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Improv Notes: February 2012


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment
February 2012

Oral Histories Project

Oral Histories is a showcase of interviews, performances, and articles by and about improvising musicians, artists, writers and scholars. This new monthly feature 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. The Oral Histories project provides a space for improvising artists to be heard in their own words, often in dialogue with other improvisers, scholars and practitioners.

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 performances of this diverse group, drawn from ICASP’s online Research Collection in Improvisation Studies, are sure to inspire and to enlighten.

Read ICASP student Paul Watkins' reflective piece on the relationship between orality and improvised musical practices in our Research Collection, here.

February 2012 Feature:
Interview with Patricia Nicholson and William Parker

Photo credit: Stefania Errore

Creative power-couple bassist-composer William Parker and dancer-choreographer Patricia Nicholson Parker, do not mince words when it comes to artistic vision. In a 2008 interview in All About Jazz, Nicholson says “We need to take our visions seriously.” Early in their careers, Nicholson and Parker created a huge repertoire of composed music for multiple ensembles, directing and organizing “A Thousand Cranes Peace Opera,” for the opening of the UN Special Sessions on Disarmament and working with bassist Peter Kowald to help organize the artist-run Sound Unity Festivals between 1984 and 1988. Nicholson successfully initiated the Improvisers Collective, which morphed into the Vision Festival, and together they have worked meticulously to bring the Vision Festival to New York for the last 15 years. Parker emphasizes performance and Nicholson works tirelessly behind the scenes. Progressive jazz lovers in New York know the annual Vision Festival as a marker of endurance, emphasizing a sense of community as it continues to profile free jazz and avant-garde music in the face of more commercial musical enterprises. Art for Art, an organization Nicholson founded in 1995, also coordinates a weekly Vision Club series, and each year the Vision Festival honors the lifetime achievement of a particular artist.

Listen to - or read - New York Times contributor Nate Chinen's broad-ranging conversation with Parker and Nicholson, and read Chinen's reflections on their discussion, in our research collection.

Quote of the Month:

Improvisation is, simply put, being and living this very moment. No one can hide in music, and improvising in music is to be truly in this very moment and being completely yourself, with all your qualities and faults. It is probably the most honest state for a human being to be in, whether in music or life. The great thing about improvisation in general is that the listener is taken by the very spontaneity. This is our most natural state.
-John McLaughlin in an interview with Daniel Fischlin (ICASP Co-Investigator).

Mahavishnu John McLaughlin, is an English guitarist, bandleader and composer. His music amalgamates jazz and rock, which he couples with an interest in Indian classical music. He has become one of the pioneering figures in fusion, and his 1970s electric band, the Mahavishnu Orchestra, was known for their technically virtuosic and complex style of electric jazz and rock with Indian influences.


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.


Both Stretch Orchestra and Jane Bunnett are nominated for a Juno!


Tallboys, now known as "Stretch Orchestra" (Kevin Breit, Matt Brubeck, and Jesse Stewart), is nominated for a JUNO in the “Instrumental Album of the Year” category!

Another recording that Jesse Stewart plays on came out this week too. "The Dunrobin Session" features Pauline Oliveros on “V-Accordion” and Stewart on drums and percussion. This CD was just released on the NUUN record label in France. The release of this duo recording coincides with Oliveros’ 80th birthday this year and with her being awarded the prestigious John Cage award (awarded once every four years, the John Cage award is sort of like the Nobel Prize for contemporary composers).

In other Juno news, "CUBAN RHAPSODY," the duet recording by Hilario Duran and Jane Bunnett (ICASP’s 2011 Improviser-in-Residence) is nominated for "Contemporary Jazz Album of the year"!


