Friday, December 27, 2013

Musical Masturbation

I have heard it said that free jazz is a lot like masturbation; it is self indulgent and should be done in private.  A few years ago I may have subscribed to this viewpoint, but I'm becoming more open minded.  I now see free improvisation as a legitimate and effective form of self expression.  But like any art form, it takes time to develop a level of proficiency (which facilitates the communication of plausible musical statements).

As a creative musician looking to stretch my imagination and further develop the intuitive side of my musicianship, I have found "playing free" to be beneficial.  I think it has made me a better composer and improviser in tonal settings.

The author of the Wikipedia article on Free Improvisation defines it as "improvised music without any rules beyond the logic or inclination of the musician(s) involved."  My compositional forays into free jazz tend to have some rules and guidelines, so as to steer the improvisors.

Here is a video of my band, the Creative Opportunity Workshop, playing a free piece I entitled, "Quaternary Triangulation":


The score is a set of instructions which looks like this:  (If you click on the image, it will expand to full size.)


The result is four, short, contrasting trios.  In the video, the suite unfolded as follows:
Mvt. #1:  cello (leader), accompanied by piano and percussion
Mvt. #2: piano (leader), accompanied by percussion and sax
Mvt. #3: percussion (leader), accompanied by sax and cello
Mvt. #4: sax (leader), accompanied by piano and cello

As an educator, I have found this exercise to be helpful in getting students to consider and execute elements of contrast: fast/slow, high/low registers, long/short articulations, dense/sparse, loud/soft, etc.  It doesn't hurt for professionals to be reminded of these devices either.

In an earlier blog post I touched on my experiences using "guided free improvisation" in educational settings.  I have provided a link, so I won't expound here, although I see tremendous untapped potential here.

Over the next few days I will share several more of my free compositions, so as to provide some insight into a style which is perhaps too easily dismissed by the uninitiated.

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