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Improvisation

As I listen to Buck Hill improvise over Oleo I am constantly struck by the intelligence and placement of each line in spite of playing at what I consider superhuman speed. My ability to improvise on jazz piano has made me more spontaneous and creative, a useful trait in my academic and artistic worlds, and interpersonal relationships.

As Louis Armstrong asserted, “What we play is life”. The improvisation of Dizzy Gillespie, Oscar Peterson, and Charlie Parker comes straight from the soul. Jazz improvisation captures a person’s essence as each note reflects the musician’s emotions, past, present, and future. According to Gershwin, “Life is a lot like jazz…it’s best when you improvise”. Neither life nor jazz goes according to plan.
Armed with a “lead sheet” I have guidelines to fill with my own improvisation. A lead sheet is like the concrete plans people make for life. For example, I plan to do well in high school, go to a college of my choice, and end up with a career I love. Though I plan on remaining inside these boundaries, there is room for creativity, self-exploration, and expression. I can choose what activities to do, what college to go to, and what to major in. In life, a musician exists within guidelines but makes the piece her own. Charlie Parker exclaimed, “If you don’t live it, it won’t come out of your horn”. I agree. If we are the sum of our experiences, then our music must reflect this.
Understanding improvisation leads to a greater appreciation of life. I am a more interesting person because I refuse to do the bare minimum. I choose to be original, and so use improvisation as I learn. I am passionate about new information, because I understand it is my duty to add to it. Nothing new ever happens if you keep doing the same thing as everyone else. I strongly believe without creativity a piece of work becomes completely useless. I am constantly improvising as I argue my thesis on feminism in the 1960s in History or explain my theories on Anna Karenina in English class. Each idea must have an aspect of creativity otherwise it is completely unimportant.
My piano teacher reminds me that when improvising I need not “reinvent the wheel.” For example, there would be no computer without the typewriter, and no air conditioning without refrigeration. Having taken this to heart, I realize this is true in all facets of life. It is the ability to think on the spot that makes a person successful in other aspects as well. As a sailing instructor I constantly improvise on the water as obstacles came up. Skirting around weather, broken motorboats, students, and rocks is a difficult task, and I understand that for my students to learn I had to approach teaching in a creative way.

Improvisation is the most honest form of music, because it is unedited and spontaneous. Without creativity, nothing would ever change, and the world would become completely stagnant. The most beautiful ability of the human mind is thought, and improvisation shows the boundless intelligence of the brain. I know that when I am not afraid to improvise I am capable of greater things.





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