Improvisation In Jazz Music Education Essay



This paper will focus on improvisation as the underlying condition for genuine dialogue to arise in the context of Jazz music. Our development of the paper will be a descriptive one, drawing a sketch towards understanding what improvisation is and how it can solely be the trigger for dialogue among Jazz musicians. Taking into account the wide range of literature on the topic, improvisation has become a central subject in various fields such as: linguistics, anthropology, philosophy, sociology, ethnomusicological studies, psychology etc.

The interest for this phenomenon was regained recently, since its importance has been denied especially by the Western Classical musicians who regarded it as a non-methodical, unstructured process.

In addition, its importance is maintained by the fact that improvisation is to be found on every social layer as scholars like Sawyer and others have shown its effectiveness in the course of every day's life.

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The approach towards relating improvisation with dialogue in the Jazz world has been made before by many other scholars, showing that this phenomenon is directly related to a way of being with others, as Benson expressed it in his book: Being musical with the other [1] . Improvisation must be seen therefore as an opening space that conducts musicians to create and re-create a world, in our case the world of Jazz music. Hence, improvisation is an open space- allowing musicians to participate "freely" in the act of music making, recognizing its possibilities - it is mandatory to see it in relation with dialogue that conveys the same meaning. Could we imagine the dialogical aspect of music without improvisation's interference? Or even the dialogical aspect of our every day encounter with others?

By discussing general aspects of improvisation and dialogue in separate chapters, for a better understanding, we will reunite them by, talking about the use of the conversation metaphor among Jazz musicians.

1. General account of improvisation (in Jazz)?

What comes into our mind when we speak about improvisation? Usually the term is associated with the invention on the spur of the moment of a solution to a certain problem. An emergency plan that might help us deal with one or more difficult situations and it is considered to be the last resort we can appeal to.

Taking this into consideration, improvisation is regarded as a non-structured process that involves no preparation and "definitely less knowledge" than a structured one.

This perspective makes us aware of the fact that in our daily lives we usually follow a pre-sketched, organized plan. Sawyer discusses this subject in his book Creating conversations. Improvisation in every day discourse, taking as an example the restaurant scenario where we can foresee almost every time what is about to be said or done. Of course, by using certain schemes we can manage in different situations. But does this mean that without a script, we won't be able to do so? This automatism is to be found at the basis of our social life, but it can't and it will not be a necessary and sufficient condition to create bonds with each others because of its limitation. Facing numerous encounters with others and different situations may prove us that the use of scripts does not cover entirely the world of possibilities that is open to us. On the other hand, improvising has as well its own limitations, and moving too far from them would only make communication even more difficult [2] . For I can't answer to the question "How are you?" by saying "Little bird on the tree", for example. Sawyer admits the importance of improvisation, but does so only on the basic schemes -catchphrases, scripts- we internalize (using them as tools for improvising), although he dismisses the fact that scripts can alone be applied in every circumstance [3] .

The capacity that makes possible for us to enable relations with others is therefore given by the improvisation phenomenon which allows variations on the scripts we use, thus offering the possibility of "live" interaction among people. By altering the script we stretch out our possibilities, since no conversation is identical with another, according to the scholar.

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Being confronted with the same problem, Jazz improvisation is defined as a spontaneous process that involves no preparation and is usually associated with the intervention of a single player (soloist). This vision leads musicians to reject using this term, as Bailey puts it:

The word improvisation is actually very little used by improvising musicians. Idiomatic improvisers, in describing what they do, use the name of the idiom. They "play flamenco" or "play jazz"; some refer to what they do as just "playing". There is a noticeable reluctance to use the word and some improvisers express a positive dislike for it. I think this is due to its widely accepted connotations which imply that improvisation is something without preparation and without consideration, a completely ad-hoc activity, frivolous and inconsequential, lacking in design and method. [4] 

In his book, Thinking in jazz. The infinite Art of Improvisation, Paul Berliner dispels this vision too, describing the complex world of Jazz music making and the collaborative aspect of it. Good improvisers rely not only on the aural capabilities, but also on the knowledge achieved through a painstaking process of learning how to read scores and master the basic harmonic principles, how to develop a repertoire . [5] What is more important is that practice always engages an inter-subjective dimension. Berliner underlines this aspect from the very beginning, making clear the influence of jazz musicians on novices both in the process of learning and in practicing improvisation, as well their role in the jazz ensemble.

Another way of seeing improvisation is due to its surprising character- where composition and performance occur in the same time- and this draws attention to the researchers for taking in consideration its origin.

