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Jazz improvisers' shared understanding: a case study

Wade Cornell

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Interesting study, but I think it boils down to egos. If two equal egos then nobody follows the other. Having the same "groove" concept is important, so if they haven't got a similar concept then it's less musical and even more competitive. The jazz idiom, especially when playing "standards", is one that unfortunately fosters competitiveness as it's mostly about showing off your chops. If those doing the study understood that basic premise then nothing in the results would have been a surprise. In many other genres of music it's more likely to find a desire to combine talents and make the best music possible (if you exclude singers and big egos).

Although it was not the intention of the study to show differences in the attitudes of playes in different genres of music, the study highlights the competitive attitude of jazz players and gives clues as to why audiences are not flocking to hear this type of music. It's less about combining talents to make the best music possible and more about each individual's desire to show off their abilities. Audiences are attracted to music where the music comes first. It should be entertainment, not sparing matches.
 

jbtsax

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Reading through that "study" for me was like trying to walk through an area covered with tall weeds. The farther I got into it the more lost I became. I have been accused in the past as being too "academic" or "pedantic", but this study leaves me at the gate. I got the feeling from the parts that I read that the authors were making the relationships between the players far more complex than they actually are in order to demonstrate their "scholarship".

Just through my personal experience as a player and listener of jazz I find it hard to believe the interactions between musicians is that complicated. Great jazz musicians have learned to listen intently to all of the other sounds and voices in the ensemble. Much of the appeal of jazz to me is how spontaneously musical conversations take place. Sometimes a soloist will pick up a motif from the previous player and further develop and build upon that idea. Sometimes a soloist will purposefully play in a manner that contrasts the previous player. All the while the drummer, keyboard or guitar player are listening to and reinforcing some of the melodic and rhythmic ideas the soloist is playing. Sometimes the chemistry between the players is "palpable" especially if they enjoy playing together. Probably the best "textbook example" of this can be found in this popular recording. Listen to how Miles, then Cannonball, and then Coltrane paint their own unique image with sound on the canvas and how they all coalesce to become part of the "whole" painting.

 
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Wade Cornell

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I agree with jbtsax as he's expressing the ideal which makes the difference between what's usually heard in "jam sessions" and a band that has good players that have respect for each other.

Taking two players and not letting them even see each other much less have time to get used to each other's playing styles is setting up a competitive situation. How do you start a dialogue with someone when human nature is often unfortunately ego centered? Hiding them and not allowing any discourse sets up a very negative situation. They are in a situation where they are being watched and judged individually. It's not about people naturally coming together and making music. As I hinted it's amplifying an ego based situation where the natural mechanisms for making music have been skewed.

As jbtsax also says it's overly academic in it's approach, but would have been a better study by comparing several groups of players with some in the same situation and others where they come face to face and have an hour or so to talk and play before doing a specific tune.

Seeing the difference between those two situations would be far more telling in terms of human interaction in music and communication.
 

JayeNM

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Reading through that "study" for me was like trying to walk through an area covered with tall weeds. The farther I got into it the more lost I became. I have been accused in the past as being too "academic" or "pedantic", but this study leaves me at the gate. I got the feeling from the parts that I read that the authors were making the relationships between the players far more complex than they actually are in order to demonstrate their "scholarship".
I agree with this 100% and it was also my experience, although kudos to you and Wade for actually getting thru the whole study/essay. After 2/3 of the way thru, there was nothing reasonably compelling to make me continue.

The advice...."don't overthink it"....kept popping into my head. I found the motive of the study odd, I found the methodology odd, I found the participants comments bland , and the analysis of all of this just not very interesting.

I mean to me, it seemed like a report on simply determining/recording perceptions. Rather than a study on some sort of 'synergy' that can exist between jazz musicians....

Sorry....I don't mean to be a wet blanket. I just find stuff like this over academicizes what, at its best, can a very soulful and almost holistic experience.
 

JayeNM

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Sorry, my post-editing time ran out and I did try to go back and forth and delve into the essay, objectively....I still didn't latch onto it much.

Even the opening sentence :


"To what extent and in what arenas do collaborating musicians need to understand what they are doing in the same way?"

...very semantically strange. What is it asking ?

Is it asking " to what degree do 2 jazz players playing the same piece together need to understand what the other is doing (or intending) ?"

Is it asking "do the 2 players perceive what they have just played in the same way ? And is this important ?"

Is it asking "do 2 players interpret what the other was doing, differently ?, and if so...."

Why, also, then introduce the element of time, memory, etc by reconvening the participants 8 weeks later ??? There seem to be a lot of things going on here, with no clearly stated intent or goal, IMHO.

The dynamic of two or even several musicians dialing into one another during a live performance, it's a pretty magical thing; literally takes the participants to another realm. Not sure it can be systematically dissected, really.
 
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