It don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that meaning!
What we play and what we do not play are only valid in the depth of their meaning. Coltrane’s “sheets of sound”, Ornette’s Harmolodics or any methodology is valid only when utilized by the skilled Improvisor in the expression of a distinct meaning. We’re not just hearing walls of sonics. We’re hearing the result of in-depth analysis of the self and musical relationships. This analysis is the product of a method I call “Enlightened Listening”. “Enlightened Listening” is the process by which the improvisor finds their place and their material in the music. This fundamental resource of the improvisor will be the basis for many articles in this blog. The result of all of this is what the listener perceives as the Improvisor’s “statement” – the meaning of the improvisation.
Over the years i’ve had the rare privilege to make music with some of great masters of the art of Improvisation. They all differed in their way of achieving the delivery of their “meaning”. Even if we were all supposedly utilizing the same method – be it Harmolodics, Lydian Chromaticism or some other system of organization – the end result was always a projection of each Improvisor’s meaning in their recognizable voice.
So it really all starts and ends with your meaning or as the old Jazz guys used to say – “what you have to say”. If you “have nothing to say”, no method in earth will give meaning to your meanderings. This is the magic thread that joins Feldman (composing is really slow improvising, more on that later) to Coltrane to Sun Ra to Noah Howard and beyond. For this reason, i’ve always put emphasis on the mastery of two disciplines above all others: self-realization and Enlightened Listening. The stronger the Improvisor’s sense of self the more defined their statement/voice will be. Not only that, self-awareness on this level fosters a degree of self-confidence which leads to the ability to truly listen. Enlightened Listening, above all else, requires the Improvisor to trust that they will not cease to exist if they stop playing and then to play what the music requires – which can only be determined by listening objectively – rather than what the Improvisor has practiced or prepared. What comes out of this process is the voice of the Improvisor integrated with the music as it is in the present. This is what we call “spontaneous composition”. It is not chaos nor is it the plastering together of unrelated tones and timbres. It is the logical conclusion of self-awareness and a carefully applied exercise in listening.