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Studying music makes your brain more efficient, study reveals

Studying music makes your brain more efficient, study reveals

According to a new study, musicians and people who are bilingual have trained their brains into being more efficient.

studying music

Researchers at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute found musicians and bilingual people used fewer brain resources when carrying out a memory test.

The study, published in the journal Annals of the New York Academy of Sciences, found that people with a musical and bilingual background activated different parts of their brain and showed less brain activity while carrying out a task than people who hadn’t had formal music training.

Music lessons make children smarter, new study reveals

Author Dr Claude Alain, a senior scientist at Baycrest’s Rotman Research Institute and a professor at the University of Toronto’s Institute of Medical Science, said: “These findings show that musicians and bilinguals require less effort to perform the same task, which could also protect them against cognitive decline and delay the onset of dementia.

“Our results also demonstrated that a person’s experiences, whether it’s learning how to play a musical instrument or another language, can shape how the brain functions and which networks are used.”

Studies have previously shown that musicians and bilingual people have a better working memory, ability to remember things like a phone number or instructions, and are better at mental arithmetic – but scientists haven’t yet been able to work out why.

In the study, researchers analysed the brains of 41 people aged 19-35. They fell into three categories: English-speaking non-musicians, musicians who only speak English and bilingual people who don’t play a musical instrument.

The participants were asked to identify whether a sound from a musical instrument, the environment or a human was the same, and whether it came from the same direction, as the previous one they heard.

While they identified the sounds, each participant’s brain imagery was analysed.

Musicians remembered the type of sound faster, while both bilinguals and musicians identified its location more accurately than the other group.

Bilinguals performed the same in the first test as those who only spoke one language, but they still showed less brain activity when completing the task.

Dr Alain concluded: “People who speak two languages may take longer to process sounds since the information is run through two language libraries rather than just one.

“During this task, the brains of bilinguals showed greater signs of activation in areas that are known for speech comprehension, supporting this theory.”

Read this article: here.

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A musical Analysis of the Compositions of Bill Evans, Billy Strayhorn and Bill Murray

A musical Analysis of the Compositions of Bill Evans, Billy Strayhorn and Bill Murray

Sheet Music download available in our (YOUR) Library.

Bill Evans’s Background

Regarded as one of the most influential jazz pianists of all time, Bill Evans changed the way jazz piano is played and in the process influenced many of the best jazz pianists of the day including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Hampton Hawes, Steve Kuhn, Alan Broadbent, Denny Zeitlin, Paul Bley, Michel Petrucciani, and countless others. Gene Lees, noted jazz author, called him the most influential pianist of his generation, changing the approach to tone and harmony.1 James Lincoln Collier, another prominent jazz writer, says that Evans had the widest influence of any piano player since 1960.2 Evans rewrote “the language of modern jazz piano, incorporating harmonic devices derived from the music of French

impressionists and forging an ensemble style noted for its complex yet fluid rhythmic interplay.”

When Evans comes up in a jazz related discussion, two things are immediately discussed: his lyrical playing style and his harmonic approach to music. His tone was different and unique at the time when bebop was the reigning jazz style. Even today, Evans is used as a comparison by reviewers of modern day jazz piano recordings. One will regularly read the comment that the piano player being reviewed has been influenced by Bill Evans. Several of his trios are recognized as among the greatest jazz piano trios. He and the members of his trios changed the nature and playing style for piano trios where the members became a collective rather than just performing the traditional roles of piano, bass, and drums. These roles are common in today’s piano trios, but they were very inventive and new at the time Evans began using them.

In addition to being a great pianist, Evans was also a composer. While books, doctorial theses, and numerous articles have been written about Evans and his playing and improvising style, there has been little focus on his compositions and his composing style.

The purpose of a jazz composition is to set the stage for the improvisation that will follow the playing of the head.  Jazz is about improvisation and not just about the composition or written notes. Evans wrote his tunes as a precursor to improvisation, but at the same time he firmly believed that the improvisation was highly dependent on whether or not the original form had something to say. As Harold Danko, a jazz artist, composer, and educator says,

Nowhere can we learn more about the musical language of Bill Evans than from his own compositions.. . . we can gain insight into how he arrived at the musical content through the process of composing. . . over the years, he used his own pieces as learning vehicles for improvising, and the present generation can follow his trail by investigating his very important compositional output.

Influences on Bill Evans.

Compositions are influenced by a person’s background and everything with which an individual comes into contact. This was certainly the case with Bill Evans. Born in Plainfield, New Jersey in 1929, Bill Evans began to study the piano at age six. Later on he also studied the violin and flute, but it was always the piano that interested him the most. Around five, Evans would listen to his older brother Harry’s piano lessons and then play precisely everything covered in the lessons. This led to Evans taking his own piano lessons and practicing as much as three hours each day.

Around seven, Evans also began to play the violin. While this was not his favorite instrument, from playing it, he may have learned how to make the piano sing which became a hallmark of his style. In the liner notes to “Bill Evans: The Complete Riverside Recordings,” Evans says; “Especially, I want my music to sing…it must have that wonderful feeling of singing.” This is an important characteristic of my own compositions and possibly the biggest influence of Evans on me.

From six to thirteen, Evans studied the classical piano repertoire but had no idea how the music was constructed. He won medals for playing Mozart and Schubert, and he also developed an appreciation for Delius, Debussy, Satie, Ravel, Grieg, Rachmaninoff, and Chopin. During this time, he continued to develop his sight reading skills playing only the notes on the page.

Somewhere around twelve he began to play in a high school rehearsal dance band with his brother and discovered the jazz idiom of substituting chords to change the harmony. His sight reading capabilities led to many playing opportunities around Plainfield. Even at this age, he also had a desire to know how the music was constructed and worked on his own to figure out the harmonies of compositions.

After graduating from high school, Evans received a scholarship to study music at Southeastern Louisiana College located fifty miles outside of New Orleans. Peter Pettinger, author of a Bill Evan’s biography, How My Heart Sings, says that this was very instrumental in the development of Evans’s style. In the early 1940s bebop was developing in New York City. Because of age and other things, Evans was not exposed to this style. By going many miles away from his home to study music, he was put in a place that allowed him to develop his own style and not be overly influenced by what was happening with bebop.

At Southeastern, Evans studied the classical piano repertoire. He played the sonatas of Mozart and Beethoven along with works by Schumann, Rachmaninoff, Debussy, Ravel, Gershwin, Villa-Lobos, Khachaturian, and Milhaud. Other composers studied included Johann Sebastian Bach, Chopin, Stravinsky, and Scriabin.

The program for his senior recital follows:

musical analysis bill evans sheet music

His study of classical composers was broad and diverse. He developed tremendous technique which he would use in later life, but it was always about the music not about using his technique to be flashy. For example, he said that playing Bach helped him to gain control over the tone that he would become famous for and to improve his contact with the keyboard.

Evans was very adept at drawing Western European compositional techniques into jazz and there are elements of Bach, Chopin, Debussy, and Ravel in his writing. He was able to take the harmonic connections from Debussy, Satie, and Ravel through Scriabin to Bartók and Milhaud and apply them to jazz. He learned from Debussy and Ravel the ambiguities of tonality, from

Bartók to employ wider chord intervals, and from Milhaud how to use bitonality. The compositional characteristics and techniques that he learned from studying the great classical composers would become evident in his compositions and playing.

The influence on Evans from classical composers can be readily seen in how he viewed them. In 1966 Evans and his brother, Harry, prepared a documentary on the nature of music, jazz, and improvisation. He called jazz the revival of the classical music of the 18th and 19th century when improvisation was common by such masters as Bach, Mozart, and Chopin and lamented improvisations disappearance over the years as more attention has been place on the written music. He felt that these great composers liked the freedom of improvisation. This feeling of freedom was one of the reasons that Evans moved toward jazz rather than becoming a classical concert pianist, but the influence of the great classical masters never left him.

At the same time Evans was studying the great classical composers at Southeastern Louisiana, he was also continuing to play regularly in the New Orleans area with a collegiate trio called the Casuals. He was playing and listening to a very different style of music than he was studying. After serving three years in the army and spending a year at his parent’s home to practice, he decided to enroll in 1955 at the Mannes School of Music in New York City to study composition because he felt that he did not know everything that he needed to know about music. He also looked forward to playing jazz in any place that he could find. All the time he was combining the entire scope of the musical traditions to which he had been exposed and developing his own style.

It was not only classical composers that influenced his playing and ultimately his composing. Bill Evans was a great listener and was able to absorb everything that he heard into his music. He learned from listening to many jazz pianists and jazz musicians. In an interview with the French magazine Jazz Times, Evans says,

From Nat “King” Cole I’d take rhythm and scarcity, from Dave Brubeck a particular voicing, from George Shearing also a voicing but of another kind, from Oscar Peterson a powerful swing, from Earl Hines a sense of structure. Bud Powell has it all, but even from him I wouldn’t take everything.

The biggest jazz piano influence on Evans was Nat “King” Cole. He was particularly enamored with Cole’s pianism, approach to melody, clarity and freshness of ideas, and tone. Another piano player who had a major impact on Evans was Lennie Tristano. While they were different in many ways, Evans identified with Tristano’s logical approach to music and the soundness of his construction. Logical structure is another hallmark of Evans’s compositions. He felt that he needed to build his music from the ground up and structure was very important to him. He wanted to understand the complete structure of a tune and what was happening theoretically.

Other jazz pianists that Evans said influenced him were Horace Silver and Sonny Clark. The jazz pianists previously mentioned represent a wide spectrum of styles and approaches. He also learned from all the jazzmen that he played with and listened to including Miles Davis, Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, and Stan Getz.

Evans incorporated what he wanted into his style and compositions. He was fond of saying that a person is “influenced by hundreds of people and things, and they all show up in his work. To fasten on to any one is ridiculous.” Evans learned from everyone.

Another very important influence on Evans was George Russell. Soon after graduating from Southeastern Louisiana and moving to New York City, he met Russell and subsequently studied and recorded with him. Russell had developed a theoretical work entitled The Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization for Improvisation (for all instruments). The concept is based on Russell’s conviction that the Lydian scale with its raised fourth is more compatible with the tonality of a major scale than the major scale itself. The melodic and harmonic world of George Russell was original and was quickly absorbed by Bill Evans.

These concepts would appear regularly in Evans’s compositions and improvisations. Two examples of this are “Time Remembered,” in which all the major chords contain a #11 indicating the Lydian scale, and “Twelve Tone Tune Two,” where all the chords are major and the instructions to the improviser are to use the Lydian mode on all chords. Evans said that Russell composed pieces that sounded improvised and that one needs to understand all the elements of music theory to do this. One of Evans’s goals was to make his compositions sound spontaneous. The work of Russell was one of the starting points for Evans’s theories about phrasing, harmonic reduction, and the role of harmonic voice leading that were to become the hallmarks of his playing and composing.

Approach to Composition.

While Evans composed many tunes and studied composition, he did not consider himself a composer but thought of himself as a player who composed. In an interview with the Canadian jazz broadcaster Ted O’Reilly in August, 1980, Evans said that he didn’t really function regularly as a composer because a composer should compose everyday and he did not. He went on to say that at one time in his life he was in conflict with whether to follow the road of being a player or a composer and that he had resolved it. While he wanted to do some serious writing, he did not consider himself to be a full-time composer and certainly not more a composer than a player.

Most of what Evans wrote was done for the jazz idiom and in particular for the piano trio.

His compositions were used as the starting point for his improvisations. In the same interview noted above, Evans says that the compositions that he was writing as a Mannes student were in a variety of styles, but that they would not work in his current playing style because they were not designed for the spontaneity that is required in improvising.

How did Evans go about composing? In an interview with Don Bacon in September, 1975, Evans was asked whether or not his compositions were a spontaneous thing or did he spend hours at the piano working them out. Evans replied that he did both. For example, “Peri’s Scope” and “My Bells” just came to his head and he scribbled them down in a manuscript book. At times he would write the harmony first and the melody second as was the case with “Time Remembered.” At other times he sat and worked and worked making changes until he got what he wanted, as was the case with “Turn Out the Stars” and “Waltz for Debby.”

Evans decided on a particular style that was his own and he chose not to change just for the sake of change. Miles Davis reinvented himself regularly, but this was not what Bill Evans wanted to do. He traveled his own path. Once his approach was developed, he was no longer willing to expand his musical horizons, but chose to do a better job on what he liked and more fully explore the components of his style. He played and composed what he wanted to hear. In an interview on Marian McPartland’s “Piano Jazz Series,” Evans said that he did things to please himself and perfect his art. He was not particularly concerned with being popular. If it

happens, it happens. This feeling can also be extended to his compositions. McPartland sums up his approach by saying it must be like “swimming against the tide.”

Several factors are important to understanding his compositions. To begin with they are very logical. While many things may happen in them and they may go through many or all twelve tonal centers, they always return home and the listener hears them as being tonal and certainly not avant-garde although the chord structure may be anything but what is expected.

This was largely due to his structured approach. Evans needed to have a clear and complete understanding of the basic theoretical harmonic structure of anything on which he was working. He was known to spend hours studying the harmonic structure of standards that he wanted to use as part of his repertoire. This same attention to harmony is shown in all of his compositions. He had to be analytical to build things for himself. Structural harmony was a important concept for Evans. A common practice in jazz composition is to write a new melody over someone else’s chord changes. Evans never did this. Everything in his compositions was original and unique.

Bill Evans – Waltz For Debby

Billy Strayhorn’s Background

Throughout most of his career Billy Strayhorn was closely linked with Duke Ellington. While often referred to as Ellington’s assistant, Strayhorn wrote, composed, or updated about forty percent of Ellington’s 1939-1967 repertoire.38 Ellington referred to Strayhorn as his right arm.

. . . any time I was in the throes of debate with myself, harmonically or melodically, I would turn to Billy Strayhorn. We would talk, and then the whole world would come into focus. . . He was not, as he was often referred to by many, my alter ego. Billy Strayhorn was my right arm, my left arm, all the eyes in the back of my head, my brainwaves in his head, and his in mine.

This close association with Ellington made it a challenge for Strayhorn to receive the credit as a composer which he richly deserved. However, he was quite willing to stay in the background and let Ellington receive credit. This is not to take anything away from Duke Ellington who is one of the great American composers of all time. In recent years, research into Strayhorn’s work has solidified his position as a major composer and arranger.

Debate continues on the question of what would the Duke Ellington Orchestra have been like without the contributions of Billy Strayhorn. Bill Reed, in his book Hot From Harlem, comments that without Strayhorn’s contribution the Ellington legend that we know would probably not exist. On the other hand, critics such as James Lincoln Collier and Leonard Feather have slightly different viewpoints as to his importance. One Strayhorn scholar, Andrew Homzy, Associate Professor of Music at Concordia University in Montreal, says that the relationship between Ellington and Strayhorn was similar to the relationship between Haydn and Mozart, “where you have the master establishing a style, and then the youngster coming in absorbing that, expanding on it, and taking it in another direction—and then the youngster dying, and the master picking up what the youngster had taught.” In any case, more scholars and critics are recognizing the value of Strayhorn to the Duke Ellington Orchestra.

Influence on Billy Strayhorn:

Billy Strayhorn grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania in a poorer section of town in a four- room house without electricity on an unpaved street. Early on he became very interested in music, but his family did not have the means to get him a piano or any other musical instrument. Wanting to buy a piano while in grade school, he began to sell newspaper on a street corner where Pennfield Drugs was located. This ultimately led to a job at Pennfield Drugs where Strayhorn would continue to work during and after finishing high school. By selling newspapers and working at Pennfield Drugs, Strayhorn was able to buy his piano while still in grade school. He also paid for his own music and piano lessons. A boyhood friend, Robert Conaway, recalls that Strayhorn spent all of his money buying music of all kinds. His stack of music was about four and a half feet from the floor. He played and studied this music extensively. Strayhorn said that after he bought his piano: “I started to study, and the more I learned, the more I wanted to learn.” Strayhorn attended Westinghouse High, a public school endowed by George Westinghouse of the Westinghouse Company. Westinghouse High had a swing band but Strayhorn was not interested in it because he wanted to become a concert pianist. He concentrated on the classical concert repertoire. In high school, he took classical piano lessons and studied harmony. Eventually he became the pianist for the Westinghouse High Senior Orchestra. After a performance of Edvard Grieg’s Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 16, Carl McVicker, the school’s band director, commented: “The orchestra may have been a group of students, but Billy Strayhorn was a professional artist.”

At this time Strayhorn also began to compose. One early piece that he brought to the Westinghouse Orchestra Club was “Valse,” a piano waltz. Its rippling melodic lines and graceful modulations bear the mark of Strayhorn’s future compositions. The piece uses musical elements such as the shifting among minor keys that Chopin often used. Around the same time, he wrote a piece entitled Concerto for Piano and Percussion. The piece, heavily influenced by George Gershwin was completely orchestrated with parts for each instrument and was performed at Strayhorn’s graduation. Many Westinghouse students thought that they were listening to Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue. This piece also foreshadowed musical elements that appeared in later Strayhorn compositions: variations of popular music style phrases over chromatic harmonies, syncopated rhythms, repeated rhythmic patterns, hemiolas, and the use of minor chords with a major seventh. Strayhorn looked into going to college but did not go. His friend, Harry Henforth, said:

Billy looked into colleges but was discouraged because of his race and could not get the necessary financial aid. The very idea of a black concert pianist was considered unthinkable. It has nothing to do with Billy’s considerable talent.

While continuing to work at Pennfields Drug after graduating from high school, Strayhorn stayed active with Westinghouse High groups and put together a review called Fantastic Rhythm which featured a chorus of dancing girls and a small band which he led. All ten tunes and their words were written by Strayhorn and included “My Little Brown Book” which would become famous later when recorded by the Ellington Orchestra. In addition, he arranged the music for a twelve- piece orchestra. The review was popular in the Pittsburgh area and furthered Strayhorn’s local reputation. Once again these compositions were precursors for what was to come.

Hoping to foster his classical career he attended The Pittsburgh Musical Institute for two months in 1936 to study piano and music theory, but left after the sudden death of his teacher, Charles Boyd. Strayhorn said that there was no one else that could teach him. It was around this time that Strayhorn recognized that there were limited opportunities for a black concert pianist and he began to concentrate his composing efforts on jazz pieces rather than classical and theater songs. During this same period, he wrote one of his most famous pieces, “Lush Life,” which demonstrated his love of densely chromatic music.

Billy Strayhorn and the Duke Ellington Orchestra:

The most significant happening in Strayhorn’s career occurred in December, 1938, when a friend arranged a meeting with Duke Ellington back stage at the Stanley Theater in Pittsburgh. The results of this meeting led to a twenty-eight-year association with Ellington that changed musical history in many ways. Ellington, not exactly certain how to use Strayhorn, basically hired him to write lyrics for songs. This quickly gave way to arranging assignments, new compositions, and ultimately a collaboration between two very different musicians that is unparalleled in musical history.

A big break for Strayhorn occurred in 1941 during the disagreement between the American Society of Composers and Publishers (ASCAP) and the radio networks. Radio networks refused to broadcast music by any ASCAP member, which meant that none of Ellington’s compositions could be played. Needing a new repertoire, he asked Strayhorn and Ellington’s son, Mercer, who were not members of ASCAP, to compose new pieces that could be recorded. During this time some of Strayhorn’s most well-known tunes were written. Among them were “Take the A Train,” “Chelsea Bridge,” “Clementine,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “After All,” “Love Like This Can’t Last,” and “Rain Check.” “Take the A Train” became one of his most famous and frequently recorded tunes and ultimately became the theme of the Duke Ellington Orchestra. “Chelsea Bridge” was the first piece to draw attention of others to Strayhorn’s work.

Strayhorn continued to compose and arrange for the Duke Ellington Orchestra until his death. He collaborated with Ellington on all types of works including Broadway pieces and Ellington’s religious and longer pieces. He also made attempts to be more independent from Ellington and to do things on his own with differing degrees of success, but it became clear that working with Ellington was the best for him. A heavy drinker and smoker, Strayhorn was diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus in 1964.  His health worsened over the next several years and he died on May 31, 1967, at the age of fifty-one. During the last months of his life, he completed another of his well known pieces, “Blood Count,” which is generally considered to be his last original work. This brooding piece in a minor key, which Strayhorn seldom used, is composed with musical metaphors expressing openly Strayhorn’s feelings of sadness, frustration, and failure.

Strayhorn’s death impacted Ellington immensely. His feelings for Billy Strayhorn were communicated strongly in Ellington’s eulogy at Strayhorn’s funeral. He clearly recognized his appreciation for what Strayhorn had done for him. Several months after his death a memorial album, And His Mother Called Him Bill, was recorded by the Ellington Orchestra. This album contained a number of Strayhorn’s most well-known tunes. The last tune on the album is a piano solo by Ellington of “Lotus Blossom” which was picked up after a session was completed and unknown to Ellington the studio tape recorders were not turned off. This solemn, tormented, intimate performance by Ellington with its flubbed notes and studio noises serves as a coda closure. Ellington recovered, went on to tour and compose again with more drive. He said; “I’m writing more than ever now. I have to. Billy Strayhorn left that big yawning void.”

