After Bruce Gertz’s interviews with John Clayton,  Eddie Gomez and John Patitucci, he has a few ideas of his own to share.  What are your thoughts on improvisation?

  1. As we learn to use our imagination and build stories in our minds, the same idea can evolve through music.
  2. After learning a vocabulary for a language people develop their own means of communication with that vocabulary. This might be called a style or even a stereotype, however it can vary to large degrees within these frames. People can be more or less dramatic when speaking, depending on the context. Dynamic levels and accented words or phrases can drastically alter how a person communicates both verbally and musically. We often improvise while speaking and telling stories.
  3. It is said that there are those who aspire to reach boundaries and those who move the boundaries further. The stylist could be described as a musician who is strictly and firmly a swing player. This musician is only interested in working within the boundaries of authentic, sounding swing music. There is nothing wrong with mastering an idiom or period of music and in fact is very respectable within the Classical realm where improvisation takes place in the form of interpretation and expression rather than restructuring the basic musical elements, (melody, rhythm and harmony). The innovative jazz player would be a musician who busts through boundaries and continues to extend the boundaries throughout his or her career. John Coltrane, Charlie Parker and Theolonius Monk come to mind as examples of artists moving boundaries. Some also refer to this as raising the bar.
  4. Composers are improvisers in the sense that they form musical ideas from the same material that Jazz musicians and composers use, rhythmic, melodic and harmonic vocabulary. The improviser and composer both put their vocabulary to use while telling their stories through music.
  5. The development of our inner ear and musical receptors is a very essential goal for those aspiring to be improvisers and perform with other musicians. Practicing rhythmic, harmonic and melodic phrasing both diatonically and chromatically will help develop skills. As important as practicing is playing with other musicians and listening. The quicker your ears can de cypher musical information, the better a communicator you’ll become.
  6. The above five paragraphs can be summarized to describe improvisation in music as the ability to communicate with other musicians and audiences through use of their musical vocabulary to tell a story as both an accompanist and/or a soloist.
  7. I have recently become more aware of the right and left brain phenomenon that points out strong, potential interference of the creative, expressive right brain by the analytical and critical left brain. The left, brain holds the language and vocabulary as well as math and ego. The trick is to quiet the left, brain enough to allow access to the vocabulary without interference from a critical left, brain. There are a number of books out on this topic. My Stroke of Insight by Jill Bolte Taylor [ted.com], The New Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain Workbook by Betty Edwards, The Art Spirit, The Happy Child by Steven Harrison, Embracing The Wide Sky by Daniel Tammet [ted.com], The Lazy Man’s Guide to Enlightenment by Thadeus Golas, The Brain In Love by Dr. Daniel G. Amen. And more.
  1. I’ve been telling myself and all my students and friends that if we all keep an open mind we can take in a full life without too much background noise. Now if the right and left, brain theory is correct then an open mind is one with a relatively well, behaved left, brain. One that shares vocabulary and only the information required for music. Think of a computer (left brain) and opening one folder that contains only that information which is needed for the creation of your art. This folder opens and closes like a damper allowing the right, brain side to draw what it needs to tell an imaginative story.
  2. Meditation is a great way to gain peace and quiet. Simply focusing on breathing. In music while improvising I try to allow the sound quality of one note help guide me to the next. This idea works well with singing phrases. All you need to start is one note and then another either above or below. Or you can create a rhythm while repeating one note and then go from there.
  3. Keep an open mind and life becomes easier.