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Improv Notes: December 2011


IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment
December 2011

Workshop Recap: Making the Changes

On December 2, 2011, the ICASP symposium “Making the Changes: Ethics and the Improvising Business” brought together leaders in the fields of cultural studies, management, ethnomusicology, business ethics, and music performance to address issues that emerge from the intersection of improvisation and business management. As the afternoon progressed, the presenters considered the symposium theme from a rich variety of perspectives.
Keynote speaker R. Keith Sawyer, Professor of Education and Psychology at Washington University in St. Louis, participated in a plenary interview with ICASP Postdoctoral Research Fellow Mark Laver, discussing ways in which Sawyer’s work on an improvisatory approach to business management might also offer ways to break down the racialized and gendered power hierarchies that pervade in conventional management models.
Alan Convery, National Manager of Community Relations at TD Bank, talked about his work with community arts organizations and other not-for-profits. He also described some the ways in which Canada’s largest bank has attempted to incorporate elements of improvisatory management structure, both by engaging local communities, and by attempting to make its own employees vocal participants in the bank’s corporate and charitable initiatives.
Chris MacDonald, Visiting Scholar at the Clarkson Centre for Business Ethics and Board Effectiveness at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto, and Professor of Philosophy at St. Mary's University, explored how a corporation’s response to a crisis – such as emergent political turmoil, a plane crash, or hurricane – demonstrates the improvisatory essence of business ethics. Faced with an unexpected disaster, corporate stakeholders and spokespeople must quickly improvise an ethical response, relying simultaneously on extant structures (such as a statement of ethics or code of ethical conduct), and their own spontaneous reading of the situation.
Improvisers Ken Aldcroft, Scott Thomson, and Pete Johnston collaboratively presented a challenging, impassioned, and polemical account of the politics and ethics of improvised music, reminding us that capitalist business practices of all stripes – especially those associated with real estate development and the financial sectors – have often had a deleterious impact on both the sites and the practices of avant-garde and subaltern cultural and artistic production. Moreover, they insisted that avant-garde improvised music is almost always necessarily anti-capitalist, standing as a musical critique of the capitalist ideologies of endlessly expanding production and profit.
The final speaker of the afternoon was Nancy J. Adler, S. Bronfman Chair in Management at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University. Dr. Adler’s talk “Leading Beautifully: The Serendipity Suite” sought to bridge the urgent political critique of improvised music and the comparatively conservative pragmatism of much business management scholarship. Adler argued that corporate and global leaders need to adopt a kind of artistic reflectivity in their lives and work, taking time out to let their minds dwell in possibility instead of being anchored in pragmatism. In particular, she urged leaders to reevaluate their corporate goals, considering not only how their actions are benefiting their shareholders, but also how they are helping to make the world a better – and more beautiful – place.
Every presentation generated stimulating – if occasionally contentious – conversation. While there were a number of points of debate, most circled around differing views on capitalism and the free market. In essence, presenters and audience members were left wondering whether the free market should be considered as an economic fact of life in capitalist society, or as a set of discourses and ideologies to be critiqued and deconstructed. This fundamental question lies at the heart of many of the other questions that emerged over the course of the day:

  • If the political and ethical imperative of improvised music lies in its critique of capitalism and its imagining of alternate systems of value and exchange, is it reasonable for corporations to co-opt elements of the performance practice while ignoring the politics?
  • Should improvised music’s politics and ethics be relevant to corporations?
  • Should improvising musicians be expected to adopt a more socio-economically pragmatic approach to politics, ethics, and their own musical practice in order to help make their critique heard?
  • What is reasonable to expect of corporations in terms of social, political, and ethical responsibilities?
  • Is it possible to achieve radical social change without radically changing the structures and epistemologies that undergird capitalism?
While there were unquestionably a few moments of friction around some of these questions, those moments only demonstrated the value and the vitality of the conversation. And indeed, the conversation has continued in several forms following the symposium itself. Chris MacDonald has posted an updated version of his symposium presentation, “Crisis Management as Ethical Improv” on his blog ( In the coming weeks, ICASP will be disseminating a Call For Papers for a special issue of Critical Studies in Improvisation growing out of the conference theme, tentatively titled “Ethics and the Improvising Business.”
Special thanks must go to the co-sponsors of the symposium – the College of Management and Economics, the Department of Philosophy, and the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre at the University of Guelph, and Social Innovation Generation at the University of Waterloo – as well as to the graduate student moderators – Rita Hansen Sterne from CME, and David Lee, Nicholas Loess, and Paul Watkins, from the School of English and Theatre Studies. 

