A central concept in jazz improvisation is the development of a personal sound. The skilled jazz musician is expected to have developed a personal expression that distinguishes him or her from other performers. It is obvious that musicians such as Thelonius Monk, Lester Young, Coleman Hawkins and Ornette Coleman were highly successful in developing their own musical language, and one which became a standard for following generations of jazz musicians. But what does it mean to develop your own language? The answer to that question is dependent on the style. Free jazz, for example, came about as an attempt to allow for even more freedom than what bebop allowed for. I find the intersections of style, idiom, tradition and personal freedom to be very interesting and, to a certain extent, we are dealing with the continuum between the conscious (style and tradition) and the unconscious (personality) although the topic is more complicated than that.

Gregory Bateson Bateson, 1972 writes about art in general as an excercise in communicating about the species of unconsciousness. Perhaps we can speak of the improviser’s personal narrative as a reflection of his or her unconsciousness or as an interface between the conscious and the unconscious. And this is why improvisation has to remain in a contradictory relation to the traditional notion of documentation; because, only confusion can come out of the attempt to decode unconscious expressions in the language of consciousness. According to Besteson:

... the algorithms of the heart, or, as they say, of the unconscious, are, however, coded and organized in a manner totally different from the algorithms of language. And since a great deal of conscious thought is structured in terms of the logics of language, the algorithms of the unconscious are double inaccessible. It is not only that the conscious mind has poor access to this material, but also that the when such access is achieved. e.g., in dreams, art, poetry, religion, intoxication, and the like, there is still a formidable problem of translation.

Click the tag/category for related posts