a practitioner of improvised music I am often concerned by the difficulty in locating
journals, scholarly research, and academic curricula dedicated to the fields of improvised
musics. Not only is it a task to get one's hands on these articles, but more often then
not, many of the articles that surface are rather journalistic in their approach--which,
for the most part does not allow the improvisers to really articulate concerns, visions,
and political ideas embedded in or surrounding musical contexts because "good"
journalism tends to focus on the romanticization of personal anecdotes to sell magazines.
Besides the apparent lack of available literature, perhaps it is
improvisers themselves who are resisting the emergence of discourses. Speaking from my own
experience, during rehearsals I occasionally stop playing in order to discuss the current
music or experience. Although responses differ, many musicians express discomfort when
playing stops and talking starts.
It may be that this is a question of gender, given that many of my
ensemble experiences are with men. Of course, there are other possible sources of this
resistance to discussion. For some, speaking about improvisation constitutes a betrayal of
the gatekeepers of the practice, or of its practitioners. For others, there is a
skepticism and mistrust about academicism.
Certainly no single answer can speak to the uniqueness of each
individual's reticence, or provide and explanation for any discomfort. These attitudes,
however, have made me question whether I was alone in thinking that "talking
music" played an important role in advancing vital information about the art of
I do wish to counter some of the more dominant naive mythologies
that suggest that there is nothing to talk about regarding the subject of improvised music
traditions or that improvised music just happens. Thus, my own need to discover others--
practitioners, philosophers, critical and political theorists who also shared a desire to
exchange histories, theories, ideas, perceptions, and personal experiences beyond sonic
articulation itself--provided the spark that ignited the Improvising Across Borders
Symposium. I soon realized that my colleagues Michael Dessen, Jason Robinson, Sean
Griffin, and Professor George E. Lewis, among others also shared my concerns, so we
organized ourselves in preparation for the Symposium.
Along with over one hundred other participants in the weekend
event, my colleagues and I quickly realized that we were not alone with our thoughts and
that there indeed existed diverse, and vital communities that just needed an invitation to
get together. Since I share many of LaDonna Smith's wonderful insights, and memorable
highlights of the symposium, I will not provide a review. However, in my opinion the
symposium is not intended to be a one time event and I hope that the participants who were
from diverse backgrounds socially, economically, racially and culturally, will organize
themselves to create even stronger presences in their communities.
Michael Dessen has already started a web-site at the following
in the hope of fostering the creation of a global improvisers network. We invite those who
attended, those reading this article, and any other enthusiasts, to visit the site and
join this list-serve.
For me, helping people become aware of the embodiment of their own
creative spirit articulated through music, among other things, is important for the
survival of healthy people. I also believe that creating bodies of literature to include
critical, analytical and experiential writings about improvisation will assist audiences
in understanding the interactive nature, complexity and necessity of improvisation in
their lives and communities.
Although one can not overlook the political, racial, and cultural
barriers that have acted to silence improvising communities, perhaps it has been a certain
unwillingness on the part of practitioners themselves to speak up and out for improvised
music traditions that have placed these musics at the margins of twentieth century music
and music education. Fortunately, community organizations such as the AACM, the Bay Area
Improvising Musicians and other improvising networks; the diverse music calendars from
cities like Chicago, Seattle, Toronto, Montréal, Vancouver, New York, and Boston as well
as academic institutions that include improvisation in their curriculums such as: the
University of California, San Diego, Bard College, Mills College, Wesleyan, and York
University, are together changing and challenging old paradigms and myths about