Research Note 13: Interplay in Jazz

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As you may or may not know, I’m currently enjoying a sabbatical that has given me the time to explore my love of music and musical instruments. My research is about how we interact when we create music, both with instruments, other people and environments.

I’m going to begin with what I know best, the interplay that happens with others when creating music. For the purposes of this discussion, I define that interplay or musical interaction as involving one or more members of an ensemble improvising spontaneously in response to what other participants are playing.

Here’s what a few searches bring up:

  1. In the wake of Paul Berliner’s and Ingrid Monson’s landmark interview-based research of the mid-1990s, the notion that “good jazz improvisation is sociable and interactive just like a conversation” (Monson 1996, 84)
  2. Playing jazz is as much about active listening as it is being able to express yourself on an instrument.

Trying to categorize the interactions within a musical context:

Microinteractions takes place at a very fine level of musical detail, too small in scale to be quantified by standard Western notation, and includes such phenomena as the tiny adjustments in tempo, dynamics, pitch, and articulation that musicians make while playing together.

Macrointeractions involve the broad sorts of collective coordination whereby improvising musicians play in unified stylistic idioms (Gratier 2008, 88) and at mutually coherent intensity levels. For instance, if one ensemble member, mid-performance, starts playing louder, or with shorter rhythmic values, or with increasingly dissonant harmonies, others may follow suit by reinforcing, complementing, or otherwise accommodating this strategy.

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