Are you questioning why you are doing it or where the element of fun has gone?
Well, please read on, make sure you get to then end of this Article and by that time, I promise you, you’ll remember what it was all about.
I’ve written quite a lot about the benefits of free improvisation.
A lot of the time, however, many musicians find this exercise one of the most confronting ways of playing their instrument.
The reason is that improvisation, especially free improvisation, highlights our inner critic, which can be an uncomfortable presence in our creative activities.
The more uncomfortable you are with improvisation, the more critical you may be of your music and the harder you find it to become satisfied with your creative experience.
Some people consider free improvisation utter nonsense.
To those people I would say that nothing would ever change in the Arts, or indeed any area of life, without taking risks and trying out “unconventional” ideas.
However, free improvisation is now far from an unconventional idea and in this Article I wish to illustrate what free improvisation would look like for different instruments.
One of the most famous improvisational concerts was the 1975 Köln Concert on solo piano by Keith Jarrett.
Listen to this beautiful music as you read on.
Before Keith sat down at the piano, he had no idea of what he was going to play.
“Jarrett arrived at the opera house late in the afternoon and tired after an exhausting long drive from Zurich, Switzerland, where he had performed a few days earlier.
He had not slept well in several nights and was in pain from back problems and had to wear a brace.
After trying out the substandard piano and learning a replacement instrument was not available, Jarrett nearly refused to play and Brandes (the promotor) had to convince him to perform as the concert was scheduled to begin in just a few hours.
The concert took place at the unusually late hour of 11:30 PM following an earlier opera performance. This late-night time slot was the only one the administration would make available to Brandes for a jazz concert – the first one ever at the Köln Opera House.
The show was completely sold out and the venue was filled to capacity with over 1400 people at a ticket price of 4 Deutsche Marks (about $5.00).
Despite the obstacles, Jarrett’s performance was enthusiastically received by the audience and the subsequent recording was acclaimed by critics and became an enormous commercial success.
It remains his most popular recording and continues to sell well more than 35 years after its initial release.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Köln_Concert
Although this improvisation is based mainly on two chords, I would still say it is freely improvised because Jarrett is composing purely in the present moment without a formulaic agenda. In other words, he is freely “channelling” music.
“Jarrett opened up his heart and played whatever notes felt right at the moment. Missing from the show was overly flashy displays of instrumental prowess; instead of being found playing the perfect lick, Jarrett chose instead to get lost in the melody. He used virtuosity to advance, get this, art instead of science.” http://www.allaboutjazz.com/php/news.php?id=56417
For me, this is one of the most inspiring performances I have ever heard.
It illustrates a truly creative moment that can only come from an exercise of spontaneous creativity that only free improvisation can provide. Every time I listen to this recording it is as though I am at the concert for the first time, hanging onto every note and every silence.
Piano is one instrument on which really lends itself to improvisation but other instruments can be harder.
I think the hardest of all is voice.
This is because of all the instruments, our voice is the most personal and completely individual. Therefore any criticism can be (and often is) interpreted as a direct criticism of the person producing that vocal.
I also think people can be a lot harsher critic of vocals and vocalists. (Perhaps this is because anyone who can talk is also a potential singer!)
Here is a video of free improvisation on vocals by UK jazz vocalists Filomena Campus and Cleveland Watkiss live at Riverside Studios, London, recorded June 2009.
This is a really interesting one because it involves two people, spontaneously composing together.
Not only are they confident of vocalizing what they hear and feel at the time, it seems that as the performance continues they are completely in the same space, hearing the same music.
This illustrates one of the most important musical skills to nurture – that of listening.
The result of these creative and listening skills is a wonderful true free improvisation performed without any fear.
One of the most wonderful aspects of free improvisation is that of exploration.
How often do we get to hear all the potential sounds of our instrument?
I think the above vocal improvisation explored many different ways to express the human voice but here is another very interesting improvisation on guitar.
Angelo is really in the right headspace of just accepting anything that comes out from the guitar but he is also very lovingly exploring his instrument, experimenting with different sounds and really enjoying all his discoveries.
I love this improvisation because it is so free and truly expressive and I just can’t help but smile when I listen to it.
Really, it’s like watching a child playing in a new environment, discovering a hose, for example, for the first time.
Of course, this is may not be the music you choose to listen to when you go out on a Saturday evening or as an accompaniment for cooking your evening meal.
But what free improvisation does is remind us of the playful aspect of music, and remember that’s what we do – we PLAY music, we don’t work it.
I think all too often we can take music far too seriously and forget about the fun aspect of it.
Free improvisation is a great way to get in touch with that feeling in yourself and in your music.
If you can do that, it will leak into other styles of music you play, other improvisations too so you can be a childlike again, having fun and attracting other children (listeners) to your game because they will want to have fun with you!
Here is one last free improvisation on trumpet.
I like this one because it uses technology too – an effects pedal. The human and the machine are therefore spontaneously creating together.
Again it contains humour, fun, complete acceptance, exploration and play and illustrates that experimentation too is an important for the development of all music from the personal to the collective.
I hope you have enjoyed this Article, but more than that, I hope that now you too will be inspired to go to your instrument and rediscover it through play and total acceptance of whatever sound you produce.
Please leave a comment and tell me how it went!