The magic and mystery of improvisation. If you took piano lessons as a child and were taught to play the classics, the idea of improvising music seems extraordinarily difficult. How do you know what to play next? Celebrated jazz pianist and composer Vijay Iyer lets us into the secret of how he goes about extemporizing and plays live in the studio. Adding their thoughts are young Indian writer Samhita Arni who uses one of India's great epic tales as a basis for her verbal improvisation, and leading London psychoanalyst Stephen Grosz.
Photo: Vijay Iyer improvising on the piano (BBC)
One of the world's leading jazz pianists, Vijay Iyer, says it’s time to de-mystify improvisation: the popular image of improvisation in music is that it’s somehow created from scratch every time, without prior knowledge. But in fact, in order to improvise well, and especially if you are playing with other people, you need to have internalised a lot of musical structures, harmonic progressions and other useful structural constraints first, and only then you can let your imagination go free.
Samhita Arni has been re-writing Indian epics since she was a child. Her children’s version of the Mahabharata was published when Samhita was still in her teens and it was followed by Sita’s Ramayana, a graphic novel developed in collaboration with Patua artist Moyna Chitrakar. Her latest variation on the story of Rama’s wife Sita is a ‘speculative fiction feminist thriller’, set in the 21st century. Samhita says that every new generation finds their own way of understanding and re-telling the classics: you take the story and improvise a new take on it, as you do with a jazz standard.
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