Most of the descriptions of art that I find satisfying include implicitly or explicitly some mention of improvisation. I love the liberated spirit, and Art (and truly living), by my definition, must break from rote expression or automatomism in order to conceive and realize itself. The artist, thus is the practitioner of living A Life On which consists of living A Day On followed by another and another.
Following are 6 guidelines aimed at facilitating improvisation in Jazz. They also seem to be worthwhile in undertaking a life filled with exploration and discovery.
A central element in Jazz is the breaking away from the music as expressed on the page and enjoying a freedom to run free and truly play within the loose constraints of the established form. I checked out www.jacmuse.com which bills itself as the Cyberschool For Music and found some rules for jazz improvisation which I adapted for use in living a life A Day On.
The framework of a tune is a kind of musical cage that is made up of all the structures that give a tune that particular identity: time, key, progression, chorus, verse and bridge structure etc. The jazz musician creates a thing of beauty by transforming what could be bars of a cage into the bars of a trapeze.
The following are some jazz improvisation… let’s not call them “rules,” but rather “guidelines” that I think can be applied to living A Day On.
When all else fails, play the melody. Get back to basics. Jazz is not about the denial of the framework of the melody and sometimes the most surprising and satisfying acts can simply be to surrender to the melody as clearly and directly as you can play it. One of my favorite sources of inspiration and favorite exercises is doing something familiar in a familiar way. Much of the focus of A Day On is on breathing spontaneity and freshness into our work. But there is something to be said for regularity. If you’ve ever experienced an extremely productive day in the workplace you know that it can happen. Like Jazz, the constant seeking of newness that is so much a part of the A Day On philosophy does carry with it a danger of completely disregarding the structure that makes freedom such a beautiful thing. This “rule” of improvisation asks us to examine and enjoy structure… just for a minute, just for as long as it feels good.
One idea per chorus might be enough. Pace yourself. This Jazz rule suggests that over an evening of performance, it can be a good practice to not “blow your wad,” but rather to explore and develop an idea. Like love-making, a session of a thousand varied positions might not make for the most deeply-felt experience. A Day On need not be so varied from the previous or next Day On that it doesn’t allow for a building and development of depth. A feeling of satisfaction and completion is the other side of a feeling of variation and newness and it is just as rewarding.
Strive to get underneath a soloist and enjoy playing a supporting role. Serve the subject. In music and art and conversation… and, indeed, life, serving, supporting and directing your focus outward rather than inward is not only more satisfying in the long-term, but it tends to engage others and attract them to you. The good listener who is engaged in what someone else has to say is the one who will be remembered as the great “conversationalist.” Rather than trying to come up with finding that next great way to express yourself, try to remember to take the opportunities to serve others with your skills or just with your time. Give your valuable skills or resources to someone who needs them. It will open a door you didn’t even realize was there.
Anything From Anywhere. A mandate to experience everything from everywhere. In Jazz this supposes that you will indeed accept, as jacmuse.com says, a lifetime of devoted study.” What more do you want? What more is there? If
Practice with a metronome. (It’s all about time, isn’t it.) Scheduling, calendaring, structuring. There is a clock store in my town that sells every kind of clock you can think of. And while they are almost all beautiful, I have never purchased one. Something about the reminder of the arbitrary structure of the day repulses me. Why is an hour at noon any different than an hour at 3 am. I have long felt that I should rise and sleep as my body dictates. I feel that the schedules that the rest of the world places on us, and which we adopt, are a source of stress.
Having said this, I have also found that when I impose my own schedule upon myself and my work I really do force myself to produce. Time does exist, if only in the sense that when our time is up it is up. Throwing away the time structure imposed by Man does not mean that we don’t realize that time is in fact passing and we should make the most of it.
If you come up with an idea you like, try writing it into a song. The Jazz improvisationalist has freed himself to explore and to live a transient musical life. The observer of A Day On has freed himself to explore the world unhindered by the arbitrary rules set down by others. But this doesn’t mean that we might not stumble upon a place where we wish to linger for a while. New projects sometimes arise unexpectedly and seem to conflict with projects we had in mind. Don’t be afraid to pull recurring themes from Days On and consider following them where they lead.
Rick Ortiz is the editor of ADayOn.com