For all practical purposes, Strayhorn was a self taught musical genius. No doubt his long association with Ellington, one of the greatest American composers, was a true learning experience, but he also educated Ellington and made Ellington better as well. His association with Ellington gave him a musical home where his ability to combine his classical ambitions and jazz existed in the same place. His compositions are structurally and harmonically among the most sophisticated in the jazz repertoire.

They fused compositional techniques from the European classical music tradition with American jazz concepts that were firmly rooted in his African-American heritage. His compositions foreshadowed the cool jazz orchestrations Gil Evans and Gerry Mulligan did for Miles Davis in the late 1940s and the third stream movement of the 1950s. In additions to Evans and Mulligan, his compositions were important to notables such as Dizzy Gillespie, John Lewis, Benny Carter, Slide Hampton, Billy May, Bill Finnegan, and Ralph Burns.

Comments from these musicians show the impact that Strayhorn had on the jazz community. Gil Evans said that once he heard “Chelsea Bridge” all he tried to do was to do what Strayhorn did. Benny Carter stated that Strayhorn’s composition were complete and not just riffs or chord changes which made others think a little differently about what they were doing. Gerry Mulligan commented that even though what he was doing was sophisticated, it didn’t sound complicated to the ear at all and seemed completely natural and emotional. According to Willie Ruff, Strayhorn never wrote cliches and his music was so unusual that it could catch you by surprise the first time that you saw it.

Lawrence Brown, a longtime member of the  Ellington Orchestra, says that Strayhorn was one of the most under-rated musicians that he had ever known. He considered him to be a terrific musician whose works all had deep feelings behind them.

Strayhorn’s most important compositional and arranging concept was what he called “thinking with the ear,” where his approach was to express emotion rather than to be worried about theory. It must sound good. In an interview with Bill Coss in 1962, talking about his composition and arranging style, he said:

I have a general rule about (writing). Rimski-Korsakov is the one who said it: all parts should lie easily under the fingers. That’s my first rule: to write something a guy can  play. Otherwise, it will never be natural, or as wonderful, as something that does lie under his fingers. . .. You have to find the right color. . .. Color is what it is, and you know when you get it.


Bill Evans Compositional Style

The most comprehensive collection of Bill Evans’s compositions is the Bill Evans Fake Book transcribed and edited by Pascal Wetzel from Bill Evans’s recordings and published by Ludlow Music. This book contains 59 of his original tunes along with the lyrical version to sixteen of them. During his career, only 52 of the 59 tunes were recorded. In making the lead sheets, Wetzel used the original lead sheets or published sheet music whenever he could.

Transcriptions from recordings were also used if necessary and in this case, the lead sheet follows the latest recording in order to show the evolution over time. Because of Evans’s interest in harmony, Wetzel chose to be more precise than the typical lead sheet by adding counterlines, codas, and chord extensions including passing chords and alternative chords. The original key was used, but it was not unusual for Evans to play a piece in different keys as transposition was one of his favorite musical devices.

A review was made of all of the compositions in this book to determine if they shared common characteristics that could be classified as the Bill Evans’s composing style. Only the instrumental versions were considered. The following categories were evaluated in each of the tunes: date of first recording or copyright whichever was earlier, style, time signature, key signature, form, length, harmonic chord pace, harmonic features, and melodic features. As previously noted, a select number of these compositions were used to develop the characteristics to be used for comparison. Appendix 2 contains this information.

While Evans’s piano technique was second to none, he was not interested in using his technique just to show off or impress someone. His focus was on the music and the expression he wanted. Much of his composing was done to provide material for his own playing and not to provide material for others to play. He was considered to be a master of the jazz waltz and his interpretations of ballads were legendary. While he could play the blues, he was not known as a blues piano player or one who was heavily influenced by the blues. These factors all show up in his compositions.

Shown below are the styles for his compositions.

Style                            Compositions

Jazz Waltz10
Medium Swing8
Medium Up Swing9
Fast Swing3

His focus was on slow to medium-tempo tunes that allowed him more room for the lyricism, tone, expression, and harmony that he enjoyed so much. Two of his most well-known tunes, “Very Early” and “Waltz for Debby” are both jazz waltzes. Two other well-known tunes are ballads, “Time Remembered” and “Turn Out the Stars,” further documenting what people like about his work. The two blues-oriented pieces were written in the early part of his career. Only one of them was recorded. As he matured using the blues form for composing was clearly not part of his thought process. Only three tunes, “Displacement,” “One for Helen,” and “Fun Ride” are marked as fast swing. The fast tempos favored by many jazz musicians were not a major part of his repertoire.

In composing, Evans liked to use 3/4 meter to “articulate the more tender and ruminative side of his artistic character.” Interestingly, most of the jazz waltzes were for or about a female in his life. Evans was also known to change meter within tunes such as: “Comrade Conrad,” “Five,” “Since We Met,” and “34 Skidoo.” The meter change allowed him to change the mood of the tunes completely. “Waltz for Debby,” is a jazz waltz, but he also played and recorded this tune in 4/4.

Form is very important for improvising in jazz as it is a key tool in keeping an improvising ensemble together. When a group is improvising and not reading music, the form helps keep the players in the same place and together. The most common jazz forms are the 12-bar blues and two forms common in the so-called Great American Songbook of standards, AABA and ABAB, where A and B are eight bars long. For many standards, the melody and harmony for the A sections are either the same or very similar in the AABA form and the same can be said for the A and B sections in the ABAB model.

There are two ways of looking at these forms: melodically and harmonically. Most of Bill Evans’s tunes do not conform to either of the traditional standard forms either melodically or harmonically. Only “These Things Called Changes,” which takes the chord changes of What Is This Thing Called Love” as a basis, even roughly corresponds to the AABA form.

A 32 bar form is also very unlikely for a Bill Evans composition. Only four of them are exactly 32 bars long, but none of them conforms to the traditional models of section lengths.

There is no common length for the compositions; they range from 12 to 80 measures. A number of sections are 16 measures long, but this should not be interpreted to be the standard section length. Another feature of his compositions is the use of codas or tag endings. Eighteen pieces contain this feature. There is nothing common about the form of his compositions. A more detail analysis of form can be found in Appendix 2.

From a melodic perspective, 48 of the 59 tunes can be considered to be through composed in that the melody does not repeat itself in the composition. For those with some part of the melody repeated, it is unlikely that the entire melody will be repeated exactly in a subsequent section. For example, in “Bill’s Hit Tune,” the form is A (16) B (16) C (20) where the first 13 measures of C are the first 13 measures of A. If one looks at the sections within most of the tunes with some repetition, there is little or no repetition of phrases in the sections themselves. Melodically, every note is dependent on its attached harmony.

In most of the lead sheets jazz musicians use, phrase lengths of four and eight measures are most common and their improvisations reflect this. In his playing, Evans seemed to think in terms of much larger phrases such as thirty-two bars or longer. His compositions with their through composed nature reflect this. It is often difficult to determine exactly what the phrase length is. One of his bassists, Chuck Israel, says, “His phrases start and end in ever-changing places, often crossing the boundaries between one section of a piece and another.”

For jazz compositions and thus improvisations, the key signature gives a good indication of the primary tonal center for a tune.  What role does the key signature play in his compositions? The melancholy nature of much of his work would indicate the heavy use of minor keys. Fourteen of the works are in a minor key. In the interview with Marian McPartland, he indicated that two of his favorite keys were A and E because of the overtones and resonance they provided. Interestingly, only “Remembering the Rain,” is in A and none are in E.

Shown below are the initial key signatures for the compositions by tonal center.

Key Signatures for Bill Evans Compositions
Db 3
Ab 2
A 1
B 1

From looking at the above table, it would appear that the favorite key for Evans was C and most of his tunes would sound as if they are in C and that C would be the primary key for improvisation. This is very misleading when the compositions and harmony are examined more closely since it is unlikely that they will remain in one tonal center or even a closely related one. The term tonal center is used rather than indicating a key change because it is very difficult to determine whether the key has actually changed, but it can clearly be seen that the tonal centers are changing.

The key signature is likely to be only a starting and maybe an ending place as tunes that start in one key may end in another key. For example, the key signature for “Very Early” is C and the first chord is a C major chord, but the last chord is B major. Similarly, for “Time Remembered” the key signature is once again C but the last chord is C minor. It is often very difficult to determine the primary tonal center of a Bill Evans composition, and certainly the key signature is not a good determinant.

When people think of Evans’s music, harmony is a key component. Are there any common harmonic features in his composing style? Two concepts were explored in this regard: harmonic chord pace or the number of chord changes per measure and the existence of harmonic patterns such as ii V I progressions or circle of 5th patterns.

Bill Evans was renowned for spending hours working through chord changes and making sure that the chord voicings were what he wanted. The inner voicings and voice leading that were very important to him might indicate a faster harmonic pace. The complexity of harmony can often be determined by looking at how frequently the chords change. For those tunes where there was a clear chord change pattern, the following occurred.

Chords per MeasureCompositions
One or two14

Threee or four


This pace is not any faster than many other tunes in the jazz repertoire or the Great American standard songbook.

The major harmonic difference between a Bill Evans tune and many others played by jazz musicians is in the quality of the chord and where the chord moves. Two very common patterns in the jazz literature are ii V I(i) or I vi ii V I (Rhythm Changes). While a ii V I pattern exists in many compositions, it is not the predominant pattern in other than a few pieces such as “Bill’s Hit Tune,” “Turn Out The Stars,” and “The Two Lonely People.” This pattern was also more common in his earlier compositions and became less frequent in later ones.

Two harmonic devices are frequently used in his work: use of the circle of 5ths and the secondary dominant. There is a clear usage of extended circle of 5ths patterns in twenty-five tunes. A good example of the extended use of this pattern is the first six measures of “Turn Out The Stars.” The chord progression is:

| Bm7(b5) E13(b9 ) | Am(maj7) Am7 | Dm7 G7(#9) | Cmaj7 | Fm7 Bb7 | Ebmaj7 | This is almost a complete circle.

The usage is also often different from the circle of 5ths pattern that exists in the ii V I pattern. The quality of the chords is not always the traditional minor/dominant/major chord pattern as in the above example. Other examples are in “Time Remembered” where one of the chord progressions is:

| Am9 | Dm9 | Gm7 | Cm7 | Fm9 |

Each chord lasts for one measure. Another example is in “Waltz for Debby” where measures 13- 20 containing the following progression:

| Am7 | Dm7 | Gm7 | C7 | Am7 | Dm7 | Gm7 | C7 |

These progressions from his best known tunes are representative of the many nonstandard circle of 5th patterns Evans used. The use of the secondary dominant was also an important feature and a technique he used for moving through different key centers.

His first composition, “Very Early,” shows the importance of this concept. The chords of the A section are:

| Cmaj7 | Bb9 | Ebmaj7 | Ab7(#9) | Dbmaj7 | G7 | Cmaj7 |

|Bb9(b5) | Dmaj7 | Am7 | F#m7 | B7(b9) | Em7 | Ab7 | Dbmaj7 | G+7 |

In these 16 measures, there are five V>I(i) movements. This same kind of pattern can be found in many of his other compositions.

The use of these techniques makes it possible for Evans to explore various tonal centers and often go through every one of the twelve tonal centers. Two examples of such compositions are “Comrade Conrad” and “Fun Ride.” While the quality of the chord may change and numerous alterations to the chords may occur, because of the always present V>I relationship in root movement, the compositions sound very tonal and not what one might expect from the harmonic direction he is taking. This root movement results in the feeling that while he explores many tonal areas, his work always seems to return home.

“Time Remembered” is also a prime example of how Evans used nonstandard harmonies.

The tune uses only minor and major chords. There are no dominant chords. In jazz, the dominant chord is a key chord since it is the most easily altered chord and the one for which substitutions are often made. These techniques provide much of the color, tension and release that is common in jazz. “Time Remembered” becomes an exercise in using the dorian scale on the minor chords and the lydian scale on the major chords for improvisation. By using modes, Evans is still able to achieve the desired tension and release.

Chuck Israels says that his harmonies were less based on chords than a “piling up of contrapuntal lines in which the tension and release phase between the melody and the secondary voices was exquisitely shaded by his control of pianistic touch.” This comment relates directly to the inner voices and voice leading that are a major part of Evans’s work. The progression of chords is often very chromatic but the tonality of the piece is always there. Tim Murphy, a jazz pianist and educator, equates Evans’s harmony to being the figured bass of the jazz world. Always expect surprises from the harmonies that Bill Evans used.

Rhythm was also important to his work and particularly rhythmic displacement or layering duples or triples over the meter of the chords. The rhythmic construction was as important to him as was the harmonic construction. Jeff Antoniuk, a jazz saxophonist and educator related the following conversation that he had with the prominent jazz saxophonist, Joe Lovano. Lovano had the opportunity to play with Evans and as he was playing he thought that he was in wrong place in the form and always behind. This would be very unusual for a jazz musician of Lovano’s caliber. What he learned was that Evans was anticipating the chord changes well in advance of the typical anticipation of chord changes on the ‘and’ before the chord change. He really was not behind. Evans was displacing harmony to impact rhythms and improvisations. One of Evans’s compositions “Displacement” clearly shows this concept where chord changes often occur on beat 4 rather than on beat 1.

Other rhythmic displacement devices he used were polyrhythms and cross meters. These first appeared in “Peri’s Scope,” which is written is 4/4 but has a three in a bar feel.81 This concept of alternating meters can be seen in “Five” where the piece is based on 5 against 4 and 4 against 3 rhythms and “G Waltz,” which makes use of 4 against 3 and 3 against 2. Many other pieces employ 3 against 2 and anticipation of the beat.

Evans was one of the first jazz musicians to base a composition on a twelve-tone row. Familiar with the works of Arnold Schönberg, he wrote two pieces using this concept, “Twelve Tone Tune” known as “T.T.T.” and “Twelve Tone Tune Two” or “T.T.T.T.” Evans said that this was strictly a challenge as he normally wouldn’t want to base a composition on this concept other than to stretch himself. “T.T.T.” is 12 measures and 36 notes long. Each row is four measures long. When he harmonized the row, he used diatonic harmony because of the difficulty of improvising over the row itself. He chose to personalize the row as many other composers had done by ignoring the rules that no note could be repeated before the full row is used and that no attempt to use conventional tonality to harmonize the row would occur. While consideration was give to improvising on the row, it proved too difficult.

The head of “T.T.T.T.” expanded the concept of a tone row to 60 notes over 12 measures which was then repeated. The harmonization was also different in that all major chords were used. The major chords for improvisations for the 24 measures were:

| G | F | Eb | Db | C | Bb | Ab | Gb | B | Bb |A | Ab|

| G | A | B | C# | C | D | E | F# | B | C | C#| D |

At a medium up tempo, this progression is a challenge for even the best improviser.

Another interesting Evans’s composition is “Fudgesicle Built For Four” written earlier in his career, which shows the diversity of his compositional capabilities. The head of this piece is a four-part fugue for guitar, piano, bass, and tenor sax. While the head is very complex, improvisation is done over rhythm changes.

Did the compositions of the mature Bill Evans change from the compositions of Evans in his early years? While most assuredly they did to some extent, many of the techniques that appeared in “Very Early,” which was written when he was a student at Southeastern Louisiana, appear in many later compositions. Two areas that became more refined over the years are the increasing importance of the inner voice chord progressions and a more sophisticated approach to rhythmic construction and displacement.

All Evans’s compositions show that he had the ability to do whatever he wanted and to use a wide variety of musical techniques to accomplish his objective. They are for the most part built on one main idea which could be a pedal point, a certain chord structure, a rhythmic pattern, a three- or four-note pattern, tempo changes, relationships between seemingly unrelated keys, tone rows, etc., etc., etc…… In all cases they are complex, challenging, and interesting.  Over the course of his life, his concept of harmony continued to develop. Each development laid the stage for the next development. As his biographer, Peter Pettinger says:

This essentially harmonic world was enhanced by inner and outer moving parts, comments and colorings: a note that began as a chromatic passing note might be transferred into the chord itself, which then emerged as a fresh voicing. The evolution spanned his whole life and was continuing to develop at his death.

Many things can be said about the compositions of Bill Evans. In an interview, he said: “I believe all music is romantic    romanticism handled with discipline is the most beautiful kind of beauty.”  This statement sums up his compositions succinctly.  Overall his compositions were closely tied to his improvisational style and few of them have become tunes that are performed by other jazz artists. Even though most of the compositions have interesting melodies, it is the harmony that really distinguishes them. His compositions are complete melodically, harmonically, and rhythmically. Sean Petrahn says the following:

One does not have to change a single note or chord in a Bill Evans tune; you would destroy the composition. Would you change a chord in a Beethoven Sonata, or the Bartok “Improvisations”? I doubt it. It takes great humility to play the music of Bill Evans because you must leave it alone; you must leave your ego in the closet and play ‘as written’.

Maybe this is the real reason that his music is not played more often rather than its complexity and challenging nature. Most jazz musicians don’t like to play things just as they are written.

Eddie Gomez, an Evans bassist for eleven years, said this of his friend: “Bill Evans was articulate, forthright, gentle, majestic, witty, and very supportive. His goal was to make music that balanced passion and intellect that spoke to the heart.” There is no better way to sum up his compositions. Bill Evans is clearly recognized as one of the most influential jazz pianist in history but this statement has not yet been associated with him as a composer. Only time will tell, but when one looks carefully at his work it becomes quite apparent that he was a composer extraordinaire. The overall sound of his music has certainly influenced me.

Billy Strayhorn’s Compositional Style

Most experts agree that many of Strayhorn’s composition characteristics vary from those of Ellington even though they were so closely associated with each other and composed many pieces jointly. These differences are not part of this paper, but they complicate an analysis of Strayhorn’s work. Only those pieces specifically composed by Strayhorn and which are included in a fake book have been considered.

Another complicating factor is that most of Strayhorn’s compositions were written with a small ensemble or big band in mind. Strayhorn was a master arranger and consequently just reviewing the lead sheets for compositional characteristics has the potential to be somewhat misleading. In composing, Strayhorn was considering how the piece would sound using an ensemble and how he would arrange it for that ensemble. The lead sheet was a starting place for a total arrangement. Strayhorn explained his approach to writing music as follows:

Arrangers and composers must see the piece of which they are working as a complete entity. They ought to use four or five dimensions and see all around the material—over, above, and under it, and on the sides two. Then the job becomes one of transposing the physical picture into an integral and complete mental picture. . . I endorse what I might term thinking with the ear—the intuitive feeling again, but I can’t overstress its importance.

While the total picture was the hallmark of Strayhorn’s style, for purposes of this paper, only the lead sheets of his compositions were reviewed for stylistic characteristics.

It is fully recognized that analyzing a limited number of compositions can lead to misleading conclusions of a composer’s works, but this paper is not about the total works of Strayhorn. It is about the works that may have influenced Bill Murray as a composer.

Interestingly, these pieces are also the focus of many musical examples used by Walter van de Leur in his comprehensive analysis of Strayhorn’s music, Something to Live For: The Music of Billy Strayhorn. They are also the Strayhorn tunes most recorded by other musicians. Thus, they are the ones that I would have been most likely to have heard in listening to jazz.

Most of the tunes that appear in the fake books used for this analysis come from early in his career as shown below.

 Pre-Ellington 1935- 1939  3
 Ellington 1939-19492
 ASCAP Dispute 19416

Why this occurred is outside the scope of this paper, but it shows that what has become known as the Strayhorn touch developed early in his career.  Appendix 2 contains an analytical summary of the tunes in this analysis.

From a style perspective, Strayhorn’s ballads are some of his best known works.

The following table categorizes the pieces analyzed by style and tempo.

Moderate Swing  4
Bright Swing3
Jazz Waltz



His ballads which are often referred to as ‘mood pieces’ are and include “Chelsea Bridge,” “Daydream,” “Passion Flower,” “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “Lush Life,” and “Lotus Blossom.” While not a ballad, “Blood Count” also falls into this style. Most of his compositions in the fake books fall into the slow to medium tempo range. Up tempo was not his primary forte. Noticeably absent from this list are any pieces in the blues idiom. While Strayhorn wrote several pieces based on the blues form, they are not among his most prominent compositions and the blues was not a key idiom for him. His world was much more that of sophisticated show business and top class nightclubs. “Take the A Train,” one of his most well-known pieces, is considered by most to be rather atypical of his style.

One of the notable elements of Strayhorn’s compositions is their lyrical and original melodies. Several of the works being analyzed were written specifically for alto saxophonist Johnny Hodges. His alto sax sound and Strayhorn’s writing worked together very well.

Composing for individual musicians, a trait that Strayhorn picked up from Ellington, became a common element in Strayhorn’s compositions after he joined Ellington.

