Dissertation Index

Author: Michaelsen, Garrett

Title: Analyzing Musical Interaction in Jazz Improvisations of the 1960s

Institution: Indiana University

Begun: August 2011

Completed: July 2013


Collaborative practices of music making abound in jazz improvisation. Nearly every jazz performance involves the coordination of numerous individuals in a dynamic group environment. Many music-theoretical approaches to jazz improvisation, however, have emphasized the individual contributions of the soloist. To shift attention to collective dimensions of jazz improvisation, I propose an approach to group improvisation that takes interaction and exchange as crucial components of music making. I construe interaction as the process by which one player intervenes in the unfolding performance of another. Their processes of “intervention” produce projections of musical continuations in the subsequent musical content or character of the other performers. An analyst may interpret the utterances of individual musicians as converging (projecting similar continuations) or diverging (projecting dissimilar continuations).

After discussing the conception of interaction from the moment-based and player-to-player influenced level, I turn to three expanded “domains” of interactional activity. The first, musical referents, includes the influence pre-improvisational materials, such as tunes, arrangements, and prior performances, have on the performative actions of musicians. Next, I examine the impacts of musical roles (horns, bassist, drummer, and pianist) and functions (soloing, comping, and keeping time). Finally, I explore the real-time demands of jazz style, particularly its fundamental uncertainty about the music’s future state and the ways in which style can motivate interactional dimensions of improvisation. In my discussion of these three domains, I draw musical examples primarily from the Miles Davis quintet’s influential recording Live at the Plugged Nickel.

The dissertation concludes with two analyses of complete performances from an intriguing piano-trio recording Money Jungle by Duke Ellington, an infamous album for the at-times-prickly relationships it exhibits between the performers. In my analyses, I “improvisationally” shift between different musical aspects and interactional domains in order to fashion an analytical narrative of their interactional projections and resultant outcomes.

Keywords: Jazz, Improvisation, Interaction, Miles Davis, Duke Ellington



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