I Take It All Back

[This entry has been updated, 9-19-05]

Ben Wolfson weighs in with a contrasting view to the Keith Jarrett quote in my last post:

I was reminded by the Keith Jarrett quote you posted on Saturday of Derek Bailey’s description of learning to improvise in Improvisation: Its Nature and Practice in Music, where… he basically says that one must do it by apprenticing oneself to a more experienced interviewer. He quotes from an Indian correspondent whose description of how he learned to improvise
(granted, within a particular tradition), was explicitly mimetic:
“What happens is that your teacher, when he’s in the mood to teach you
a particular raga, won’t say to you, ‘this is the scalic structure of
the raga and these are the notes used in that raga’–what he will do
is to play to you and tell you to listen and perhaps ask you to
imitate certain phrases that he is playing. And gradually, after
hearing him do this several times, what you do is to acquire a feeling
for that raga …”. He also compares it to being like learning a
language, saying that it’s natural, in that case, for one to add one’s
own phrases–which I think makes for an interesting contrast with
Jarrett’s claim that all a player needs is a teacher to show him how
to use the instrument, since it’s not as if you can be instructed in
an instrument without being instructed *in a particular way.*

Well, OK, I guess that’s the difference between a traditional musical style like Indian ragas and an individualistic one like jazz. The question is – which is classical? My hunch (I can’t very well leave you to thrash this out on your own) is that European classical music might be considered a relatively traditional style, and postclassic music, or Downtown music, or American music, is individualistic. Until somebody comes up with a better quote.

UPDATE: All right, so superb jazz pianist Ethan Iverson has thickened the plot by breaking down some of our nice, careful distinctions:

Keith Jarrett has a VERY individual style, but he has also been VERY
influenced by Paul Bley, Bill Evans, and early jazz (especially
ragtime)….he studied with them by listening to them and imitating,
for sure! In other words, I firmly admire KJ’s playing, but I think he
protests too much in that quote. He copped plenty!

I can’t argue with that. I might add that what’s important to me about the original Jarrett quote isn’t its literal truth, but its inspiring implied admonition to go deeper and deeper into oneself for the source of one’s music, never settling for anything you’ve merely been taught. The extent to which studying with a teacher aids in that process or detracts from it is probably subject to a trillion individual variations – and fertile as the subject is, I’m feeling a need to move on.

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