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Improv Notes: November 2013


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IMprov Notes:
News of the Moment       November 2013

Thinking Spaces: Thursday November 21, 2013

The next meeting of the Thinking Spaces Reading Group and Speakers Series will occur Thursday November 21, from 8-10 pm in the Mackinnon building on the University of Guelph campus in room 103. We will continue our theme of “Improvisation and Community Music Making” by exploring the topic “Improvisational Methods and Choral Communities.” We will be joined by Christine Duncan (vocal improviser and conductor of the Element Choir), Dr. Gerard Yun (improviser, choral conductor at Conrad Grebel University College and Wilfred Laurier University, and Artistic Director of the East-West concert series), and Gary Diggins (improviser, and co-director of the Sotto Voce vocal workshops). For a portion of the session, via Skype, we will be joined by Kathy Kennedy (improvising vocalist, director of Choeur Maha and global HMMM events).

For more on: Christine Duncan, see here.
Dr. Gerard Yun, see here.
Gary Diggins, see here.
Kathy Kennedy, see here.

Anyone who would like to prepare for the discussion can peruse the websites above and/or explore the discussion thread here.

The group is free and open to all.

If you have comments and/or questions about the Reading Group and Speakers Series, please contact Chris Tonelli or Lauren Levesque at: or


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.


“There’s Something About the Look”: Thomas King in Conversation with Dionne Brand

Thomas King is one of Canada’s most prolific writers: a renowned novelist, a broadcaster (The Dead Dog Café Comedy Hour), a screenwriter, a onetime NDP electoral candidate for Guelph in 2008, an astonishing photographer, and the first person of aboriginal descent to be chosen to give the Massey Lectures (in 2003). His latest book, The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America (2012), shares his extended reflection on Native identity through history, humour, and King’s incredible personal meditations. As King says (and which is quoted in nearly every essay about his work), “the truth about stories is that that’s all we are” (The Truth about Stories 2). Given his ability to balance so many creative forms of expression, it is fair to call King a consummate improviser par excellence. He is indeed a master storyteller with a unique ability to connect various relations together to create a complex weaving that animates his active desire to find moral harmony in an often-inharmonious world. As King explains, the First Nations term “all my relations” is “an encouragement for us to accept the responsibilities we have within this universal family by living in a harmonious and moral manner” (All my Relations ix)—a reminder of the responsibility we have to our families, the natural world, and (by extent) our fellow human beings. This view of the world is one that brings about change through actions, and works towards building a better future; there are two choices: “a world marked by competition or a world determined by co-operation” (Stories 25). And while King is best known as a storyteller and novelist, he is not as well known, although perhaps he should be, for his ability to tell narratives through photography.

Before King became a writer and an academic, he was telling stories through photography, working in the 1960s in a commercial studio in Auckland, New Zealand, and then for Australian Consolidated Press, further developing his skills after arriving in Canada in 1980, eventually capturing much of the history of the Guelph Jazz Festival through his photos (Martinez 27-30). King’s photographic chronicling of the history of jazz and improvised music in Guelph tells a story about the nature of the music, as well as the power of inspiring collaborations. King provides an acute behind-the-scenes perspective of the Guelph Jazz Festival: his photography ties together the various “relations” of the festival, and his candid portraits of artists are stories unto themselves. In this month’s Oral History, Dionne Brand (ICASP Advisory Board Member and a master-storyteller in her own right) sits down with the Governor General Award-winning author Thomas King to discuss King’s photo exhibition, “Sound Check: The Jazz Photography of Thomas King.” Brand and King discuss King’s early career as a photographer before he achieved fame as a writer, his approach to photography, the techniques he employs, and the background to some of the photos highlighted in the exhibition. In Fall, 2013, the exhibit at the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre included selections from his 20 years of photographing the Guelph Jazz Festival. King's photos were also displayed at the Boarding House for the Arts during the Guelph Jazz Festival & Colloquium, 2013. The exhibition catalogue was also published in Fall 2013. It contains a jointly written foreword by Ajay Heble and Dawn Owen, an interview with Thomas King by Dionne Brand (featured here), an essay by Mauricio Martinez, and a biographical profile by Christine Bold. Get your copy today at MSAC and enjoy the interview.

Works Cited

Heble, Ajay, and Owen, Dawn. Sound Check: The Jazz Photography of Thomas King. Guelph: MSAC, Guelph Jazz Festival, and ICASP. 2013. Print.

King, Thomas (Ed). All My Relations: An Anthology of Contemporary Canadian Native Fiction. Toronto: McClellan & Stewart Ltd, 1990. Print.

--- The Truth About Stories: A Native Narrative. Toronto: Dead Dog Café Productions INC and CBC, 2003. Print.


The interview transcript originally appeared in Sound Check: The Jazz Photography of Thomas King. Edited by Ajay Heble and Dawn Owen. Published by the Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, 2013. The full transcript is available here.