In terms of structure, most of the pieces follow the conventional AABA form of Tin Pan Alley as shown below:


However, most of the A sections are not exact repeats of each other. Slight differences occur in pitch, rhythm, or harmony as is shown in the following example from “Clementine.” The differences are highlighted with the boxes around the appropriate measures.

bill evans sheet music

While these are subtle changes, most of Strayhorn’s music would not be considered to be through composed as was the case with Bill Evans. “Lush Live” with its changing moods and feel would be an exception and is through composed. The objective of the B section is to provide contrast to the A section, and Strayhorn did this particularly well. He regularly takes the listener far away from what was heard in the A sections. He does this using such elements as going to a key remote away from the key of the A section, by changing the rhythmic feel, or making the bridge a sequential motif to take the piece from where the A section ended back to the original key. The length of most of the pieces follows the standard 32 bars for AABA forms. The exceptions tend to be his pre-Ellington pieces.

Strayhorn based certain pieces on one or two motifs. Examples of this are “Blood Count,” “Day Dream,” “Johnny Come Lately,” “Lotus Blossom,” “Midriff,” “Passion Flower,” “Raincheck,” “Something to Live For,” and “Take the A Train.” The following is the rhythmic pattern used in five of the six four-bar phrases in the A section of “Midriff,” yet the piece does not seem repetitive because of what Strayhorn does with the sixth-four bar phrase of the A section and the entire B section. In this piece, the pitches used are also the same.

In “Raincheck,” Strayhorn uses the following rhythmic pattern in six out of the eight four-bar phrases. Once again the same notes are used in these phrases.

One of Strayhorn’s favorite rhythmic patterns is shown below.

Most of “Passion Flower” uses this pattern at different pitches. In his later works such as “Upper Manhattan Medical Group” he began to be more flexible in his rhythmic approach and let the melody flow more freely over the harmony. While he used repeated rhythmic patterns in many compositions, what Strayhorn did with the remaining phrases and harmony always makes the pieces interesting and a listener does not have the feeling of extensive repetition.

Given the consistency in form and use of repeated rhythmic patterns, what makes Strayhorn’ music interesting? It comes down to how he used a variety of harmonic, melodic, and rhythmic motifs to bring cohesion to a piece and to unify it. The overall structure of many of his compositions was arch like and was achieved by the gradual build up and release of tension. A good example of this is “Take the A Train.”

Another musical element he used was melodic chromaticism particularly the interval of a minor second. Ten of the analyzed melodies, “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” “After All,” “Clementine,” “Isfahan,” “Lotus Blossom,” “Lush Life,” “My Little Brown Book,” “Rain Check,” “Something to Live For,” and “Upper Manhattan Medical Group” can be classified as basically chromatic melodies. For example, “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” employs eleven of the twelve notes of the chromatic scale. The first eight bars of “Lotus Blossom” as shown below also demonstrate how Strayhorn used chromatic melodies. These melodies when combined with the harmony used bring about the Strayhorn sound.

Another melodic tool was the use of upper chord structure notes and altered notes as the basis for the melodies. The following phrases from “Passion Flower” demonstrate how Strayhorn used these notes for the basis of the melody.

Many times he voiced the melody to move at a dissonant interval with one or more of the chord tones in the accompaniment. The melody was often a minor or major ninth above the first or second voice of the accompaniment chord. A good example of how he used this dissonant movement occurs in the first six bars of “My Little Brown Book.” As shown below in the blocked areas, he uses alterations of chords to change the color of the sound and provide the chromatic internal counterpoint that is a regular part of his sound.

One of the hallmarks of the Strayhorn sound is how he used harmony. While he was fully versed in traditional classical harmony as well as that of Tin Pan Alley, ultimately he was more concerned about the sound than any harmonic rules. However, as his work matured, he made less use of unexpected chords that occurred in early pieces such as “Something to Live For.” Nevertheless, every tune being analyzed contains unusual chord progressions or uses of chords. Harmonic elements are a key part of the Strayhorn sound.

Strayhorn liked to compose in keys containing flats leading to a more tranquil, subdued, laid back sound as opposed to the brighter timbres of the keys containing sharps. Keys for the analyzed pieces are shown below:

Key Signature  Compositions
C major2
Db major5
D major1
Eb major1
F major1
G major1
Bb major4
d minor/D major1
g minor1

Strayhorn was not known for writing much in minor keys although one of his more important pieces, “Blood Count” starts in d minor and vacillates between this key and D major. Written as he was dying from cancer, the somber mood of d minor juxtaposes with D major. This harmonic process along with a chromatic melody creates a piece painting a picture of eminent death.

Because of the way he used harmony, the key signature is not always that important just as was the case with Evans. Several pieces including, “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing,” Chelsea Bridge,” “Lush Life,” and “Passion Flower,” and “Blood Count” are known for their tonal ambiguity as they begin. It is difficult to determine where the pieces are headed tonally and tonality is often not established until the end of the first A section as with “A Flower Is a Lovesome Thing” and “Daydream.”

What is sometimes referred to as whole-tone harmony was often used to accomplish this tonal ambiguity. This ambiguity comes from the French Impressionist composers, particularly Debussy and Ravel, whom Strayhorn admired. For example, the melody and harmonic movement of the first three bars of “Chelsea Bridge” echoes the second movement of Ravel’s Valse Nobles et Sentimentales (1911). Strayhorn disputed that there was any direct influence saying that he had never heard the piece. Nevertheless, the harmony in the first four measures typifies the non-functional harmony of Debussy.

Chromatic harmony and tritone substitutions are typical Strayhorn elements. A good example of their use occurs in “Passion Flower.” The harmony of the A and B sections are as follows:

A: | F#9b5 | F9b5 | F#9b5 | F9b5 | E7#5(b9) Eb7 | D7 D7b9 | G69| B: |Dbmaj7 | C9#11 | B9#11 | Bb7#5(b9) | A9#5 | Ab7b9 | Dbmaj7 |

This is anything but a traditional harmonic progression.

Another example is the B section of “After All:”

| Fmaj7 | E7 | Eb6 | Am7 D7 | Db6 | C7 | B13 Ab13 | G13 | Virtually all of the pieces analyzed contain examples of chromatic harmony.

Some of the more interesting harmonic progressions occur in the bridges. Strayhorn will go to a remote key or simply use the bridge as a modulating device back to the original tonality. Both of these elements occur in “Chelsea Bridge” where the tonality changes from Db to E major immediately. At the same time this bridge is a modulation from E major to Db major. The B section for “After All” is similarly a modulation from F major back to C the original tonic.  The B section of “Day Dream” is a melodic sequential modulation from Bb major to F major using chromatic harmony and ii V I progressions. The primary tonal center for “Raincheck” is Eb major, but the B section is in G major. The G tonality with its F# only lasts for four bars, but it is enough to make listeners wonder where Strayhorn is taking them.

Altered chords used to produce a certain color are contained in every piece to some extent. As previously noted the alterations are part of the melody. Because Strayhorn was thinking of arrangements and not just the melody, these alterations are particularly important in achieving the sound color that he sought to achieve. Jazz musicians are known to enjoy substituting chords for the originals ones. Just as was the case with Bill Evans, Strayhorn’s compositions are so complete that substituting chords takes away from the pieces rather than having the potential to add color to them.

It would be possible to write a complete thesis on how Strayhorn used harmony in his compositions and arrangements. The concepts discussed above, however, are the main ones that he employed. Harmonically Strayhorn was much more advanced than his compatriots and the

harmony he used is very much a part of what is termed the Strayhorn sound. His harmony is a key element that makes his music interesting to many people.

The Music of Bill Murray

Do some of the musical specific elements found in analyzing compositions of Bill Evans and Billy Strayhorn appear in the compositions of Bill Murray? There are two ways to approach this question. First of all, there is the aesthetic or higher level viewpoint and second, there is the detailed approach that requires looking at pieces to identify specific elements. In my case, the first approach is paramount.

Since most of my knowledge about the compositions of Evans and Strayhorn comes from listening to their works rather than studying them, I was attracted to a certain sound that resonated with me. Another interesting connection is that I enjoy very much the music of the French Impressionist, particularly Debussy and Ravel. Both of these classical composers were also significant influences on Evans and Strayhorn. Are there specific things that I do that are similar to things that these great composers did?

Many different musical elements are found in the work of Bill Evans and Billy Strayhorn.

For purposes of this comparison, only the following characteristics will be considered: Bill Evans

  • Structure/Form
  • Lyrical melodies
  • Through composed/theme and variations nature of melodies
  • Unusual harmonic progressions

Billy Strayhorn

  • Structure/Form
  • Lyrical melodies
  • Chromatic melodies
  • Use of repeated rhythmic motifs
  • Unusual harmonic progressions

Taking a look at form and structure is a good starting place for this comparison. The following table shows the style for my pieces:

Bossa Feel4
Blues Form3
Medium Swing6
Up Tempo1

As is the case with the Evans and Strayhorn tunes analyzed, my compositions tend to fall in the slow to medium tempo categories. While there are three blues form tunes, other than using a blues form these pieces are probably better classified as medium swing. Just like Evans and Strayhorn, I do not consider myself to be oriented toward the traditional blues form or style. The bossa feel for my pieces is an Americanized version of the Brazilian bossa nova. This style did not exist when Strayhorn was composing and it was not a genre that Evans worked with to any extent as a player.

Consequently, it would be unlikely for him to compose a piece in this genre. However, there is an Evans/Strayhorn relationship to the bossa nova in that Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto were well aware of these composers particularly as precursors to cool jazz which was a major influence on the Brazilian composers.

From a key signature perspective, I prefer flat major keys as shown below:

Key Signature        Compositions

C major                       1

c minor                       1

Db major                      2

Eb major                      4

F major                       3

G major                       2

Bb major                      2

Multiple                      1

At first glance I am closer to Strayhorn than Evans. However, with Evans the key signature was not that important as harmonically he went well away from what the key signature showed.

Once again, it is the overall mood/sound of their music that interests me.

Even though logical to Evans, the forms he used were unique and varied all over the place and most of his tunes were through composed or theme and variations. In Strayhorn’s case, he used modified versions of AABA or ABAB most of the time where changes in the melody or harmony were made and most of the tunes are 32 bars long which is not the case with Evans.

My compositions fall somewhere between the two as shown below:

FormCompositions Length       Compositions
Blues1 12                     1
AA’2 24                     1
AAB1 28                     1
ABA2 32                     7
AABA3 32+coda                4
ABAB3 38                     1
ABAC1 48                     1
ABCA3 58                     1

While they tend to follow the more standard lengths, my forms vary considerably. In this sense, they more closely resemble the through composed nature of Evans’s work, but the melodies tend to be more of a theme and variations concept rather than through composed. As with Strayhorn, my A or B sections are not likely to be exactly the same, as is often the case with many tunes in the Great American Songbook. I am not enamored with A and B sections in the AABA and ABAB forms that are strictly repetitive, and in composing deliberately try to alter the sections in different ways. While it is not possible to determine if this was also the strategy of Evans and Strayhorn, from the pieces studied it would appear that they composed along these same lines.

The B sections of Strayhorn’s tunes often take the listener in a very different direction.

This is also a characteristic of many of my pieces such as “Billy’s Touch,” “Borrowed Thoughts,” “Getting Closer All The Time,” “Making A Difference,” and “Thinking of You.” Significant changes in the melodic concept, harmony, and rhythm occur in these pieces.

At the macro level what I appear to have taken from Evans and Strayhorn is a feel, mood, color concept rather than any specific musical elements. My structure and form come from what I thought the piece required when it was being written. To me it seems very logical but others may have different opinions. I am interested in my pieces appearing to be spontaneous rather than predictable. For example, my compositions require musicians to maintain a high level of concentration, which make my pieces more challenging to memorize. Musicians cannot just memorize the A or B section and think that they are home free. Such was also the case with Evans, and because of the structure and form most of them were not recorded by jazz musicians other than himself.

Both Evans and Strayhorn were known for their lyrical melodies and this is one of the elements that has always attracted me to their music. I have been told by people that have listened to my pieces that they contain interesting and strong melodies. Developing an interesting melody is an important aspect of my compositions. Other than an overall concept, there are not that many specific melodic elements that Evans used that appear in my work, but I want my melodies to sing just as Evans did with his. I am more structured in my approach to melody than his through composed melodies where the melody changes constantly.

On the other hand, several techniques that Strayhorn used appear regularly in my work.

The first is a chromatic melody with two intervals appearing regularly, a minor second and a tritone. Voice leading using these intervals is important to me. Examples of chromatic melodies occurring are “Always Changing,” Billy’s Touch,” “Fun and Games,” “Making A Difference,” “My Love for You,” and “No Strings Attached.”

A second technique is the importance of upper structure chord tones and altered notes in the melody. “Billy’s Touch,” “Making A Difference,” “While Dancing,” and “Your Special Day” are examples of this. It is not uncommon for me to end a phrase or section on one of these notes to signify that something more is to come. Nor do phrases or even the end of pieces need to resolve in the traditional sense.

A third technique often used by Strayhorn was basing a piece on a specific rhythmic pattern. “Billy’s Touch,” “Getting Closer All The Time,” “Making A Difference,” “Moving On,” “Stepping Down,” “What’s Up,” “While Dancing,” and “Your Special Day” are all based on one or two specific rhythmic patterns. For example the following pattern with different pitches is used to start every phrases in the A sections of “What’s Up”.

“Getting Closer All The Time” is based on two patterns again with different pitches.

Finally, a fourth technique that Strayhorn used was a rhythmic pattern to unify pieces. “Borrowed Thoughts,” “Fun and Games,” and “Remembering” all employ this process. Again Strayhorn’s work was not analyzed prior to using these techniques in my compositions, but they appear far more frequently in my work than I realized.

More than anything, the harmony of Evans and Strayhorn attracts me to their music.

Their harmony creates a sound that I sought to reproduce. It is what my ear heard that became important to me rather than any theoretical approach to harmony. Both Evans and Strayhorn seem to take much the same approach. While both were well versed in traditional harmony, they were not concerned about going outside this approach if it produced the sound that they were looking to achieve with a particular piece. This has been my approach particularly in my early compositions.

Delayed resolution is common in many of my compositions as was the case in both Evans’s and Strayhorn’s works. Pieces do not resolve traditionally until the end of the tune and they may end on other than the tonic. Short codas are sometimes added to allow for greater harmonic resolution.

Unusual harmonic progressions are common to their work and mine as well. The chords for the first eight bars of “Always Changing” are:

| Cmaj7 Ebdim7 | Dmin7 D#dim7 | Emin7 C7b9 | Fmaj7 |

| Fmin7 E7 | Ebmaj7 | Ebmin7 D7 | Dbmaj7 |

Strayhorn also used this chromatic harmony frequently. The first twelve bars of “Two and Four” have the following harmony:

| Dmaj7 | Emin11 | F#min7 | Gmaj7 |

| F#m7 | Emin7b5 | Fmaj7#5 | Emin7 |

|F#min7 | Gm9 | A13 | Dmaj9| Once again a very unusual harmonic pattern was used.

While my music abounds with the traditional ii V I of jazz, there are many instances of going where my ear takes me rather than paying attention to theoretical harmony. For example in bars 4-8 of “Billy’s Touch,” the harmony is:

| Ebmaj7 Ab13 | Fmin7 G7#5 | Cm7 Bbmin13 | Abmaj7 |

While the root motion may be considered somewhat normal, the chord quality is not. “Borrowed Thoughts” is another example of the importance of different progressions and chord qualities.

The first chords of the B sections are:

| Ebmaj7 C7b9 | Fmin7 Bb7 | Abmaj7/E7 | Ebmaj7 Emin7 |

| Bmin7 | E7 | Cmin7 | Fmin7 E7#11 | Abmaj7 |

This progression gives the piece the desired sound even though it is outside the traditional rules of music theory. Chord quality is an important part of my compositions because the designated chord quality provides a particular color that I am looking for. This was important for both Evans and Strayhorn and the reason that their harmonies often went in unusual directions. It is often said that their tunes were so complete that no chord substitutions should be made because changing the chords would result in undesirable changes to the mood of the piece. Evans and Strayhorn have both had an influence on my harmonic approach even though it was not realized when the pieces were being written.

Appendix I: Bill Evans, Billy Strayhorn, Bill Murray Compositions Analyzed for Musical Elements

Bill Evans CompositionsBilly Strayhorn CompositionsBill Murray Compositions
Bill’s Hit TuneA Flower Is a Lovesome ThingAlways Changing
EpilogueAfter AllBilly’s Touch
FunkalleroBlood CountBorrowed Thoughts
InterplayChelsea BridgeExplorations
Laurie (The Dream)ClementineFun and Games
Only ChildDay DreamGetting Closer All the Time
Orbit (Unless It’s You)IsfahanMaking A Difference
Peri’s ScopeJohnny Come LatelyMoving On
Re: Person I KnewJust A Settin’ and A Rockin’My Love For You
Show-Type TuneLotus BlossonNo Strings Attached
Since We MetLush LifeRemembering
Story LineMidriffStepping Down
Song For HelenMy Little Brown BookThinking of You
34 SkidooPassion FlowerTwo and Four
Time RememberedRain CheckWhat’s Up
Turn Out The StarsSomething To Live ForWhile Dancing
The Two Lonely PeopleTake the A TrainYour Special Day
Very EarlyUpper Manhattan Medical Group 
Walkin’ Up  
Waltz For Debby  

Appendix 2: Summary of Composition Analysis for Selected Bill Evans, Billy Strayhorn and Bill Murray Compositions

Bill Evans Composition Summary Analysis
Billy Strayhorn Compositions Summary Analysis
Bill Murray Composition Summary Analysis
Did you know?

Jazz Improvisation and creativity: What and how our society and organisations can learn.

Jazz Improvisation and creativity: What and how our society and organisations can learn.

I wake to sleep and take my waking slow. I learn by going where
I have to go.
Theodore Raethke, poet

We must simply act, fully knowing our ignorance of possible
Kenneth Arrow, economist

I think the fear of failure is why I try things … if I see that
there’s some value in something and I’m not sure whether I
deserve to attempt it, I want to find out.
Keith Jarrett, jazz pianist

At the dawn of the twenty-first century, we are in the
midst of a revolution that has been called variously the
post-industrial society (Bell 1973), the third wave (Toffler
1980), the information revolution (Naisbitt 1983), and the
post-capitalist society (Drucker 1993).

We do not yet perceive the entire scope of the transformation occurring, but we know that it is global, that it is based on unprecedented
access to information, and that since more people have
access to information than ever before, that it is potentially
a democratic revolution. Perhaps the management
of knowledge development and knowledge creation is becoming
the most important responsibility for managers as
we enter the twenty-first century. Indeed, ideas generated
by various streams and movements, including sociotechnical
design, total quality management, reengineering,
remind us that the fundamental shift we are
experiencing involves empowering people at all levels to
initiate innovative solutions in an effort to improve processes.

Given the unprecedented scope of changes that organizations
face and the need for members at all levels to be able to think, plan, innovate, and process information, new models and metaphors are needed for organizing.

jazz improvisation sheet music

Drucker has suggested that the twenty-first century leader
will be like an orchestra conductor. However, an orchestral
metaphor-connoting pre-scripted musical scores,
single conductor as leader-is limited, given the ambiguity
and high turbulence that many managers experience.
Weick ( 1992) has suggested the jazz band as a prototype
organization. This paper follows Weick’s
suggestion and explores the jazz band and jazz improvising
as an example of an organization designed for maximizing
learning and innovation. To help us understand
the relationship between action and learning, we need a
model of a group of diverse specialists living in a chaotic,
turbulent environment; making fast, irreversible decisions;
highly interdependent on one another to interpret
equivocal information; dedicated to innovation and the
creation of novelty. Jazz players do what managers find
themselves doing: fabricating and inventing novel responses
without a prescripted plan and without certainty
of outcomes; discovering the future that their action creates
as it unfolds.

After discussing the nature of improvisation and the
unique challenges and dangers implicit in the learning
task that jazz improvisers create for themselves, I will
broadly outline seven characteristics that allow jazz bands
to improvise coherently and maximize social innovation
in a coordinated fashion. I also draw on my own experience
as a jazz pianist. I have played with and lead combinations
of duos, trios, and quartets in addition to touring
in 1980 as pianist with the Tommy Dorsey Band under
the direction of trombonist Buddy Morrow. I will explore
the following features of jazz improvisation.

  1. Provocative competence: Deliberate efforts to interrupt
    habit patterns;
  2. Embracing errors as a source of learning;
  3. Shared orientation toward minimal structures that
    allow maximum flexibility;
  4. Distributed task: continual negotiation and dialogue
    toward dynamic synchronization;
  5. Reliance on retrospective sense-making;
  6. “Hanging out”: Membership in a community of practice;
  7. Taking turns soloing and supporting.
    Finally, I will suggest implications for organizational
    design and managing for learning.

The Nature of Improvisation

There is a popular misconception that jazz players are
inarticulate, untutored geniuses, that they have no idea
what they are playing as if picking notes out of thin air.
As biographies of jazz players and studies of jazz have
shown, the art of jazz playing is very complex and the
result of a relentless pursuit of learning and disciplined
imagination. Since (until recently) there have been no
conservatories or formal schools of jazz instruction, veteran
jazz players are highly committed to self-renewal,
having had to create their own learning opportunities.

