Please Explain: Jazz Improvisation

Friday, May 01, 2009

Improvisation is one of the most important aspects of Jazz, but it's not as easy as it sounds. Jazz pianist Bill Charlap breaks down improvisation and gives a special live performance.


Bill Charlap

Comments [18]

F. Gominho from Huntington, NY

Great piece on Jazz Improvisation. Leornard, keep up the good work. After all, Jazz and Blues are the original American art forms.

May. 08 2009 11:39 AM
Bert Konowitz from Teachers College Columbia University

Bill is great. Where to begin improv ? Teachers College Columbia University Music Improv Camp for Middle and High Schools students, week of July 24. Check site :

Call 516-946-8296

It won't help you to play like Bill right now, but think about the future

May. 06 2009 09:57 PM
Allison from New Jersey

Great show - thanks so much for addressing this interesting topic. There is a very good music camp for teens dedicated to the art and skills of music improvisation here in NYC. The Music Improv Camp at Teachers College Columbia University runs July 20-24. They have a Web site -

May. 02 2009 08:17 AM
Sandra from east village, NYC

this was the best show I've ever heard, absolutely terrific. thank you.

May. 01 2009 12:42 PM
Burroughs from Harlem

As an African American, I have lived and still live with racism in this country.

It was a shame that your guest discussed what Black Jazz artists have contributed to this artform absent any commentary on how they suffered the horrors of racism. More, inexplicably, how living under such conditions could not have influenced their creativity.

Race consideration is still verboten even in the high arts.

May. 01 2009 12:42 PM
Burroughs from Harlem

directly influenced their creativity. Why no mention of this?

May. 01 2009 12:39 PM
G. Giraldo from Harlem

Sounds like Improvisation is a lot like Latin dancing. two people within a structure changing the rhythm and communicating new combinations of steps but always arriving at some point or another back to the basic step structure

May. 01 2009 12:38 PM
Amy from Manhattan

I'm glad Bill Charlap mentioned Max Roach as one of the greatest improvisers. I heard him in the '70s at Blues Alley in DC, & he played a solo piece on the high-hat cymbals...& nothing else. With drumsticks, brushes, & his fingers, he got sounds out of those 2 metal plates I didn't know were possible. I don't know if it was entirely improvised or how much of a framework he started with, but it was amazing!

May. 01 2009 12:38 PM
Chicago Listener

Is what Cecil Taylor plays "improvisation" or should we call it something else? In other words, I think of improvising on a theme, but if there is no theme or melody what is it besides just music? I think Taylor would say that the whole piece of music is the theme, or something like that.

May. 01 2009 12:36 PM
Eric Forman from Brooklyn, NY

Fantastic segment - Nice work! Can Bill Charlap recommend any jazz piano teachers for a classically trained pianist in New York?

May. 01 2009 12:34 PM
David from Manhattan

Is there a point in improvisation where the intellectual part (knowing what/how you are playing) gives way to the key emotional piece of improvisation? This is a fascinating program.

May. 01 2009 12:31 PM
Chicago Listener

Who are your guest's favorite groups from Blue Note and Impulse in the 1960s?

May. 01 2009 12:30 PM
yh from brooklyn

Yes, many thanks to Leonard and Bill for the program. This demystifies, but also re-mystifies the beauty and complexity of what happens in the mind of the improviso! Thank you! It's quite fun to hear the process of progression.

May. 01 2009 12:29 PM
stanley dorn from g village

Thanks for having Bill Charlap on - he's a great musician and an articulate teacher. I'm disappointed by your willingness to interrupt him in the middle of an explanation and direct the discussion.

May. 01 2009 12:25 PM
Cano Rojas

From a non musician music/jazz lover. Many thanks for the amazing class...

May. 01 2009 12:24 PM
Steve Palmieri from Oakland, NJ

I heard Bill play at a small club in PA several years ago. I needed to use the bathroom and while standing in front of the urinal, Bill walks in to relieve himself. There were the two of us having a whiz while discussing the merits of mixo-sharp four scales versus the "target pitch" approach...only musicians would do this and not find it in the least out-of-the-ordinary. He's a great player who listens at least as well as he plays, and that's saying something.

May. 01 2009 12:21 PM
Chicago Listener

Does your guest have any comments on someone like Mal Waldron? He played many of the same songs for decades but, I think, always brought something fresh to his performances.

Or maybe comment on Charlie Mingus who, I understand, pushed his band mates relentlessly to explore and improvise.

May. 01 2009 12:21 PM
Jeff Putterman from Queens

Thank you WNYC for this broadcast. Bill Charlap is one of our jazz treasures, and hearing him explain what a pianist -- or any musician -- does when he/she improvises is a treat.

I particularly like what he says about phrasing being exactly what a good singer does with the lyrics of a particular song. As Bill knows, this is what Lester Young meant when he said he could not play a ballad if he did now know the words!!!


May. 01 2009 12:16 PM

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