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groove expressed by audience and players alike can testify to the feelings of sociability that groove can engender. Research into cognition and social

behaviour suggests that our basic sensori-motor systems function in part through processes that could be imagined as neurons grooving together! And in social terms, learning how to synchronise with others is a key component of successful social interaction. Recent research into these different areas has understood such cognitive and social processes as forms of entrainment – the process by which independent rhythmic units come in to a consistent rhythmic synchrony, which is now used as an explanatory tool in a huge range of research disciplines from chronobiology to wave dynamics. While entrainment has only recently been applied to music, it offers a powerful model for contributing to our understanding of how humans can synchronise to external rhythms (and to one another) and may explain why musical experiences such as groove are felt so profoundly. But I don’t want to appeal only to

cognitive development as an example of the power of groove. When musicians entrain/groove together, they do develop motor skills that allow for this coupling to emerge but, just as importantly, they develop socio-cultural skills as they realise that to make the groove work they need to negotiate with one another at some level. At that point, grooving becomes a virtue as much as a skill. Although different researchers have shown how the gravitational pull of playing in time together works at a largely unconscious level (we don’t really think about being in time together until it goes wrong!), jazz culture highlights the complex feelings that arise through being in time together. It reflects the sociality of playing and the idea that working towards a common goal in music is really the point (rather than becoming terribly good at playing Giant Steps in every key, impressive though this may be). If grooving can be seen as the realisation of our social bonding in the moment, improvisation can be characterised as the creative voice – a central characteristic of jazz playing that appeals to both elements of jazz sociality that I alluded to earlier.

Improvising power

What seems to make improvising so powerful and yet, in a sense, ordinary (and is the signal difference between improvisatory music-making and music that is memorised or read) is similar to the difference between conversation and recitation. In informal speech, an almost infinite range of utterances can be produced from a quite constraining set of rules, and some music research has looked specifically towards Chomskyan linguistics for

understanding how this achievement is possible. Beyond cognitive grammars, however, there are the cultural traditions of speech that also constrain what we wish to say in the moment. Jazz mimics these sorts of processes in the utterances of improvisers. As Ingrid Monson in her excellent ethnography of jazz improvisation Saying Something has pointed out, jazz musicians routinely refer directly to or improvise around the sounds of players of earlier generations, so weaving the past into the immediate present. In so doing, they are making significant statements about who they are and how they belong. But improvising does not just draw on the resources of the traditions and learning practices within the music. In my view becoming a great improviser within jazz practice is also about the capacity to engage with the musicians around you in the construction of the solo. In that sense, it ceases to be ‘your’ solo; the musicians around you have a stake in it too. I don’t mean that the virtues of jazz lie, however, in some misty-eyed notion about the collective, but that they emerge from the complex, practical working out of how to negotiate your position and responsibilities in real-time music making – without a word necessarily being spoken. To finish, I believe that the practices

of jazz have a lot to say about conduct with others – whether it be improvising in relation to a tradition or grooving with those around you. As jazz educators up and down the country will attest, the fundamental principles of jazz are as simple and straightforward as striking up a conversation. That its skilled practice takes a lifetime only reinforces the view that the simple, ordinary things of life demand our constant attention.


Our basic

sensori-motor systems function in part through processes that could be imagined as neurons grooving together!

I really don’t want to romanticise jazz and music-making nor suggest that grooving and improvising will cure all social ills. But music does a lot more than teach you how to play scales and, as that is the case, then the practices of a music matter. The practice of jazz – with its conversational qualities, open- ended musical negotiations and re- working of sounds past – has important lessons to teach anyone about dealing with others and how to find our place in the world. I think its practice can do this probably more effectively, for instance, than following a conductor. Despite my opening remarks, it is clear that things have been moving in the last few years but the jazz policy of large cultural organisations in this country still appears to deny the true value of the music and policy makers could make so much more use of jazz and its virtues in helping to broaden the horizons of our young people.

Dr Mark Doffman is a research associate at the Open University, working on the interdisciplinary project, ‘What is Black British Jazz? Routes, Ownership, Performance’. As a drummer he has worked with many of the country’s leading jazz artists and continues to perform at venues round the country, including a long-standing residency at The Spin Jazz Club in Oxford (a club that he co-promotes) and concert/festival work with the operatic bass, Sir Willard White. Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36
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