to others or even to the crap they are churning out themselves. More is more, always and if you can be louder than everyone else, it’s an added bonus. Can’t wait to get out of here!
    It’s not just jams that bring this out - you’re describing the broader world of music. Hiring bandmates means finding those who care more about the music and the sound of the band than they do about their solos. Too many players at all levels see most of each tune as nothing but a waiting period between their opportunities to shine.

  20. #19

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    Quote Originally Posted by nevershouldhavesoldit
    Hiring bandmates means finding those who care more about the music and the sound of the band than they do about their solos.
    On top of that, is hiring people who are organized and reliable. I’m taking a hiatus from playing out due to my last gig where my band was showcasing a lot of new original material. I had invited some friends, lecturers from university to come down to listen. So our bass player has booked his Covid shot the day before the gig. Everything seemed fine until he calls 90 minutes before to say he can’t get out of bed. In the ensuing mad scramble we manage to find a sub, but of course there is no way he could be expected to sightread all the original tunes as it involved some unusual forms and mixed meter material, in spite of the fact that the guy is a solid pro. So it devolved into a pickup gig where the guy just used it as an excuse to practice. We wanted upright and he bought his electric. He even employed two hand tapping. It was really tasteless. So that did it for me. I packed up and walked out at the end and haven’t contacted them since. Fortunately, I don’t rely on music anymore for an income, so my priority now is to enjoy the musical situations I’m in, I’ve done enough dues paying over the years. Interestingly a singer I know had a gig at the same venue a few weeks later, however, unlike our thoughtless bass player she changed her vaccination date till after the gig. I think in a bigger city this would be less likely as the industry is more competitive, but here the choices are somewhat limited, so people are more willing to put up with certain eccentricities and some people can continually get away with unprofessional behaviors.

  21. #20

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    Jam Sessions should be an addition to an actual jazz concert.I guess it should be like that.
    However, it is not obligatory.I think so...

  22. #21

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    Quote Originally Posted by kris
    Jam Sessions should be an addition to an actual jazz concert.I guess it should be like that.
    However, it is not obligatory.I think so...
    That's how we've done it for years. Both my Thursday jazz and Sunday blues jams follow my band's shows. We do an hour set every Thursday followed immediately by the jam. On Sundays, we do an hour set up front, a 90 minute jam, then a closing set fo 30 minutes.

  23. #22

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    I having a lot of fun with online Jazz Jams initially with Jamkazam now mainly on sonobus.
    Have met some great players and would strongly recommend it to all players of all levels to come and join in the fun.

    you will find me most days on sonobus public "Jazz in Aus" room my name is Mike in Aus (Guitar).

    cheers

  24. #23

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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeJ
    I having a lot of fun with online Jazz Jams initially with Jamkazam now mainly on sonobus.
    Have met some great players and would strongly recommend it to all players of all levels to come and join in the fun.

    you will find me most days on sonobus public "Jazz in Aus" room my name is Mike in Aus (Guitar).

    cheers
    I've wondered about the impact of latency for online jamming. Would you comment on that? Thanks!

  25. #24

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    Quote Originally Posted by rpjazzguitar
    I've wondered about the impact of latency for online jamming. Would you comment on that? Thanks!
    Latency can be an issue depending on the mix of players and distance.

    I have had good sessions with one or two players based in the USA and Europe with latency of between 120-200 ms (I am in Australia).
    you learn to work with it.

    Playing with people in my own area say within 100 miles the latency is usually under 20ms

    The more in the mix the more latency can be an issue but most players learn to work with it.

    Believe me you can have some great sessions.

  26. #25

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    Quote Originally Posted by MikeJ
    Latency can be an issue depending on the mix of players and distance.

    I have had good sessions with one or two players based in the USA and Europe with latency of between 120-200 ms (I am in Australia).
    you learn to work with it.

    Playing with people in my own area say within 100 miles the latency is usually under 20ms

    The more in the mix the more latency can be an issue but most players learn to work with it.

    Believe me you can have some great sessions.
    I've used jamulus quite a bit (another low latency software for online jams).

    My experience is that it works great within Sweden (I live in Stockholm). ~500km between Stockholm and Gothenburg is barely noticable. Latency is often under 20ms (that's what is called the overall latency, the ping is usually a low single digit) which is so low that it doesn't bother me.

    Playing on servers in UK, Netherlands or Northern/Central Germany (~1000+ km ~35-50ms) is doable but starts to become a bit less enjoyable but can still be fun and enjoyable, and on servers in Italy or Spain (~2000km ~50-70ms) it gets to the point that it starts to become more frustrating than enjoyable (if the players are relatively good, it's worth the frustration). But you can play with people further away (for instance in italy) by using a server halfway between.
    I've heard of people jamming transatlantic with >100ms latency, but to me it sounds more like a gimmick or a challenge rather than something I'd enjoy, so I find the "you learn to work with it" comment a bit surprising (but I'm not doubting it though).

    There are open jams on open servers, and I've sometimes had some great time jamming with strangers without seeing them. Sometimes also without verbal communication, since not everyone have a mic connected for talking (or are shy) so people can call a tune by playing a phrase from the melody (there is also a text chat on each server). Occasionally you don't have a common language to communicate much beyond "ciao tutti", "merci beacoup" or "Blues Für Alles, F dur" .

    But the open jams can often be a bit chaotic, and often there are already too many guitarist.
    It seems also to me that guitarists tend to be slighlty more obnoxious and not as well versed in jam etiquette, so even if you've come across a great jam, another guitarist might join at anytime and make it less fun (it's not common though).

    I think Jamulus is great to play with people on private servers (and deciding together in advance) and reasonably close. I play once a week with the same group of people that live ~100km and ~200km away from me, and it is really cool to be able to play with them regularly without traveling that distance.
    When all big bands were on hiatus due the pandemic, I played in a big band on jamulus once a week and that worked surprisingly well with 17+ musicians.
    It can also be an option for rehearsals if you either need to rehearse with people in different cities before a gig or don't have access to rehearsal space.