Jazz improvisers are interested in creating new musical
material, surprising themselves and others with spontaneous,
unrehearsed ideas. Jazz differs from classical music
in that there is no clear prescription of what is to be
played. From the Latin “improvisus,” meaning “not seen
ahead of time,” improvisation is “playing extemporaneously
. . . composing on the spur of the moment”
(Schuller 1989, p. 378). Given the highly exploratory and
tentative nature of improvisation, the potential for failure
and incoherency always lurks just around the comer. Saxophonist
Paul Desmond said that the improviser must
“crawl out on a limb, set one line against another and try
to match them, bring them closer together” (Gioia 1988,
p. 92). Jazz saxophonist Steve Lacy discusses the excitement
and danger inherent in improvisation and likens it
to existing on the edge of the unknown.

jazz improvisation free sheet music & pdf scores download

I’m attracted to improvisation because of something I value.
There is a freshness, a certain quality, which can only be obtained
by improvisation, something you cannot possibly get
from writing. It is something to do with the “edge.” Always
being on the brink of the unknown and being prepared for the
leap. And when you go out there you have all your years of
preparation and all your sensibilities and your prepared means
but it is a leap into the unknown. (Bailey 1992, p. 57)
The metaphors of leaping into the unknown, hanging
out on a limb, suggest the exhilarating and perilous nature of engaging in an activity in which the future is largely
unknown, yet one in which one is expected to create
something novel and coherent, often in the presence of
an audience.

Gioia captures a sense of the challenge and difficulty
inherent in jazz by considering what practitioners of other
art forms would subject themselves to if they relied on
improvisation as design.

If improvisation is the essential element in jazz, it may also be
the most problematic. Perhaps the only way of appreciating its
peculiarity is by imagining what twentieth-century art would be
like if other art forms placed an equal emphasis on improvisation.
Imagine T. S. Eliot giving nightly poetry readings at which,
rather than reciting set pieces, he was expected to create impromptu
poems-different ones each night, sometimes recited
at a fast clip; imagine giving Hitchcock or Fellini a handheld
motion picture camera and asking them to film something, anything-
at that very moment, without the benefits of script, crew,
editing, or scoring; imagine Matisse or Dali giving nightly exhibitions
of their skills-exhibitions at which paying audiences
would watch them fill up canvas after canvas with paint, often
with only two or three minutes devoted to each “masterpiece.”
(Gioia 1988, p. 52)

Improvisation involves exploring, continual experimenting,
tinkering with possibilities without knowing
where one’s queries will lead or how action will unfold.

Learning to Improvise: Preparing To Be

It is worth exploring for a moment the way that jazz musicians
learn to improvise in order to gain a deeper understanding
of how they think while they are playing.
Leaming to play jazz is a matter of learning the theory
and rules that govern musical progressions. Once integrated
these rules become tacit and amenable to complex
variation and transformation, much like learning the rules
of grammar and syntax as one learns to speak. Jazz players
learn to build a vocabulary of phrases and patterns by
imitating, repeating, and memorizing the solos and
phrases of the masters until they become part of their
repertoire of “licks” and “crips.”

According to trumpeter Tommy Turrentine,
The old guys used to call those things crips. That’s from crippled
… In other words, when you’re playing a solo and your
mind is crippled and you can’t think of anything different to
play, you go back into one of your old bags and play one of
your crips. You better have something to play when you can’t
think of nothing new or you’ll feel funny laying out there all
the time (quoted in Berliner, 1994, p. 102).
After years of practicing and absorbing these patterns,
they train their ears to recognize what phrases fit within different forms, the various options available within the
constraints of various chords and songs.

They study other players’ strategic thought process that guided their solo
construction, why they chose certain notes and how their
motifs fit the contour of the overall phrasing.

A transformation occurs in the player’s development
when he or she begins to export materials from different
contexts and vantage points, combining, extending, and
varying the material, adding and changing notes, varying
accents, subtly shifting the contour of a memorized
phrase. Combining elements from different musical models,
mixing different harmonies and grace notes, extending
intervals, and altering chord tones is a metaphorical
transfer of sorts (Barrett and Cooperrider 1990), transferring
from one context into another to produce something
new. By combining, extending, and varying, they breathe
life into these forms. The variation could involve something
as simple as taking automatic phrases and extending
them into new and unfamiliar contexts, such as trying out
a phrase over a different chord. Pianist John Hicks recalls
experiencing a breakthrough when he combined previously
unrelated chords. Saxaphonist Lee Konitz attempts
to create new substitutions as he plays to enrich the basic
harmonic structure of standard songs (Berliner 1994, p.

The aim is to integrate ideas, freeing attention so that
players can think strategically about their choice of notes
and the overall direction of their solos. Hargreaves et al.
(1991, p. 53) hypothesize that when improvisers employ
automatic thinking’ to execute patterns, they are free to
plan the overall strategy of the piece; they are “aware of
playing detailed figures or ‘subroutines’ at a relatively
peripheral or unconscious level, with central conscious
control reserved for overall strategic or artistic planning.”
Saxaphonist James Moody practices “trying to play
something that you like and being able to put it anywhere
you want in a tune” (Berliner 1994, p. 174). Jazz critic Mark Gridley claims that Bill Evans was a master strategist.

Evans crafted his improvisations with exacting deliberation. Often
he would take a phrase, or just a kernel of its character, then
develop and extend its rhythms, its melodic ideas, and accompanying
harmonies. Within the same solo he would often return
to it, transforming it each time. And while all this was happening,
he would be considering ways of resolving the tension that
was building. He would be considering rhythmic ways, melodic
ways, and harmonies, all at the same time, long before the moment
that he decided was best for resolving the idea …. During
Bill Evans’s improvisations, an unheard, continuous self-editing
was going on. He spared the listener his false starts and discarded
ideas …. Evans never improvised solos that merely strung together ideas at the same rate they popped into his head.

The results of these deliberations could be a swinging and exhilarating
experience for the listener, but they reflected less a
carefree abandon, than the well-honed craftsmanship of a very
serious performer working in the manner of a classical composer.
The adjective most frequently applied to his music is
“introspective” (Gridley 1991, pp. 302, 303).

It is uncertain to what degree improvisers go through
an “unheard, continuous self-editing,” an anticipatory,
virtual trial and error as they consider different directions
and interpretations of the material. Within a split second,
musicians must project images and goals gleaned from
some musical model or one they have just heard. Although
Gridley theorizes that Bill Evans is thinking fairly
far ahead and choosing phrases long before he played it,
some musicians seem to be deciding within shorter time
spans which notes to play.

jazz improvisation keith jarrett

One player describes the subtle interplay between prehearing, responding, and following an idea, who sees the direction of the phrase that is just
ahead of him and likens it to “chasing a piece of paper
that’s being blown into the wind” (Berliner 1994, p. 190).
Others speak of going on automatic pilot while they think
of something, repeating a phrase in order to buy time
while their imagination wakes up. This no doubt, is one
characteristic that distinguishes great soloists: how far
ahead they are thinking and strategizing about possible
phrases, how to shape the contour of their ideas, how and
when to resolve harmonic and rhythmic tension. This
points toward a delicate paradox musicians face, a point
I will explore below: too much reliance on learned patterns
(habitual or automatic thinking) tends to limit the
risk-taking necessary for creative improvisation; on the
other hand too much regulation and control restrict the
interplay of musical ideas.

In order for musicians to “strike a groove,” they must suspend some degree of control and surrender to the flow of the music.
The previous section addressed the nature of improvisation,
the challenging task of playing unrehearsed ideas,
the process of developing improvisatory skills and the
process of learning the jazz idiom. In the following section,
I will outline seven characteristics of jazz improvisation
and explore how these features apply in non-jazz

Seven Characteristics of Jazz

Provocative Competence: Interrupting Habit Patterns

Perhaps because of the treachery involved in improvising
and the risk of playing something that is incoherent, there
is often a temptation to do what is feasible, to play notes that are within one’s comfortable range.

This is why, as many jazz critics attest, there is a temptation on the part
of jazz improvisers to rely on “certain stock phrases
which have proven themselves effective in past performance
(rather than) push themselves to create fresh improvisations”
(Gioia 1988, p. 53). Yet, the art of jazz improvisation
demands that the musician create something
different. Musicians and critics agree that “musicians who
‘cheat’ by playing the same or similar solos over and over
again are looked down upon by colleagues and fans”
(Gioia 1988, p. 52). Saxophonist Ronnie Scott contrasts
Oscar Peterson’s flawless pre-rehearsed solos with the
risk taking of Sonny Rollins, who attempts to transform
the harmonic and melodic materials that the tune presents.

Oscar Peterson is a very polished, technically immaculate, performer,
who–1 hope he wouldn’t mind me saying so-trots out
these fantastic things that he has perfected and it really is a
remarkable performance. Whereas Sonny Rollins, he could go
on one night and maybe it’s disappointing, and another night
he’ll just take your breath away by his kind of imagination and
so forth. And it would be different every night with Rollins.
(Quoted in Bailey 1988, p. 51)

Because of the temptation to repeat what they do well
rather than risk failure, veteran jazz musicians make deliberate
attempts to guard against the reliance on prearranged
music, memorized solos, or habits and patterns
that have worked for them in the past. Keith Jarrett decries
those who play overlearned cliches and become imitations
of themselves: “The music is struggle. You have
to want to struggle. And what most leaders are the victim
of is the freedom not to struggle. And then that’s the end
of it. Forget it!” (Carr 1991, p. 53). Jazz musicians often
approach their work with a self-reflexiveness, guarding
against the temptation to rely on ingrained habits, so that
they don’t repeat stock phrases and comfortable solos that
contradict the goal of improvisation. Tony Oaxley recalls
moments of self critique following performances: “The
search was always for something that sounded right to
replace the things that sounded predictable and (therefore)
wrong (Bailey 1992, p. 89). Jarrett put it succinctly:
“I think you have to be completely merciless with yourself’
(Bailey 1992, p. 122).

Organization learning theorists have noticed that organizations
also are tempted to rely on past successes and
repeat stock phrases. Behavior in organizations is based
on routines-rules, recipes, practices, conventions, beliefs-
in short the response system that encodes activity
learned from the past. Ordinary learning in organizations
tends to lead to stable routines (March 1991) that perpetuate
and become fixed even if they are no longer appropriate
or detrimental (Levitt and March 1988), as if they

are playing themselves automatically. Even when stimuli
change, organizations tend to generate the same responses
(Weick 1991). Many routines are automatic and not even
accessible to ordinary recollection and analysis, so that
individuals and organizations continue them long after
actors have ceased to be able to provide an account of
their purposes (Cohen 1991). Levitt and March (1988)
refer to this as the competency trap: the tendency for an
organization to become competent and specialized in a
routine that was successful, thereby squelching experimentation
(March 1991).

Especially under stressful conditions, such as environmental
turbulence, there is a tendency to fall back on
habitual responses. In this sense, managers often face the
same dilemma that jazz players face: their actions are
quite public and therefore stressful; they too are tempted
to repeat what they do well rather than risk failure if they
should depart from what has been proven to work. As
Argyris ( 1990) has pointed out, the pressure to look competent
leads people to defend their actions and reasoning.
This regression becomes an obstacle to the questioning
of assumptions and considering situations from a fresh
perspective that could lead to novel initiatives.

Hedberg writes that organizations and managers can
voluntarily switch from routines to a deliberate search for
alternative possibilities but this is rare: “learning is typically
triggered by problems” (Hedberg 1981, p. 16). Of
course, even deliberate search for alternatives might not
be sufficient for creation of novelty.

This creates a challenge for jazz players: their purpose,
by definition, is to avoid that which is automatic and safe
and formulas that simply repeat past success. Some jazz
musicians avoid “competency traps” and keep fresh alternatives
open by deliberately exploring the limits of
their knowledge and comfort level. Herbie Hancock recalls
an early moment when he discovered the limits of
his knowledge. He remembers being inspired when he
heard someone playing a passage that he (Hancock) could
not play. For some this might be discouraging. But for
Hancock, and most successful jazz musicians, this is the
beginning rather than the end of the story.

I had been a musician all my life, had all this training, played
with all these great players, but I knew I could never have created
that. And if I can’t do it, something is missing-I have to
find out how to do it! I’ve always been like that when I’ve heard
something I liked but I couldn’t do. That’s how I got into jazz.
I heard this guy playing (jazz piano) at a variety show in high
school, and I knew that he knew what was doing, and he was
doing it on my instrument-but I had no idea of what was going
on. So I wanted to learn how to do it. That’s what got me started.
In order to do that, you have to know what you don’t know.
(Novello 1990, p. 445)

What has not been explored much by learning theorists
is managers’ consciously “switching cognitive gears”
from habitual to active thinking (Louis and Sutton 1991).
Hedberg et al. (1976) encourage organizations to nurture
small disruptions and incremental re-orientations to keep
learning processes vital and handicap inferior routines.
Incremental experiments sharpen perception and activate
thought processes.

Many veteran jazz musicians practice provocative
competence; they make deliberate efforts to create disruptions
and incremental re-orientations. This commitment
often leads players to attempt to outwit their learned
habits by putting themselves in unfamiliar musical situations
that demand novel responses. Saxophonist John
Coltrane is well known for deliberately playing songs in
difficult and unfamiliar keys because “it made (him)
think” while he was playing and he could not rely on his
fingers to play the notes automatically. Herbie Hancock
recalls that Miles Davis was very suspicious of musicians
in his quartet playing repetitive patterns so he forbade
them to practice. In an effort to spur the band to approach
familiar tunes from a novel perspective, Davis would
sometimes call tunes in different keys, or call tunes that
the band had not rehearsed. This would be done in concert,
before a live audience. “I pay you to do your practicing
on the band stand,” Hancock recalls Davis telling
them. Keith Jarrett recalls Davis’ commitment to “keeping
the music fresh and moving” by avoiding comfortable
routines. “Do you know why I don’t play ballads any
more?” Jarrett recalled Davis telling him. “Because I like
to play ballads so much” (Carr 1992, p. 53).

Miles Davis not only practiced this provocative competence
in live concerts, he also extended this to the recording
studio. This is illustrated in a famous 1959 session.
When the musicians arrived in the recording studio,
they were presented with sketches of songs that were
written in unconventional modal forms using scales that
were very foreign to western jazz musicians at that time.
One song, contained 10 bars instead of the more familiar
8 or 12 bar forms that characterize most standards. Never
having seen this music before and largely unfamiliar with
the forms, there was no rehearsal. The very first time they
performed this music, the tape recorder was running. The
result was the album Kind of Blue, widely regarded as a
landmark jazz recording. When we listen to this album,
we are witnessing the musicians approaching these pieces
for the first time, themselves discovering new music at
the same time that they were inventing it.

What makes a disruption provocative rather than noxious
can be gleaned from Miles Davis’ example. First, his
interruption was affirmative (Barrett 1995): he held an
image of members as competent performers able to meet

the demands of a challenging task. He believed in their
overall potential and capacity to perform successfully
even if they felt uncomfortable (and possibly irritated).
In fact, his band members were often able to perform at
a higher level. Second, he did more than just disrupt habit
patterns: he created alternative pathways for action. He
imported new material that opened possibilities and suggested
alternative routes for his players. Once the song
begins, passivity is not an option: the activity is impersonally
structured so that musicians are required to play
something, to take some kind of action. Third, the interruption
was incremental. These foreign contexts were
scaled to be challenging, but not overly disruptive. This
suggests the role of leadership in cultivating generative
metaphors and seeding suggestive narratives (Barrett and
Cooperrider 1990).

Hedberg et al. (1976) contend that system designers
have weak direct influence on participants’ behavior.
They suggest that designers reconceive their roles as catalysts
for a system’s self-design by focusing on third order
strategies for carrying out second order learning.
Miles Davis had a talent for creating incremental obstacles
and nurturing small disruptions that provoked his
musicians to experiment with new actions that yielded
new levels of creativity. This suggests that managers, like
Miles Davis, develop a provocative competence that inspires
alternative possibilities, an ability to create anomalies
and unconventional obstacles that make it impossible
for members to rely on habitual responses and rote

It would be useful to consider the organizational equivalent
of requiring members to abandon overreliance on
automatic processing and practicing familiar routines.
Clearly this would have implications for dislodging conventional
assumptions regarding such conventional practices
as job descriptions, performance evaluations, and
recruitment. Perhaps this is what W. L. Gore and Associates,
the makers of Gore-tex, have in mind by abandoning
formal job descriptions or conventional chain of command
reporting structures. Reportedly, when a newly
hired MBA reported for work one day, Bill Gore, the
President and founder advised him to “look around and
find something you’d like to do.” Such a loosely structured
environment makes it more difficult to rely on accepted
routines and forces new hires to improvise new
actions. Or consider the example of the R & D executive
at Sony who, wanting to create a mini compact disc
player, was faced with engineers who were convinced the
CD technology could not be compacted further. Based on
familiar routines, and perhaps enamored of the technology
they themselves developed, they could not imagine

a smaller alternative. The executive walked into the meeting
with a 5-inch block of carved wood and told them
that the new CD player needed to be no bigger. The engineers
now had novel constraints to work through, a
challenging puzzle not unlike the modal sketches that
Miles Davis’ band found when they walked into the Kind
of Blue recording session.

This suggests that we expand our definition of leadership
to include creating conditions that encourage members
to bring a mindfulness to their task that allows them
to imagine alternative possibilities heretofore unthinkable.
Consider the example of British Airlines which held
an off-site workshop for its executives to consider ways
to improve customer service for the business class. However,
instead of sleeping in regular hotel rooms, one executive
had the beds removed and replaced them with
airline seats. This no doubt disturbed the taken-forgranted
routines, not to mention sleep patterns. Faced
with the puzzle of these unexpected constraints, they
came up with a number of innovations to improve comfort,
including the design of a more comfortable seat that
included a footrest. Provocative competence involves creating
irregular arrangements that disturb “stock phrases”
and comfortable playing, encouraging members to improvise
new solutions.

Embracing Errors As Source of Learning

If past successes create routines that drive out experimentation
in organizations, there is a tendency to construe
errors as unacceptable. However, errors are a very important
source of learning. Abdel-Hamid and Madnick
( 1990) discuss the need to learn from failures in the development
of new software. The Seifert and Hutchins
(1992) study of decision making on a Navy ship demonstrated
the learning potential of error-making, how errors
serve as an opportunity for receiving feedback and
becoming familiar with the wider task environment. As
individuals learned through error correction procedures,
they came closer to the eventual goal of error-free performance.
Jazz bands also embrace errors as source of
learning, but for quite different reasons. These studies
suggest the value of learning from errors as a way to
eliminate them under the assumption that in actual performance,
errors are ultimately intolerable. Jazz bands,
on the other hand, see errors as inevitable and something
to be assimilated and incorporated into the performance.

Since jazz improvisation is a highly expressive art form
that leads players to go out “on the edge of the unknown”,
it is impossible to predict where the music is going to
lead. Risky, explorative attempts are likely to produce
errors. In fact, jazz improvisers regularly make mistakes,
often without the audience’s awareness. Often, there are discrepancies between intention and action: sometimes
the hands fail to play what the inner ear imagines. Sometimes
musicians misinterpret others’ cues or simply play
the wrong notes.

Somebody who decides to play jazz for a living knows he will
struggle for the rest of his life, unless he opts for predictable
and smoothing compromise. Honest jazz involves public exploration.
It takes guts to make mistakes in public, and mistakes
are inherent. If there are no mistakes it’s a mistake. In Keith
Jarrett’s solo improvisations you can hear him hesitate, turn in
circles for a while, struggle to find the next idea. Bird used to
start a phrase two or three times before figuring out how to
continue it. On the spot. Now. No second draft. It can take a
toll night after night in front of an audience that just might be
considering you shallow. (Zwerin 1983, p. 33)

Jazz players are often able to turn these unexpected
problems into musical opportunities. Errors become accommodated
as part of the musical landscape, seeds for
activating and arousing the imagination. Drummer Max
Roach sees the value in errors, “if two players make a
mistake and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time,
they may be able to break out of it and get into something
else they might not have discovered otherwise.” (Berliner
1994, p. 383). Herbie Hancock recalls playing an obviously
wrong chord during a concert performance. Hearing
the unexpected combination of notes, Miles Davis used
them as a prompt, and rather than ignore the mistakes,
played with the notes, embellishing them, using them as
a creative departure for a different melody. Any event or
sound, including an error, becomes a possible springboard
to prime the musical imagination, an opportunity
to re-define the context so that what might have appeared
an error becomes integrated into a new pattern of activity.
Looking backward, the “wrong” notes appear intentional.

Rather than treat an enactment as a mistake to be
avoided, often what jazz musicians do is to repeat it, amplify
it, develop it further until it becomes a new pattern.
Pianist Don Friedman recalls listening to a recording with
himself on piano and Booker Little on trumpet. When
listening to the recording 20 years later, Friedman discovered
that he played a major third in the chord instead
of a minor third and Little brilliantly accommodated it,
allowing the “wrong note” to shape his solo.