Thus, we are confronted with the difficulty expressed by the incapacity of seeing improvisation in its every aspect. Regarded as a mysterious process, improvisation was seen either as divine inspiration, either as the creation of a brilliant mind [6] , blocking in this way the conceptual access.

Thus, we may associate the term improvisation with innovation, originality. I presume, that this step in carrying out musical discourse assumes an act of courage. It's like you're moving towards an unknown land, although, being prepared with the necessary tools.

Scholars like Stephen Davies emphasize the role of the composer, in detriment to the role assumed by the performer and the creative process he engages in during performance:

The view for which I argue characterizes authenticity in musical perform-

ance as follows: A performance that aims to realize the composer's score faithfully in sound may be judged for authenticity. [7] 

Benson's view, in contradiction with Davies' on this aspect, does not deny the role of the composer but ascertains that he/she cannot stand for themselves as the only participants to the creation of a work of music. [8] Furthermore, improvisation is possible only under the tradition it has emerged from, for the act of improvising is done following certain patterns, rules and conventions accepted by the community of musicians, it carries an identity ( a historical one) thus sustaining and in the same time overcoming it.

The scholar Johnstone notices the same preconceived idea which has dominated Western culture and it relies on the existence of an ultimate criteria, whose universality cannot be broken - Reason.

We distrust spontaneity, and try to replace it by reason: the mask was driven out of the theatre in the same way that improvisation was driven out of music [9] .

The tools used by Western culture could not allow a phenomenon like improvisation to stand for a way of conceiving music. This was driven by the assumption of an ideal musical work-Werktrue- seen as an autonomous entity which bares no deviation from it. [10] The role that performers had, was recognized only at the interpretation level - they had to remain faithful to the composer's scores. The notion of interpretation here does not stand for a hermeneutical view over the work of music, since no alteration of the score was possible, given the fact that every new performance of a musical work is not a mere presentation, but a re-presentation. Improvisation cannot be seen as a finished process because:

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This fundamental forming and being formed is what the improviser engages in as he or she enters a musical space. What has been played can never be un-played. What is there is there. And what goes on in all the different instruments necessarily creates the musical world at any given time. At the same time, this world is acutely flexible; open to different kinds of interpretation, and different ways of highlighting, selecting, elaborating, contrasting etc. [11] 

The "simple" participation of the interpreter adds something more to what is already at the reach- their own personal characteristics, visions about the world.

Eventually, it does not mean finding temporary solutions or work in haste, but rather optimization, personal ownership of default material, individual expression and coordination with the other participants.

By summarizing some of the negative views laid upon improvisation we tried to demystify the false beliefs regarding its nature and its involvement in the social life.

Considering each of these aspects, we will show that improvisation is not only the main characteristic of Jazz music, but it stands as well for a way in which jazz musicians interact adding a social dimension to it. Thus, the problem of historicity should be made clear in advance.

Improvisation under the "burden" of tradition

In Jazz, as in other genres of music, "improvisation is not a choice but the core of the performance practice". [12] Jazz is not just music -it is the art of expression through music. Jazz and its rhythm are inspired from the flow of life and traditional values of African-American people. About the origins of this genre were written many books and have done countless research. Its origin is linked to the history of black people in America, slaves of African origin, therefore Jazz emerged as a form of rebellion, an attempt of assuring a form of identity for these communities. Confronted with problems like discrimination and abuse, black minority found a refuge in cultivating through oral means, a type of music, that would liberate them from desolation and uprooting. The sounds were supposed to spring out directly from an exalted state of consciousness, following no formal restriction except for some sort of rhythm which was particularly relevant for the musician's individual, unique understanding of the matter.

Carrying sacred musical practices over into the jazz tradition, early improvisers

included spirituals within their repertories and created instrumental arrangements from the different parts that sang at religious services. [13] 

African-American religious music (Gospel) [14] has had a tremendous impact on Jazz music or as a formative experience and spiritual lives of countless jazz musicians, either because of various aspects of its vocabulary, which were imported into Jazz, either because the connection between the experiences Common ecstatic religious services and Jazz performances. Most of the loans are easily identified include a question-answer form, established between preacher and congregation, which translated into jazz singer who improvises and assembly, or between the same singer and audience.

The fundamental elements governing the specific features of African music and improvisation are the group creation and improvisation. Through improvisation and experimentation, instruments were used in order to replace the human voice and led to imitate sounds like shouting, crying, mourning etc.

Some of these influences of African American music are listed in Berliner's book, who gives an important historical-cultural account of the practices encountered: Voices and instruments are nearly indistinguishable, instruments functioning as surrogate speech genres as the ring shout [15] .