Recap by ICASP Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Laver

Oral Histories

In January 2012 ICASP will be launching a new section of our website dedicated to the Oral Histories of Improvising Artists. Oral Histories is a showcase of interviews, performances, and articles by and about improvising musicians, artists, writers and scholars. This new monthly feature, published on ICASP’s website, will offer an intimate look inside the minds and practices of some of the many dynamic, innovative people whose energy and ideas make Improvisation Studies such a vibrant field of inquiry. Over the coming year, witness conversations with musicians including Dave Clark, Tanya Tagaq, William Parker and Amiri Baraka, writer Cecil Foster, and scholars from fields as diverse as legal studies and musicology. The conversations and musical performances of this diverse group, drawn from ICASP’s online Research Collection in Improvisation Studies, are sure to inspire and to enlighten. They are also fun in their own right.

Quote of the Month:

If gender is a kind of a doing, an incessant activity performed, in part, without one’s knowing and without one’s willing, it is not for that reason automatic or mechanical. On the contrary, it is a practice of improvisation within a sense of constraint.
Judith Butler, Undoing Gender

Judith Butler is an American post-structuralist philosopher, who has immensely contributed to the fields of feminism, queer theory, and ethics. She is a professor in the Rhetoric and Comparative Literature departments at Berkeley.


Improv Notes was initially distributed in 2008 as a quarterly newsletter. The ICASP team is happy to announce that the newsletter is back in action and will be distributed once a month. If you have anything improvisation related that you would like to have included in the newsletter, please send an email to:


This Month's Featured Artist:
Sun Ra with the Qualities, "It's Christmas Time" and "Happy New Year to You!"

The Qualities:
“Happy New Year to You!” (side A)
“It’s Christmas Time” (side B)

This month’s featured Artist profile is actually more of a featured record précis of an incredibly rare record—like all of Sun Ra’s original records are.  The Qualities appear on this record as an unidentified male quartet with Sun Ra on the harmonium. There are also unidentified players playing ad hoc bells and wood blocks. Both “Happy New Year to You!” and “It’s Christmas Time” appear on this 1956 45rpm single, produced by Sun Ra and Alton Abraham. The “Satur” in red script along the left side does not appear to be a typo as it appears on both sides, along with “Satur Records presents the Qualities” across the top. Alton Abraham stated that this single was made around a year or so later than the Cosmic Rays recordings and John Gilmore (an American jazz tenor saxophone player best-known for his long tenure as a member of Sun Ra's Arkestra) believes it to be from a rehearsal (held apart from the Arkestra rehearsals) because of the extemporaneous instrumentation.
So please—in the spirit of Christmas, whatever that may encompass for you—have a listen (and space out on planetary snowflakes) as ICASP, and Ra, wish you a Merry Christmas, and a Happy New Year!

Click here to listen to “It’s Christmas Time”
Click here to listen to “Happy New Year to You!”

Call for Papers
                and workshops

CFP: Skin—Surface—Circuit: Embodying the Improvisatory

An ICASP-McGIll Interdisciplinary Conference
June 14-16, 2012, Montreal

What does it mean to say we improvise our bodies, or embody our improvisations? The theme of this conference addresses the implications of new research emerging from the humanities, social sciences, arts and sciences on what counts in general as a body, and specifically what improvising bodies might be. What is the relationship of improvisers to their corporeality? Do the social dimensions of improvisation suggest limitations, or opportunities for new kinds of improvising agents and networks? What bodily norms do genres, communities, instruments and technologies either assume, or question?

