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Victor Haskins: Embracing His Audience

Nicholas F. Mondello By

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Victor Haskins is one of those young musicians who seems to be able to do it all. He's an award-winning trumpeter, composer/arranger and educator/clinician—all at 21 years old. His debut recording, The Truth (32 Bar Records, 2013) received significant well-deserved acclaim. Haskins, a young visionary, has developed ImproviStory, what he describes as a new and emerging form of audience-generated extemporaneous musical improvisation. We caught up with Victor as he prepares to perform ImproviStory at this year's Festival of New Trumpet Music later this month in New York.

All About Jazz: Victor, on behalf of All About Jazz, thanks for taking time to speak with us about ImproviStory and your current and future projects.

Victor Haskins: Thanks, Nick.

AAJ: Please tell us about ImproviStory, what it is, and how it came about.

VH: Well first, I might want preface it by saying that ImproviStory is not tied to jazz at all, though people who enjoy jazz will probably have an affinity for ImproviStory because of the element of improvisation. Maybe let's talk about where it comes from.

AAJ: Sure.

VH: When I was learning how to improvise, I realized that the methods that they taught in school and what I gathered from around me didn't fit with how I wanted to play. And so, I had to create my own sound, style and way of thinking about improvisation and how that connected me to playing tunes. I realized that you can literally play anything over chord changes as long as you resolve it and you play it with intent and conviction. So, every tune can potentially sound the same as one plays familiar patterns to their muscle-memory over chord changes. To combat this issue, I developed this idea—"Melodic Improvisation"—where the melody of the tune provides the inspiration for the improvisation. It's like a game—a board game, but, each tune has its own rules; you wouldn't play "Monopoly" with the rules of "Sorry," even though both are "games," so to speak. Each tune has its own personality and is its own world, and the improvisation is a reimagining of the melody, as opposed to simply "playing chord changes." My whole thing is connections—connecting the musicians to the melody, the musicians to each other, the music to the audience, and the audience to the band.

AAJ: I see.

VH: I feel that at times there's a large disconnect between jazz musicians and non-musician audiences. It's like the musicians are playing for musicians, not the audience. So, I don't want the audience not going where the band is going. The audience should be going on the same journey as the band.

AAJ: So ImproviStory emanated from that?

VH: Well, it was my writing first. How could I create parts for the band, so that no matter where it is—the journey—you—as the audience—are always there with us? What became ImproviStory would happen when I would practice a lot by myself. The tunes I played—jazz standards—would always become something different each time I played them—their own thing. Then, I would freely improvise for people without using pre-existing tunes and they'd say "that was a nice tune." The thing is they weren't tunes—not pre-existing tunes, anyway. Even so, they followed the story I was telling with how I improvised. So then I thought: if that's the case, I wouldn't necessarily need a pre-existing tune per se, or, if the audience could suggest a story for me to improvise, I could create a melody out of their idea. Then they could then have a deeper connection to what it is I'm playing. Because now I'm not just creating a strong logic for them to follow—it's deeper than that—it's a story that they've created and I've elaborated on in my music.

AAJ: So, it's a little like the TV show, "Who's Line Is It, Anyway?" where the host would give a suggested scenario to improvisational comics and they would act out a sketch. ImproviStory is, therefore, your improvisational musical expression of the suggested story idea from the audience. And you as a soloist improvisationally play that suggestion out—it's your vision and interpretation. Is that the idea?

VH: That's exactly the idea.

AAJ: It's also a lot like "program music" where you improvise musically but stick to the suggested emotional and energy elements envisioned ideas from the suggestion.

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