Little apparently realized the discrepancy during his solo’s initial
chorus, when he arrived at this segment and selected the
minor third of the chord for one of the opening pitches of a
phrase. Hearing it clash with the pianist’s part, Little improvised
a rapid save by leaping to another pitch and resting, stopping
the progress of his performance. To disguise the error further,
he repeated the entire phrase fragment as if he had initially intended
it as a motive, before extending it into a graceful, ascending
melodic arch. From that point on, Little guided his solo according to a revised map of the ballad. “Even when Brooker
played the melody at the end of the take,” observed Friedman
with admiration, he varied it in ways “that fit the chord I was
playing.” (Berliner 1994, p. 383)

Repeating the phrase with the clashing note, Little
made it sound intentional. When errors do happen, rather
than search for causes and identify responsibility, musicians
treat them impersonally: they make adjustments and
continue. In this vein, Weick (1990) cites critic Ted Gioia
who calls for a different standard for evaluating performance,
an “aesthetic of imperfection”. Rather than evaluate
the success or failure of individual creations based
on some external standard of perfection (such as one
might find in the evaluation of a classical musical performance),
Gioia calls for the need to evaluate courageous
efforts. Such an aesthetic would involve evaluating
the entire repertoire of actions that the musician attempted,
the beautiful phrases combined with the clunkers
that were the result of risky efforts, the same expansive
efforts that no doubt produce beautiful passages.

One implication for enhancing innovative action in organizations
is to question the way we look at errors and
breakdowns. How can people in organizations be expected
to attempt something that may be outside of their
reach if breakdowns are seen as unacceptable? This
would suggest that innovation would be enhanced if organizations
resisted the attempts to over-focus on the
elimination of error or to see mistakes as character blemishes.
Too often managers create monuments to organizational
breakdowns through exhaustive search for causes
and framing mistakes as unacceptable. This often has the
unintended consequence of immobilizing people. Given
the nature of knowledge work in the organizations of the
future, this suggests that perhaps organizations need to
adopt an “aesthetic of imperfection,” an acknowledgement
that learning is something that often happens by trial
and error, by brave efforts to experiment outside of the

This would propose a different standard for organizational
evaluation: evaluate performances not just
on conventional standards of success, but on strength of
effort; level of purposeful, committed engagement in an
activity; perseverance after an error has been made; passionate
attempt to expand the horizon of what had been
considered possible. At the very least, it suggests distinguishing
between errors that are the result of carelessness
and those that are the result of caring deeply about a project.

jazz sheet music download partitura partition spartito

Similarly, once errors are made, how do managers tum
these unexpected events into learning opportunities, as
imaginative triggers and prompts for new action? Consider
an example from Nordstrom’s department store

where employees are encouraged to “respond to unreasonable
customer requests.” Stories circulate about an
employee paying a customer’s parking ticket when the
store’s gift wrapping took too long. Such capacity for
accommodation and adjustment might be indispensable
when attempts at innovation and customer satisfaction do
not immediately meet expectation. Rather than simply rewarding
managers for “fixing” problems, perhaps organizations
should consider the way that managers persevere
and make use of mistakes as points of creative
departure. An aesthetic of imperfection implies that errors
would be framed not so much as character blemishes, but
as unavoidable mishaps to be creatively re-integrated as
negotiation proceeds.

This also suggests that if organizations advocate ad hoc
action and serendipitous learning, then there are times
when members must be willing to release one another for
consequences that they could not predict, for errors of
trespassing and over-extension. Hannah Arendt (1958)
noted that the one antidote to the predicament of unpredictability
is forgiveness. Imagine executives developing
an aesthetic of forgiveness, releasing those who make noble
efforts, for consequences that could not be foreseen.
Otherwise, tightly bound bureaucracies might be necessary
to ward off trespassers.

Minimal Structures That Allow Maximum Flexibility

In an effort to guarantee consistency and efficiency, organizations
often attempt to systematically avoid changes
and ambiguity through creating standard operating procedures,
clear and rationalized goals, and forms of centralized
control. Hedberg et al. ( 1976) suggested that organizational
processes would be improved if designers
create minimal structures that allow diversity and minimize
consensus. Similarly, Eisenberg (1990) analyzes
jamming in jazz bands and contends that creativity is enhanced
when emphasis is placed on coordinating action
with minimal consensus, minimal disclosure, and minimal,
simple structures. Modest structures value ambiguity
of meaning over clarity, preserve indeterminancy and paradox
over excessive disclosure. By “making do with minimal
commonalities and elaborating simple structures in
complex ways,” (Eisenberg 1990) players balance autonomy
and interdependence.

Jazz improvisation is a loosely structured activity in
which action is coordinated around songs. Songs are
made up of patterns of melodies and chord changes,
marked by sections and phrases. Following Bastien and
Hostager ( 1988) songs are “cognitively held rules for musical
innovation” (p. 585). When musicians improvise, it
is usually based on the repetition of the song structure.

These guiding structures are nonnegotiable, impersonal
limitations: musicians do not have to stop to create agreements
along the way. The selection of standard tunes and
their chord changes embody minimal tacit rules that are
rarely articulated. The musicians know the chord changes
to “All of Me” or a 12 bar blues, so that often musicians
who have never met are able to ‘jam” and coordinate
action. These moderate constraints serve as benchmarks
that occur regularly and predictably throughout the tune,
signalling the shifting context to everyone. Everyone
knows where everyone else is supposed to be, what
chords and scales players are obliged to play. These minimal
constraints allow them freedom to express considerable
diversity. Players are free to transform materials,
to intervene in the flow of musical events and alter direction.
Once there is a mutual orientation around the basic
root movement of the chord patterns, even the basic
chords themselves can be altered, augmented or substituted.

Songs impose order and create a continuous sense of
cohesion and coordination: all the players know where
everyone is at any given moment. Individual players are
able to innovate and elaborate on ideas with the assurance
that they are oriented to a common place. How can organizations
achieve fluid coordination without sacrificing
creativity and individual contributions? What would be
the equivalent in organizations, of structures that are minimal,
non-negotiable, impersonal tacitly accepted rules
that do not need to be constantly articulated. Weick
(1990) suggests that one organizational equivalent of
minimal structure might be credos, stories, myths, visions,
slogans, mission statements, trademarks. Organizational
slogans, such as A vis’ “we try harder” are catchy
phrases awaiting embellishment, encouraging individual
members to elaborate on their version of the melodic path
that fits within the tacit constraints. Organizational stories
and myths, such as the Nordstrom’s employee who paid
a waiting customer’s parking ticket, persist as markers to
remind and seed other employees to embellish on the melody,
initiating unusual actions to satisfy customers.

One counterpart to minimal models in organizations is
the design prototype. The prototype is the design pattern
upon which engineers model and create variations on basic
structures. For example Crick and Watson, credited
for discovering the structure of DNA, recall that when
they were exploring the molecule, they frequently built
and re-built prototypes and copper models even though
they knew the models were not completely accurate. The
DNA prototypes acted as a minimal structure that provided
imaginative boundaries around which they could
explore options, a shared orientation that invited them to
elaborate upon their ongoing creation. Under traditional norms of organizational design, prototypes are often the
exclusive property of design engineers, kept separate
from manufacturing, marketing, and other groups, not to
mention the customer. As a result, many brilliant designs
never get produced, or worse, different engineering
groups work on their parts separately, only to discover in
the final stages that their contributions, however brilliant
and innovative, do not fit together. Often technical disciplines
are segmented as knowledge specialists develop
ideas at different rates, produce solutions that work well
in lab settings, but are difficult to reproduce (Purser and
Pasmore 1992).

As Weick (1990) pointed out, organizations pay disproportionate
attention to beginnings and endings, but not
much attention to ongoing temporal coordination. Many
breakdowns in innovation occur because organizations
are too segmented. Often members do not share a mutual
orientation after a project is launched, so that when someone
alters action or changes direction, no one is sure
where others are located, and do not find out until it is
too late. As a result they either feel too constrained to
take creative action, or when they do, they discover too
late that it causes problems for others.

But what would be the organizational equivalent of
song, a structure in which options are minimally-limited,
publicly shared, impersonal, simultaneous, and temporally
punctuated? Perhaps one counterpart to a song
would be rapid prototyping, regular updating and changing
of design prototypes. Such a practice would allow
cross-discipline communication so that people can create
while knowing how and where their ideas fit into the
whole evolving system. Consider an alternative that Kodak
initiated when they were developing the Funsaver
camera. Rather than working separately, the engineering,
manufacturing and marketing departments created a
shared work space and collaborated to develop a prototype
for the camera. Designers made changes and creative
contributions to their individual parts, but would update
the schematic for the whole camera. Each morning these
individual changes were made public and accessible so
everyone saw the results of their joint efforts on an ongoing
basis and each knew where everyone else was
through each stage of the design. Using computer technology
to make these contributions public on a regular
basis allows everyone to attune themselves to possible
direction, like changing the root movement of the chord.
People add variants, like the drummer adding accents,
that might inspire creative departures. Rapid prototypes
function like the loose framework of the song: they leave
a great deal of room to depart and deviate; and yet there
is enough structure there to give players enough collective
confidence to play together. The temporal updating of the minimal structure notifies everyone where others
are in their incremental innovations, like the chord
changes of a song, and increases the likelihood that people
can achieve a successful joint awareness throughout
the life of the project.

Distributed Task: Continual Negotiation Toward
Dynamic Synchronization

Although there are many players well known for their
soloing, in the final analysis, jazz is an ongoing social
accomplishment. What characterizes successful jazz improvisation,
perhaps more than any factor mentioned
thusfar, is the ongoing give and take between members.
Players are in a continual dialogue and exchange with one
another. Improvisers enter a flow of ongoing invention, a
combination of accents, cymbal crashes, changing harmonic
patterns, that inter-weave throughout the structure
of the song. They are engaged with continual streams of
activity: interpreting others’ playing, anticipating based
on harmonic patterns and rhythmic conventions, while
simultaneously attempting to shape their own creations
and relate them to what they have heard.

Jazz improvisation is an emergent, elusive, vital process.
At any moment a player can take the music in a new
direction, defy expectations, trigger others to re-interpret
what they have just heard. Trumpeter Wynton Marsalis,
in terms reminiscent of John Dewey’s dictum that genuine
learning is by nature a participative, democratic experience,
compares improvisation to working out ideas in
democratic groups.

Groups of people can get together and the process of their negotiation
can have an integrity, and the fact that they can get
together and have a dialogue and work-it’s like what the UN
does. They sit down, and they try to work things out. It’s like
any governing body. It’s like a wagon train, you know.
(Marsalis and Stewart 1995)

Pianist Tommy Flanagan discusses his duo albums with
Hank Jones and Kenny Barron

You don’t know what the other player is going to play, but on
listening to the playback, you hear that you related your part
very quickly to what the other player played just before you.
It’s like a message that you relay back and forth …. You want
to achieve that kind of communication when you play. When
you do, your playing seems to be making sense. It’s like a conversation.
(Tommy Flanagan quoted in Berliner 1994, p. 369)

In order for jazz to work, players must develop a remarkable
degree of empathic competence, a mutual orientation
to one another’s unfolding. They continually
take one another’s musical ideas into context as constraints
and facilitations in guiding their musical choices.
Saxophonist Lee Konitz discusses the interactive interplay.

I want to relate to the bass player and the piano player and the
drummer, so that I know at any given moment what they are all
doing. The goal is always to relate as fully as possible to every
sound that everyone is making …. but whew’ It’s very difficult
for me to achieve. At different points, I will listen to any particular
member of the group and relate to them as directly as
possible in my solo. (Lee Konitz quoted in Berliner 1994, p.

Players are continuously shaping their statements in anticipation
of others’ expectations, approximating and predicting
what others might say based on what has already

Traditional models of organization and group design
feature static principles in which fluctuations and change
are seen as disruptions to be controlled and avoided. Jazz
bands are flexible, self-designed systems that seek a state
of dynamic synchronization, a balance between order and
disorder (Purser and Pasmore 1992), a “built in instability”
(Takeuchi and Nonaka 1986). In jazz, ongoing negotiation
becomes very important when something interrupts
interactive coherence. Given the possibility of
disorientation and miscalculations, they must be able to
rely on one another to adjust, to amend direction. Drummer
Max Roach recalls a performance of “Night in Tunisia”
when the players lost the sense of a common beat.

When the beat got turned around (in Night in Tunisia), it went
for about 8 bars. In such a case, someone has to lay out. You
can’t fight it. Dizzy stopped first because he heard what was
happening quicker than the rest of us, and he didn’t know where
“one” was. Then it was up to Ray Brown and Bishop and myself.
One of us had to stop, so Bishop waved off. Then it was
up to Ray Brown and myself to clear it up. Almost immediately,
we found the common “one” and the others came back in without
the public realizing what had happened. (Berliner 1994, p.

The example above illustrates the dynamic, flexible potential
when a group successfully creates a distributed
task. Seifert and Hutchins (1992) refer to the features that
make up a distributed task: shared task knowledge, horizon
of observation, multiple perspectives. Jazz members
are able to negotiate, recover, proceed, adjust to one another
because there is shared task knowledge (members
monitor progress on ongoing basis), have adequate horizon
of observation (they are witnesses to one another’s
performance); and they bring multiple perspectives to
bear (each musical utterance can be interpreted from different
points of view).

When the players successfully achieve a mutual orientation
to the beat, they develop what they call a
“pocket,” or some refer to as “achieving a groove.” Establishing
a groove is the goal of every jazz performance.

Groove refers to the dynamic interplay within an established
beat. It occurs when the rhythm section “locks in”
together, when members have a common sense of the beat
and meter. Establishing a groove, however, is more than
simply playing the correct notes. It involves a shared
“feel,” for the rhythmic thrust. Once a group shares this
common rhythm, it begins to assume a momentum, as if
having a life of its own separate from the individual members.
There is a sense that the groove acts as what
Winnicot called a “holding environment,” a reliable nesting
that provides a sense of ontological security, a sense
of trust that allows people to take risks and initiate actions.

When you get into that groove, you ride right on down that
groove with no strain and no pain-you can’t lay back or go
forward. That’s why they call it a groove. It’s where the beat
is, and we’re always trying to find that. (Drummer Charlie
Persip in Berliner 1994, p. 349)
Every musician wants to be locked in that groove where you
can’t escape the tempo. You’re locked in so comfortably that
there’s no way you can break outside of it, and everyone’s
locked in there together. It doesn’t happen to groups every single
night, even though they may be swinging on every single
tune. But at some point when the band is playing and everyone
gets locked in together, its’ special for the musicians and for the
aware, conscientious listener. There are the magical moments,
the best moments in jazz. (Franklin Gordon in Berliner 1994,
p. 388)
I don’t care what kind of style a group plays as long as they
settle into a groove where the rhythm keeps building instead of
changing around. It’s like the way an African hits a drum. He
hits it a certain way, and after a period of time, you feel it more
than you did where he first started. He’s playing the same thing,
but the quality is different-it’s settled into a groove. It’s like
seating tobacco in a pipe. You put some heat on it and make it
expand. After a while, it’s there. It’s tight. (Saxophonist Lou
Donaldson in Berliner 1994, p. 349)

What happens when musicians strike a groove adds a
paradoxical dimension to our earlier discussion of attention
and cognitive processing. Good improvisers, we said,
employ a combination of automatic and controlled cognition.
However, this experience of groove that improvisers
hope for seems to involve a surrender of familiar
controlled processing modes; they speak of being so completely
absorbed in playing that they are not consciously
thinking, reflecting, or deciding on what notes to play, as
if they are able to simultaneously be inside and outside
of their bodies and minds. Controlled thinking is depicted
sometimes as an obstacle, something to develop only to

Herrigel suggests a similar paradox in the practice of
archery. Like jazz, the art of archery involves deliberate preparation and active conscious attention (controlled cognition) in disciplined practice; but when the moment comes when one wants the perfect shot, the archer must surrender and let go of conscious striving. At that moment:

nothing definite is thought, planned, striven for, desired or expected,
which aims in no particular direction … which is at
bottom purposeless and egoless … is therefore … called “right
presence of mind.” This means that the mind … is nowhere
attached to any particular place. (Herrigel 1989, p. 41)

This sense of aimless aiming, a surrender in which “nothing
is left of you but a purposeless tension” (Herrigel
1989, p. 35) is similar to the way clarinetist Ken
Peplowski describes such peak musical moments.

When we play at our best, I find many times that I’m not actually
thinking about anything and you can actually have a strange
experience of going outside of yourself and observing yourself
while you’re performing. It’s very strange. And you can actually
listen as you’re playing and listen to the rest of the group and
you can be completely objective and relaxed. And come to think
of it, completely subjective also, because you are reacting to
everything else around you. (Peplowski 1995)

This points to a core paradox at the heart of jazz improvisation:
if musicians strive too much to attain this
state, they obstruct it. Regulation and control can restrict
the interplay of musical ideas. Peplowski goes on to say
that what makes this possible are prior intensive practice,
learning to master tools skills; but at the moment of leaping
into playing, “you’re forgetting about all these tools
you’ve learned.”

Musicians often speak of such moments in sacred metaphors.
They speak of the beauty, the ecstasy, the divine,
the transcendent joy, the spiritual dimension associated
with being carried by a force larger than themselves. They
talk about these moments in language strikingly close to
what has been described as an autotelic experience, or
flow (Csikszentmihalyi 1990). This research suggests that
people are able to attain a state of transcendence when
they are absorbed in pursuit of desired activity, they feel
like they are being carried away by a current, like being
in a flow.

When musicians are able to successfully connect with
one another at this level and establish a groove, they
sometimes experience an ability to perform beyond their
capacity. This dimension is perhaps the most elusive, if
vital characteristic of jazz improvisation. Pianist Fred
Hersch recalls that playing with bassist Buster Williams
inspired him to play differently.

Buster made me play complex chords like Herbie Hancock
sometimes plays-that I couldn’t even sit down and figure out
now. It’s the effect of the moment and the effect of playing with Buster and really hearing everything, hearing all those figures.
(Pianist Fred Hersch in Berliner 1994, p. 390)

And Buster Williams recalls that when playing with Miles
Davis, the music took on a life of its own

With Miles, it would get to the point where we followed the
music rather than the music following us. We just followed the
music wherever it wanted to go. We would start with a tune,
but the way we played it, the music just naturally evolved.
(Buster Williams in Berliner 1994, p. 392)

Most of our studies of organizational behavior have a
rational-cognitive orientation. Organizational learning
theories in particular stress rational, adaptive modes of
inquiry_. Appreciating the interactive complexity involved
in jazz improvisation suggests that we pay attention to
intuitive and emotional connections between organizational
members, the experience of passionate connection
that inspire deeper levels of involvement and committed
participation. Studies of jazz improvisation suggests that
researchers revisit such familiar concepts as empowerment,
motivation, and team building, concepts which
have been studied almost exclusively from a cognitive
and individualistic perspective. The experience of spiritual
intimacy, synergy, surrender, transcendence, and
flow warrant wider study. Would it not be useful to study
the role of supportive relationships in drawing out one
another’s latent capacities, for example? At the very least,
this would suggest a relational view of the learning process,
in the spirit of Vygotsky’s concept of the zone of
proximal development. (Vygotsky 1987)

Reliance on Retrospective Sense Making as Form

Because jazz improvisation borders on the edge of chaos
and incoherence, it begs the question of how order
emerges. Unlike other art forms and other forms of organized
activity that attempt to rely on a pre-developed
plan, improvisation is widely open to transformation, redirection,
and unprecedented turns. Since one cannot rely
on blueprints and can never know for certain where the
music is going, one can only make guesses and anticipate
possible paths based on what has already happened,
meanwhile continue playing under the assumption that
whatever has happened must amount to something sensible.
Gioia (1988) writes:

The improviser may be unable to look ahead at what he is going
to play, but he can look behind at what he has just played; thus
each new musical phrase can be shaped with relation to what
has gone before. He creates his form retrospectively. (p. 61)

The improviser can begin by playing a virtual random
series of notes, with little or no intention as how it will
unfold. These notes become the materials to be shaped and worked out, like pieces of a puzzle. The improviser begins to enter into a dialogue with her material: prior selections begin to fashion subsequent ones as themes are aligned and reframed in relation to prior patterns.

Weick (1993) likens the jazz improviser to LeviStrauss’
(1966) concept of bricolage, the art of making
usage of whatever is at hand. The bricoleur, like the jazz
musician, examines and queries the raw materials available
and entices some order, creating unique combinations
through the process of working through the resources
he/she finds. Weick cites the example of a man
in upper state New York who built a tractor from a myriad
collection of unrelated junk and diverse parts he had accumulated
in his front yard. The jazz musician, like the
junk collector, looks over the material that is available at
that moment, the various chord progressions, rhythmic
patterns, phrases and motives, and simply leaps into the
quagmire under the assumption that whatever he is about
to play will fit in somewhere. Like the bricoleur who assumes
that there must be a tractor somewhere in that pile
of junk, the improviser assumes that there is a melody to
be worked out from the morass of rhythms and chord
changes. As new phrases or chord changes are introduced,
the improviser makes connections between the old and
new material. In the absence of a rational plan, retrospective
sense-making makes spontaneous action appear
purposeful, coherent, and inevitable.

