What Do Improvisation and Jazz Have to Do With One Another?

What Do Improvisation and Jazz Have to Do With One Another?

You may not think that something as melodic and harmonious as music has room for improvisation because everything sounds so well-put together, but the truth may surprise you.

You sit at a small venue. Small stage, even smaller chairs. The lights dim and the spotlights illuminate the handful of players–each with their own instrument in old, but pristine condition. The piano player gives the countdown and they start to play a beautiful melody of music. The bass player, trombone player, and drummer in perfect rhythm, the trumpet and piano players perfectly riffing off melodies. It is something they certainly practiced for hundreds, or maybe even thousands, of hours. And that is certainly true–or at least, it’s half true.

Hours upon hours upon hours of practicing their instrument and playing with one another have molded them into a singular entity of music, allowing for improvisation during live performances.

Jazz improvisation is the process of spontaneously creating fresh melodies over the repeating cycle of chord changes of a song.

But it is not about doing whatever you like, it is about doing what is right for that tune. If you make anything up, it is going to sound out of context and perhaps ruin the entire song.

Wynton Marsalis, an accomplished jazz trumpet player had this to say: “In Jazz, improvisation isn’t a matter of just making any ol’ thing up. Jazz, like any language, has its own grammar and vocabulary. There’s no right or wrong, just some choices that are better than others.

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