Skip to Content

Dinner Jazz: Eating and Improvisation

Dinner Jazz: Eating and Improvisation

It’s rare to find a high-end restaurant in North America that doesn’t have jazz music on the menu. As the acoustic counterpart to your braised leg of lamb and Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, jazz music signals a level cultural refinement that befits culinary sophistication. Nor is the relationship between jazz and fine dining a unidirectional appropriation: from jazz album covers featuring bottles of fine wine, to the numerous beloved “club date” live albums, to the photography of artists like Herman Leonard, jazz musicians and other stakeholders have also developed the link between jazz and haute cuisine over many decades.

Certainly, the jazz-dining connection might be summarily dismissed as a simple matter of historical coincidence. Nevertheless, the historical connection between the two practices subtends an intriguing analogy: both the practices of playing jazz music and dining out are improvisatory. While jazz improvisation need not be unpacked here, it is worth noting that dining out demands a number of different improvised acts: deciding on a restaurant, browsing a menu, engaging in conversation with friends and strangers, and negotiating the bill at the end of the evening. Dining out therefore represents a fascinating juxtaposition of modes of improvisation: one – jazz music – ostensibly politically radical; the other – dining – highly pleasurable, but altogether mundane, elitist, and ostensibly apolitical.

Mark Laver's presentation examines the juncture of improvised music and improvisatory eating with a view to unpacking the politics of dining and the limits of politicized improvised musical practice.

Improvisation implies a deep connection between the personal and the communal, self and world. A “good” improviser successfully navigates musical and institutional boundaries and the desire for self-expression, pleasing not only herself but the listener as well.

– Rob Wallace