The most influential jazz tunes are the Blues [16] and Ragtime- used as vehicles upon which jazz musicians improvise . AABA (thirty-two-bar) is the most common structure followed by jazz players, the example given in Berliner's book is I got Rhythm composed by George Gershwin which became a jazz standard, enduring many variations upon it. Improvisation is, therefore, not an ex-nihilo creation, but the ability to re-transform the material existent already:

Improvisation involves reworking pre-composed material and designs in

relation to unanticipated ideas conceived, shaped, and transformed under

the special conditions of performance, thereby adding unique features to every creation. [17] 

As stated in the beginning, improvisation is a common practice in all musical genres, but regained its status in Jazz, being recognized as an irreplaceable element and took the image of music performed without a score and it was the expression of the feelings that carried the musician in the process. A piece of music could not even have been played twice by the same player given these conditions.

By only presenting few of the most important traditional elements preserved or borrowed, we reassured the ground upon which improvisation can be analyzed.

The "reappropiation of the given" [18] is, thus, a necessary condition that allows musicians to engage in the improvisational process. From this perspective dialogue occurs on the fully assumed basis of what has preceded in the history of Jazz music not only regarding the formal aspect of it, but also the socio-cultural context in which it has emerged- black people's lifestyle, their views concerning life and art - the innocent, disinterested enjoyment of life and art, of life through art.

Authors like Heidegger and Gadamer stress that historicity is an ontological condition of every human being, tradition shouldn't be regarded as a piece of museum, but rather in an authentic way- participating to its renewal.

Preserving the work does not reduce people to their private experiences, but brings them into affiliation with the truth happening in the work. Thus it grounds being for and with one another as the historical standing- out of human existence in reference to unconcealedness. [19] 

By admitting this, tradition is re-opened in the improvisational performance through repetition and revision.

Subsequently, Benson's argument is that preservation is not a static dimension and he admits this on the basis that a written score, although its importance, has only a secondary role. During performance, the player's task is not limited in obeying it "word by word", but filling in the gaps that the composer left unwritten: "for it is precisely what is not to be found in the score that we often most value." [20] 

What is a dialogue?

Although the concept of dialogue may seem clear to us, since we use it every day with no hesitation, when asked about it, we are always confronted with the incapacity of seeing dialogue's "true" role and this is due to the fact that monologue "gained" the supremacy through the history of thinking. The ontological status of dialogue was recovered through the philosophies of Heidegger, Gadamer, Ingarden etc. as an authentic possibility of being with the other and even more, this possibility is never reached entirely. The main characteristic of dialogue is its indeterminacy.

In order to illustrate the notion of dialogue we will bring into discussion Dimitri Nikulin's chapter "Dialogue. A systematic outlook" [21] .

In regards to this matter, as Nikulin puts it, dialogue is abandoned by the philosophical procedures on the behalf that it is "unproductive, unsystematic and utterly accidental to the process and acts of reasoning" [22] . Hence, philosophical thinking prides itself in having done so and reorienting to strict, clear and objective monologues. Therefore, Dimitri Nikulin desires to return to the features that make "dialogue philosophically and ontologically important" [23] .

Conversation. Here are conversation's four most important features, according to the author:

being in conversation with somebody means "being with the other", as, in order to maintain dialogue one needs the second person and, thus, is never alone.

answering or responding to the other, as a consequence of the first feature, being with the other, in the same time, asking and answering questions, the basis of conversation;

meaning of the subject debated - since, being involved in dialogue, we ask and answer questions, as said above, that means that the essence of the subject of matter has not been established yet. "This means that conversation is discursive"

the "skill" or the "art" of conversation - taking into consideration the above, one can deduce that the participants in the dialogue are completely original and creative when it comes to asking and answering questions, since a prior script for this has not been established.

Even so, the questioning and answering involved in a conversation is not coincidental. Their reason is given by the subject being discussed and its meaning, by the personalities of the ones that are discussing it and by the actual situation in which they find themselves.

Conversation and dialogue. The author, Dimitri Nikulin, continues by underlining the four elements that turn conversation into dialogue. And these are:

1. Personal other. Like stated above, conversation cannot take place but for the existence of the other. "The personal other" is the other of oneself, such as, for example, in Marcus Aurelius' "Ad se ipsum". It is difficult to define it, as the author puts it, even if it is a concept present in dialogue, "for the personal other might not be fully and ultimately expressible even if one intends to do so" [24] , because it cannot be expressed in finite terms or using logical categories. This is what Dimitri Nikulin states, so that he can better explain to us what the personal other stands for in a conversation:

" It seems paradoxical; but every person, although always appearing differently in dialogue and saying different things about different things, is still the same. The personal other is what accounts for the sameness in each person, although it is always expressed in a different manner." [25] 

The personal other is not directly accessible, but it is always expressed through dialogue and in conversation.

