William Day on Jazz Improvisation


[Posted by BR]

I’ve just read an absolutely wonderful essay on jazz improvisation by William Day (Philosophy, Le Moyne College), and in case I’m not the only one who wasn’t aware of this piece, I wanted take a moment to recommend it here. If the idea of an essay that seamlessly integrates references to Wittgenstein, Cavell, Emerson, Steve Lacy, and Thelonious Monk (among others) intrigues you, then you’ve got to check Day’s essay out. It’s one of the most suggestive things I’ve ever read on how to think about musical improvisation, and I just hope Day ends up writing more on the topic.

The essay is entitled “Knowing as Instancing: Jazz Improvisation and Moral Perfectionism,” and it was published in the Spring 2000 issue of the Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism. Below is a preview of its first page: take a look at it, and once you do, I’m sure you’ll want to read the rest. Prof. Day has made his essay available for download on his Academia.edu webpage, so whether or not you have subscription access to the JAAC, you can obtain the full-text of the piece by clicking here.

On the 8th page of Day’s piece, he discusses (and attributes special importance to) a musical passage that occurs about two minutes into Lennie Tristano’s recording of “C Minor Complex.” I’ve created an audio clip of that passage, which you can listen to using the SoundCloud player below. The full track (well worth listening to) is available on this album:

Day also refers to a conversation the soprano saxophonist Steve Lacy had with Terry Gross, on her public radio show, Fresh Air. If you’d like to hear that interview, please click here.


Audio clip from Lennie Tristano’s “C Minor Complex”

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