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Improv Notes: June 2014


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       June 2014

Former ICASP Postdoc Mark Laver is now an Assistant Professor of Music at Grinnell College

Please join us in congratulating Mark Laver (ICASP Postdoctoral Fellow 2011-13) who has accepted a position as an Assistant Professor of Music (Jazz) at Grinnell College (Iowa, U.S.). His research explores intersections among jazz, improvisation, neoliberal capitalism, and consumption. His forthcoming book, Jazz Sells: Music and Marketing (Routledge) examines the use of jazz in advertising, marketing, and branding. Keep an eye/ear out for his book, and look for Mark at future IICSI events!


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.

Linda Hutcheon:
"Points of Contact": 
Co-Positioning Improvisation and Adaptation Theory and Practice 

Dr. Linda Hutcheon, an Officer of the Order of Canada and University of Toronto Professor Emeritus, is a recognized scholar of adaptation theory as well as an ICASP Advisory Board member. In the following email interview with ICASP graduate student Stephanie Hill, Dr. Hutcheon talks about the relationship between improvisation and adaptation. Her seminal book, A Theory of Adaptation, is an extensive and multi-contextual survey of contemporary adaptation. In it, she challenges the fidelity model of adaptation and speaks to the driving forces behind the creation of adaptations.

Given Dr. Hutcheon’s participation in interdisciplinary and collaborative scholarship and her work in “what art teaches us about theory” (“Linda Hutcheon”), Stephanie Hill was eager to hear what Hutcheon might have to offer in terms of a comparison between improvisation and adaptation practices. Dr. Hutcheon’s support of ICASP in combination with her expertise in adaptation studies give her a unique positioning from which to consider the two fields together.

As Hutcheon puts it in the interview:  "Well, not all adaptation is improvisation, as I understand it. First of all, improvisation is usually (always?) extemporaneous, isn’t it? And most adaptation is not. But improvisation very often involves adaptation. It might be a matter of degree, ranging from (in music) free jazz to jazz 'standards.' In other words, if a musical piece is an improvisation on a theme (melody) or the notes of a chord (harmony), or maybe even a song form or style, it would definitely be considered an adaptation of that element. In other words, adaptation is the word we tend to use to describe an overt and indeed defining relation to another prior text: it is an adaptation OF something."

To read the full transcript between Hill and Hutcheon on the relationship between the fields of improvisation and adaptation, click here.

Quote of the Month:

“Style has a profound meaning to Black Americans. If we can’t drive, we will invent walks and the world will envy the dexterity of our feet. If we can’t have ham, we will boil chitterlings; if we are given rotten peaches, we will make cobblers; if given scraps, we will make quilts; take away our drums, and we will clap our hands. We prove the human spirit will prevail. We will take what we have to make what we need. We need confidence in our knowledge of who we are.” 
― Nikki Giovanni, Racism 101. 154-155 

Photo by Brett Weinstein. Wikipedia Commons. 

The above quote from Nikki Giovanni describes how African Americans have turned survival into an improvisational art form. Yolande Cornelia “Nikki” Giovanni is an African American poet, activist, children’s book writer, and educator teaching English at Virginia Tech. The Civil Rights and Black Power Movements inspired much of her early poetry. Her book Love Poems (1997) was written to commemorate rapper 2pac, and she has stated that she would “rather be with the thugs than the people who are complaining about them.”

Vol 9, No 2 (2013)
General Topics Issue

Check out the latest General Issue of Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation (Vol. 9, No.2).

The issue can be accessed online


Improvisation's Ebb and Flow                      
Frederique Arroyas
"The idea that improvisation is created ex nihilo is one that practitioners and theorists continue to push against. Spontaneity relies on a discipline of readiness and an awareness of one’s environment. Hard work and commitment underlie the seemingly impulsive spontaneity of a performer’s gestures. Consider improvisation as ebb and flow between internalized skills and extemporaneous utterances, a continuous probing of acquired knowledge to pursue an adapted, and adaptable, form of expression. The articles in this issue of CSI-ECI investigate this alternate backward and forward movement on a number of planes—historical, cultural, and individual."

Continue reading.
Improvising Across Borders Colloquium to be held Saturday, June 21st and Sunday, June 22nd, Robson Square Room C 400, at UBC (Vancouver).

Coastal Jazz and the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) will host a two-day colloquium on Saturday June 21 & Sunday June 22, 2014, focused on the theme of improvising across boundaries.

Presentations by members of the artistic and scholarly communities will focus around the ways in which improvisation – in music, in theatre, in dance and in text – can offer strategies and practices to help us to negotiate with boundaries and borders, with the challenges presented by the politics of gender, history and social class or by multiculturalism, by race and racism.

How can improvisation provide performers and audiences with the means to encounter and to come to terms with the ways in which we have undertaken, various practices of inclusion and of exclusion, of community-building and of confrontation? Can improvisation enable new modes of cultural and social understanding?

Admission is free. Full program available here.

