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Improv Notes: July 2013


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       July 2013

Celebrating a World of Jazz

Twenty years ago, a group of friends in Guelph began a humble project. A labour of love, it was a manifestation of their appreciation for the creative and provocative, the subtle and obtuse, the rehearsed and the improvised. That project, known as the Guelph Jazz Festival, has since blossomed into its currently lush incarnation that includes an internationally acclaimed music program, a high-calibre academic colloquium and its very own all-night Nuit Blanche event. This year's Festival runs September 4-8, with an added September 3rd performance in celebration of the festival's 20th Anniversary.

Click here to read more about the 2013 Festival in a nutshell and to get your Early Bird pass today!

Ajay Heble announcing this year's lineup. 

The 2013 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium will have its full schedule of events revealed shortly. Information will be posted on the Guelph Jazz Festival homepage, as well as at our
 colloquia hub.

As always, all colloquium events are free, accessible, and open to the public. 

We are delighted to announce the publication of the latest Special Issue of Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation (Vol. 8, No.2), guest edited by Amanda Ravetz, Anne Douglas, and Kathleen Coessens.

The issue can be accessed online here.

Vol 8, No 2 (2012)

Improvisational Attitudes: Reflections from Art and Life on Certitude, Failure, and Doubt

Improvisational Attitudes: Reflections from Art and Life on Certainty, Failure, and Doubt
Amanda Ravetz, Anne Douglas, Kathleen Coessens


we tellin’ stories yo”: A Performance and Interview with renowned dub poet d’bi.young


Photo of d’bi by Wade Hudson

Featuring an Opening DJ Set by DJ Techné
FREE and Open to the Public
Thursday, August 8th, 2013 (7-9 pm)
Paintbox Bistro (555 Dundas Street East,
Regent Park, Toronto)

ICASP and Paintbox Bistro present Jamaican-Canadian dub poet, monodramatist, educator, and Dora Award winning actor and playwright, d’bi.young.anitafrika in an intimate free performance. Following the performance there will be an interview with the poet conducted by Paul Watkins (DJ Techné). Make sure you catch this event with one of Canada’s most visionary storytellers.


Oral Histories is a showcase of interviews, performances, and articles by and about improvising musicians, artists, writers and scholars. This monthly feature offers 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.


Miya Masaoka, 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 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. In 2012, Masaoka was one of ICASP’s Improvisers-in-Residence.

Mark Laver is an ICASP Post-Doctoral Fellow, based at the University of Guelph, researching intersections between musical improvisation and capitalist economics and ideologies. His work is forthcoming or published in several academic and non-academic journals, including Popular MusicCritical Studies in ImprovisationSAGARDiscoursesThe Recorder, and Canadian Musician. He completed his PhD in Ethnomusicology at the University of Toronto. His forthcoming book project, Jazzvertise: Music, Marketing, and Meaning, focuses on the use of jazz in advertising. He is also currently completing a special issue as a guest editor with Ajay Heble in Critical Studies in Improvisation on Ethics and the Improvising Business. Mark is a busy working saxophonist, and has performed with leading jazz and improvising musicians such as Lee Konitz, Phil Nimmons, NEXUS, Dong Won Kim, and Eddie Prévost.

In this month’s Oral History, Mark Laver sits down with Miya Masaoka and discusses her process as an intermedial artist, past and present projects, and the tensions between improvisation and composition.

Improvising a Tradition: Miya Masaoka in Conversation with Mark Laver

A full transcript of the interview is available here.

Also, check out this video of ICASP researchers and improvisers Joe Sorbara, Mark Laver, and Amadeo Ventura performing with Miya Masaoka during her Improviser-in-Residence residency for an impromptu musical “intervention” at Planet Bean Cafe in downtown Guelph.

Quote of the Month:

"Music is meditation.”
-Sonny Rollins

July’s quote of the month comes in the form of a short video from Sonny Rollins talking about the need to let go of thinking when playing and how music is meditation for him. Theodore Walter “Sonny” Rollins is one of the most well-known and influential American tenor saxophonists working in jazz. A number of his compositions have become jazz standards, and his album Saxophone Colossus (recorded on June 22, 1956) with Tommy Flanagan on piano, Doug Watkins on bass, and Max Roach on drums, is one of the most acclaimed jazz albums ever recorded. Rollins, well into his eighth decade, continues to play the jazz festival circuit worldwide, often as the top billed act, and was documented on the two-volume Road Show series (2008; 2011).

