Thursday, March 15, 2007

Editorial: The Art Of Improvisation

One of the little bits of music that I have myself passionate about is the art of the ad-lib, coming up with something spontaneously within the contours of an established song and attempting to add to it. Now most commonly, people think of instrumentation in terms of improv and I guess this would be correct. But the type I tend to focus on is the vocal improvisation.

I tend to think there are two types of vocal improvisation. The first would be the musical type, which would include the melismas and scatting that so many are fond of. The more difficult of the two would be the type that actually attempts to add new lyrics. I'm just basically sounding too academic for what amounts to some extra words. But when an artist does it well, it just adds so much.

Now the best purveyors of the tradition spring forth from the southern Black American style of music. Blues and gospel are the only areas where ad-libbing is a requisite component of any successful artist in those feels. And usually in both types. Rhythm and blues used to be a more consistent source of great improvisers but as the music moved away from its blues and gospel roots, that fell to the background. Still the melismas and such were emphasized, but that organic quality that existed that let people come up with their own words has faded to the background.

All hope is not lost. Still some hope exists. R. Kelly is most indicative of this but even in his modern take on R & B, he is most reminiscent of the old artists. A casanova battling demons all while maintaining musical genius. In When A Woman's Fed Up towards the end, he abandons the chorus in favor of telling you some obscure details regarding his lost love. "Raised in Illinois, just outside of Chigago." A simple line but its addition and spontanaeity add to the total effect of the song. The desperation and despair he advances throughout the song is captured in that little line. If the song was an essay, he found his conclusion.

That idea of performance and relating an event, no matter how petty or small, seems to be absent from most music today. That organic feel is absent more often than not. But thank God for the Kellys, Dave Hollisters, and whoever that even try to do what their hearts move them to do.

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