Improvising and Composing
This relates to composition. When you are improvising at the highest level, it might as well be a composition. And if a solo is transcribed, it could become a written composition. It might start as an improvisation, but it takes on the weight and the effect of a composition so therefore you need to be aware of compositional elements as an improviser.
From a less experienced jazz player, their improvisation may lack depth, and even though they might display great chops or beautiful swing, it won’t make the same impression as if it had been more compositionally conceived and performed.
Because of their depth, every ten years I can hear new things from the Miles recordings of the 60s, the Coltrane albums, and the Bill Evans groups from that same time.
I’ve been referring to the direction that the music takes you, either as a solo performer or within a group. That guiding force is the voice within you inspired by outside influences such as a person or a place or an experience. Outside influences can also be the venue in which you are playing, the audience, and of course, your fellow musicians.
When you stand on stage or in a recording studio, your playing reflects everything about you up to that moment. Just let things unfold.
Composition is different in one regard. You can be at home in your pajamas having just written what you believe is a great melody. You take a break and have a cup of coffee then come back to your composition and realize that the last note of the melody is wrong. So you correct it.
The same thing might happen with the harmony. You come back to it later and realize that the last few chords are not quite right. You make a change and it now seems perfect. Where does all this come from? It’s a mystery. We don’t know and I don’t want to know.
But with improvisation, that process is pressurized and quantized into real time. And within a group, that sense of spontaneous collective composition is a joy. It is an amazing feeling and is fulfilling when it all comes together as it did in The Snow Leopard.
Everyone within the group must be simpatico, meaning they are all aiming at the same objective. If just one person is not in that flow the music will suffer.
Study all the great compositions in the world. Study jazz, classical, folk, world music, and more so that everything you know about composition can be brought to bear in the moment of spontaneous inspiration within the group, whether in front of an audience or in a recording studio.
The more you know about composition, the better will be your improvisation. So study all music, not just jazz. Most musicians have more music within them than comes out of their instrument, for whatever reason-maybe from a lack of technique or an abundance of fear. But you must be capable and courageous enough to let the music out.
That requires trust in yourself. But how do you develop that?