Show Summary Details

Page of

PRINTED FROM OXFORD HANDBOOKS ONLINE ( © Oxford University Press, 2018. All Rights Reserved. Under the terms of the licence agreement, an individual user may print out a PDF of a single chapter of a title in Oxford Handbooks Online for personal use (for details see Privacy Policy and Legal Notice).

date: 02 December 2020

Abstract and Keywords

While all human agency unfolds with a certain degree of improvisation, there are specific cultural practices in which improvisation plays an even more relevant role. Among these, jazz offers a privileged site for understanding how improvisation operates, offering the opportunity to find within it a frame of reference that might be related to other genres and modes of creation. This contribution, as Wittgenstein would say, has a “grammatical” design to it. It proposes to clarify the significance of the term “improvisation” by reflecting upon the conditions that make the practice possible. Rather than calling forth mysterious processes that take place in the unconscious or in the minds of musicians, the focus is on the criteria that must be satisfied before one may accurately ascribe to an act the concept of improvisation. By comparing the practice of improvisation to the notion a musical “work,” five such criteria are established: inseparability, irreversibility, situationality, originality, and responsiveness. The last part of this chapter offers an insight into the improvising dynamic. Unlike a composer in the domain of classical music, who works from a plan looking ahead, improvising musicians cannot by definition look ahead. Yet they can look behind at what has already been played, and respond to it, extending the logic of the previous phrases, shaping a form retrospectively, blending the emergent with the intended. Hence any musical statement emerging during a performance is at the same time a constraint and a springboard for the following statement.

Keywords: music, jazz, improvisation, affordance, performance, practice, time, knowledge, agency, representation, consciousness, body, translation, work, composition, Werktreue, reproduction, originality, process, contingency, constraint

Access to the complete content on Oxford Handbooks Online requires a subscription or purchase. Public users are able to search the site and view the abstracts and keywords for each book and chapter without a subscription.

Please subscribe or login to access full text content.

If you have purchased a print title that contains an access token, please see the token for information about how to register your code.

For questions on access or troubleshooting, please check our FAQs, and if you can''t find the answer there, please contact us.