Improvising – thinking about forms

Free form or with form?

John improvising

We are currently exploring forms of jazz improvisation and how this will enable us to apply a framework for our art/music jam sessions.  As a jazz musician I have favoured jazz standards. These are often show tunes that take the form AABA.  Namely- Tune (8 bars), Same tune (8 bars), Middle 8 (different bit) and back to the tune (8 bars).  The solos consist of scales, phrases and notes that fit with the chord sequence.  Within this framework players listen and communicate with each other playing harmonies and complementing each others phrases.

Recently I have taken a cautious interest in Free Jazz and have been quite surprised by my positive reaction.  As a jazz standard purist for many years I bought into the saying that free jazz sounds like a fire in a pet shop or zoo (depending on the size of the band).  But no longer!!  With Free Jazz there is very little structure to each piece.  There could be an agreed musical motif that is played when signalled by the leader.  But there is no requirement to adhere to the chords.  There may not even be pre-arranged chords.  The key may be agreed on.  To make this work the musicians need to be incredibly skilled.

When improvising to a standard chord sequence I find that while flying creatively, there is a whole melodic and harmonic structure surrounding me enabling me to deliver a pleasing solo.  When playing Free Jazz I am far more tuned in to the other musicians to make it work.  It’s like diving into the unknown with a bag of all you know up to the present second and seeing what you can do.

I feel both styles want to have a great piece of work as an end result it is just choosing the right framework for the journey.  I’m thinking of going forward, in the art/music jam sessions,  with free style using a few parameters as safety nets.

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