Organizations tend to forget how much improvisation,
bricolage, and retrospective sense making are required to
complete daily tasks. In an effort to control outcomes and
deskill tasks, they often attempt to break complex tasks
down into formal descriptions of work procedures that
can be followed automatically. Following Brown and
Duguid (1991), managers wrongly assume that these simple
steps reflect the way that work actually gets done.
Given that many tasks in organizations are indeterminate
and people come to them with limited foresight, members
often need to apply resourcefulness, cleverness, pragmatism
in addressing concerns. They often have to play
with various possibilities, re-combining and reorganizing,
to find solutions by relating the dilemma they
face to the familiar context that preceded it. In spite of
the wish for a rational plan of predictable action, they
often must take a look around and act without a clear
sense of how things will unfold.

Consider Orr’s ( 1990) study of Xerox’s training of service
technicians representatives. The trainers, in an effort
to downskill the task of machine repair, attempted to document
every imaginable breakdown in copiers so that
when technicians arrived to repair a machine, they simply
looked it up in the manual and followed a pre-determined
decision tree to perform a series of tests that dictate a repair procedure. Their premise was that a diagnostic sequence
can be devised to respond to the machine’s predictable
problems. However, the study revealed that no
amount of documentation could include enough contextual
information necessary to understand every problem.
Orr (1990) relays a story of a technical rep confronting a
machine with error codes and malfunctions that were not
congruent with the diagnostic blueprint. This machine’s
malfunction did not fit the kind of errors that were documented
nor had anything like this problem been covered
in his training. Both he and the technical specialist he
called in to help were baffled. To simply give up the repair
effort and replace the machine would have been a
solution, but would have meant loss of face with the customer-
an unacceptable solution. After exhausting the
approaches suggested by the diagnostic, they attempted
to make sense of this anomaly by connecting it to previous
experiences and stories they had heard from others’
experience. After a five-hour trouble shooting session of
trials and errors, they fell upon a solution. Many jobs in
organizations require this kind of bricolage-fumbling
around, experimenting, patching together an understanding
of problems from bits and pieces of experience, improvising
with the materials at hand. Few problems provide
their own definitive solutions.

Jazz players, junkyard collectors and technical reps
find themselves in the middle of messes, having to solve
problems in situ, creating interpretations out of potentially
incoherent materials, piecing together other musicians’
playing, their own memories of musical patterns,
interweaving general concepts with the particulars of the
current situation, creating coherent, composite stories.

Hanging Out: Membership in Communities of Practice

An essential part of learning jazz is becoming a member
of the jazz community, “hanging out,” learning the code,
behaving like one of the members. Leaming is not simply
a matter of transmitting de-contextualized information
from one person to another. Local jazz communities of
peers in large metropolitan areas such as Detroit, Chicago,
and especially New York have serve as informal
educational systems for disseminating knowledge. Musicians
get together to listen to recordings of great soloists,
memorize their solos, play tunes in different tempos
and keys until they could find the right feel. They join
other musicians, “hanging out” in coffee shops and bars
after a performance and exchanging stories. Stanley
Turrentine remembers he learned from others by “asking
about things I didn’t understand.” Novices discover they
need to learn certain “standard” tunes; they learn appropriate
keys and tempos: the norms and conventions of the

trade. One young trumpeter even recalls learning how to
dress from “hanging out” with Miles Davis (Berliner
1994). Central to learning jazz is the institution of the jam
session, in which musicians get together to play extemporaneously.
A special fraternity often develops among
jazz musicians as they guide each other through various
learning experiences, borrowing ideas from one another.

Brown and Drugid (1991), refer to organizations as
communities of practices. To foster learning, they contend,
organizations must see beyond conventional, canonical
job descriptions and recognize the rich practices
themselves. In the example of the technical rep above,
their successful experience with the recalcitrant machine
became part of the technicians’ folklore, told and retold
during coffee breaks. These stories form a community
memory that others could draw upon when facing unfamiliar
problems. Essential to organizational learning is
access to legitimate peripheral participation (Lave and
Wenger 1990), understanding how to function as an insider.
This recognizes that learning is much more than
receiving abstract, acontextual, disembodied knowledge.
It is a matter of learning how to speak the language of
the community of practitioners.

This has real consequences for organizations. Consider
the case of how a technological change attempted at a
manufacturing plant failed because management did not
value the communal foundation of learning: useful local
innovations were not disseminated, learning from mistakes
was limited, and good routines that varied from the
officially sanctioned ones were kept unofficial. Learners
need access to experienced practitioners, through formal
and informal meetings, conversations, stories, myths, rituals,

Alternating Between Soloing and Supporting

One of the most widespread, yet overlooked, structures
in jazz is the practice of taking turns. Jazz bands usually
rotate the “leadership” of the band: that is, they take turns
soloing and supporting other soloists by providing rhythmic
and harmonic background. Such an egalitarian model
assures that each player will get an opportunity to develop
a musical idea while others create space for this development
to occur. In order to guarantee these patterns of
mutuality and symmetry, it is necessary that people take
turns supporting one another. The role of accompaniment,
or “comping” is a very active and influential one: it provides
a framework which facilitates and constrains the
soloist. In written arrangements, the scored passages often
precede the soloist’s improvisation and channel, sustain,
and embellish it. In a sense the background accompaniment
conditions the soloist, organizes the course of
the solo through passing chords, leading tones and rhythmic

It is not enough to be an individual virtuoso, one must
also be able to surrender one’s virtuosity and enable others
to excel. In order to “comp” or accompany soloists
effectively, jazz musicians need to be very good listeners.
They need to interpret others’ playing, anticipate likely
future directions, make instantaneous decisions in regard
to harmonic and rhythmic progressions. But they also
may see beyond the player’s current vision, perhaps provoking
the soloist in different direction, with accents and
chord extensions. None of this responsiveness can happen
unless players are receptive and taking in one anothers’
gestures. If everyone tries to be a star and does not engage
in supporting the evolution of the soloist’s ideas, the result
is bad jazz. When they listen well to others’ soloing,
they help the soloist reach new heights. Usually we think
that great performances create attentive listeners. This notion
suggests a reversal: attentive listening enables exceptional

This has considerable implication for organizational
learning. In spite of the increasing popularity of empowerment
and employee involvement, organizations often
have difficulty supporting participation (Pasmore and
Pagans 1991). Organizations struggle with finding ways
to include voices that traditionally have been silenced.
The deceptively simple practice of taking turns creates a
mutuality structure that guarantees participation, inclusion,
shared ownership without insisting on consensus
and its unintentional hegemonic consequences.

Beyond a model for sharing leadership through turntaking,
it also offers a model of followership. Given the
complex and systemic nature of problems that cross conventional
boundaries, managers, as knowledge specialists,
cannot be solo operators: they need one another’s
expertise and support in order to arrive at novel solutions.
The term ‘)ob rotation” takes on new meaning when we
think about the shifting of leadership and support responsibilities
that jazz bands enact. Perhaps organizational innovation
would thrive if members were skilled at giving
others’ room to develop themes, to think out loud and
discover as they invent. One suggestion would be to have
organizational “jam” sessions in which members take
turns thinking out loud while others listen. Recent interest
in organizational dialogue (Senge 1990) resemble attempts
to include disparate voices that might otherwise
become overlooked.

Yet, organizations tend to reward individual performance
and achievement rather than supportive behaviors.
This emphasis often leads to excessive competition to
achieve stardom, efforts to be in unilateral control, efforts
to defend one’s position against challenges, hesitancy to
acknowledge the limits of one’s knowledge: all obstacles
to the learning process (Argyris 1993). Imagine if such

practices were to become more widespread in organizations:
employees, managers, and executives evaluated on
their capacity to surrender self and ego in effort to support
the development of another’s idea. Perhaps if organizations
would recognize and reward those who strive to
nourish, strengthen, and enhance the expressive capacity
of relationships, they would unleash their capacity to improvise
and innovate.

Implications for Non-jazz Contexts

Managers often attempt to create the impression that improvisation
does not happen in organizations, that tightly
designed control systems minimize unnecessary idiosyncratic
actions and deviations from formal plans. People
in organizations are often jumping into action without
clear plans, making up reasons as they proceed, discovering
new routes once action is initiated, proposing multiple
interpretations, navigating through discrepancies,
combining disparate and incomplete materials and then
discovering what their original purpose was. To pretend
that improvisation is not happening in organizations is to
not understand the nature of improvisation.

Many business organizations, under pressure to perform,
create cultures that reinforce instrumental, pragmatic,
rational, and deliberate action rather than a culture
that is expressive, artistic, paradoxical, and spontaneous.
In fact, there are locales and durations which seem to rely
on routines and predictable outcomes, particularly in
functions such as production and manufacturing. Organizations
must face a tradeoff between servicing efficiency
and stewarding attention as a scarce resource to
be focused where needed. In this sense, improvisation is
best conceived as an activity that occurs for stretches of
human behavior.

Clearly there are certain industries and contexts that
require an improvisatory mindset: high velocity, high
technology firms; research and development activities;
cultures of high urgency and excitement, such as the early
days of the Apple Macintosh; interdisciplinary project
teams formed to address a specific problem. Certainly
popular management literature has created a language
that resonates with the jazz idiom: suggesting that organizations
need to learn to thrive on chaos; managers are
encouraged to create a sense of urgency by “turning
things upside down,” doing away with job descriptions,
and valuing failures as a sign that people are experimenting
and learning (Peters 1987).

Are there ways to socialize a mindset that nurtures
spontaneity, creativity, experimentation, and dynamic
synchronization in organizations? What practices and
structures can we implement that might emulate what

happens when jazz bands improvise? The jazz band as
prototype offers a few suggestions.

1. Boost the processing of information during and after
actions are implemented.
Jazz players act their way into the future, then justify
their actions by placing their statements within a context
of meaning (chord changes, rhythmic emphasis, etc.).
Like jazz soloists who realize how notes, phrases, and
chords relate as they look back on what they have created,
it is during and after action that people in organizations
become aware of the goals and values they implicitly hold
and what constraints these values place upon their future
actions (Weick 1995). Within the ongoing flow of everyday
organizational activity, people retrospectively make
sense or construct a story or justification for what they
have already done (Staw 1980). These stories can become
the seeds for greater discoveries and inventions. Therefore,
one implication is to boost the processing of information
and surface multiple interpretations of diverse
participants within close proximity to action.

Organizations might consider a strategic orientation
that links planning, action, implementation, and environmental
scanning. Organizations could benefit from creating
virtual strategic planning sessions in which members
engage in trial and error thinking, just as jazz
musicians do when they solo. Generating multiple, simultaneous
alternatives minimizes escalation of commitment
to a single option (Staw 1980, Eisenhardt 1989) and
allows members to make adjustments and re-orientations
as they receive disconfirming feedback regarding any single
action scenario. This view would challenge the traditional
notion of strategic planning as a form of rational
control, or as an abstract exercise divorced from and prior
to action. In this spirit, Senge (1990), advocates a view
of planning as play or as a “practice field” in which managers
practice thinking ahead, predicting, and guessing
future moves within various constraints. In virtual planning
scenarios managers could try out alternative maps
and alter the core assumptions that have remained unquestioned
(see Hampden-Turner 1990). This is apparently
a practice familiar to managers at Shell Oil (DeGeus
1988) who were asked to respond to multiple (and sometimes
contradictory) assumptions regarding their environmental
constraints, including entertaining the notion that
the price of oil might be slashed in half-something that
seemed unthinkable at the time. This became in DeGeus’
words, a “license to play.” These incremental disruptions
also created a larger repertoire of knowledge structures,
higher variety of responses, when such an unprecedented
event did occur.

2. Cultivate provocative competence: Create expansive promises and incremental disruptions as occasions for stretching out into unfamiliar territory.

Provocative competence is a leadership skill that involves
challenging habits and conventional practices,
challenging members to experiment in the margins and
to stretch in new directions. Organizational learning theorists
(Argyris 1990) write that one of the shortfalls of
single loop learning is that managers choose to address
only those problems that are familiar, those issues for
which a solution is imaginable. Miles Davis surprised his
band by disrupting their routines and stretching them beyond
comfortable limits: calling unrehearsed songs and
familiar songs in foreign keys. Of course there is a potential
downside to disruptions. Research suggests that
when people confront environmental jolts, they fall back
on habitual modes of action (Walsh 1995). Also, there
might be a tendency to escalate commitment to a wrong
course in the context of a threatening interruption (Staw
and Ross 1987).
One way leaders practice provocative competence is
by evoking a set of higher values and ideals that inspire
passionate engagement. A context in which goals that are
beyond the capacity of single individuals to accomplish
might enhance the need for improvisation, testing comfortable
boundaries, cooperation, and negotiation. Barrett
(1995) discusses visionary organizations that make expansive
promises that defy “reasonable limits” and stretch
members to re-define the boundaries of what they have
experienced as constraining. Consider Canon’s promise
in the 1970s to produce a personal copier that would sell
for $1,000 (Prahalad and Hamel 1989). Given the constraints
that existed at the time, (the least expensive copier
sold for several thousand dollars), such a proposal seemed
preposterous. Surprised engineers engaged in different
kind of conversations, searching for new approaches, experimenting
with substituting a disposable cartridge for
the very complex image-transfer mechanism that Xerox
and other companies, including Canon, had employed in
their copiers. Such tasks demand cooperation, exploration,
and improvisation.

Ensure that everyone has a chance to solo from time to time.

When self-directed work teams are performing well,
they are often characterized by distributed, multiple leadership
in which people take turns leading various projects
as their expertise is needed (Guzzo 1995). In jazz bands,
everyone gets a tum to solo. Organizations might consider
evolving norms that insist on including diverse
voices, giving everyone a regular turn at bat and valuing
those who make room for others to shine.
Organizations might experiment with a structured process
that provides participants with a chance to solo and

offsets those influential members who might control or
dominate a group. A simple organizational development
tool called the nominal group technique (Delbecq et al.
1975) is structured to do just this: every individual in tum
“brainstorms” out loud while others listen to his or her
ideas. No one is allowed to interrupt or re-direct; people
are encouraged to build on others’ ideas they have heard.
A variation of the structure is that no one speaks twice
until every other person in the group speaks at least once.
This is an impersonal, nonnegotiable structure that monitors
air time, cultivates group creativity and ensures that
every individual has voice. This also approximates
Habermas’ notion of the “ideal speech situation” in which
collective learning is enhanced because individuals are
free to communicate openly, completely free from compulsion
or distortions of power, and the force of the better
argument may prevail (Habermas 1970).

4. Cultivate comping behaviors.

Organizations must go beyond merely inv1tmg new
voices, but must also create processes that suspend the
tendency to criticize, judge, express disbelief that might
kill a nascent idea. In order for soloists to have impact,
there must be ongoing comping (accompaniment) from
supporters. What would be the equivalent of comping in
organizations? Perhaps this would suggest supportive behaviors
such as mentoring, advocating, encouraging, listening.
This means rewarding people who support others’
to take center stage, including such skills as blending,
helping people along the way as they transition and develop
ideas at different rates. This might include expanding
the stories we tell about creative achievements beyond
those that highlight autonomous action, to include
the roles of those who assisted, who gave others’ room,
who encouraged fledgling, nascent gestures with subtle
nudges much like a jazz pianist comping.
Such deliberate efforts to make room for peers’ contributions
is close to what jazz musicians do when they
comp–agree to suspend judgement, to trust that whatever
the soloist is doing right now will lead to something,
to blend in to the flow and direction of the idea, rather
than to break off in an independent direction. Such democratic
structures enhance the likelihood that people not
only have the right to be heard, but also have opportunity
to influence.

5. Create organizational designs that produce redundant information

From a rational design perspective, organizations
should be designed to process information efficiently.
However, to maximize flexibility and creativity, one
could follow the lessons of jazz bands and create designs
that produce a redundancy of information. Following
Hutchins (1990) in Weick and Roberts (1993) systems jobs are designed to reproduce overlapping knowledge.
Overlapping knowledge creates redundant sets of information
that permits people to identify with and take responsibility
for whole processes rather than parts of the
process. Designing more interdependence into tasks increases
members’ responsive capacity.

6. Create organizational climates that value errors as a source for learning.

Good things can happen when people jump in and act
even when all plans are not complete and elegant. Rather
than over-rely on pre-planned strategies and canonical job
descriptions, acknowledge members’ capacity for bricologe
and pragmatic reasoning, their ability to juxtapose,
recombine, and reinterpret past materials to fashion novel
responses. Organizational learning, then, must be seen as
a risky venture, reaching into the unknown with no guarantee
of where one’s explorations will lead. Since errors
are indispensable in the creative process, organizational
leaders can create an aesthetic of imperfection and an
aesthetic of forgiveness that construes errors as a source
of learning that might open new lines of inquiry. Often,
however, organizations view errors as a result of individual
incompetence rather than systemically determined,
leading people to suppress mistakes and deny responsibility
(Argyris 1990). This suggests that leaders need to
create contexts in which reporting and discussing errors
is not risky behavior.

7. Cultivate serious play: too much control inhibits flow.

Jazz is an activity marked by paradox: musicians must
balance structure and freedom, autonomy and interdependence,
surrender and control. They grapple with the constrictions
of previous patterns and structures: they strive
to listen and respond to what is happening; at the same
time they try to break out from these patterns to do something
new with all the risks that both paths entail. If musicians
strive too much to hit a groove, achieve flow
(Csikszentmihalyi 1990), or jam (Eisenberg 1990), they
obstruct it. Organization theorists have articulated a similar
paradox: Quinn (1988) argues that having a conscious
purpose with logical, internally consistent abstractions
sometimes creates a unidimensional mindset that is blind
to emerging cues: “When behaving with conscious purpose,
people tend to act upon the environment, not with
it” (p. 27). Quinn’s discussion of masters of management
sounds very much like what master improvisers do:

The people who come to be masters of management do not see
their work environment only in structured, analytic ways. Instead,
they also have the capacity to see it as a complex dynamic
system that is constantly evolving. In order to interact effectively
with it, they employ a variety of different perspectives and frames … [b]ecause of these shifts (in contradictory perspectives).
(Quinn 1988, pp. 3-4)

Jazz musicians suggest that one way to manage this
paradox is to adopt a disciplined concentration that one
adopts when playing a game, the way rock climbers and
chess players experience their task (Csikszentmihalyi
1990) or the way that Bill Russell talks about playing
basketball (Eisenberg 1990). There is a sense of surrender
in play, a willingness to suspend control and giving over
of oneself to the flow of the ongoing game. (Perhaps this
is what organizations like Southwest Air are hoping to
encourage when they declare having fun in the workplace
as a core value). This suggests that we re-visit the conventional
separation between work and play: legitimate
play as a fruitful, meaningful activity, one that enhances
the sheer joy of relational activity.

Conclusion and Discussion

The mechanistic, bureaucratic model for organizing-in
which people do routine, repetitive tasks, in which rules
and procedures are devised to handle contingencies, and
in which managers are responsible for planning, monitoring
and creating command and control systems to
guarantee compliance-is no longer adequate. Managers
will face more rather than less interactive complexity and
uncertainty. This suggests that jazz improvisation is a
useful metaphor for understanding organizations interested
in learning and innovation. To be innovative, managers-
like jazz musicians-must interpret vague cues,
face unstructured tasks, process incomplete knowledge,
and yet they must take action anyway. Managers, like jazz
players, need to engage in dialogue and negotiation, the
creation of shared spaces for decision making based on
expertise rather than hierarchical position.
Although rich in implications, there are limits to the
applicability of the improvisation metaphor. The discussion
of jazz bands has held up jazz as an “ideal type.”
Most of the points discussed so far assume a base level
of competence. In reality, not all players are equally competent.
This is where the metaphor begins to break down
for managerial purposes. No amount of listening, support,
or “comping” can enhance a performance if the performer
is not up to the task. If an interaction with competent
players can enhance individual performance, there might
also be an opposite effect: performers of lesser competence
can have a debilitating effect on the overall group
performance. Also while tolerance of errors is essential
to enhance experimentation, there are cases where errors
are intolerable: in high reliability organizations, for example.
But even beyond high reliability organizations, the consequences of small actions can have large consequences
when the structure is loosely coupled (Weick
1991 ). Consider the collapse of Barring Bros., one of the
most prestigious financial institutions in the world, due
to the erroneous actions of one man.
By looking at the practices and structures associated
with jazz playing, it is possible to see that successful jazz
performances are not haphazard or accidental. Musicians
prepare themselves to be spontaneous. Jazz improvisation
has implications that would suggest ways that managers
and executives can prepare organizations to learn while
in the process of acting.
Finally, jazz improvisation can be seen as a hopeful
activity. It models individual actors as protean agents capable
of transforming the direction and flow of events. In
that sense, jazz holds an appreciative view (Cooperrider
and Srivastva 1987, Barrett 1995) of human potential: it
represents the belief in the human capacity to think
freshly, to generate novel solutions, to create something
new and interesting, reminding us of John Dewey’s contention
that we are all natural learners. To quote the saxophonist
Ornette Colman, “Jazz is the only music in
which the same note can be played night after night but
different each time.”

Did you know?

10 Most Outstanding Jazz Pianists You Should Listen to

The number of truly wonderful pianists is astounding. There are countless innovative and unique artists that have taken composition and performance to new heights. It can be easy to get discouraged with your own playing in the face of such greatness, but I’d like to point out that there is one thing every great pianist has in common, regardless of time period or style – they all were inspired by and influenced by those who came before them!

