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Improv Notes: March 2014


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       March 2014


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.

“Schizophonophilia”: An Audio-Interplay Between Wayde Compton and Paul Watkins

Wayde Compton is a Black Canadian writer/poet, DJ, and historian, born and raised in Vancouver, British Columbia. Compton has published two books of poetry: 49th Parallel Psalm, and Performance Bond. He has also edited an anthology, Bluesprint: Black British Columbian Literature and Orature, and recently a collection of essays entitled, After Canaan: Essays on Race, Writing, and Region. He co-founded Commodore Books, the first black-oriented press in Western Canada, with David Chariandy and Karina Vernon in 2006. He’s also been involved with the recovery of Hogan’s Alley in Vancouver, a historically black neighbourhood that was removed in the 1960s for a highway. Compton co-founded the Hogan’s Alley Memorial Project in 2002, a grassroots organization that archives the history of Vancouver’s black community. Along with his published writing, Compton is known for his engaging and improvisational approach to reading his work, often performing turntable-based sound poetry with collaborative partner, DJ Jason de Couto. Currently Compton is the director of The Writer’s Studio, a creative writing program in Continuing Studies at Simon Fraser University.

In his essay, “Turntable Poetry, Mixed-Race, and Schizophonophilia,” Compton describes “schizophonophilia” as the “love of audio interplay, the pleasure of critical disruptions to natural audition, the counter-hegemonic affirmation that can be achieved through acoustic intervention.” The notion of acoustic intervention is a pleasant reminder that democracy can be embodied in sound, and is often most effective when it is most discordantly free. Such sonic dialogism is also the embodied reality of a history and culture in flux, as Compton describes in Bluesprint how British Columbia’s “black history has been one of continued exodus, immigration, settlement, exploration, miscegenation, communitarianism, integration, segregation, agitation, uprooting and re-rooting and re-routing.” In this month’s Oral History, Paul Watkins sits down with Wayde Compton in his office in Vancouver for a personal and engaging interview. They discuss a wide range of topics, including Black British Columbian history and the historical black community of Hogan’s Alley, along with identity and race, improvising Blackness, Compton’s literary influences, the importance of tradition, formal and stylistic innovations, Kamau Brathwaite’s notion of tidalectics (a cyclical interpretation of history), multiculturalism, the role of the DJ as archivist, hip-hop and jazz music and culture, among other multifarious topics.

Lastly, embodying the notion of “schizophonophilia,” the interview is available in its original unedited format, as well as in three sonic remixes. The first remix ("Schizophonophilia Mix") takes various sound clips from the interview and collages them with assorted mixed productions from DJ Techné (Toronto-based turntable sound artist, Paul Watkins). At the end of the interview, Wayde Compton reads a short prose piece, “British Columbian Blues,” which is remixed in two versions: a version that features David Lee improvising (in a single take) on bass, and a remix once again by DJ Techné (using various Jimi Hendrix samples) and Lee's bass.

Interview Transcript & Audio

Download the full transcript, here.

Download the full unedited audio of the interview, here.

"Schizophonophilia Mix":

Download Compton's "British Columbian Blues" featuring David Lee on bass, here.

And... download the DJ Techné mix of "British Columbian Blues," here.

Photo Credit of Compton: Ayeley Tsabari 

Summer Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation 

Memorial University of Newfoundland, June 29 to July 12, 2014

Intended for graduate students who have an interest in improvisation and its potential for dynamic forms of community building, the International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation is offering a two-week intensive course to explore the theme of Improvisation as Practice-Based Research. The course will examine some of the ways in which improvisatory arts practices can be integrated with scholarly research agendas. How can academic research questions, methodologies, and outcomes benefit improvisatory creative practices and vice versa? In addition, the course will critically examine the changing institutional frameworks that support practice-based research in general and improvisation studies in particular.

Application due before April 15th, 2014.

To view the full call for applications for the 2014 Summer Institute, please click here.