ICSII team member Joel Bakan releases new album with Rebecca Jenkins

Rebecca Jenkins and Her Trio, Live at the Cellar was recorded in February 2014 at The Cellar in Vancouver. Bakan is the partner of Jenkins and the album features their son Myim on drums, and Bruce Meikle on bass. There is an album release party in Toronto at the Jazz Bistro, July 3 and 4, with Vancouver and other cities to follow (dates TBA).

Check the music out on, and CD Baby.

Call for Think Pieces

How can theories of improvisation re-imagine and redefine the roles of intellectuals? How can a theory be activated by an improvising subject and directed into tangible and meaningful action? What are the horizons of improvisation studies and why do they matter in contexts of crisis?

The Think Pieces project will explore the boundaries and borders of critical improvisation research as it engages with the social, political, and cultural issues that affect the lived lives of individuals around the globe. By bringing together the divergent voices of engaged writers and thinkers to ponder how improvisation provides novel insight into a deluge of problems, the Think Pieces project will offer a provocation to its readers: as improvisers/through improvisation, how and why do we think; how and why do we act? We intend to collect the voices and writings of scholars, activists, policymakers, creative practitioners, artists, and philosophers to debate what role improvisation plays in any number of topics – and any number of responses. Each month, a new Think Piece will be uploaded to the online home of the ICASP project to be shared, discussed, and debated.

Call For Think Pieces

We invite submissions of Think Pieces that range from 750-1250 words (approx.) and explore improvisation as it applies to different sites of theory, engagement, and practice. The papers can be creative or theoretical in nature, but should explore some aspect of improvisation and its possibilities for critical analysis, social action, and/or social belonging. A general format for the title of each piece should be as follows: “Think Piece: Improvisation and ______”. Papers do not need to be fully developed or scholarly in nature, and may seek to pose questions for future research. Submissions and questions should be directed to Mark Kaethler at:

Current Think Piece: Think Pieces 2: Pedestrian Sundays and community well-being in Kensington Market, Toronto - Sophie Maksimowski


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.

Artist of the Month:

Matthew Shipp (US)

“It is listening to Matthew Shipp’s work that has always been a reminder to me that real Jazz music, no matter how refined or complex it can be, relies primarily on guts. Jazz, invariably, is a visceral and raw endeavor, often making Rock music seem soft in comparison. For the player and the listener, alike, it is a total experience.”
-Henry Rollins

Pianist Matthew Shipp is a contemporary iconoclast of the jazz tradition; his music embodies the jazz cadences of pianists like Monk and Evans, brilliantly filtered through his unique musical personality and forward thinking. Few artists possess the raw technical command that Shipp does of the piano, as he dances among clouds of sound through dense chording, displaying a flair for mixing the melodic with the abstract, the classical with the free, blending assorted atonal qualities with an unmatched alacrity of emotion on the piano’s 88 keys. On numerous occasions, Shipp has cited private lesson with Dennis Sandole (who also taught John Coltrane) as crucial to his musical development. After these private lessons, Shipp attended the New England Conservatory of Music for two years. But it wasn’t until his move to New York City in 1984, when Shipp met free jazz luminaries like William Parker, that he gradually began to make a name for himself in the avant-garde music world. 

Since the early 1990s, Shipp has been incredibly active, appearing on dozens of albums as a leader (I count over 50 records released under his name), sideman, or producer. While earlier in his career Shipp was primarily associated with free jazz, his recent efforts, particularly since the 2000s, foray into contemporary classical music, electronica, and hip-hop, as in the unique collaboration—fully in the nature of experimentation—with hip-hop collective Anti-pop Consortium on
Antipop vs. Matthew Shipp. Shipp’s music remains distinctive and encapsulates, as Henry Rollins describes, the “visceral and raw endeavor” of great jazz music. 

As Shipp tells Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky) in an interview, jazz is something you cannot control, codify and disseminate along a clear linear historical narrative, citing a jazz figure like Wynton Marsalis as someone who thinks this way (he calls Marsalis a “blockhead”). Rather, Shipp views jazz “theoretically to be a melting pot for everything, and it’s an exciting language, because it’s open to, or supposed to be open to all the possibilities of world music, all rhythms […] I just want to go out into space, like Sun Ra did, and be free to explore all world musics and all outer space musics. And if that means using computers, programmed beats, if it’s a funk drummer, if it’s me screaming! I want to be free to try to put it all together in the same puzzle.” Such exploration is heard in his recordings for Thirsty Ear’s ongoing Blue Series, which cross-pollinates jazz with active electronic and DJ cultures. Shipp’s musical catalogue is far too vast to cover here, but the fact that his recent solo piano effort, Piano Sutras (2013, Thirsty Ear) continues to reveal new musical dialogues, and the process of Shepp’s in the moment thinking, it is safe to say that Shipp will continue to push the tradition of jazz forward. Have a listen to a few tracks from the profound and poetic Shipp below:

A live version of “Greensleeves” and more…

Cohesion” from Equilibrium (2003):

Cosmic Shuffle” (Piano Sutras, 2013):

Call for Papers and Posters - The Improvising Brain II: Multiple Perspectives Concert and Symposium
March 8-10, 2015, Georgia State University, Atlanta, Georgia. Presented by GSU School of Music, Neuroscience Institute, Department of Mathematics and Statistics, & the Center for Collaborative and International Arts.

