Having had a day to reflect on the past week, I have one final thought to encourage musicians to practice more improvisation. As a psychological tool, listening back to your improvisations provides a perspecuity on many aspects of yourself. It is piercing and sometimes uncomfortable. When you listen back, it is pretty easy to tell when you are playing it safe, and when you are taking risks. It is easy to tell when you are playing into your fears, and when you are confronting them.
On a project like Jonah and I are undertaking, there are several structures that develop over the course of 10 minutes. Since it is an album of improvisations, we are doing what are essentially long, live takes. On each take, there are inevitably some things that don’t go like you planned. One take may have some intonation issues. Jonah did an amazing job playing along with an organ that is not in equal temperament, but it was certainly a challenge that a lesser musician wouldn’t have been able to tackle. So, the next take might have had better intonation, but my improvising wasn’t as exciting. You also have to decide if the unintentional events that occur are happy “mistakes” that contribute to the humanity that the aesthetic requirements demand, or if they are just spotlights on inadequacies in your technique. With the many shades that span that spectrum, you have to decide if you are secure enough in yourself to allow weaknesses in your ability to be showcased in a public way.
Musicians have to rely on their ears, their theoretical knowledge, and musical instincts to create in a very public setting. There is nothing quite like listening to your own improvisation to expose where you need work. The limitations of your aural imagination, your theoretical knowledge, and knowledge of style are on open display to yourself if you are willing to listen. The question is: how willing are you to expose your risks and inadequacies? How willing are you to be vulnerable for expressive ends?