Quote of the Month:

I’ve been interested in showing that I’m aware that there’s a big world out there, and that all of us are influenced by many different parts of that world. I’m going to tie this back into jazz and improvisation, and so on, by saying that I think that maybe one of the strongest appeals of jazz as an art form—for many of us—is that it is automatically at its roots: cosmopolitan, multicultural, polyphonic, and all of those notions of diversity and diverse engagements are important to me. I like the idea of a collage; I like the idea of the cubist juxtapositions of different things, and so on. I like being able to look out at the larger world and find aspects of it in terms of other arts, other artists, writers, as well as other persons and their particular philosophies or ways of doing things, or ways of speech especially.”
-George Elliott Clarke in conversation with Paul Watkins and Katherine McLeod

George Elliott Clarke is a Canadian poet and playwright. His work largely explores and chronicles the experience and history of the Black Canadian community of Nova Scotia, creating a cultural geography that Clarke refers to as “Africadia.” In 2003 Clarke wrote the jazz libretto Québécité at the request of the Guelph Jazz Festival, with music composed by Juno award-winning pianist D.D. Jackson. His most recent book of poetry is Red.
On April 27th, 2012, accompanied by bassist David Lee, Clarke delivered a reading and interview entitled, “Your bass sounds like a typewriter” at the TransCanada Institute at the University of Guelph. The event was presented in partnership with Improvisation, Community, and Social Practice. You can watch the event and read the transcript as a featured Oral History.

Featured Artist:
Wadada Leo Smith

All Photos by Paul Watkins.
Wadada Leo Smith (USA)

Wadada Leo Smith is a trumpeter and mercurial composer working at the edges of avant-garde jazz and free improvisation. Perhaps the rightful heir to Miles Davis, Smith is known for his introverted style of playing and his incredible use of space. In the 1960s he gained experience performing in R&B groups, later playing in the military, and in 1967 he was a member of Chicago’s AACM, going on to form his own group, New Dalta Ahkri, playing with such free jazz luminaries as Henry Threadgill, Anthony Davis, Oliver Lake, and Anthony Braxton, among others. He was one of three finalists for the 2013 Pulitzer Prize for Music for the incredible American civil rights-era odyssey, Ten Freedom Summers (2012).

Smith's Golden Quartet at the Guelph Jazz Festival.

William Parker introduced Smith and his quartet. The two jazz luminaries share an embrace.

At 273 minutes the four-disc box set, Ten Freedom Summers, is an epic free jazz/classical/astral work that rightfully belongs in the jazz lexicon alongside Max Roach’s Freedom Now Suite, or Ellington’s Black, Brown, and Beige. Ten Freedom Summers evokes the civil rights movement through a series of freedom motifs and dedications, including a piece dedicated to Emmett Till, the Dred Scott case, the black church, Rosa Parks, and moves forwards (or backwards) to September 11th. Smith can shift the focus on an entire improvising ensemble at the sudden sound of a single note. While Ten Freedom Summers is meticulously composed, Smith wrote improvised elements into his masterwork, which could be heard by Smith and his Golden Quartet during their performance at this year’s 20th Anniversary Guelph Jazz Festival (GJF) in moments of atomized energy. Sections of Ten Freedom Summers were performed at the GJF with Smith’s Golden Quartet of Anthony Davis on piano, John Lindberg on double bass, and Anthony Brown on drums.

Wadada Leo Smith and Pharoah Sanders.

Have a listen to "Martin Luther King, Jr." by Wadada Leo Smith from Ten Freedom Summers:

Also, check out the Golden Quartet's "Rosa Parks" (excerpt), from the album Tabligh:

Spirit(s) Improvise: A Symposium on Improvisation and Spirituality

 Spirit(s) Improvise: A Symposium on Improvisation and Spirituality
When? Friday December 6, 2013
Where? Macdonald Stewart Art Centre, 358 Gordon Street, Guelph, ON

All events are free and open to the public.

Overview of the Symposium
"Spirit(s) Improvise" brings together distinguished scholars, musicians and spiritual practitioners to explore the relationship between improvisation and spirituality. How can improvisation and spirituality, broadly defined as frameworks through which people imagine and enact alternative ways of being in the world, contribute to our understandings of imagination and creativity, community and space, and transcendence and hope? Join us for an animated discussion and performance on these topics!

For upcoming updates, speaker bios, and presentation abstracts click here.


June 5-8, 2014 

Cross-cultural Improvisation III

Hosted jointly by the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and Mannes College The New School for Music.

The International Society for Improvised Music is happy to announce its seventh festival conference and welcome proposals for performances and presentations. Continuing its theme of Cross-cultural Improvisation that guided recent events at the University of Michigan and York College/Roulette, the upcoming event will bring together musicians from disparate cultures to perform together and share ideas about the challenges and exciting opportunities inherent in improvising across traditions. Hosted jointly by the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music and Mannes College The New School for Music, the event will enable ISIM to direct its global vision not only toward the professional improvised music world but also to the field of musical training in which recognition of the need for improvisatory experience for classical and other musicians is steadily on the rise.  In addition to featuring leading creative artists from diverse cultures, the event will welcome visionaries in musical study who are making headway in this endeavor to share their insights about the road ahead for the field. 

To read more about this CFP, click

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



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.

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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There is a curious yet enormously fruitful duality in the way that improvisation plays on our expectations and perspectives.

– Tracey Nicholls