Christmas, 2008/9

improvisation - Art of

Keith Jarrett: The Art of Improvisation, DVD coverI haven't been slacking off. My intense research into the world of American improvisation/creativity, which consists mainly of watching movies and reading books, is proceeding as planned.

Shortly, I will be viewing Keith Jarrett: The Art of Improvisation, and I expect to publish a reaction here.

Based on titles of works they have published, both organist Gerre Hancock and pianist Keith Jarrett believe that improvisation is an Art.

Jarrett will be an interesting case study in the world of improvisation. He's clearly a superbly gifted musician, one who is well-known as an improviser. More than that, his innovative solo concerts have been instances at spontaneous creation (improvisation that is not based on pre-existing themes).

Like comedian Jerry Seinfeld in the documentary Comedian, Jarrett recently sought to remodel his improvisations by starting from scratch (these efforts are captured by his most recent release Radiance). This artistic trajectory reveals an artist who is particularly attuned to the distilled, creative essence of his art.

There's a lot of personal interest here. I grew up listening to Jarrett, and I grew up improvising on the piano and the organ. What I'm really interested in getting a hold of is the concept of improvisation in isolation -- improvisation for its own sake.

I don't think organists have much experience with this concept. Most organ methodologies don't hesitate to introduce hymn-based techniques fairly early on. Surely this is practical, but it is putting the cart before the horse.

By teaching organists how to improvise set forms, certain methodologies surely relegate improvisation to the world of "craft." And while this may speak to the reality of what occurs when the organist improvises, I think it is worthwhile to try to access the bigger picture: improvisation as "Art."

By the same token, however, improvisation is most easily accessed through set forms and stipulations: a craft, if you will. And for some inexperienced improvisers, improvising without a predetermined form will lead to musical incontinence.

How much have organists been limited by our received methodologies? How many organists are asked to just improvise, for its own sake, and without the aid of anything pre-composed?

How many organists are comfortable removing the trappings of western music, or inherited default-churchiness to create something really honest, personal, artistic?

By way of example, the fugue was a necessary thing to improvise in Bach's time. One could even argue that the French had their own fugue thing going too. But how many American composers are still writing fugues? I mean, not even Henry Cowell really did (he wrote fuguing tunes, trying to reclaim an earlier American form), and he died forty years ago.

American organists just aren't talking enough about the Art of Improvisation. This is symptomatic of too few American organists improvising, which is in turn symptomatic of their being a lack of an American improvisational "style" or ethos.

And so, my quest for an An Ethos of Improvisation at the Organ in the United States (AEIOU) leads me into Jazz, a realm where improvisation is regularly practiced and discussed, even if not fully understood.

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Thanks David, I really loved Keith Jarrett growing up and I didn't know that he'd made a DVD. I'm going to order it right now. And, indeed, improvisation is an art far too seldom practiced or performed.
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