Photo: Tom Beetz

Catch more of the Silence concert series this summer in Guelph.

Check out the Silence event page for the latest in innovative music in Guelph.

Improv Notes was initially distributed in 2008 as a quarterly newsletter. Since June 2011 the revamped Improv Notes has been assembled, written, and distributed on a monthly basis by ICASP's Media and Public Relations Coordinator, Paul Watkins. If you have anything improvisation related that you would like to have included in the newsletter, please send an email to Paul at:

Want to read past newsetters, or refer a friend to the monthly newsletter, then please do!

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Featured Artist:

Photo by Dmitry Scherbie
Pharoah Sanders (USA)

Pharoah Sanders is a legendary Grammy Award-winning jazz saxophonist once described by Ornette Coleman as “probably the best tenor player in the world.” Sanders first emerged in the mid-1960s playing in various groups with John Coltrane, and can be heard on such breakthrough records as Kulu Sé Mama (1965), Om (1965), Meditations (1965), and Ascension (1965), among others. Sanders has become known for his unique sound which influenced Coltrane’s own playing: overblowing, harmonic, non-specific pitches, timbral distortions, polyphonic performances, and what has been described as his use of “sheets of sound.” While a trademark of Sanders playing in the mid-60s was his unbridled zeal and fierce approach, many of his recordings after Coltrane’s death explore more gentle sounds, yet with the same cerebral awareness and intensity that made his playing with Coltrane so fitting. Pharoah Sanders is a pivotal figure in the development of free jazz, as Albert Ayler once said: “Trane was the Father, Pharoah was the Son, I am the Holy Ghost.”
Born Farrell Sanders in Little Rock, Arkansas, he began playing tenor saxophone in various rhythm and blues and bebop bands, first in Oakland, California, and then in New York City. He struggled in New York City to make a name for himself, often working non-musical jobs and occasionally sleeping on the subway. Nevertheless, he gigged with various free jazz luminaries in New York, including Billy Higgins, Don Cherry, and Sun Ra (check out the 1964 Sun Ra live recording featuring Pharoah). It is reputed that Sanders received his nickname “Pharoah” from bandleader Sun Ra, although music critic and poet Amiri Baraka lays claim to naming him Pharoah Sanders in the early 1960s when he thought Farrell Sanders said “Pharaoh Sanders” when introducing himself to the poet. Regardless of the origin of the name, Sanders is certainly a pharaoh of power on the saxophone, gifting the world of music with a multitude of beautiful records. After Coltrane’s death, Sanders's music continued to show the strong influence of their collaboration, especially the spiritual elements, as the chanting in Om would appear in various recordings in Sanders's opus. In the late 1960s and 1970s Sanders explored his own music, continuing to work with Alice Coltrane and others, recording many influential records for Impulse! One such record was the 1969 benchmark album Karma, which is the perfect synthesis of his spiritual ideas and desire to take the music forward. The album contains only two tracks, the 32-plus minute “The Creator Has a Master Plan” and the five-and-a-half minute, “Colors.” The band is phenomenal and the feature vocals from Leon Thomas, with his incredible yodel-like singing, are something to behold. Never one to be pigeonholed, Sanders went on develop and change his style throughout his career, exploring different modes such as modal jazz, R&B, and hard bop in the late 70s and 80s. His records in the 90s and 2000s continue to blend styles (see the 2003 recording With a Heartbeat, which finds Pharoah playing with Bill Laswell’s Material crew along with recordings of a heartbeat) while maintaining that unique Pharoah sound.

Sanders will be playing at this year’s 20th Anniversary Guelph Jazz Festival in the Saturday night double bill featuring Pharoah and The Underground with Wadada Leo Smith's Golden Quartet, Ten Freedom Summers. His collaboration with Rob Mazurek (cornet) and Chad Taylor’s (drums, mbira) Chicago Underground is enhanced by the inclusion of Sao Paulo’s Guilherme Granado (keyboards, samplers) with Mauricio Takara (percussion, cavaquinho) and Matthew Lux (electric bass). This unique multicultural mix blends percussion and electronics with the powerful music of one of the leading figures of “free jazz.”

