Tag Archives: Improvisation

Jazz and unexpected stimuli

Creativity has been defined as the ability to produce work that is novel, high in quality, and appropriate to an audience. While the nature of the creative process is under debate, many believe that creativity relies on real-time combinations of known neural and cognitive processes.

One useful model of creativity comes from musical improvisation, such as in jazz, in which musicians spontaneously create novel sound sequences. A study used jazz musicians to test the hypothesis that individuals with training in musical improvisation, which entails creative generation of musical ideas, might process expectancy differently.

Researchers used EEGs to compare the brain activity of 12 jazz musicians (with improvisation training), 12 classical musicians (without improvisation training), and 12 non-musicians while they listened to a series of chord progressions. Some of the examples followed typical Western chord progressions, while others followed atypical ones.

Jazz musicians had a significantly different electrophysiological response to the unexpected progressions, indicating that they had an increased perceptual sensitivity to unexpected stimuli along with an increased engagement with unexpected events.

This according to “Jazz musicians reveal role of expectancy in human creativity” by Emily Przysinda, Tima Zheng, Kellyn Maves, Cameron Arkin, and Psyche Loui (Brain and cognition CXIX [December 2017] pp. 45–53).

Below, the Miles Davis Quintet plays Wayne Shorter’s Nefertiti, a work often cited for its use of unexpected chords; above, Davis, Shorter, and Herbie Hancock in 1964.

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Filed under Curiosities, Jazz and blues, Science

Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts

Jarrett 1974

Keith Jarrett began playing improvised solo concerts in 1973, establishing himself as a major figure in the jazz piano tradition.

The performances drew on a new conception of form suggested by free jazz, one which posited a new kind of relationship between a performer and the musical constraints suggested by a composition. This new approach to performance allowed musicians to reconfigure formal conception in the moment, rather than being tied to an invariant set of constraints.

Jarrett’s solo concerts also drew on an aesthetic view of performance that emerged from free jazz, which saw music making as tapping into a divine source of inspiration. The context in which he performed promoted this conception by giving such dramatic weight to the process of improvisation.

This according to Keith Jarrett’s solo concerts and the aesthetics of free improvisation, 1960–1973 by Peter Stanley Elsdon, a dissertation accepted by the University of Southampton in 2001.

Today is Jarrett’s 70th birthday! Above, performing solo in 1974; below, part of the 1973 Lausanne concert, a performance analyzed in Elsdon’s dissertation.

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Filed under Jazz and blues, Performers

Improvised vocal fugues

Sethus Calvisius (1556–1615), one of the very small number of specialists in the improvised vocal fugue, provided a discussion of the practice in his Melopoiia (1592), illustrated with 21 notated examples of fugæ extemporaneæ—tricinia, or two-part canons, over a cantus firmus.

These pieces were improvised as a third voice sang the cantus firmus, with the two improvising voices entering a minim or semibreve apart; the first of the two singers was effectively the composer. Analysis of Calvisius’s works shows that his mastery of the technique was complete and he was capable of creating canonic improvisations of surprising originality.

This according to “Harmonia fvgata extemporanea: Fugenimprovisation nach Calvisius und den Italienern” by Olivier Trachier, an essay included in Tempus musicaetempus mundi: Untersuchungen zu Seth Calvisius (Hildesheim: Georg Olms 2008, pp. 77–102). Below, the Dresdner Kreuzchor performs Calvisius’s Freut euch und jubilieret.

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Filed under Curiosities, Performance practice, Renaissance