Following the success of the first Improvising Brain Symposium in 2013 and the related theme issue in Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain, the Improvising Brain II: Multiple Perspectices symposium will once again explore questions related to all aspects of improvisation in music including cognitive, neuroscientific, therapeutic, and pedagogical issues. Examples include: How can improvisation be studied empirically? How do creative processes differ in musicians from different performance traditions? Are note choices during improvisation and word choices during speech controlled by similar decision making processes? Is it the sound or the motor movements that drive the choices? How do the environment and the underlying musical structure affect these decisions? Can these decision making processes be modeled mathematically?

Submission Details: We seek related papers and posters describing completed or in-progress work from both faculty and graduate students. Paper presentations should be 20 minutes in length and include visual slides. Please submit an extended 350-word abstract including purpose, literature review, methodology, and findings (final or preliminary). Those interested in a poster presentation may submit a shorter 250-word abstract with the same, though abbreviated, information. All proposals will be blind-reviewed by a panel of experts. Do not include the author(s)’s name(s) or other identifying details in the proposal. Attach the proposal as a Word or PDF file to an email that includes the author’s name(s), email address(es), home and work addresses, and academic affiliation(s).Send proposals to Martin Norgaard at  

Submissions must be received no later than October 15, 2014, and notifications will be made by November 15, 2014. Accepted presenters will be invited to submit full papers to a follow-up special issue of Psychomusicology: Music, Mind, and Brain on improvisation, to be published in September 2016. For more information and updates on the Improvising Brain Concert & Symposium, please visit their website. Please address questions to Martin Norgaard at 

Rest in Power, Maya Angelou

The renowned African American poet, writer, and activist Maya Angelou has left the planet. She was 86. She is most known for her bestselling autobiographical work, I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, which gets its title from Paul Laurence Dunbar’s line from his poem, “Sympathy.” Dunbar’s “Sympathy” was a cry against slavery of all forms, as well as about the shackles that imprison the poet amid cyclical prejudges he feels incapable of destroying. Angelou’s own work was about dispelling prejudices to envision a more just society.

She writes, “Prejudice is a burden that confuses the past, threatens the future and renders the present inaccessible.” In I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, she describes how her mother told her that she must “always be intolerant of ignorance but understanding of illiteracy. That some people, unable to go to school, were more educated and more intelligent than college professors.” These lines are an important reminder, especially for us erudite types, that we don’t have all the answers. The notion of absolute authority can be extremely dangerous—for who gets to decide what is true is a matter of power.

Education takes many forms, as Angelou poignantly points out that her education was an improvisatory process that often took place outside the classroom: “my education and that of my Black associates were quite different from the education of our white schoolmates. In the classroom we all learned past participles, but in the streets and in our homes the Blacks learned to drop s’s from plurals and suffixes from past-tense verbs. We were alert of the gap separating the written word from the colloquial […] It be’s like that sometimes.” She was truly an inspirational person, who endured and overcame much, and although she is now gone, she leaves  a lasting literary and civil rights legacy.

For a brief video on Angelou’s life, click here.

Featured Image: Amiri Baraka and Maya Angelou dance on the 89th birthday of the poet Langston Hughes at the The Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, where Hughes’ ashes were buried beneath the floor, in New York, Feb. 22, 1991.

Pauline Oliveros Reverberations Box Set Re-press (by Important Records)

Pauline Oliveros' groundbreaking "Reverberations: Tape + Electronic Music 1961-1980" box set is in need of a re-press.

Pauline Oliveros' Reverberations: Tape + Electronic Music 1961-1970 12CD box set has been out of print for almost two years and is in need of a re-press. For less than the price of a used copy on Discogs or Ebay you can get a signed box set delivered to your door. (Currently you can get a sealed box on Discogs for $410.00). As soon as the goal is met we'll order the re-press which will, hopefully, be in-hand for the Deep Listening Conference at EMPAC July 10-13.

View the Kickstarter campaign, here.

Série d'Ateliers "Tools of the Trade" - Tools of the Trade Workshop Series

Photo of Seijiro Murayama.

Co-presented by the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation, McGill, this workshop series is free and open to the public. See website for details of past and future events. Remaining workshops include:

Agustí Fernández – Atelier Tools of the Trade: June 18, 2014, noon, Sala Rossa. Leading Spanish pianist and instructor who has performed with Evan Parker, Derek Bailey, Peter Kowald, Barry Guy amongst others. Will discuss Free Improvisation. Bring your instruments.

Howl! Art + Activism : Panel Discussion, Anti-Capitalist Art: June 21, 2014, 1:00pm, Sala Rosa Restaurant Espagnol.

For more information, please visit their website. Free and open to all! Gratuit et ouvert à tous!

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: icaspweb@uoguelph.caWant to read past newsletters, or refer a friend to the monthly newsletter, then please do! 

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Listening itself, an improvisative act engaged in by everyone, announces a practice of active engagement with the world, where we sift, interpret, store and forget, in parallel with action and fundamentally articulated with it ("Mobilitas Animi" 113).

– George E. Lewis