Quote of the Month:

“After we developed a piece of music, somebody would create a dance to it or we’d have some words or some poems written for the tune. Everyone had a shot at creating something in this particular composition. A poet might write a beautiful line for a certain spot in the composition, and we’d add it. A dancer might develop a nice step for it and we'd utilize that in presenting the tune. We’d try to present all facets of the composition.”
-Horace Tapscott, Songs of the Unsung

Horace Tapscott (1934-1999) was an influential L.A.-based African American jazz pianist, composer and activist who formed the Pan-Afrikan Peoples Arkestra (referred to as the “Ark”) in 1961 and led the ensemble through the 1990s until he left the planet. Tapscott truly believed that music contained the power to connect people and heal the world. Tapscott recorded many fantastic jazz recordings, almost always on the fringes of the critical mainstream and through the rather poorly circulated label, Nimbus. The Quote of the Month is taken from Tapscott’s autobiographical Song of the Unsung, which chronicles his musical and social journey, and solidifies him as a true jazz pioneer and grassroots social activist. 

Postdoctoral Fellowship Program 2014-2015

The International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI)’s mandate is to create positive social change through the confluence of improvisational arts, innovative scholarship, and collaborative action. For the 2014-2015 academic year, we invite applications of postdoctoral researchers for two residential fellowships. One fellowship will be located at Memorial University of Newfoundland; the second fellowship will be located at the University of Guelph, McGill University, or the University of Regina.

IICSI seeks to contribute to interdisciplinary research and graduate training in the emerging field of improvisation studies. Applications from researchers working in the principal research areas related to our project are encouraged: music, cultural studies, creative technologies, political studies, sociology and anthropology, English studies, theatre and performance studies, French studies, law, philosophy, and communications. Applications from different research areas are also welcomed, inasmuch as their research has a direct link with the social, cultural, or political implications of improvised arts practices.

These postdoctoral fellowships provide stipendiary support to recent PhD graduates who are undertaking original research, publishing research findings, and developing and expanding personal research networks. Two twelve-month fellowships will be awarded for the 2014-2015 academic year, each valued at $38,000 CDN.

Application Criteria

Applicants are invited to submit a research proposal focusing on the social implications (broadly construed) of improvised artistic practices. Successful candidates will be chosen on the basis of a rigorous process of application, with IICSI's management team serving as the selection committee. Criteria for selection are the quality and originality of the proposed research, the fit with our project's overall mandate and objectives, the candidate's record of scholarly achievement, and his/her ability to benefit from the activities associated with the project.

Postdoctoral fellows will be eligible for competitive research stipends, logistical assistance for relocation, office space equipped with state-of-the-art computers, access to the services of the host institution (library, etc), and administrative, placement, and research assistance as needed. In return, fellows are expected to pursue the research project submitted in their application, to participate in our project’s research activities (colloquia, seminars, institutes), and to present their work in progress in the context of our project’s seminars and workshops.

Applicants should have completed a PhD at the time of application (to be conferred by November 1, 2014). Electronic applications are welcome, provided that original hard copies of transcripts and reference letters are submitted by mail by the postmark deadline. Notification for award: June 2014.

Applicants must submit ALL of the following by the postmark deadline (April 30, 2014):

  • Curriculum vitae
  • One scholarly paper or publication written in the course of the last three years
  • A statement (1,500 words or less) describing the proposed research project
  • Two confidential letters of reference (sent directly to us before the deadline)
  • Graduate Transcript(s)
  • Indication of preferred location, if applicable (University of Guelph, McGill, Memorial, Regina), and language proficiencies

Send applications to:

Dr. Ajay Heble
International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation
042 MacKinnon Building
University of Guelph
Guelph, Ontario, Canada N1G 2W1

For more information or to email applications, contact:

ICASP McGill's call for contributions deadline has been extended to March 20th, 2014!

Colloquium to be held June 10-12, 2014, in Montréal.

