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Improvisation

It is a great feeling for a teacher when a former student becomes a colleague.

Just as the fall semester was about to end, I received a package in the mail.

The package was from Teymur Phell, a brilliant former student of mine who currently lives in New York City and performs regularly with Mike Stern and many others. The package contained his newly published book, Killer Walking Bass. Although I am not a Jazz player, I have taught many students whose main interest was Jazz and I always had to stay informed about the new materials. I find the book very interesting, clearly organized and very informative.

Check it out on https://killerwalkingbass.com/

I was always interested in IMPROVISATION. Call it free improvisation, I often refer to it as Real Time Composition.

For me, performing music is an act of giving or sharing. Improvisation, on the other hand, is for me a way of working inwardly. It is a time when I do not have to be aware of anything and yet I am more alert and aware than ever.

This past semester I have taught a new graduate course at the Jerusalem Academy of Music and Dance which I called: History, Philosophy and the Aesthetics of Improvisation.

Improvisation touches all aspects of artistic work: composition, performance and life itself.

Among others, we read and watched film director Werner Herzog, who reminded us that facts are not reality, Hans Zachs from Wagner’s Meistersinger who claims you should Make your own rules and follow them and Jacque Derrida who taught us about Aporia, and that things don’t always have to be clear and we might allow some sort of puzzlement. Things do not have to be either this or that but they can be both this and that at the same time.

My greatest inspiration in the area of improvisation was my composition teacher as an undergraduate student at Tel Aviv University, the Israel Prize Laureate, Composer Andre Hajdu.

During the two years we worked together we would improvise and then he would give an accurate psychological analysis as if I were using words (Maybe more accurate than if I had used words).

Andre Hajdu encouraged everyone to look inside. He did not insist on one style of composition or another. Students could write contemporary music, popular music, both.

There was something broad in the process as we could really talk about everything. Everything is part of our improvisation and of our creative process.

When we listen to improvised music what are we listening to?

Repetition and variation, dialogue, tension and resolution, narrative, sound and more.

Teymur Phell and co-author Jim Kalbach discuss many of those principles in their book.

I believe those principles apply not only to the creation of Killer Walking Bass Lines, but to all areas of art.

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Illustration:  Inbal Nissim, Photos:  Pazit Dank

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