We invite proposals on these issues, and the host of other questions they suggest, such as: How do new methods of musical mediation and new technologies for improvising across times and places question assumptions of what improvising bodies might be? How are traditional sites of essentialist thinking about bodies, be they concerning sex, gender, race, class, culture, ability or other either undermined, or assumed, by new ways of improvising, and new technologies for facilitating it? Has the whole notion of a body become redundant, or do we need a new concept to make sense of emerging modes of music making and new models of embodied knowledge and community?

The Adaptive Use Musical Instruments group ( will be in attendance, and will conduct a series of events concerning their work.

Proposals should be no longer than 250 words, in either English or French. Only one proposal may be submitted per person. Please include name, address, and audiovisual requirements. Submit abstracts electronically (as .doc or .pdf) to either or by Feb. 1. Please also send a c.v. in the same format. Papers should be of 30 min reading length. We will also consider non-standard presentations, involving multi-media, performance, and so on.

Leeds International Jazz Education Conference 2012: Jazz Practice in the 21st Century

The 18th Leeds International Jazz Education Conference takes place at Leeds College of Music from Thursday 29th to Friday 30th March 2012. LIJEC is an annual event focusing on jazz practice including research addressing education, performance and composition. It is the only conference of its kind in the UK and offers a unique forum for musicians, academics, educators, students, and arts organisers to engage with the latest sounds and ideas in jazz. Along with paper presentations, workshops, performances and jam sessions, there are opportunities for discussion, networking, information exchange, and professional development.

LIJEC 2012 focuses on Jazz Practice in the 21st Century. In keeping with this overarching theme the Postgraduate Studies and Research Centre identified keynotes and participants are:

Trilok Gurtu (TBC)

National Jazz Youth Orchestra who will give an afternoon workshop and an evening concert on Friday 30th March

Call for Papers and Workshop Proposals:

The conference committee invites proposals for lecture-recitals, workshops, panels, roundtable discussions and papers surrounding practice-led research. The deadline for the submissions of proposals is Monday 16th January 2012. We welcome presentations that advance the field of jazz composition, jazz education, the emergence of cross-disciplinary thinking and the development of new jazz scholarship. While we invite proposals on any area of jazz research, preference will be given to topics which accord with the conference’s overarching theme and are presented from perspectives of practice-led research.

The deadline for submissions is Monday 16th January 2012, and decisions will be notified shortly after this date.

Click here for more detailed information and guidelines.

ICASP is proud to announce that our Improvisation and Pedagogy Coordinator and Co-investigator, George Lewis, has been announced as one of the United States Walker Fellows for 2011.

George Lewis

George Lewis is a composer, trombonist, improviser, educator, and a pioneer of computer music. Lewis has been a member of the Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) since 1971, and studied at its school under USA Prudential Fellow Muhal Richards Abrams. Lewis’s work with musicians from Count Basie to John Zorn is documented in over 140 recordings. He has also created and performed with interactive computer systems since the late 1970s and has collaborated with visual artists, roboticists, and turntablists in sound installations. He is the Edwin H. Case Professor of American Music at Columbia University and won a MacArthur Fellowship in 2002.


The international Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice research project explores musical improvisation as a model for social change. The project plays a leading role in defining a new field of interdisciplinary research to shape political, cultural, and ethical dialogue and action.

As a form of musical practice, improvisation embodies real-time creative decision-making, risk-taking, and collaboration. Improvisation must be considered not simply as a musical form, but as a complex social phenomenon that mediates transcultural inter-artistic exchanges that produce new conceptions of identity, community, history, and the body. This project focuses primarily on jazz and creative improvised music. The dominant theoretical issues emerging from this music have vital social implications.

Check out our diverse research collection.

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Musical improvisation is a crucial model for political, cultural, and ethical dialogue and action.

– Ajay Heble