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Mini-Music  Q & A

Organized Chaos: Jazz Composition and Improvisation
Christine Jensen

Questions and Answers:

1 - As a composer, do you identify where musicians can/should improvise or is it up to the individual musician?

As a composer, I like to create a form that contains a balance in structure between the written and the improvised moments. The most effective composed form will allow the improviser as much freedom as possible in their performance. This may take preparation through their individual practice, as well as through the rehearsing of the form with other musicians. In the notation of my music I generally state the form with melody, and then also give the soloists harmonic information in order for them to improvise over the form, or I may extend a form that I create through improvisation. It will contain harmony, a rhythmic feel and pulse most likely, but no melody. I leave the melodic variation up to the improvising soloist. It is their moment to add their masterful expression on my music.

2 - How do you communicate when you are playing?

It is really important to be as close as possible to my musicians and to have really good eye contact if possible. Aside from that, the communication happens in phrasing and rhythmic concepts that are being stated by the soloist, while being accompanied by the rhythm section. We can communicate at a high level if there is a strong concept of time and creativity. It is about having a conversation between all of the musicians as well as a lot of support behind the soloist in terms of complimenting them through developed time, sound and rhythmic concepts.

3 - As an accomplished jazz artist, do you count measures all the time, or do you just “feel” them?

We try not to count the measures unless we are resting. Hopefully we feel them. It depends on the complexity of the music. Sometimes, just as in classical music, we must count out measures of rest before our part enters if it is an orchestrated piece of music. However with standard jazz repertoire that is memorized, there is generally a form stated and repeated, so we practice the form a lot, from the bass line to the harmony to the melody! For example, Autumn Leaves is a 32-bar form that we cycle through over and over. That should be memorized so that you feel the form and don’t have to think about the harmony all of the time. If the drummer and bass player are very strong with rhythm and time, the soloist does not have to think as hard about the form. Vice versa for the soloist with the rhythm section (piano and/or guitar, bass, and drums). However, when it comes down to it, everyone is responsible individually for mastering the feeling of the form through strong time (pulse) and harmonic applications. Fast tempos are the biggest challenge. I would suggest checking out Johnny Griffin, a great saxophone master who had impeccable time concepts on very bright tempos!


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