Every time a tune ends, someone has to pick a new one. That's a fundamental concept that, unfortunately, runs at odds with jazz group processes. Tune selection makes a huge difference to the musicians. They love to show off on tunes that feel comfortable, and they tremble at the threat of the unknown. But to pick a tune is to invite close scrutiny: "So this is how you sound at your best. Hmm..." It's a complex issue with unpredictable outcomes. Sometimes no one wants to pick a tune, and sometimes everyone wants to pick a tune. The resulting disagreements lead to faction-building and, under extreme conditions, even impromptu elections. The politics of tune selection makes for some of the session's best entertainment.
Example 1: No one wants to pick a tune
(Previous tune ends)
Trumpet player: "What the f#@*? Is someone gonna to pick a tune?"
Trumpet player: "This s%!* is lame. I'm outa here." (Storms out of room, forgetting to pay tab).
Rest of band (in unison): "Yes!!!" (Band takes extended break, puts drinks on trumpet player's tab).
Example 2: Everyone wants to pick a tune
…resulting in impromptu election and eventual tune selection
(Previous tune ends)
(Pianist and Guitarist simultaneously):
"Beautiful Love!"/"Donna Lee!"
Guitarist to Pianist: "You just want to play your fat, stupid ten-note chords!"
Pianist to Guitarist: "You just want to play a lot of notes really fast!"
Saxophonist: "'Giant Steps'."
(A treacherous Coltrane tune practiced obsessively by saxophonists.)
Guitarist and Pianist (together): "Go ahead, a**hole."
Trumpet player: "This s*** is lame. 'Night in Tunisia'."
(A Dizzy Gillespie tune offering bounteous opportunities for loud, high playing.)
Saxophonist: "Sorry, forgot my earplugs, Maynard."
(Long, awkward silence)
Pianist, Guitarist, Saxophonist, Trumpet player all turn to Drummer: "Your turn, Skinhead."
(Drummer pauses to think of hardest possible tune; a time-tested drummer ploy to punish real musicians who play actual notes.)
Trumpet player: F#@* this! I'm outta here." (Storms out of room. Bartender chases after him.)
Trombonist: "Did someone forget to turn off the CD player?"
Not only are these disagreements fun to watch; they create tensions that will last all through the night.
As an educated audience member, you might want to keep a flow chart diagramming the shifting alliances. You can also keep statistics on individual tune-calling. Under no circumstances,
though, should you take sides or yell out song titles. Things are complicated enough already.