Sunday, April 6, 2008

Improv, baby! Yeah!

I have to say, this is some of the most fun I’ve had in an academic setting. Listening to music that I love, recognize, and appreciate is nothing but inspiring. Coltrane’s Acknowledgement is testament to how people can improvise together and what happens when you let certain constraints go. David Borgo mentioned that Coltrane performed this piece only once yet it is a milestone in jazz history. Charles Limb says that when people improvise, “the brain alters itself into a creative mind frame” in order to “generate novelty and decrease inhibition.” Those who listen to jazz can appreciate the seeming disorder as an inside look at the creative process as it’s happening.
Perhaps that is why Dr. Charles Limb wanted to study “the brain on improvising” so to speak. To know what goes on in the brain while someone is improvising could teach us a lot about people’s ability to create on the spot.
When Borgo brings up the idea of categorization of music, he talks about our inability to separate a piece of music we’ve heard for the first time from our past knowledge of music. The point that he keeps coming back to is that “Our models of categorization are also inherently conditioned by individual and cultural values and goals, which can change, often dramatically, over time” (180). This statement made me wonder if anything can really be categorized in music? If so, how is it done? If our process of categorizing changes over time, then how is anything musical supposed to stand the test of time? Perhaps it is a matter of how well received it is and how many musicians choose to reinterpret it. I wonder if timing has anything to do with musical appreciation. For instance, what does the time Sonny Rollins wrote Freedom Suite (1950s) have to do with how it was received? If a jazz musician were to write a 19-minute piece about the Iraq war, would it be as well received?
Ware brings forward one of the better points in Borgo’s essay. “Ware’s remarks remind us that we need better and more appropriate tools to discuss the ways in which tradition and expectation are referenced in musical performance and cognition. And we need to be aware of the variety of culture-specific ways in which these performances and processes are framed and valued” (186). It reminds me of previous conversations in class about Jarrett and his belief that no one can write about or talk about jazz; it’s impossible.
The Borgo essay also mentions the different connections people have to various songs and artists and how our relationship with a song shapes our feelings of an entire genre of music. When I listen to Miles Davis perform “So What” I am brought back to my home in Half Moon Bay where my dad is playing the record and doing household chores. Jazz was an integral part of my life growing up. It was always on, particularly jazz of the hard bop era. Because of the early exposure to many of the artists we’ve discussed and listened to in class, I have an immediate affection for what we read and our discussions of improvisation.
I truly loved the Clark essay as well as the rest. Looking at rhetoric in a new dimension through the help of jazz allows one to see the true potential of rhetoric that has been looked over for years. Instead of reconciling all differences between two parties, John Poulakos suggests a move from “the sphere of actuality” to “a place in that of potentiality”. This place of potentiality allows one to leave the realm of the real and imagine a different, potential common ground.
Jazz is a place where the individual and the society co-exist and work together to create something better than they could alone. “In jazz performance, neither the virtuosity of the soloist nor the unified authority of the ensemble is subordinated to the other. Rather, the two are inextricably interwoven and absolutely interdependent” (32). So instead of individuals coming together to form a collective, rhetoric could be about individuals coming together to thrive as individuals while sharing their common ground. I like the fact that jazz demands individual invention but that it’s not possible without the collective ensemble behind him or her.
I very much believe that people thrive and grow as individuals when a larger group supports them. They are able to create in ways that they never thought possible because of their interaction with a collective. All of these pieces we read this week make me want to stop what I’m doing and pick up my instrument and practice. The more I practice, the more likely it will be that I too can create with others and grow more into my experience and abilities.