Dear All About Jazz Readers,

If you're familiar with All About Jazz, you know that we've dedicated over two decades to supporting jazz as an art form, and more importantly, the creative musicians who make it. Our enduring commitment has made All About Jazz one of the most culturally important websites of its kind in the world reaching hundreds of thousands of readers every month. However, to expand our offerings and develop new means to foster jazz discovery we need your help.

You can become a sustaining member for a modest $20 and in return, we'll immediately hide those pesky Google ads PLUS deliver exclusive content and provide access to future articles for a full year! This combination will not only improve your AAJ experience, it will allow us to continue to rigorously build on the great work we first started in 1995. Read on to view our project ideas...

220

Improvisation...Like The Weather

AAJ Staff By

Sign in to view read count
Some solos can only be played when there's great silence. It's a kind of quiet that frames the air like the negative space surrounding a sculpture.
By Jane Ira Bloom

I thought I would talk about improvising and I should say that I'd try to talk about it because words are often difficult for me. My performance world is sonic; more poetry than prose, more like the weather than the forecast—more pliable and less specific—cloud-like and always shifting shape. Not surprisingly, music is the medium through which I prefer to communicate because it holds more energy and the process of spontaneous invention feels more natural. But with the words that I can find, here is what improvising is like for me: I string melodies together in the moment like dreams and somehow it all makes sense. Playing has a way of transforming your mind in the same way a wind can alter a cloudscape. When you are really focused, musical ideas morph and flow seamlessly into one another to form spontaneous compositions.

As a player and a composer I often deal with ambiguity. I have become used to standing at musical precipices, not knowing what's going to happen next, sometimes ready to spring into action but also content to just hang out on the cliff. Whether I'm poised to begin a solo or simply staring at a blank manuscript page, the absence of a safety net is what makes the whole improvisatory adventure so exhilarating.

I spend my time rehearsing how to be spontaneous. 'Rehearsing how to be spontaneous' sounds counterintuitive, but when practicing I exercise music muscles and memory so to be ready for any unpredictable moment. I practice reaching for sounds I can't hear, phrases I can't play, in preparation to solo on one chorus on one night. Ideas come from the most unexpected places. Some of the most profound things learned as an artist are thoughts that have evolved from exposure to subjects other than music. What you carry with you in your work isn't so much what you think as it is how you think. This makes the biggest impact on your music—your mind's openness and ability to process experience in fresh and spontaneous ways throughout life.

Listening deeply to what's around me in the musical landscape, I scan a soundscape to be able to react quickly and shift gears with hyper-drive, turn-on-a-dime steering. Playing can sometimes be like driving a sports car. One never knows what's around the musical bend but you often find yourself accelerating into the turn. Improvising like that is brash and tremendously exciting.

Playing can be tender and expressive too, a whole range of emotions inside a 32-bar chorus. Some solos can be filled with sadness and promise at the same time, like when playing a ballad, which can hold an enormous amount of complexity for a player. The air is saturated with feeling, flooded with multiple layers of emotion all at the same time. Time slows down and notes vibrate with a different intensity. Improvisers have long held that it's how you play a really slow tempo that sets you apart as an artist.

Some solos can only be played when there's great silence. It's a kind of quiet that frames the air like the negative space surrounding a sculpture. A player carves the air like a sculptor cutting away to the heart of an idea. Some solos call up a hundred memories in one moment. It's as if the turn of a musical phrase has condensed a yearning from some deep place in the past into one inflection. You play as if a whole world were inside of one note.

And some solos go one way one day and then go in a completely different direction on another. They're like snowflakes. No two are alike and you have to marvel at that. Trying to recreate solos never works because you can't reshape the honesty of their moment in time. Try to shape the way you play from day to day—but the unexpected ALWAYS happens, so in the end you find that you make a religion out of cherishing the unpredictable nature of things.

Then there are solos that can end and then turn your life upside down. What happens when the high you get from improvising is over? You want it back and you'll do anything to get it—like a fix. Credit cards and cautious living often go out the door when improvisation comes to stay. Improvisers keep going back to the bandstand hoping to find that elusive feeling again and again.

So there's a lot to improvising and none of it is easy to describe. Making music in the moment is a surprising endeavor. It's unpredictable, ambiguous, complex, sad, silent, exhilarating, dangerous, disciplined, expressive, nostalgic and sublimely addictive. There's never a moment like any other and I wouldn't have it any other way—kind of like the weather.

Tags

comments powered by Disqus

Shop for Music

Start your music shopping from All About Jazz and you'll support us in the process. Learn how.

Album Reviews
Bailey's Bundles
Album Reviews
Interviews
Album Reviews
Megaphone
Read more articles

Related Articles

Megaphone
The Creative Music Studio Goes To College!
By Karl Berger
September 10, 2015
Megaphone
Wein, June & Jazz
By AAJ Staff
June 13, 2010
Megaphone
Clean Feed Records: Looking Outwards
By Pedro Costa
May 16, 2010
Megaphone
Discoveries Along The Pitch Continuum
By Amir ElSaffar
April 11, 2010
Megaphone
Either/Or (No More)
By Darcy James Argue
February 28, 2010
Megaphone
The Power in Music
By Steve Colson
February 3, 2010
Megaphone
Latin Jazz: A Legitimate American Music
By AAJ Staff
January 20, 2010