The key to creating a fresh sounding improvisation is to be in the present while playing.
Some music just has it. You know the kind I'm talking about. The kind of music you can listen to over and overand it never gets old.
So, what's the secret? How can music remain fresh after multiple listens? I'll tell you. The secret is the performer was in the present.
You see, music is an instant transmission of feeling. Whatever "mental state" the performer is in while playing can be detected by careful listening. That's why some performances, although technically correct, lack feeling or emotion. The performers' mind was somewhere else.
The key to creating fresh sounding improvisation is to be in the present while playing. But, this is more difficult than you think. Our minds are always busy. Thoughts skitter back and forth while we're at the keyboard and if we are improvising, the music coming out will reflect it.
The best way I know to stay "in the present" while playing is to just play! This may sound overly simple but I assure you that the attitude of play is very important.
Think of children drawing with crayons. They are only interested in the joy that comes from putting color on paper. The marks and scribbles are just reflections of the child's inner state. And while most children's drawings look horrible to the average adult's eye, they do say a lot.
Music is really no different. We take a few chords and play around with them. We improvise and see what comes up. If we remain in the present, the music that comes from us has a magic quality that is hard to definebut you know when it's there.
Remember, process over product. The big mistake many students make is that they want a finished product they can show off to others. There's nothing wrong with this and it's natural to want to share our creations. But we must decide which is more important... our own joy and happiness at the piano, or the approval of others.
I was first exposed to jazz while working overseas in Africa as a Peace Corps Volunteer. I would listen to the Voice of America on the radio and they had a nightly jazz program on at 10:00pm. I learned a lot about jazz listening to this program. I also had a friend who listened to real jazz by artists like Charles Mingus, Eric Dolphy and Archie Shepp. On my way home from Africa I landed in New York and had the opportunity to see the George Adams/Don Pullen quartet at the Village Vanguard as well as Kenny Barron and Ron Carter at another club, and was in heaven.