The Colloquium “Improvisation and the Politics of Everyday Sounds: Cornelius Cardew and Beyond” takes the work of British composer Cornelius Cardew (1936-1981) as a point of departure for a reflection on the aesthetic, ethical, and political entailments of forms of art and activism that engage with improvisatory creative practices. In his work with groups such as the Scratch Orchestra and AMM, Cornelius Cardew explored modes of music making that emphasized social and aesthetic notions of freedom and gave pride of place to improvisatory, intermedial, and experimental poietic procedures, among them the use of chance, the recourse to everyday sounds, the exploration of unconventional music notation techniques, the incorporation of non-trained performers to music making processes, and the interplay of different forms of aesthetic perception and representation.

More details here!

Brain On Jazz: Novel Study Puts Pianists In MRI Scanners To Show Link Between Music, Language, and Improvisation

A new study reveals what many in the ICASP network already know: that jazz, the brain, language, and improvisation are interrelated. As the research in the study shows, "some of the brain's language regions enable that musical back-and-forth much like a spoken conversation."

To read more about the study, click here.


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.



Featured Jazz Club:

Image from here.
Rockhead's Paradise (Montreal)

Rather than the usual artist of the month, we thought we'd mix things up with a feature on one of Canada’s legendary jazz clubs, Rockhead’s Paradise. 

Rockhead’s Paradise—along with other jazz clubs in Montreal, such as The Nemderoloc Club [colored men spelled backwards], The Boston Café, and The Terminal Club—helped established Montreal’s reputation as “Harlem of the North” (See Gilmore, Swinging in Paradise; Winks, The Blacks in Canada [332-35]; Williams, Road to Now [44]; Israel, “Montreal Negro Community” [189-95]). Of all the jazz clubs in Montreal throughout the twentieth century, Rockhead’s Paradise, located at 1254 St. Antoine Street, was the most popular one until it closed its doors permanently in 1980 when it was sold and then shortly thereafter demolished, followed by the creation of the Ville Marie Expressway overhead which solidified the club’s demise (Brownstein). During its fifty year tenure, numerous renowned jazz players were drawn to Rockhead’s Paradise, including Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong, Fats Waller, Cab Calloway, Billie Holiday, Ella Fitzgerald, Leadbelly, Nina Simone, Dizzy Gillespie, and Sammy Davis Jr., among countless others.

The three-story club was founded in 1928 by Rufus Rockhead, a Jamaican-born railway porter who was able to draw some of the biggest names in blues and jazz during Montreal’s Sin City heyday from the 1930s to the 1950s (Brownstein). Rufus Rockhead opened the club with the income he earned on the rails as a porter, and then later as a bootlegger allegedly running booze for Al Capone (see Mathieu, North 71, 201, 240). Initially Rufus Rockhead opened the operation at the Mountain Tavern on St. Antoine and Mountain St. with hotel rooms on the top floor; eventually, he converted the second and third floors into a cabaret (Miller 172). Even though African Canadians were unable to get liquor licenses, Rufus used what sway he had among friends to help him get the license. After three years of running the Mountain Tavern, Rufus parlayed the tavern into the jazz club Rockhead’s Paradise (Gazette). The club was located in Little Burgundy, an area known for producing talented jazz musicians, most notably Oscar Peterson and Oliver Jones. While the club was particularly popular—given its long tenure and the caliber of jazz musicians who played there—many white Canadians felt that jazz and the crowd it attracted, “jeopardized white Canadians’ morality and white womanhood in particular” (6), as Sarah-Jane Mathieu contends through historical documentation in her book, North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955.

During its last years of operation, the club was the home of Rising Sun (Soleil Levant), which was a jazz, blues, and reggae club (Miller 170, 173). In 2012, 32 years after Rockhead’s Paradise was demolished, pianist Billy Georgette organized “Rockhead’s Last Jam” to honour the now legendary iconic jazz figure and club along with some of Montreal’s luminary jazz musicians and stalwarts who got their start at the Little Burgundy jazz club, including: Oliver Jones, Billy Georgette, Norman Marshall Villeneuve, Leroy Mason, Glenn Bradley, and Richard Parris, among other notables, for what was perhaps their last collective jam (Brownstein). As Georgette recalls: “It was quite the place. I believe it was the first club owned by a black in Montreal and maybe in all of Canada. And the tavern was reputed to have the longest bar in the city at 75 feet. There was so much going on at the time. Not just the music. I remember the hookers, who were almost motherly to us. There was so much excitement there. But then modern construction just wiped it all off the map. It’s such a pity” (Brownstein).