When I first started learning to play piano, I only played and listened to classical music. I wasn’t exposed to jazz until a few years later, and it took some time for me to understand and appreciate it. Jazz is fundamentally about improvisation in the moment. Playing jazz has taught me how to improvise a melody over any chord progression in any key, and while studying jazz, I’ve also learned how to harmonize a melody, add color tones to chords, and play basslines. Listening to jazz has taught me how to tell a story using music. Great jazz musicians do this by developing short musical ideas or motifs into long passages that are cohesive and meaningful.

If you are a classical pianist or a beginner that is interested in learning more about jazz piano, this list is for you! I hope that these recommendations can serve as a stepping stone for you to become more immersed in the world of jazz music. One of the best ways to get better at playing piano is to listen to great pianists, so I encourage you to listen to what these giants of jazz have to offer!

1. Thelonious Monk (1917-1982)

Thelonious Monk jazz American jazz pianist and composer Thelonious Monk’s unmistakable flat-fingered playing has been heavily influential to many generations of pianists. Monk was born in North Carolina, but moved to New York City as a child, where, as a teenager, he began to gig as a professional pianist. His eccentric playing style is defined by unusual pauses and messy, angular melodies. He was known for suddenly standing up and walking around to watch the rest of the band play, as if he was in a trance. Monk stabbed at the piano with such a ferocity that he would sometimes hit notes adjacent to those he was aiming for.

One of my favorite jazz professors, however, told me that he thought that Monk never hit a note that he didn’t intend to hit. Monk struggled with unidentified mental health issues for a large part of his adult life, but his music was not affected negatively. On the contrary, Monk only wrote 70 tunes, but all of them have become immensely popular jazz standards, and he is now the second most recorded jazz composer of all time (Duke Ellington takes the number 1 spot). There will never be another Thelonious Monk, and it is well worth your time to listen to, understand, and emulate his captivating and carefree style in your own playing.

Recommended listening:Locomotive,” “Blue Monk,” “Well, You Needn’t”

2. Art Tatum (1909-1956)

Art Tatum jazz

American jazz pianist Art Tatum is one of the most virtuosic pianists of all time. He utilized incredibly fast flourishes and a pulsing stride rhythm to dazzle his audiences. Art Tatum was so good, in fact, that he felt playing with other musicians slowed him down! Tatum’s use of extended harmony (adding notes like like b13ths and #9s to a dominant chord) was well ahead of its time, and would serve to be highly inspirational to later pioneers of jazz harmony like Charlie Parker. There is very little camera footage of Art Tatum playing, but it was often said that he made playing look effortless – he didn’t move around at the piano or make faces.

If listening to Tatum isn’t one of the most impressive things you’ve ever heard, consider this: Tatum was legally blind and mostly self taught! This means that he played the piano almost entirely through muscle memory and utilized techniques that he invented himself, like his famous “2 finger runs.” Oscar Peterson (one of the most phenomenal jazz pianists of all time, also included in this list) confessed that he was intimidated to play in Art Tatum’s presence, and at one point said that “Tatum scared me to death.”

Recommended listening:Elegy,” “Tiger Rag”

3. Herbie Hancock (b. 1940)

Herbie Hancock jazz

Herbie Hancock is a living legend, and remains one of the most well-known pianists of all time. Hancock was a child prodigy, but his career was jump-started when he joined Miles Davis’ Quintet in 1963. There is a famous story about how Miles Davis once told Herbie Hancock before a recording session: “Don’t play the bottom notes,” but Herbie misheard him say “Don’t play the butter notes.” Because of this, Herbie changed his entire outlook on how to develop accompaniment harmonically, because he thought Miles was telling him to not play common chord tones.

Thereafter, Herbie Hancock was responsible for advancing an unorthodox style of jazz harmony that sometimes abandoned traditional chord changes entirely in favor of colors and rhythm, which played a large part in the birth of a wide ranging style known as jazz-fusion. He still plays and records music to this day, and serves as the LA Philharmonic Creative Chair For Jazz, as well as Institute Chairman for the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz.

Recommended listening:Watermelon Man,” “Chameleon,” “Maiden Voyage”

Related: Top 10 Inspirational Jazz Guitarists of All Time

4. Bill Evans (1929-1980)

Bill Evans jazz

Bill Evans was an American jazz pianist best known for his work with his own trio and for his playing on the best selling jazz record of all time, Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue. Evans was classically trained, and studied composition and classical piano interpretation at Southeastern Louisiana University and the Mannes School of Music in Manhattan. His classical training gave him a unique approach and a tamed virtuosity that fueled the modal jazz and bebop playing he later became well known for.

Evans was very deliberate in his playing, and in interviews he was clear in his belief that students of music should not approximate or guess during the learning process and should instead foster a strong, foundational understanding of music.

He believed that “jazz” is a style of playing music that is fundamentally about about improvisation over a framework, and not a genre of music with a specific sound. He described playing jazz as “Making one-minute’s music in one-minute’s time.” Evans often utilized large, impressionistic block chords to harmonize a single melodic line, which gave an effect reminiscent of a jazz saxophone section playing Debussy.

Recommended listening:Minority,” “So What,” “Waltz for Debby”

5. Keith Jarrett (b. 1945)

Keith Jarrett jazz

Keith Jarrett is an American pianist whose inimitable style has won him awards and accolades in both the jazz and classical worlds, an exceedingly rare feat. His 1975 album, The Köln Concert, with worldwide sales of over 3.5 million copies, is the best-selling solo album in jazz history, as well as the best-selling piano album of all time.

Keith Jarrett’s intense study of classical and jazz music make his improvisations and interpretations of existing musical material supremely unique. Jarrett’s style often involves playing multiple musical layers simultaneously, which can sound as if there are multiple pianists, or even multiple pianos, rather than just one! Jarrett is known for being very animated during live performances, sometimes shouting or standing while he plays.

He is also particular about live performances—insisting that audiences must be extremely quiet and not take photographs, because even small distractions ruin his concentration during free improvisation.

Recommended listening:The Köln Concert,” “Jasmine,” “Landscape For Future Earth”

6. Oscar Peterson (1925-2007)

Oscar Peterson

Oscar Peterson was a Canadian jazz pianist with a flamboyant, virtuosic striding style that was reminiscent of the elder Art Tatum, and is widely considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. Tatum was a model for the younger Peterson, and in order to catch up to his idol, Peterson practiced six hours a day for decades! In addition to his love for Tatum and boogie-woogie, Peterson was classically trained and drew a wealth of influence from JS Bach’s Well Tempered Clavier, as well as Russian composer Sergei Rachmaninoff’s piano concertos.

Oscar Peterson’s playing was littered with extremely fast and swinging 32nd-note melodic improvisations. One thing to notice as a listener, is how each note Peterson plays is extremely precise—I think there is a little bit of a cleaner, more thoughtful execution in Peterson’s playing than in Art Tatum’s wildly creative flourishes.

Recommended listening:Blues For Bird,” “Cherokee,”

7. Brad Mehldau (b. 1970)

Brad Mehldau jazz

Brad Mehldau is an American jazz pianist and composer known well known for his jazz trio and for his virtuosic contrapuntal interpretations of rock and pop music. I was first introduced to Mehldau because of fantastic covers of songs by three of my favorite pop artists: Radiohead, The Beatles, and Elliott Smith. Mehldau is able to seamlessly blend the pop framework present in artists like this with a refined jazz sensibility. Another aspect of Mehldau’s work that stands out is his willingness to embrace synthesizers and electric pianos as worthy musical tools that, despite sounding and feeling different than the piano, are as useful the piano itself.

Some other pianists on this list, like Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett, are known for their dislike of using electric instruments. Mehldau’s pop influence is clear in the production and sound of some of his recent records, like Highway Rider, which features punchy, clean drums and a bright, full and rounded piano sound that would fit in well on an indie-rock record.

Recommended listening:Exit Music (For A Film),” “Sky Turning Grey[For Elliott Smith],” “Memory’s Tricks”

8. Hiromi Uehara (b. 1979)

Hiromi Uehara jazz

Hiromi Uehara, known professionally as just “Hiromi,” is a Japanese jazz pianist and composer. Watching Hiromi play is mesmerising – she’s a fantastic performer, and her shows are extremely energetic and engaging. She improvises incredibly difficult rhythmic and melodic figures seemingly effortlessly, and without even looking at the piano. You have to see her play to believe it! She studied at Berklee College of Music in Boston in the early 2000’s, where she was mentored by Ahmad Jamal and Richard Evans, both of whom helped her to release her first record. Since then, she has maintained a successful solo career that has included leading her own jazz trio. Stylistically, Hiromi’s music is hard to pinpoint.

She says that she’s been influenced by many kinds of music, from classical and jazz to metal and rock and beyond. There is a joyful wonder in her work that transcends genre, and there is little doubt that she will continue to grow as an artist and influence generations of pianists yet to come.

Recommended listening:I Got Rhythm”

9. Dave Brubeck (1920-2012)

Dave Brubeck jazz

Dave Brubeck is most well known for his top selling record Time Out, which includes classics like “Take 5” and “Blue Rondo A La Turk.” Brubeck’s writing often employed odd time signatures and sometimes even multiple tonalities in his compositions. “Blue Rondo A La Turk” is a great example of both of these idiosyncratic compositional tools at work. Brubeck’s iconic work with sax player Paul Desmond was instrumental in the development of “cool jazz,” which is a relaxed, downtempo style of playing that contrasts sharply with the zany upbeat nature of bebop. Brubeck’s piano work was often a contrast of improvised sing-song melodies and bombastic block chords with accented rhythms.

Recommended listening: “Take 5,” “Blue Rondo A La Turk,” “Unsquare Dance”

10. Vince Guaraldi (1928-1976)

Vince Guaraldi

American jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi is most well known for writing the music to the animated Peanuts TV specials, including A Charlie Brown Christmas, as well as the feature film A Boy Named Charlie Brown. Guaraldi had a careful, plaintive touch to the piano. His solo lines are highly melodic and often sound more like what a saxophone player or a singer would play than a pianist. He was fond of strong rhythmic vamps in the left hand, playing large block chords with both hands, and chromatic turns that involve dragging fingers from a black key to a white key – a pop piano technique that is frowned upon in the classical style.

Guaraldi’s playing is not always technically difficult, in contrast to some of the other pianists on this list, but his style is nevertheless unmistakably unique.

Watch on YouTube

And download their sheet music transcriptions from our Library.

jazz pianists sheet music score download partitura partition spartiti 楽譜

Do you want to learn piano, but don’t know where to start? Do you want to improve your piano skills? We can help. Find many books and methods in our Library.

Did you know?

Béla Bartók: Analysis of his music (1)

Béla Bartók: Analysis of his music 1.(sheet music available)

Tonal Principles

The Axis System

“Every art has the right to strike its roots in the art of a previous. age; it not only has the right to but it must stem from it”, Bartok once declared.
His tonal system grew out of functional music. An uninter­rupted line of evolution can be followed from the beginnings of functional . concepts, through the harmonies of Viennese classicism and the tone-world of romanticism to his axis system.

By an analysis of his compositions, this axis system can primarily be shown to possess the essential properties of classical harmony, i.e.

(a) the functional affinities of the fourth and fifth degrees
ibr the relationship ofrelative major and minor keys
(cd _the overtone relations
( d) the role ofleading notes
.ei the opposite tension of the dominant and subdominant (/) the duality of tonal and distance principles

(a)To begin with, let us try to situate Bartók’s tonal system in the circle of fifths, Let us take C as the tonic (T). Then F, the fourth degree, is the subdominant (S); G, the fifth degree, ia the dominant (D); A, the sixth degree and relative of the tonic, functions as a tonic; D, the second degree, and relative of the subdominant, functions as a subdominant; E, the third degree and relative of the dominant, functions as a dominant. The series of fifths, F-C-G-D-A-E corresponds to the functional series S-T-D-S-T-D.

bela bartok sheet music

We note that the sequence S-T-D repeats itself. When this periodicity is extended over the entire circle of fifths the scheme of the axis system may be clearly seen:

Le­t us separate the three funtions and call them tonic, subdominant dominant and dominant axes, respectively.

This table teaches yet another lesson. All four movements rest on the tonic axis, A-C-Eb-F#. Thus the first and fourth movements are supported by the “principal branch”, A and Eb,; the middle movements, however, by the “secondary branch”, C and F#, Thus each axis has a two-fold affinity depending on whether we oppose the pole with the counter­pole, or the principal branch with the secondary branch.

Consequently the components of the axis system are as follows:

The Slow Movement of the Sonata for Two Pianos and Percussion is based on the subdominant axis, B-D-F-Ab, complying with the traditions of classical composition. The modal arrangement of its principal theme is symmetrical: the beginning and end supported by the B and F counterpoles (i.e. the principal branch of the axis).

b) A survey of the evolution of harmonic thinking leads to the
conclusion that the birth of the axis system was a historical
necessity, representing the logical continuation (and in a _<:ertain sense the completion) of European functional music. It can be demonstrated that the axis system, with its characteristic features had, in effect, been used by the Viennese “Greats”. Indeed, it had been recognised by Bach, in his chromaticism.

The sense of functional correlation in music was introduced in practice by the realisation of the I-IV-V-I affinity (in medieval modal music, at first in cadence form only) In the case of the C tonic:

The classical theory of harmony already speaks of primary and secondary triads inasmuch as the C may be replaced by its relative A, the F by its relative D and the G by its relative E.

Romantic harmony goes still further, making frequent use of the upper relatives. (Naturally only major and minor keys of similar key signature may be regarded as relatives, e.g. C major and A minor, or C minor and Eb major):

One more step completes the system. The axes extend the application of relatives to the whole system. The axis system implies the recognition of the fact that the common relative for A and Eb, is not only C, but also F# ( =Gb); that D and Ab, not only have F as a common relative, but also B; and that E and Bb, not only have G, but also C# ( =Db) as common relatives.

bela bartok sheet music

As is well known, Bartók showed a preference for the use ofso-called majoMninor chords (see Fig. 32b). For instance, its form in C tonality is:

The function remains unchanged even if the C major mode­as shown in the above chord-is replaced by the relative A minor, or when the Eb major tonality replaces the relative C minor. This technique occurs regularly in Bartók’s music:

These substitute chords may also be employed in major-minor form, which brings the system to a close, since the relative of A major (F# minor) and that, of Eb, minor (Gb major) meet at a point of enharmonic co.incidence, F#=Gb.

These relatives, applied to dominant and subdominant harmony, again result in the scheme of the axis system.

(c) The theory of the axis system is also substantiated by the laws of acoustics. Acoustically, arriving from the dominant to the tonic, is to reach the root from an overtone-all cadential re­lations rest on the principle of interconnection between roots and their overtones. Thus, the dominant of C is not only G but also the next overtones E and Bb. Therefore the circle of tonic-dominant relationships is expanded to include E-C and Bb-C.

Since the D-T relationship corresponds relatively to

the T-S and
the S-D relationship,

overtone-root attraction exists between the T-S and the S-D, as well.

If we add the role of the nearest overtone, i.e. the fifth, then we
can deduce the complete axis system from these relations.

(d) In the simplest cadence, that of V7-I, the main role is played by the so-called sensitive notes which produce the pull of the dominant towards the tonic. The leading note pulls to the root and the seventh towards the third degree of the tonic, i.e. the leading note B resolves on C ind the seventh F on E or Eb.

These important sensitive notes bear a tritonic relationship to each other. The tritone–half the octave interval-is charac­terised by the interchangeability of its notes without changing the interval. Thus, if the B-F relationship is converted into an F-B one (as is frequently the case with Bartók), then the F ( =E#) assumes the role of the leading note, pulling towards the F# instead of E, while the seventh B pulls towards A# or A instead of C. So, instead of the expected tonic C major, the counterpole, the equally tonic F# major (or minor) emerges.

This resolution is reserved by Bartók for a sudden change of scene. The circumstances of an expected G7-C cadence emerging as G7-F# gives us a “Bartokean pseudo-cadence”.

(e) Starting from the tonic centre C we reach the dominant in one direction and the subdominant in the other, in identical latitudes. At a distance of i fifth we find the dominant G upwards and the subdominant F downwards. Regarding overtone relations we also get the dominant G, E, Bb, in the upper and the subdominant F, Ab, D the lower directions.

But what happens if the pendulum covers the latitude of a tritone? In this case the deviations made upwards and down­wards meet, both ending at F# ( =Gb), and ifwe were to take one as the dominant, then the other would have to assume the subdominant function. By this coincidence, however, a neutral­isation of their functions takes place, dominant and subdominan t merging are rendered ineffective in the interaction of their opposite forces.

Consequently the balance is saved, and the function is invariably that of the tonic. The counterpole is born. Similarly the distance between the tonic C and F# is bisected by Eb ( =D#) in the one and by A in the other direction; so lying in tensionless, neutral section points, they also have to be interpreted as tonics,. No more than four tonic poles can be surmised, since the intervals C-Eb, Eb-F#, F#-A, A-C provide no further points of bisection.

Finally, what significance should be attached to a swing of a chromatic degree, of C-B and its counterpart C-C# (=Db,)? Which is then to assume the dominant and which the sub­dominant function? Related to B, C# shows a degree of elevation of two fifths, which might correspond to the S-D inter­dependence, but not to its opposite. Anyway, the subdominant function of B and the dominant function of C# are un­questionable when they are related to the tonic F# counterpole.

(f) Thus, observing the logic of functional interconnection of the three axes, another interesting point arises. The sub­dominant and dominant are represented most effectively not by the degrees IV and V but, in the case of C tonality, the subdominant by Ab, (and its counterpole), the dominant by E (and its counterpole).

This is, after all, nothing new since there is, for instance, the dominant secondary theme in E of Beethoven’s Waldstein Sonata (C major) or the subdominant Slow Movement in Ab, of the Pathetique (C minor). The movements of Brahms’ First Symphony have the following key-sequence: C-E-Ab,-C in the sense of tonic-dominant-subdominant-tonic, etc.
However, the above examination of the axis system fails to explain why Bartók prefers these augmented triad relations to the traditional I-IV-V-I.

This necessitates a new approach to the system.

It is generally accepted that twelve-tone music shows a strong tendency to indifferent tonal relations.

Atonal relations can be most suitably effected by the equal division of the octave, or of the circle of fifths. By dividing the octave m twelve equal parts we get the chromatic scale; in the case of six equal parts we have the whole-tone scale; four equal parts gives us the chord of the diminished seventh; three the augmented triad, and finally by dividing the octave into two equal parts we arrive at the tritone.

For the present we shall exclude the whole-tone scale because of its limited possibilities: two whole-tone scales produce the chromatic scale by interlocking.

Every tonal system presupposes a centre as well as sub­ordinate relations dependent on the centre. Taking again C as the tonic centre, the three functions are represented most potently by those degrees dividing the circle of fifths into three equal parts, i.e. in the augmented triad C-E-Ab. Properties inherent in classical harmony are responsible for the E assuming a dominant function and Ab, a subdominant function in relation to the tonic C.

Each of these main notes permit their substitution by their counterpoles, i.e. their tritonic equivalents. Thus, C may be replaced by F#, E by Bb, and Ab by D.

If we divide the twelve-tone chromatic scale proportionally between the three functions, each function will have four poles, and these-insofar as we keep to the distance principle-are arranged in diminished-seventh relations, dividing the circle into four equal parts. Accordingly, C-Eb-F#-A belong to the range of the C tonic, E-G-Bb-C# to that of the dominant E main note, and Ab-B-D-F to that of the subdominant Ab, main note.

So, the tonal system resulting from a division of the chromatic scale into equal parts agrees completely with the axis system:

Put concisely, given the twelve-tone system and the three functions this is the on[y system that can be realised by means of distance division.
Viewed historically, the axis system reflects the age-old struggle between the principles-of tonaliry and equi-distance, with the gradual ascendancy of the latter which finally resulted in the free and equal treatment of the chromatic twelve notes.

Here we have to draw a line between Bartók’s twelve-tone system and the Zwölftonmusik of Schönberg. Schönberg annihilates and dissolves tonality whereas Bartók incorporates the principles of harmonic thinking in a perfect synthesis. To penetrate into Bartók’s creative genius is to discover the natural affinities and intrinsic possibilities, inherent in the musical material.

Béla Bartók Piano Sonata, Sz. 80 with sheet music

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Guitar Songwriting: A compassionate Guide (Part 1)

Guitar Songwriting: A compassionate Guide (Part 1)

Writing your first guitar song

Writing a song is a gift to yourself—and sometimes a gift to the world. Song is one of the most powerful communication tools we have as human beings: a slice of life encapsulated in words, melody, and accompaniment. Many of us would like to write songs but find it

hard to get started. We find it very intimidating to commit ourselves to words, notes, and chords and then to paper, recordings, and listeners’ ears. Or, once we have started, we find it pretty much impossible to develop ideas into satisfactory songs. Here are some simple techniques that will help you get started and help you develop your ideas into songs that work.


