Monday, May 6, 2013

Risk, Courage, Trust, and Forgiveness in Improvised Music

April was a busy month (including a CD release on Teal Creek Music !), so I'm now just getting to posting for Demolition Duo's April 5th performance-workshop at Lewis and Clark College. There was a lot to digest from our visit at LC, but here are a few highlights.

We presented two different sessions at LC, one for Professor Jeff Leonard’s jazz appreciation students, and another for Beth ­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­­Szczepanski’s jazz theory class. We opened up each session with a
long free improvisation. You can check out one of the improvisations on my SavageFlute youtube channel (in parts 1 and 2). The students at Lewis and Clark were interested in our decision-making processes. Some questions included, how do you decide what instrument to play (including individual parts of the drum kit?) How do you know when to begin (or when not to begin) a new musical idea? How do you decide when to use different instrumental techniques? And what are those techniques?

There was also a recurring theme of how to bridge free improvisation concepts and styles into more traditional styles. Ken and I feel that we presented this well, making it clear that many of the musical considerations required an effective free improvisation are part of effective playing in straight-ahead jazz, classical styles, and other musical genres.

One student (who played bass) asked, “are there ways to practice this type of improvisation?” Ken answered with some specific practice techniques, such as taking the first ten minutes to play an improvised solo with or without restrictions (e.g. play just with the  bow, or just with your pinky), or try improvising using “centricity,” where everything one plays leads back or relates in some way to one specific pitch, but not necessarily in a ii, V, I sort of relationship (traditional, functional harmonic relationships).

Another student asked, “What are you thinking about through the  course of any song?” I replied, "I listen to what my duet partner or the rest of the group doing, and then I may make the decision to play in a supportive roll or a contrary roll. I 'get out on a limb,' play something that I'm not sure if I can execute technically as a performer--there's an audience component in this as I want to do it well for the audience." Ken responded to this thread by saying that, “the music will take you to someplace technically where you’ve never been before."

In summing up many of the ideas presented in the workshop, Ken and I both discussed the need  for courage, trust, and forgiveness, both for yourself and for the others with whom you are playing.  We also stressed the need for taking musical risks, and that any free improvisation is full of risk taking from the very beginning.