Check out the trailer for Burgundy Jazz, about jazz in Montreal, and which features Rockhead’s Paradise:

And, check out 
Norman Marshall Villeneuve – Rockhead’s Paradise 1963 – Jam (with pictures of the club):

Works Cited

Brownstein, Bill. The Gazette. June 28, 2012.

Gilmore, John. Swinging in Paradise: The Story of Jazz in Montreal. Quebec: Vehicule Press (Dossier Quebec Series), 1988. Print.

Mathieu, Sarah-Jane. North of the Color Line: Migration and Black Resistance in Canada, 1870-1955. USA: North Carolina UP, 2010. 71; 201; 240. Print. 

Miller, Mark. The Miller Companion to Jazz in Canada and Canadians in Jazz. Canada: The Mercury Press. 172. Print. 

The Gazette. Montreal, Sat., Jan. 20, 1979.

Williams, Dorothy. The Road to Now: A History of Blacks in Montreal. Quebec: Vehicule Press (Dossier Quebec Series), 1997. 44. Print. 

Winks, Robin. The Blacks in Canada: A History. 2nd Ed. Montreal: McGill-Queen’s UP, 2000. 332-35. Print.

CFP: 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium: Sounding Futures

University of Guelph, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, September 3-5, 2014 

“The future is always here in the past”
-Amiri Baraka, “Jazzmen: Diz & Sun Ra”

The Guelph Jazz Festival, in conjunction with the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, the University of Guelph, and the SSHRC funded International Institute for Critical Studies in Improvisation (IICSI) invites proposals for presentations at our annual three ‐ day international interdisciplinary conference. This year's colloquium will take place September 3rd to 5th as part of the 21st annual Guelph Jazz Festival (September 3-7). It will bring together a diverse range of scholars, creative practitioners, arts presenters, policy makers, and members of the general public. Featuring workshops, panel discussions, keynote lectures, performances, and dialogues among researchers, artists, and audiences, the annual colloquium cuts across a range of social and institutional locations and promotes a dynamic international exchange of cultural forms and knowledges.

In celebration of the centennial of musician, bandleader, and Astro-black philosopher Sun Ra’s arrival on planet earth, and in keeping with Ra’s use of music as a way to envision – and indeed to create – other possible futures, this year’s colloquium asks, What does your future sound like? How might jazz and improvised music offer ways into other and future realities? One of the legacies of Ra’s lifework has been the fusion, in his own performances and compositions, of Egyptian iconography with sounds, texts, and imagery of space travel and technology. The mid-1990s saw Marc Dery and other scholars formalize this aesthetic vision around the term “Afrofuturism.” As Dery has put it, “African American voices have other stories to tell about culture, technology and things to come. If there is an Afrofuture, it must be sought in unlikely places, constellated from far-flung points.” From the Afrofuturism of the Sun Ra Arkestra and the “sonic fiction” of Kodwo Eshun, to the Afro Science fiction of Octavia Butler, to the recent work of artists such as Nicole Mitchell and the works of feminist and other visionary thinkers, to other multiple and hybridized notions of futurity, music and sound have long been vital focal points for social movements and utopian imaginings.

In his Foreword to a special issue on Technologies and Black Music in the Americas of the Journal of the Society for American Music, George E. Lewis asks, “what can the sound tell us about the Afrofuture? How can we develop a new theoretical and descriptive language that both complements and exceeds the purview of the terms ‘music,’ ‘sound,’ and ‘listening’”? This year’s colloquium seeks to extend this line of questioning by focusing on the “other stories” that might be sounded about the future through jazz and improvisatory artistic practices. Possible topics might include (but are not limited to) the place of Afrofuturism and other liberatory sono-futurist movements in the historical narrative of jazz and improvised music, the ways in which other artistic mediums (literature, theatre, dance, visual art) grapple with the sound of future-making, how minoritized and subjugated communities embrace creative technologies and future visions in their expressive output and cultural production. We also invite papers and presentations on the lifework of Sun Ra.

