University of Surrey

Test tubes in the lab Research in the ATI Dance Research

Strategy in contemporary jazz improvisation : theory and practice.

Williams, Thomas (2017) Strategy in contemporary jazz improvisation : theory and practice. Doctoral thesis, University of Surrey.

Strategy in Contemporary Jazz Improvisation - Theory and Practice.pdf - Version of Record
Available under License Creative Commons Attribution Non-commercial Share Alike.

Download (5MB) | Preview


The ability to improvise is one of the most demanding for a jazz musician, and “one of the most complex forms of creative behaviour” (Beaty, 2015). Jazz musician accounts attest to this, describing how improvisation is fraught by “limitless challenges under tremendous pressure” (Berliner 1994:239). In mastering such a skill, a musician must be able to navigate musical space efficiently, carving out novel pathways through harmonic, melodic, timbral, and structural units of organisation, whilst simultaneously responding to interaction within the ensemble, gestural cues, and constructing a dynamic arc to the improvisation. While the importance of improvisation to a contemporary jazz musician cannot be understated, its inception and development as a cognitive skill is not completely understood. How does a musician learn to improvise? How does a musician form a vocabulary or style of improvising? To what extent is an improviser relying on pre-learned patterns, vocabulary, and schema? Why is it that the majority of expert level improvisers are unable to explain the development of their improvisations? What then are musicians really thinking about when they improvise? The research conducted draws focus on these issues, providing a new model of the generative mechanisms involved in improvising. Through an in-depth theoretical modelling and analysis of improvisational strategies, and a heuristically led practical study, this thesis addresses how concept based improvisational strategies might be adopted and assimilated. The focus of this study lies in the post-bebop contemporary jazz landscape and aims to demonstrate how strategy based generative mechanisms are developed and used in improvisatory practice. The theoretical underpinning of this thesis amalgamates recent research in improvisation cognition (including research by Martin Norgaard, Philip Johnson-Laird and Aaron Berkowitz), existing musical treatise,psychological studies and seminal jazz scholarship accounts of improvisatory practice. The second half of this thesis is a practice led inquiry, framed around contemporary jazz fusion guitarist Wayne Krantz and the assimilation of his use of strategy based generative mechanisms.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Divisions : Theses
Authors :
Williams, Thomas
Date : 30 November 2017
Funders : self funded
Contributors :
Depositing User : Thomas Williams
Date Deposited : 15 Dec 2017 11:15
Last Modified : 09 Nov 2018 16:39

Actions (login required)

View Item View Item


Downloads per month over past year

Information about this web site

© The University of Surrey, Guildford, Surrey, GU2 7XH, United Kingdom.
+44 (0)1483 300800