We are always and constantly improvising; improvisation is one of the ways we experience, grow, and how we survive and how the people of our history have survived—to improvise is to create from almost nothing, read your environment, and ride the process.
Improvisation is an especially important part of expression in art and music, as many witnessed Steve Prince whom emphasized the process and showed us his improvisatory sketch of our classmate Amina—there was even an excellent display of improvisation between Steve Prince and Herb Smith and his Freedom Trio at the end of the Urban Garden project in the SUNY Geneseo Kinetic Gallery. Steve Prince understands the power of art and improvisation, this is especially the case since he is from New Orleans, a city of jazz and improvisation and a storyteller, aware of the difficulties people have struggled with in the United States. One particular moment I would bring up is the story Steve Prince told during the Kitchen Talk, of his grandmother hiding his mother under her dress—this was the inspiration for the six-legged woman in his piece Sow.
An extremely important figure who talks frequently about improvisation and jazz is Wynton Marsalis, a Jazz and classical trumpet player from New Orleans, Louisiana. Wynton Marsalis, a member of the New Orleans community and another individual who voices his awareness of the struggles the African American community has had to deal with and improvisation along, if anybody can talk about the importance of improvisation.
Beyond the experience we gain in the arts with Improvisation, it is extremely important to recognize that people also often must improvise when they are placed in unfamiliar or unfair circumstances, perhaps this would be an African American being confronted by a corrupt officer in modern times or an enslaved person being brought to a new land or someone being followed on the street. Whatever the situation, we have the inherent ability of improvisation so that we can handle these situations. One individual I would like to focus on is Wynton Marsalis and his explanation of improvisation in jazz and its deep roots in the African American community.
Improvisation is an essential part of jazz music and the freedom of expression possible in jazz; each improvisatory moment is an opportunity for your voice and the band’s voice to be heard. Alongside the ability to voice one individuals voice in jazz improvisation, there is the ability, and if anything, necessity that everyone interacts together and voice themselves together in collaboration; collaboration is another essential part of jazz. Marsalis also states that there is power in voicing one’s opinion, but there is also importance in how they voice themselves and respond to their environment, perhaps they will speak softly or loudly in order to be heard—Wynton demonstrates with Victor Goines in this video: https://wyntonmarsalis.org/videos/view/improvisation-masterclass-in-marciac-2007-part-ii
This use of improvisation is much like several of the moments in our past where African American Civil Rights leaders were forced to improvise in order to project their voice and frustrations, my prime example being Rosa Parks—of course, the improvisation in jazz is not as intense as these historical moments, or even the moments happening right now where people are being judged and placed into certain unfamiliar situations because of their background.
Wynton Video on Improvisation
Improvisation is an inherent gift, we must take and continue to develop, which has allowed us the liberties of self-expression and also allowed us survival in dangerous and unfamiliar situations—the human ability to think quickly and create an answer from little to nothing is extremely commendable; the efforts of the African Americans who dealt with such unfamiliar and unfair circumstances with improvisation and then brought that improvisation to music and art is even more commendable.