2. Voice. Regarding dialogue and conversation, all the participants are present mainly through their voice. Being so minimally embodied, voice, states Dimitri Nikulin, stands almost at the borderline between the mental and the physical, separating and also joining the two in conversation. It is a primal condition of conversation, as it cannot stand alone. For example, a voice in the desert counts for not. Hence, voice is a voice for and with the other voices [26] . Also, it represents means of separating the individuals taking part in the conversation, as well as expressing their distinctiveness. And being distinct, each voice is independent. It is also personal, having both an expressive and a communicative aspect, it is discursive, implying, naturally, when talking about conversation, questions and answers, much as thinking and, also, it fully expresses a person through every word uttered, tonality and intonation.

3. Unfinalizability.

"Even if the personal other accounts for each person's being the same in dialogue, still, no one ever ultimately coincides with herself. Instead, each person is new each time she appears and is therefore other to herself. This makes dialogue engaging and interesting, both to one's interlocutors and to oneself". [27] 

Unfinalizable means that quality of the dialogue by which it is meaningful at every moment and, so, it can always be carried further and further, without every exhausting the relations between the participants. It also distinguishes a meaningful conversation from mere exchange of information, always performed in a predefined number of steps and by a rigorous script, that ends abruptly and can only repeat itself. Thus, unfinalizability means never ending one's relations with the other, including the relations with the other of one's self, the personal other, as explained above.

Hence, this concept such explained, should be distinguished from simple incompleteness.

4. Allosensus. Or, in other words, as the author puts it, "disagreement with the other and the constant questioning of every claim made, which comes from the inability of ultimately and definitely spelling oneself out in dialogical conversation with the other" [28] . Unlike both consensus and dissensus (general agreement and disagreement), allosensus is altogether productive, being present not in an agreeable musical composition, but in a dissonant yet engaging polyphony, according to the author, such as, for example, Dimitri Shostakovich's String Quartet No. 8 [29] .

Dialogue. Regarding the relations between the four traits described above, Dimitri Nikulin states that :

"Bringing together the four constituents of dialogue, one can say that dialogue is a process of meaningful yet unfinalizable allosensual exchange that can always be carried on without repetition of its content and that implies communication with other persons in the vocal expression of one's own (but not "owned") personal other." [30] 

Dialogue features. According to the author, dialogue usually is:

1. personal - it is about persons, not about abstract claims, since dialogue is an "ever

renewable attempt to express one's personal other with other interlocutors". [31] Only by means of dialogue can a person understand itself and, also, understand the others, since conversation is the encounter with the other as another person.

2. It is not directed by an extra personal purpose, principle or agent, therefore, being followed by a certain type of allosensus, as stated above, which elongates the life of the dialogue, whereas complete understanding means death to the dialogue and, therefore, the end of being [32] .

3. It involves a plurality of interlocutors, because dialogue without the other is a self-contradictory notion and, also, equality between them. [33] 

4. It is polycentric, as any of its multiple participants can, at some point, become the focus of discussion and so, another quality derives from this: freedom of dialogue, as the primary location in which personal freedom is exercised [34] .

5. Therefore, being the location of freedom, it is also the location for freedom [35] , having the highest potential of liberating people.

6. It differs from monologue. The latter does not address anyone, it does not pose questions and, surely, does not expect answers. Such as Bakhtin puts it, "a monological world is a world in which people have nothing more to say" [36] .

The conversation metaphor in Jazz

How does conversation occur among jazz musicians? After expressing Nikulin's view on the concept of dialogue, we admit that some of its characteristics lead us in assuming the role that improvisation has. In other words, dialogue cannot appear without improvisation's interference. The state of indeterminacy and freedom found in dialogue, is possible only under improvisation's "guidance", as we will try to show. This idea was presented by Sawyer common conversation relies mostly on improvisation. Usually, it is altogether interplay, in which people interact and manage to give meaning through it. Establishing at first the length and precision of each conversational participant's line is thoroughly ceremonial. Everyday interaction and conversation is highly unpredictable, consists of turn-taking, is marked by interruption, the offering of details, digression and, also, scattered with non-verbal bits and pieces. The closest to this type of conversation is the free jazz genre, but also bebop.

What makes a good improvisation, in his opinion, is the obedience to certain rules: Yes and.., don't write the script in your head, listen to the group mind [37] .