2. Improvisation *

You’ve got to learn your instrument. Then, you practice, practice, practice. And then, when you finally get up there on the bandstand, forget all that and just wail.

 Charlie Parker

Improvisation. Perhaps the pinnacle of creativity; musical improvisation is the spontaneous composition and performance of music, no doubt requiring a serious mixture of skill, knowledge, an ability to communicate one’s emotions and imagination, and an ability to respond to external creative dynamics.

Improvisation is a global phenomenon, found in the majority of traditional music forms. Its presence in Black American Music pertains to certain Sub-Saharan musical traditions, which emphasise the importance of the individual’s input as part of a collective enactment, often seen in improvisational acts of percussion, drumming, singing and – of course – dancing.  

Women playing djembe in Guinea, West Africa

Body and Soul. Coleman Hawkins. 1939.

“An emphasis on improvisation and spontaneity is a further shared trait of different African musical cultures, and these too have figured prominently in – and, to some extent, have come to define – the later jazz tradition.”

Ted Gioia. (1997). The History of Jazz. Oxford University Press, Inc.

It seems that society, considerably more so in Western cultures, spends much of its time planning, thinking ahead, and trying to live life strategically. Improvisation appears to be the exact opposite; it only ever exists in the ‘now’ – as one’s life energy is played out in real time. This cannot but be healthy for both mind and body, for your instinct and imagination override cerebral reflection and procrastination: the stuff of intellectual achievements but, on the other hand, of stress and mental overloading also.

Examples of improvisation in performance; whether singing, playing, or dancing.

James Brown. T.A.M.I Show. 1964. (as a side note: 7.54 mins onward IS legendary)

Bridge over Troubled Water. Aretha Franklin. 1971

Freestyling. J-Live. 2009.

Move your Body. Hot 8 Brass Band. 2012.


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