Players gather for a blues jam at Stampen in Stockholm, Sweden. Photo by Bengt Nyman

A blues jam is kind of like a blind date with music. Sometimes, when the chemistry is right, it can be magic. That’s what makes jams special—the elements of surprise, the experimentation, and the improvisation.

Some of you reading this article might be like me. You have a passion for music and love to play, but music did not become your profession. Even if performance opportunities were few or none, you played and played anyway because of the sheer enjoyment of it. Like many of you, I discovered the beauty of the evening open mic blues jam. For hobbyist players, jams provide an opportunity to play and perform, and a place where courtesy, enthusiasm, cooperation, and good music are respected and encouraged. Generous welcomes are extended to share musical tradition, knowledge, and talent at most open mics out there.

Here, we’ll look at blues jams from two perspectives. First, we’ll address the gear, etiquette, and musical know-how necessary for a successful blues jam. Then we’ll travel to New York, Missouri, and Pennsylvania to take part in jams and talk to blues jam regulars about what they do. This article is an open invitation and an encouragement to come out and play.