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Thinking in Jazz

The Infinite Art of Improvisation

A landmark in jazz studies, Thinking in Jazz reveals as never before how musicians, both individually and collectively, learn to improvise. Chronicling leading musicians from their first encounters with jazz to the development of a unique improvisatory voice, Paul Berliner documents the lifetime of preparation that lies behind the skilled improviser’s every idea.

The product of more than fifteen years of immersion in the jazz world, Thinking in Jazz combines participant observation with detailed musicological analysis, the author’s experience as a jazz trumpeter, interpretations of published material by scholars and performers, and, above all, original data from interviews with more than fifty professional musicians: bassists George Duvivier and Rufus Reid; drummers Max Roach, Ronald Shannon Jackson, and Akira Tana; guitarist Emily Remler; pianists Tommy Flanagan and Barry Harris; saxophonists Lou Donaldson, Lee Konitz, and James Moody; trombonist Curtis Fuller; trumpeters Doc Cheatham, Art Farmer, Wynton Marsalis, and Red Rodney; vocalists Carmen Lundy and Vea Williams; and others. Together, the interviews provide insight into the production of jazz by great artists like Betty Carter, Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Coleman Hawkins, and Charlie Parker.

Thinking in Jazz overflows with musical examples from the 1920s to the present, including original transcriptions (keyed to commercial recordings) of collective improvisations by Miles Davis’s and John Coltrane’s groups. These transcriptions provide additional insight into the structure and creativity of jazz improvisation and represent a remarkable resource for jazz musicians as well as students and educators.

Berliner explores the alternative ways—aural, visual, kinetic, verbal, emotional, theoretical, associative—in which these performers conceptualize their music and describes the delicate interplay of soloist and ensemble in collective improvisation. Berliner’s skillful integration of data concerning musical development, the rigorous practice and thought artists devote to jazz outside of performance, and the complexities of composing in the moment leads to a new understanding of jazz improvisation as a language, an aesthetic, and a tradition. This unprecedented journey to the heart of the jazz tradition will fascinate and enlighten musicians, musicologists, and jazz fans alike.

904 pages | 117 music examples, 13 figures | 6 x 9 | © 1994

Chicago Studies in Ethnomusicology

Culture Studies

Music: Ethnomusicology, General Music

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Music Texts
Introduction: Picking Notes out of Thin Air? Improvisation and Its Study
Ch. 1: Love at First Sound: Early Musical Environment
Ch. 2: Hangin’ Out and Jammin’: The Jazz Community as an Educational System
Ch. 3: A Very Structured Thing: Jazz Compositions as Vehicles for
Ch. 4: Getting Your Vocabulary Straight: Learning Models for Solo
Ch. 5: Seeing Out a Bit: Expanding upon Early Influences
Ch. 6: The More Ways You Have of Thinking: Conventional Rhythmic and
Theoretical Improvisation Approaches
Ch. 7: Conversing with the Piece: Initial Routines Applying Improvisation
Approaches to Form
Ch. 8: Composing in the Moment: The Inner Dialogue and the Tale
Ch. 9: Improvisation and Precomposition: The Eternal Cycle
Ch. 10: The Never-ending State of Getting There: Soloing Ability, Ideals,
and Evaluations
Ch. 11: Arranging Pieces: Decisions in Rehearsal
Ch. 12: Adding to Arrangements: Conventions Guiding the Rhythm Section
Ch. 13: Give and Take: The Collective Conversation and Musical Journey
Ch. 14: When the Music’s Happening and When It’s Not: Evaluating Group
Ch. 15: The Lives of Bands: Conflict Resolution and Artistic Development
Ch. 16: Vibes and Venues: Interacting with Different Audiences in Different
Epilogue: Jazz as a Way of Life
Music Texts
Appendix A: House Congressional Resolution 57
Appendix B: List of Artists Interviewed

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