Why Improvise

Why Improvise? Why not? Or, perhaps i should start by clarifying some terms and concepts. “Improvise” and “Improvised Music” – with capital ‘I’ – are not the same as “playing over changes” or “shredding”. To “improvise” in the context of “Jazz” means to apply specific melodic/harmonic formulae to chord or static set of chord changes under strictly prescribed conditions that the soloist AND ensemble are required to maintain. I play “Free Jazz” – Jazz free of these rules and restrictions. So, what is Jazz? Jazz is a spirit. You know it when you hear it, don’t you? It’s that silver thread that connects Louis Armstrong to Albert Ayler. It’s the sonic impression of our history, our culture. I heard Jazz in my father’s voice before I learned to speak and felt it in my mother’s gait as she carried me to and from my crib. Jazz is the essence of – not the method of – the music. To play Free Jazz is to explore that essence and in so doing reveal the soul of a people.

Why? Because freedom is vital to the human spirit.

To Improvise is to return to our original source of joy. Children take great pleasure in spontaneous creation. We do not stop playing because we grow old – we grow old because we stop playing. A better name for the music I play would be “Free Joy”. The final Psalm says it all. I always thought that this being the last of the Psalms was no accident:

Praise the Lord!
Praise God in his Temple; praise him in his mighty heaven.
Praise him for his strength; praise him for his greatness.
Praise him with trumpet blasts; praise him with harps and lyres.
Praise him with tambourines and dancing; praise him with stringed instruments and flutes.
Praise him with loud cymbals; praise him with crashing cymbals.
Let everything that breathes praise the Lord.
Praise the Lord! (Psalm 150:1-6 NCV)

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3 thoughts on “Why Improvise

  1. Hello Jai-Rohm, good to see you’re up and running…

    I’ve witnessed heated debates about composition versus improvisation over the years. The dispute is often if you “compose” when you “improvise” and persons objecting to the value of music without notation or pre-composed/pre-arranged material like in “jazz” or popular music. If you think about this in just terms of ” what is a piece of music? “, I reply, a “composition” could more or less be repeated/reproduced whereas an improvisation probably couldn’t.

    Some persons claims improvisation is the opposite of composition. I must confess I almost had the same view for some years, because I hadn’t thought clearly about it. I was thinking about the “fact” more than the “act”. Now I think improvising is a way of composing. Also, when we record an improvisation, we can reproduce and listen to the improvisation repeatedly. The improvisation has become a composed fact by a recorded act. We probably wouldn’t like or be able to repeat the act with our instruments though.

    I believe all humans improvise and compose by improvising, even if you’re not a musician. Improvising is for me like talking. When I talk I more or less improvise. When I meet a friend on the street or hang out with him/her I don’t know in advance what I’m going to say. That’s the part which is unprepared. But we’re also prepared, we share some language, we have things to say, we have thoughts and experiences to express between each other, we’re hopefully LISTENING to each other. To reach feeling,understanding and meaning we express ourselves with words (which are sounds by the way). And all other ways of communicate when we talk are also true when we play together, how loud or soft we are, face-expression, body language, etc.

    So we “compose” between each other spontaneously by interacting/listening. I would like to be prepared when I play/improvise music with other persons as much as if I would talk with them. This means I think about what sounds (“words”) I want to share with other humans.

    Some year ago I did an interesting investigation. What chords made up by three pitches RESONATES in me? After having made up all combinations and played each and everyone in isolation I found out that the most resonating chords to my person (spirit?) contained either a diminished fifth or an augmented fifth. I also resonated towards all the chords where the interval between the top and bottom pitch was a diminished ninth. All the chords or most of them are within the melodic minor,whole-tone and diminshed scales. This is now part of my vocabulary and was a kind of “enlightened listening” for me. It doesn’t mean minor seconds or perfect fifths or noises are forbidden to be played, it just means I understand a little more of who I am. Resonance is a key concept in my musical life. That’s kind of my personal specifics and are beyond my musical influences and knowledge in general. I try not to play “jazz”, i try not to play “contemporary music”, i try not to play “serial music”, i try not to play “rock”. All these forms of music are within me, but my goal is to play “me” for better or worse.

    Looking forward to hear more from you Jair-Rohm !

    Take care

    Magnus Alexanderson (composer and guitarist with Decision Dream)

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      • Happy to contribute Jair-Rohm…yeah…”Steamroom” still raise the temperature…hopefully there will be more persons to take part of our shared experience…peace…Magnus

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