We are particularly interested in interdisciplinary work that speaks to both an academic audience and a general public. We welcome presentations in a range of creative and unconventional formats, including but not limited to dance, theatre, spoken word, music, multi-media, and film. What might it be like, for example, to exemplify the sound of the future through concrete samplings of different forms of musical practice that herald new directions in improvised musicking? Please indicate the format of your presentation and any technical or other resources required. We also invite presenters to submit completed versions of their papers to our peer ‐ reviewed journal, Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études critiques en improvisation ( for consideration.

Please send (500 word) proposals (for 15 minute delivery) and a short bio by May 31, 2014 to:
The 2014 Guelph Jazz Festival Colloquium
c/o Dr. Ajay Heble, Artistic Director, The Guelph Jazz Festival. Email:

Download the original call for papers by clicking here.

Institute Director Ajay Heble will be giving a talk, “Rethinking the Places We Look for Knowledge: Improvisation, Partnership, and Social Change,” at the University of Regina on Tuesday April 8th at 7 pm. More details, here.

Call for Papers: Cyphers: Hip Hop and Improvisation 

Critical Studies in Improvisation / Études critiques en improvisation invites submissions for a special issue with the theme “Cyphers: Hip Hop and Improvisation,” guest-edited by Rebecca Caines and Paul Watkins. This special issue of CSI will draw together artists and academics to investigate the crucial role improvisation plays in the international field of Hip Hop, and in the related field of critical Hip Hop studies. We seek contributions from artist/practitioners and from scholars working across the disciplines.
Derek Bailey’s notion of improvisation as being the most practiced, yet the least understood, of all musical activities, is particularly pertinent to the immense and constantly burgeoning field of Hip Hop praxis from around the world. Although most scholars are aware of the integral nature of improvisatory practices in Hip Hop, few critically explore how improvisation is a viable form of analysis in Hip Hop, as well as a model for social change. Improvisation plays a central role in African-American, Hispanic, and Caribbean based Hip Hop practices in the US, and continues to be a core element in Hip Hop music, dance and visual art across the globalized forms of this interdisciplinary art practice. We encourage contributors to pursue new conversations, interventions even, about how we think of improvisation vis-à-vis the larger milieu of Hip Hop. Critical academic essays are encouraged, and the editors also welcome for consideration artist statements, commentaries, reviews, interviews and experimental textual forms. We intend to showcase a variety of live artist performances and invited papers at a launch event for this Special Issue. 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.
Some potential topics include:
  • How do Hip Hop artists combine idiomatic and non-idiomatic improvisation in their work?
  • What artistic, social, and economic pressures face Hip Hop artists who foreground the improvisatory in their work?
  • How does improvisation in Hip Hop reflect, develop, or contrast the social practices and pressing political issues of the communities in which it appears?
  • What role does improvisation play in the creation of academic disciplinarities and “Hip Hop pedagogies” both inside and outside educational institutions? 
  • What role does improvisation in Hip Hop play in the recontextualization of cultural and intercultural identity?           
  • How do Indigenous communities across the world improvise, translate, transform, and indigenize the US form of Hip Hop arts practice?           
  • Since Hip Hop has often traditionally been described as “noise” by many conservatives and academics who uncritically profile Hip Hop artists and fans of all genders, races, and classes, might dissonance compel us to think about how disruption can function as a model for critical practice?
  • What are the relationships between technology, accessibility, and Hip Hop culture?
Submissions should be 4000-6000 words (shorter essays may also be considered at the discretion of the editors). Please submit completed essays to the journal website by April 16, 2014. 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. 

To read more of the CFP and to learn about Critical Studies in Improvisation, click here.
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:

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We’ll all be more innovative if we participate in collaborative webs and share more openly. Creativity is always a collaboration and it’s always a form of improvisation, written large in the social world.

– Keith Sawyer