Sunday, October 29, 2006

i'm speaking improv

last night david and i heard some live jazz at a club in the mission. i was struck happy, really pleased to be hearing a tight quartet cover the standards and then some. i miss live music. i miss the moods, the moments of genius, and expressing my thoughts after a particularly interesting tune or show. it's true, i'm more used to engaging in serious analysis with other musicians, but last night it was different. last night i talked to david--a non-musician--about what i liked and about what was transpiring during the tunes, which then turned my thoughts to the finer points of improv.

jazz is a conversation. it's an exchange between players; they respond to each other, building and acquiesing just as we might do in a heated discussion. musicians also communicate with each other in order to create structure and meaning. a subtle nod of the head, an abupt movement to the right, a raised eyebrow--these are the cues musicians use to direct solos, return to the head, and lead the players to the ending of a tune.

jazz is also a language. when a musician is improvising, she or he plays riffs they've picked up over time, and cobbles them together with original moments to form sentences, paragraphs, stories. much like we may say, "anywho..." or "know what i'm sayin'" or "totally," musicians pick up and use phrases to create melodies of shared experiences, or riffs, flanked by their own personal insights. last night i heard riffs i've heard a number of times, all influenced by the musician's personal style and groove. i also heard patterns. for instance, when the trumpet player's solo turned a bit tired, he would pull out a riff comprised of descending arpeggios. after this riff, the solo would regain its energy and vigor, as if his brain were revitalized and primed for the next step. i do this too--it's helpful to have a repetoire of riffs you can count on to fill space and get your mind on a future part of the tune, perhaps when the key or groove is shifting. my all-purpose, and eventually signature riff was a fluttering of a few notes. it offered a quick breather to free up my mind and focus on the tune. perhaps the trumpet player does that too.

the experience certainly got me thinking about live music--jazz in particular. i enjoyed the music and sharing my thoughts with david, and look forward to the next opportunity to do it again.

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