Preview some of Pharoah Sanders's fiery saxophone playing and inclusive spirituality below:

The Creator Has a Master Plan” from the album Karma:

Part two.
Part three.

Harvest Time” from the record, Pharoah:

Live at Jazz Café, London 2011”:

Call For Papers: Sound Changes: Improvisation, Social Practice, and Cultural Difference

As part of Duke University Press’s Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice series, two volumes of which have already been published, this volume proposes an enhanced, interdisciplinary understanding of improvisation as a multivalent, global social practice found within and across different cultural and historical contexts, different national sites and traditions. Books in this new series generally posit musical improvisation as a crucial model for political, cultural, and ethical dialogue and action—for imagining and creating alternative ways of knowing and being known in the world. The books are collaborations among performers, scholars, and activists from a wide range of disciplines. They study the creative risk-taking imbued with the sense of movement and momentum that makes improvisation an exciting, unpredictable, ubiquitous, and necessary endeavor. But are these assumptions necessarily true in the more global contexts in which improvisation is present? Does improvisation necessarily mean the same thing in and across different national sites where the social utility (or not) of improvisation is subject to vastly different contingencies, contexts, and historical circumstances? What kinds of theoretical and case study analyses are required in order to broaden improvisation studies beyond North American and European sites delimited (largely) by specific forms like free jazz, spontaneous composition, and experimental music?

With these questions in mind, a key precept underlying this book is that “improvisation” risks becoming a master trope that erases the multiple differential practices to which it generally refers. We intend for this collection to examine the astonishing diversity of practices that improvisation entails in ways that challenge monological notions of improvisation as a global practice that means the same thing in all circumstances. In that light, the volume explores “sound changes” as the word “changes” oscillates between its function as verb and as noun. The phrase “sound changes” thus references both the differential contexts in which improvisatory sound occurs (and how those change a sound’s meaning) and the ways in which sound itself is productive of changes that have an impact on wider spheres of human being.

The editors seek proposals for essays that address a wide range (geographically and culturally) of performance contexts in which improvisation is present as well as a diversity of critical traditions that have been, or should be, brought to bear on improvisatory practices. We are interested in work about music and sound, but also work that examines related improvisational forms such as dance, theater, intermedial performance practices, community organization and activism, transcultural encounters, and so on. As a means of addressing some of the key issues outlined above, we hope to include essays that address one or more of the following questions: How do improvisatory practices build from and challenge social norms and rules in different cultural contexts? How do transcultural exchanges lead to the emergence of hybrid improvisational forms? How do the assumed meanings of improvisational forms change as they travel between and across cultural contexts? How are transcultural, improvisational exchanges enhanced by emergent technologies, and to what extent do emergent technologies define the limits of improvisation as a social practice in certain contexts? How does a cross-cultural understanding of improvisation call into question existing theoretical and political assumptions guiding its study? How does cultural difference determine how improvisation operates in wider spheres of cultural practice? How do “sound changes” signify these differences in ways that mark improvisatory discourses as a site of dissonance rather than consonance?

We are open to work that focuses on other questions as well and authors interested in pursuing other related lines of inquiry and research should contact us directly. To submit a chapter proposal for this edited collection please send an abstract of no more than 300 words to Daniel Fischlin and Eric Porter. If selected, chapters should be approximately 6000-10,000 words in length. The deadline for abstract submission is October 15, 2013.

To download a copy of this Call For Papers in PDF form, please click here.

The Fierce Urgency of Now is now available!

The Fierce Urgency of Now: Improvisation, Rights, and the Ethics of Co-creation is authored by Daniel Fischlin, Ajay Heble, and George Lipsitz. The book links musical improvisation to struggles for social change, focusing on the connections between the improvisation associated with jazz and the dynamics of human rights struggles and discourse. The authors acknowledge that at first glance improvisation and rights seem to belong to incommensurable areas of human endeavor. Improvisation connotes practices that are spontaneous, personal, local, immediate, expressive, ephemeral, and even accidental, while rights refer to formal standards of acceptable human conduct, rules that are permanent, impersonal, universal, abstract, and inflexible. Yet the authors not only suggest that improvisation and rights can be connected; they insist that they must be connected.

Get your copy today directly from Duke University Press.


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.

If people talked the way they drummed in improvisation, then I think the world would be a lot nicer…

– Youth participant, ICASP improvisation workshop