!DOCTYPE HTML PUBLIC "-//W3C//DTD HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN"> Observations on improvised music - from the Folklife 2000 music festival in Seattle
Embers were ashes and the ashes were cold
Last night I got to play with a fellow named Greg - a piano wizard who is a world class improviser that I had been hearing about all weekend but who I had missed on Friday evening.  It was a great fun moment at the very end of the festival, after 99.99% of the people and 99% participants were gone and the last dance had been danced and we were w/in seconds of missing the next-to-last ferry.

This piano player and I had spent major amounts of time pleading with security people to give us access to a piano after-hours all weekend.  And right as I was leaving we got word that he was going to get to play the piano on stage in the big Roadhouse dancehall while the PA and dance floor were getting put away.

So we had a major fun time late last night tearing the Roadhouse dance floor apart - we actually turned it into a sort of magical dance.  We had the piano player and some great singers - including a beautiful young woman who could have been Catska's little sister and Albert Kaufmann - and me on my loud little Washburn guitar - and we provided "fantasia"-style musical accompaniment for about 50 folk-dancers-turned-construction-workers a few of whom were literally doing pirouettes with the sheets of masonite in dancing-response to our music as they moved the panels off the floor and onto piles on palettes for the fork-lifts to move into storage.

Greg is one of those miraculous people who can improvise very much in the spirit of a composer - in effect, he can write more Beethoven piano concerti or more Scriabin or more Shostakovitch - the way Winton Marsalis essentially wrote "more" early '60's Miles Davis music at one point in his career.

But last night as we played I kept finding it not working. Time after time I discovered that his way of avoiding stress was to default straight into some song or other, so I suggested that what I really wanted out of this interaction was to get all the way back to the place where the song was born and take off from there - to start at the beginning and end up in a completely new place.

Because where he had been starting with these songs we had been playing, regardless of how lovely they were, was the place the song had died and I did not want or need to go there.  The embers were ashes and the ashes were cold.

He "got it", and said he liked it as a description of the process, but I do not think he has the skills to really cooperate with another person or group of people and come to agreement on where it is going to go, which is why he would rather just collapse into already-dead songs.  And in fact, based on my recent experience with Emanuel, where we tried to extend the communication to include others, it is a very hard and scary thing to do.

Sent: Tuesday, May 30, 2000 3:42 PM
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