Improv. Why would you? Have you ever been asked to? I mean, has there ever been an audience gleefully looking forward to the section of your band’s set where you boldly launch yourselves into improv? Or is that the point when they move towards the bar. Or slide out of the door.
There are inbuilt problems. Firstly, you have to be able to play your instrument well. Really quite well. Not ‘Yeah, I don’t really know where all the notes are but I’m quite imaginative and have seven fx pedals looped up so maybe I’ll just, like, play one really big, long note all the way through?’. Because that doesn’t quite fulfil the criteria. Certainly not as far as the other musicians are concerned. Or, probably, the audience.
There are psychological problems. The basis of improv is that the musicians pay close attention to what each other are playing and respond with meaningful and sympathetic contributions. It’s a high wire act. You need poise a sense of balance and to be prepared to think damn quickly. But, generally, the musicians divide into two camps; those who won’t stop playing and those who don’t play at all.
The former are the less aware (I’m being kind, less intelligent, would be more accurate) of the two. As soon as the improv begins their heads tuck down, they hunker over their instrument and enter that little, non-stop-noodle, world that is usually and more kindly left in the rehearsal room. Or, preferably bedroom. Locked into this private musical empire of self-indulgence and self-induced audial isolation, the perception rating of their fellow musicians is non-existent.
The latter are the smarter yet more impotent. Wise to the fact that improv demands space, they hold fire until such appears, the better to make their musical contribution. Now, remember Mr. World-of-his-own? Well he’s going to make sure that space, that gap, that moment of entrance, will never arrive. Witlessly, true, but entirely effectively. Welcome, then, to an ever more tightly strained smile and soon to be exhausted patience. I like to believe, one day, a musician of this ilk will simply push the non-stopper off of the stage. But, I’ve been waiting a long time.
No, my friends. When all is said and done, improv is only effectively executed by highly trained jazz musicians. Nimble on their instruments and with a profound understanding of harmonic complexity.
Still no tunes, of course. No words, no real rhythm and it could go on for quite a while. Not that it actually ‘goes anywhere’.
Maybe just write a song, instead?