This Month's Featured Artist:
Miya Masaoka

Miya Masaoka (America)

Miya Masaoka, a Japanese American musician, sound artist, and composer, is one of just a handful of musicians who have succeeded in introducing the 17-string Japanese koto zither to the world of avant-garde music. She first came to recognition collaborating with artists as diverse as Pharoah Sanders, Fred Frith and Steve Coleman, and is now regarded as a world-renowned performer. Highly esteemed for her abundantly creative and improvisational technique, and a sensibility that combines experimental Western approaches with the tradition of the koto, Masaoka’s pioneering performance work cannot be easily pigeonholed into any single genre. Her work draws from the collision of tradition with the modern, the rupture of a sonic past with the myriad possibilities of the “new.” Such merging of the past and present is displayed in her performances where electronic triggers allow for additional laser beam “strings” to hover over the koto. Her impressive catalogue of diverse compositions includes work for field recordings, laptops, and videos, and she has written scores for ensembles, chamber orchestras, and mixed choirs. With creative veracity and experimental inquiry her pieces have investigated the sound and movement of insects (she has orchestrated Madagascar hissing cockroaches and bees as they crawl across her body), as well as the physiological responses of plants, the human brain, and her own body. Within these varied contexts her performative sound work investigates (often with a high level of confluence) the interactive, collaborative aspects of sound, improvisation, nature, society and the contemporary expression of Japanese gagaku aural gesturalism: a way of presenting yourself, expressing the music through your posture. Masaoka’s work has been presented in Japan, Canada, and Europe, and she has toured to India six times. 

Have a listen to some of Masaoka's groundbreaking, and exciting work:

Masaoka covering Monk's Mood.
Masaoka speaking about her music and performing live on the laser koto.

Call for Papers: Ethics and the Improvising Business

Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation invites submissions for a special issue with the theme “Ethics and the Improvising Business,” guest-edited by ICASP Project Director Ajay Heble, Co-Investigator Tina Piper, and Postdoctoral Fellow Mark Laver. We seek contributions from artist/practitioners and from scholars working across the disciplines (music, literature, performance studies, anthropology, organization studies, economics, sociology, gender studies, philosophy, psychology, education, management studies, among others). Potential topics include:

· What does musical improvisation have to offer as a management model for corporations and not-for-profit organizations?
· What is the relationship between improvisation and creativity in the global marketplace?
· How might an improvised ethical framework translate in a for-profit corporate environment?
· How can improvised praxis and ethics impact Corporate Social Responsibility projects?
· In what ways are improvisatory ethics manifest in the emergent discourses and practices associated with social innovation?
· Is it possible for a large corporation to honestly acknowledge and respond to improvising musicians’ socioeconomic critiques while
continuing to operate within an expansionist, capitalist economic framework?
· What is at stake when large corporations adopt (or co-opt) musical practices—particularly those associated with subaltern communities?

In light of the collaborative essence of musical creativity, a growing number of management theorists are looking to group musical improvisation as a model for corporate design. In the post-fordist, global marketplace, sudden change has become a quotidian part of the business experience. Just as a group of improvisers must negotiate sudden musical changes, unanticipated changes in the marketplace demand a similar kind of collaborative response. Faced with the unexpected, many businesses respond with collective flexibility. They establish a profoundly dialogical management structure, encouraging employees of all levels to engage in problem-solving. Akin to the musical knowledge-innovation dialectic, businesses walk the line between what Roger Martin calls reliability and validity, trusting in the knowledge and study that underlies their extant systems and models, while at the same time embracing the promise held by innovation, creativity, and surprise. Above all, they work to engage every individual in the group, giving every employee a sense of collective ownership over the challenges and the solutions.

Critical academic essays are encouraged but the editors also welcome for consideration artist statements, commentaries, reviews, interviews and experimental textual forms. CSI/ÉCI encourages the submission of audio and visual content to accompany texts. It is the responsibility of the author to ascertain copyright and gain permissions.

Please visit the criticalimprov website for more detials.

Submissions should be 4000-6000 words (shorter essays may also be considered at the discretion of the editors). Please submit completed essays by April 13, 2012. Information on the submission process and examples of previously published work can be found at Inquires can also be directly made to

Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation is an open-access, peer-reviewed, electronic, academic journal on improvisation, community, and social practice housed at the University of Guelph. The editorial and advisory boards are made up of leading international scholars spanning diverse disciplines. CSI/ÉCI publishes twice a year, in May and December. The journal publishes scholarly essays by artists, activists, and intellectuals, as well as reviews of books, performances, and films.

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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