This semester has been the most fun I’ve had teaching Jazz Theory and Improvisation. Although I may have not covered as much material as in the past, I feel like it’s more in depth, and that the students understand the concepts better, even though that understanding may not immediately translate into successful navigation though the changes quite yet.
To me, this is the epitome of higher-level thinking, and what makes improvisation, particularly improvisation in the context of the Bebop tradition one of the most challenging endeavors a musician can engage in. Maybe I’m biased because I have a love of this music which undoubtedly began prior to my conception (thanks Dad!), but this manifests itself in my own personal struggle to be a better improviser EVERY DAY OF MY LIFE! No degree will ever make me a better improviser.
Perhaps a degree will make me a better researcher. In turn, that may make me better at examining the tradition, incorporating it (or not) into my own playing, and ultimately finding a voice for myself within the context of the established institution of “jazz.” People have argued that the more knowledgeable you are about the history of jazz, the more you can draw upon to make good music. To me, this has nothing the do with concept of improvisation. That is not to say it is not extremely important. It is as important to be able to play in the style of Charlie Parker as it is to play in the style of Beethoven, Schoenberg, Reich, or Lady Gaga. This has nothing to do, however, with the spirit of improvisation, which I believe is an innate human trait.