Developing Group Empathy - part 2

Let’s say Dave Liebman plays a phrase on his soprano saxophone. Something complex but beautiful. Simple in a sense, but deep.

With Dave, it’s almost always that type of phrase. He’ll play that phrase and the next idea is contained within the end of that prior phrase. This is called compositional improvisation.

Within Quest or my ECM trio, we are all composing the music as we play. We want to create something new from whatever form we are playing, and that newness comes from everyone tuning into the moment. We may be focused on supporting that phrase from Dave, for example. How do we extend it? Should I play or should I leave it alone?


The goal is to create fresh original music. If that requires the bass player to play just one note for 10 minutes because the music requires it, then he will be happy to play that one note. If it means the drummer drops out so that only sax, piano, and bass play, then it becomes chamber music. Now it has become something else, but still beautiful. These are the things that occur to create magical spontaneous compositional moments.

If you play a tune like my Pendulum, which is just a pedal point and a simple melody, you can create miraculous things together. You can create directions that have never been played before. Even though we’ve played the tune for 35 years, each version of Pendulum is radically different.

Think about Miles’ bands from the 60s. Every time they played Autumn Leaves or Stella or Walkin’ or Agitation, each rendition was unique. Often radically so. That’s contemporary jazz. It’s not bebop.

Getting back to the idea of letting the music take you in a certain direction, you’ve got to be completely prepared. You’ve got to be a hundred percent able to play within the sounds, the colors, and the chords. You must be completely in command of your technique and able to react to the other musicians. You must be musically prepared from years and years of study and experience in order to react to each idea from moment to moment simply by feeling.

Consider the great baseball team with an amazing defense. They are way past just thinking about catching the ball. Their art comes from how quickly and smoothly they put the runner out by working together. They are of one mind as the center fielder quickly picks up the ball rolling towards him, throwing it to the second baseman who immediately throws it to the catcher for a close but decisive out.

A great basketball team is another example of how five people transcend individual skill. Because of relentless practice, when in the heat of the moment, they instinctively work the ball down the court eventually getting it into the basket using the positioning and skills of all five players acting as one in the moment.

In jazz, you’re all on the same track of interpreting the tune in the moment. Anyone of you may take a turn here or pull back there or move ahead in a musical way, if it is all done in the name of orchestration.

While I’m playing, I’m orchestrating in the moment. Billy Hart may be playing something that seems completely against the current of the music. But when you hear it back, it sounds brilliant. He was simply adding to the orchestration.

This is just a fake book example for the type of website I can build for you. Just trying to use a little humor here!