In the last 6 months or so, I have had the feeling that my instrument, the guitar, is getting in the way of playing…I know it sounds strange and unclear, but it forced me to practice away from the instrument, which gave me a completely different perspective on playing and improvising.
I generally find comparing music, and more specifically improvised music, to a language very helpful as a learning strategy. Grammar (theory, structure) and vocabulary (licks, patterns) come together to form the language of improvisation beautifully, but it takes time become proficient and fluent and the first step is to conquer the chosen instrument. Having chosen the guitar, which I absolutely love playing, I find myself either playing too much or playing too many notes, and one way to become more relevant as an improviser is to contextualise the music that comes out through the instrument of choice.
Apart from improvising over chord sequences, free improvisation also appeals to me as a way of artistic expression. Although free improvisation has a variety of definitions – John Abercrombie for instance says it is only when you know a composition really well that free improvisation and playing generally becomes possible – Ornet Coleman’s free explorations in jazz and beyond seem to approach improvisation ‘from scratch’ – playing your heart out is the first thing that comes to mind. Personally, I think there’s time and place for both approaches, and as long as the improviser has a powerful message behind the music it usually works and involves the audience convincingly.
The musicians who are continuoiusly inspiring me – McLaughlin, Stern, Jarrett, Scofield and many, many more- they all have one thing in common – the pure passion, and that passion has been a driving force for everything I do for some time now. So that’s all there is – passion. Scales, chords, arpeggios, licks etc – they are all just tools -at the heart of it all is the supreme passion for music – nothing else matters.
In the age of the internet, soon to be followed by the age of whatever, universal meanings like passion, transcendental thoughts and the like are standard. Music, however, is as endless as ever. Jazz, classical…anything with a powerful message behing it. First the tools, then the whole picture…or even the other way round if it works for you – whatever works!
And that’s all. All that matters, anyway.