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respond, or show a lack of interest and enthusiasm to what has been said then the situation will become awkward. Precisely the same rules apply in improvised music.

as true for young musicians as for professional performers. In this respect music making in this form has an obvious parallel with basic forms of human interaction. Let’s take the art of conversation, for example. In a successful and pleasantly-flowing conversation we listen, digest the information, formulate a response and then wait for the suitable moment to speak our thoughts. If we simply don’t listen, butt in without any manners or subtlety, talk about something different, or simply just make noises, then very quickly the conversation ends! Conversely, if someone asks you about something, and you simply don’t

Listen and Respond

When I play with my trio these conversations are at the very heart of the music. There are vast swathes of time when all three of us are concentrating like crazy; trying to digest immediately every tiny musical detail we hear from the two other sources; devising a musical response to this information; and then translating that data into four limbs’ worth of physical movement in order to make our contribution to the music. That is what we try to do throughout every concert we play. It is the precise reason I chose my two musicians in particular: because I know this incredibly tight-knit connection and focus between us is always there. Whilst we’re living in the moment of the performance, we are also trying to shape the form of the concert in its entirety. We are conscious of the shape of every individual solo within each song, the shape of every individual piece of music, the shape of that portion of the concert, and then the way the concert as a whole will progress, and where the journey will take the audience. Of course it is significant that we

have spent a massive amount of playing time together, so that we can begin to second-guess where each other may take the music at any time. However, it is also of great importance to be aware of all these things when playing with people who are new to us. It is entirely possible for a performance from a ‘pick-up band’ to be just as compelling as one that has

been thoroughly rehearsed, if the listener feels the players are really communicating with each other. Just as importantly (and again I speak from vast experience!), we musicians get so much more out of it when we feel our contribution has a wider musical significance beyond simply getting through the tune playing our instrument the best we can. Also, I find that improvising off other peoples’ ideas is so much more enjoyable than just working off the same old notes going around my head, just in the same way as a conversation and exchange of ideas will always be infinitely more enjoyable than a monologue.

It is so important for this type of music to have a future with a relevance to a wider section of the listening public. From the earliest stages of education, we have to emphasise the importance of interaction within the music. Communication should be paramount in any form of music making, but especially so in jazz, when the whole point of the genre is the exchange and development of ideas (in real time) between the members of a group. Of course a certain amount of technical work needs to by done by an individual and a certain degree of command over one’s instrument needs to be achieved for music to be made at all, but that should never be the whole story. What we learn and practise in the comfort of our own home is merely the grammar and the general mechanics of this language. We need to take these tools and utilise them to create and develop the music, concentrating on what a group of musicians can create together, and how that process can engage and involve our audience.


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