If getting the ball rolling is particularly intimidating, I encourage you to pick out a song that you admire and know the lyrics and melody to. It doesn’t matter if you can’t play the song. Remember that this is an exercise with the sole purpose of easing you slowly into your own creativity. The results will not be judged. Once you’ve chosen the song, choose a verse you like the feel of and rewrite it. One approach is to keep the same melody and write new words that fit the rhythm and the narrative purpose for that part of the song. You can also try leaving the words alone and rewriting the melody.

This might be a little harder because the melodies of our favorite songs tend to get deeply entrenched in our memory. One way to help make this technique work is to change the key of the song. A third approach is to create a new chord structure that fits with the original lyrics and melody. This can be a lot of fun for more experienced players who understand chord pro-gressions, inversions, and modes, but it might be intimidating to the less experienced musician. If you ever do feel intimidated during these exercises, try taking a small step–just changing one line or even one or two words, for example—rather than a huge stride.


OK, so you’re ready to go solo. What are you going to write about? The single most com-mon inspiration for songs is love: the lack of it, the hope for it, the experience of it, the loss of it. You might not want to bare your soul so intimately in your first song, though, so let’s look at some other options.

  • Experiences. Has anything notable happened to you lately? Some happenstance that changed your way of seeing life, yourself, someone else, the world? Did you witness some-thing unusual? Remember a childhood memory, perhaps? There’s lots of potential here.
    Political causes. Do you feel strongly about a particular cause? Write a song about it. This is a deep well of inspiration for the folk movement.
  • History. Another great source for folkies. Lots of rich material.
  • People. Think about someone you admire, someone who inspires you.
  • Objects. This may sound like an odd suggestion, but objects have inspired many great songs. Artists write songs about bridges, buildings, ships … day-old banana pudding.
  • Fantasies and made-up occurrences. They can be impossible, fanciful, or just plain untrue. One of my favorite songs, “Something About Him” by Brady Earnhart, was written about a school days experience the writer invented.
  • Dreams. I was going to put this under fantasies, but there are invented situations that can and do come true.

Whatever subject you choose, you need to look carefully at how you think and feel about it. This is what actors mean when they ask, “What’s my motivation?” Does the sub-ject make you feel anger, pain, joy, tenderness? Where do your thoughts take you con-cerning this subject? At this point it would be a good idea to take notes on your thoughts and feelings. They’ll help you build a framework for the song and give shape to the way your words and melody develop.


Writing a song is almost always an exercise that involves alternating structured thought with unstructured: intermittently letting go of intellectual control and expectations and allowing your creativity to flow. Structured thought allows order to be maintained, and unstructured brings in the unexpected or unconscious.

At this point, you need to decide what kind of song structure you’re going to use. Do you want to use a structure you’re familiar with from another artist’s work? Or do you want to let your poetic and melodic muse run free and just see what structure comes out? If there’s any doubt concerning structure, I’d recommend starting with a simple 12-bar blues. This structure has been hardwired into the musical awareness of the Western world for the last half century. It’s also sparse, so it encourages minimal use of words and limited melodic movement. Repetition is fundamental to the form.

In a 12-bar blues, the first line (sung over the first four bars) usually introduces the core subject matter and then comments on it, often in a way that brings tension to the subject. Most of the third bar and all of the fourth bar are generally instrumental. The next four bars might repeat the subject and expand on the comments and tension, and the last word usually rhymes with the last word of the first line. The seventh and eighth bars are usually instrumental. The last line should bring some kind of resolution to the subject, much as the melody and chordal turnaround brings resolution to the music. The 12th bar is most often the turnaround—a chordal/melodic progression, usually without words, that brings the song back to the top, to the next verse, which is structured like the first.


For most songwriters, the words of a song come first. Others start with the melody or with a chord progression and add the other elements one at a time. And for some, lyrics and melody come at the same time. Let’s start with the lyrics.

Go back to your notes on the general subject matter of the song you want to write. Do any of the words and phrases jump out at you? Do some of them seem to fit together either because of their meaning or because of their sound or rhythm?

For our 12-bar blues, I wrote down a few words about being a new songwriter, what it might mean and what it might feel like: trying to write a song I love songs want to do it music in my soul scary new going to do it determined. Looking at these words, I came up with the line:

I’m tryin’ to write a song and it’s kinda new to me

OK, that works. Note that I picked an easy rhyme (“me”) and remembered that this has to fit over three or so bars of a midpaced blues. For the second line, I wanted to repeat the core subject and comment further. I looked at the word scary and got:

I’m tryin’ to write a song and I’m scared as I can be

In order to stick to the standard 12-bar blues arrangement (which is now playing in my head), we need to add a brief pause to the lyrics after the word it’s in the first line and I’m in the second. This leaves us with:

I’m tryin’ to write a song and it’s… kinda new to me I’m tryin’ to write a song and I’m … scared as I can be

Hmm. That’s fine. Now I need a resolution. Going back to my original notes, I find the obvious resolution of “going to do it.” An alliteration—several words in a row starting with the same consonant—jumps out at me:

But I’m gonna get it goin’

I’ve got to admit that I’m a sucker for nice alliterations, and this one is particularly appealing because gonna get it goin’ comes with a built-in rhythm. Another look at my notes does nothing for me, so I write down the first thing that comes into my head:

But I’m gonna get it goin’… and I’m almost there you see

Now, I quite like the almost, but the there you see is pretty lame. Still, I never intended to leave things like that. I just wrote this line to help me come up with something more appropriate. Next I decide to be positive and note that I’ve come to this point fairly eas-ily—almost painlessly—and get excited about:

But I’m gonna get it goin’ almost painlessly

A few minutes’ detachment gets me to see that it’s an untidy rhyme and that painlessly somehow doesn’t fit with gonna get it goin’. So I fiddle with painlessly and find pain-free, which I like the feel of. When I attach it to the line, I get:

But I’m gonna get it goin’… and I’m almost there pain-free
So, now we have:
I’m tryin’to write a song and it’s… kinda new to me
I’m tryin’ to write a song and I’m… scared as I can be But I’m gonna get it goin”… and I’m almost there pain-free

A brief go at singing this verse shows me that tryin’ falls on the 1 of the first and fifth bars and that the pause in each line falls on the 1, with the next word starting on the off-beat. I’m fairly certain that the blues arrangement in my head will work best for this song, but I’ll try a few different feels and even recite the words aloud a few times (as straight as I can) to see if any other feel comes up. No, the blues feel seems to work best, but one thing that did jump out at me is that gonna get it goin’ begs to have the pace of the rhythm accelerated for those words.

Now I’ll sing the verse aloud unaccompanied until I’m happy with the way it flows. Only after this step do I pick up my guitar. It turns out I’m singing in the key of E minor, which leads me to a standard blues chord progression with Em, A7, and B7.

Alright! Our song is begun. I say our because I encourage you to write further verses based on the same structure. Perhaps when you’re done with this song, you’ll write your own from scratch. Remember to follow the steps we’ve discussed and not to bite off more than you can chew at any given moment. Good luck!

And remember, the Sheet Music Library is here to help you with thousands of guitar, piano and voice scores!

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3 Hour Relaxing Guitar Music: Meditation Music, Instrumental Music, Calming Music, Soft Music

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Bye, bye 2020! Happy New Year 2021!!

2020 has been a year to remember, for good or bad reasons. In the spirit of sharing, the Sheet Music Library has worked hard to add more precious contents, and we’re incredibly grateful for those who have lent us a hand by subscribing or donating.

In 2020, our Library catalog grew from 3000 to 6600 sheet music documents, in many cases anthologies and collections, that means the Sheet Music Library now stores 88.000 pages of digitazed scores, in total nearly 65 GB of data.

This year we also added to and expanded our collections with some fascinating new finds: Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans transcriptions, contemporary classical composers like Copland, Barber and Khachaturian, rock and jazz play along books with background audio….

Please, visit our website fro more information:

Sheet Music Library (PDF)
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Universal Mind of Bill Evans (1966 Documentary)

Bill Evans on the Creative Process and Self-Teaching Conversation With His Brother Harry, 1966

Songs appeared:

0:00 Spartacus Love Theme (aka Emily) 13:06 I Like New York in June, How About You? 17:53 Star Eyes (Analyzing the Melody and Harmonics) 22:07 Star Eyes (Full Song) 40:52 Very Early 42:15 Time Remembered 43:07 My Bells

“I believe that all people are in possession of what might be called a universal musical mind. Any true music speaks with this universal mind, to the universal mind in all people. The understanding that results will vary only in so far as people have or have not been conditioned to the various styles of music in which the universal mind speaks. Consequently, often some effort and exposure is necessary in order to understand some of the music coming from a different period or a different culture than that to which the listener has been conditioned.

I do not agree that the layman’s opinion is less of a valid judgement of music than that of the professional musician. In fact, I would often rely more on the judgement of a sensitive layman than that of a professional, since the professional, because of his constant involvement with the mechanics of music, must fight to preserve the naivety that the layman already possesses.“

In 1966, legendary jazz pianist Bill Evans (August 16, 1929–September 15, 1980) sat down with his composer brother, Harry Evans, for an intense and deeply insightful conversation later released as Universal Mind of Bill Evans: The Creative Process and Self-Teaching. From filmmaker William Meier comes this gorgeous cinematic adaptation of Evans’s thoughts on the autodidactic quality of creativity and the value of working at the intersection of clarity, complexity, and spontaneity.

The whole process of learning the facility of being able to play jazz is to take these problems from the outer level in, one by one, and to stay with it at a very intense, conscious-concentration level until that process becomes secondary and subconscious. Now, when that becomes subconscious, then you can begin concentrating on that next problem, which will allow you to do a little bit more. I don’t consider myself as talented as many people but in some ways that was an advantage because I didn’t have a great facility immediately so I had to be more analytical and in a way — that forced me to build something.

Most people just don’t realize the immensity of the problem and, either because they can’t conquer it immediately, think that they haven’t got the ability, or they’re so impatient to conquer it that they never do see it through. If you do understand the problem then you can enjoy your whole trip through. People tend to approximate the product rather than attacking it in a realistic, true way at any elementary level — regardless of how elementary — but it must be entirely true and entirely real and entirely accurate.

They would rather approximate the entire problem than to take a small part of it and be real and true about it. To approximate the whole thing in a vague way gives you a feeling that you’ve more or less touched the thing, but in this way you just lead yourself toward confusion and ultimately you’re going to get so confused that you’ll never find your way out.

It is true of any subject that the person that succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning and [knows] that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and that he has to enjoy the step-by-step learning procedure. They’re trying to do a thing in a way that is so general [that] they can’t possibly build on that. If they build on that, they’re building on top of confusion and vagueness and they can’t possibly progress. If you try to approximate something that is very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t advance.

bill evans sheet music
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How Classical Musicians Are Adapting During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Truck Concerts, Drive-in Concerts: Creativity and Innovation in the Time of Covid

Symphony orchestras perform some of the greatest music ever created by mankind. Nonetheless, negative labels have been hurled at these bastions of classical music, accusations such as—they’re like an albatross, slow to embrace change; they uphold antiquated traditions and formats; they stubbornly maintain styles, repertoire, and music of dead people; they perform in locations out of reach of many members of the community. The devastating effects of the Coronavirus on the performing arts has necessitated a great deal of brain-storming. Creativity and innovation have been the result.

Several orchestras have tried drive-in concerts. The Mainly Mozart Festival based in San Diego, has for thirty years gathered concertmasters and principal players from orchestras all over the United States for a summer of music-making. This year, they held drive-in concerts at the Del Mar Fairgrounds and cars pulled into the massive lot parking distanced from one another.

The programmes, conducted by music director Michael Francis had the performers and servers wearing masks. The music of Salieri, Mendelssohn, and Jazz Legends could be heard and some of the most beloved compositions: Beethoven’s Emperor Concerto, and Mozart performed by pianist Anne-Marie McDermott, Mozart’s’ Sinfonia Concertante performed by Los Angeles Philharmonic Concertmaster Martin Chalifour and New York Philharmonic principal viola Cynthia Phelps, and presentations of both Vivaldi’s Four Seasons and Piazzolla’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires. McDermott has unearthed versions of several piano concertos that were written not only accompanied by full orchestra but also by a string quartet. This too is a great option for our times.

classical free sheet music & scores pdf

Next on their agenda is a Holiday Balcony Concert from the Westgate Hotel. Guests will be able to “enjoy the holiday concert from the safety of your hotel room balcony, overlooking a stage set in front of the Westgate Hotel Fountain Terrace.” The overnight stay will include appetizers, champagne, and the program of the Los Angeles Brass Quintet.

Free concerts with audiences in boats have also been popular. Small groups have performed on local lakes to entertain quarantined audiences and on larger bodies of water. A boat-in concert at Lake Windermere, British Columbia, Canada drew 3,000 people on their canoes, kayaks, motor boats, and even inner tubes, to hear Country singer Brett Kissel play his “dock-side” set. Amsterdam attracted a throng of boats on the Prinsengracht Canal for a free summer festival of classical music.

Professional orchestras have initiated special partnerships. The Toronto Symphony has recently commenced associations with the YMCA, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) and theater groups. Toronto Symphony members are seen throughout the city playing in small groups in a massive hallway at the art gallery where the gorgeous sounds permeate the entire building. They’ve also played a new kind of water music—on the edge of the currently empty swimming pool, with the goal of reaching more communities of color. The YWCA’s forte has been implementing programs of inclusivity.

One of the TSO’s most exciting upcoming ventures is a reimagining of Handel’s Messiah—a 70-minute performance entitled Messiah/Complex. A daring collaboration with Against the Grain Theatre, and the Indigenous Arts at Banff Centre for the Arts and Creativity, filmed with Canadian panoramas in the background, the interpretation will feature a diverse cast singing in Arabic, Dene, English, French, Inuktitut, and Southern Tutchone languages, and the Toronto Symphony musicians. The virtual performance will be available free of charge December 13, 2020 – December 26, 2020 online.

Toronto Mendelssohn Choir recording their performance of “Hallelujah” for Messiah/Complex in Toronto, ON. Yes, those are clear shower curtains – safety first! November 2nd, 2020.

The Concert Truck, one of the most innovative ideas I’ve heard, was actually launched pre-Covid. The idea originated in 2016 with concert pianists Nick Luby and Susan Zhang who believe in the power of music and the need to foster more inclusivity. Both prize-winning performing artists, they had a 16-foot truck retrofit, converted into a mobile concert hall, complete with a piano, a sound system, and stage lights.

They’ve presented concerts across the country in parks, playgrounds, at schools, and on city streets—wherever trucks can be parked. Their collaborations include with Kennedy Center’s Washington National Opera, University of South Carolina, Four Seasons Chamber Music Festival, and Charm City Night Market (a celebration of Baltimore’s pan-Asian community) and they have embarked on several residencies which include workshops and community events. Luby and Zhang have been featured on radio and television, and have received awards for creativity and innovation in music.

Since orchestras can’t have audiences come to their concert halls right now, the Dallas Symphony will haul concerts to their audiences. This month, from November 21, 2020, they’re beginning what I think is a brilliant partnership. The Concert Truck and the musicians of the DSO will team up with local arts organizations and artists to present concerts across the city.

The one-hour concerts in the truck, which can accommodate 5-6 musicians, will be free and held at schools, gardens, hospitals, and church parking lots. Listen to the artists speak about their experiences. Live music reaches more people and brings them together, but it can also enhance the artists’ skills as they adjust to the circumstances, which improves their concentration despite the distractions that can happen outdoors, and cultivates their communication skills when they address the audience.

Despite the huge costs of lives and livelihoods lost in this pandemic, good has been fostered. Artists are redefining the concert experience, making music more accessible, supporting communities, and strengthening arts groups across genres by their unique collaborative approaches. Our survival depends on it.

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Rediscover Beethoven (17 December 1770 – 26 March 1827)

Find Beethoven’s sheet music in our Library.

Beethoven’s Life

Ludwig van Beethoven was a complex man consumed by a towering
genius – all the more remarkable for the deafness with which he
struggled. He lived a life driven by an unquenchable need to make
music. His legacy is music that still delights, challenges, and moves us.
Born in Bonn, Germany on December 17, 1770 (or perhaps a day
earlier according to some records), Beethoven had a miserable
childhood. He was one of seven children, only three of whom survived
to adulthood. Although he loved his gentle mother, Maria, he feared
his hard-drinking, demanding father, Johann. His father had no great
talent, but he gave music lessons to the children of the nobility. From
the time Ludwig was a small boy, turning the iron handle of window
shutters to hear the musical noise, the child had been absorbed by
music. His father recognized the boy’s ability and nurtured it, possibly
because he saw it as a source of income.

In 1787, when he was seventeen, Beethoven made his first trip to
Vienna, the city that would become his home. There, he was quickly
immersed in the life of Europe’s cultural capital, even playing the piano
for Mozart. Mozart’s prediction was: “You will make a big noise in the

beethoven free sheet music & scores pdf

Difficult Times

Beethoven’s stay was cut short by a series of family tragedies. He
returned to Bonn to his dying mother. Shortly after, his infant sister
died. When his father lost his job, Beethoven had to take responsibility
for the family.

After his father’s death in 1792, Beethoven returned to Vienna for
good. The serious boy had grown into a man who was by turns rude
and violent, kind and generous. He helped raise money for the only
surviving child of Johann Sebastian Bach, who was living in poverty,
and he donated new compositions for a benefit concert in aid of
Ursuline nuns.

Despite his temper, Beethoven attracted friends easily. He studied
piano with composer Franz Joseph Haydn. And even though the
student-teacher relationship failed the two remained friends. In
Vienna, Beethoven also met Mozart’s rival, Antonio Salieri – the man
rumored to have poisoned Mozart. Salieri was kind to Beethoven and,
in return, Beethoven dedicated three violin sonatas to him.

Beethoven’s struggle to hear…

At the age of twenty-eight, just before writing his first symphony,
Beethoven began to lose his hearing. He tried every available
treatment and, at first, there were periods when he could hear. But in
the last decade of his life he lost his hearing completely. Nevertheless,
he continued to lead rehearsals and play the piano as late as 1814.
Possibly he “heard” music by feeling its vibrations.

As time passed, Beethoven became more and more absorbed in his
music. He began to ignore his grooming, pouring water over his head
instead of washing in a basin. On one of his beloved country walks, a
local policeman who assumed he was a tramp arrested Beethoven. His
rooms were piled high with manuscripts that nobody was allowed to
touch. He had four pianos without legs so that he could feel their
vibrations. He often worked in his underwear, or even naked, ignoring
the friends that came to visit him if they interrupted his composing.

Watch out for that temper!

The stories about Beethoven’s temper became legend: he threw hot
food at a waiter; he swept candles off a piano during a bad
performance; he may even have hit a choirboy. His intensity spilled
over into his family life. He became embroiled in a bitter custody battle
for a nephew who attempted suicide to escape the family animosity.
Perhaps he was terrified and furious about losing the world of sound.
Perhaps he was completely preoccupied by the need to create. Despite
his behaviour, he was admired and respected for the music that
poured from him. He knew that it moved his listeners to tears, but he
responded, “Composers do not cry. Composers are made of fire.”

What about the women in Beethoven’s life?

With his talent and his larger-than-life personality, Beethoven was
popular among women. Although he never married, he dedicated such
pieces as the Moonlight Sonata and Für Elise to the women in his life.

Beethoven, Thunder and Death

In November 1826 Beethoven returned from his brother’s estate to
Vienna in an open wagon. By the time he got home he was ill with
pneumonia, from which he never fully recovered.

Late in the afternoon of March 26, 1827, the sky became dark.
Suddenly a flash of lightning lighted Beethoven’s room. A great clap of
thunder followed. Beethoven opened his eyes, raised his fist, and fell
back dead. He was fifty-seven years old.

Ludwig van Beethoven’s funeral was the final demonstration of the
esteem in which he was held. On March 29, 1827, twenty thousand
people lined the streets, while soldiers controlled the grieving crowd.
Nine priests blessed the composer’s body.

He was buried in a grave marked by a simple pyramid on which was
written one word: “Beethoven.” Today his remains lie beside those of
the Austrian composer Franz Schubert, in Vienna’s Central Cemetery.
“I shall hear in Heaven” – Beethoven’s last words

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Artists Who Have Also Faced Challenges

We are haunted by the idea of Beethoven, the composer of some of
the most beautiful music the world has known, losing the sense that
must have mattered the most to him – his hearing. He was not the
only artist to have confronted, and risen to, such a challenge.

Francisco José de Goya (1746–1828), one of the great Spanish
masters, became deaf in 1792 as the result of an illness. He continued
to paint, but his work reflected his sadness.

The great French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840–1926)
found his eyesight failing him late in his life. He continued to paint,
studying his subjects so closely that the paintings appeared
fragmented like abstract art.

Edgar Degas (1834–1917), another French artist began to lose his
eyesight when he was in his fifties. He began working in sculpture and
in pastels, choosing subjects that did not require careful attention to

One of the finest artists to come out of Mexico was Frida Kahlo
(1907–1954). She began painting in 1925 while recovering from a
streetcar accident. Many of her paintings reflect the physical pain she

The Dutch painter Vincent van Gogh (1853–1890) suffered from
seizures and depression. After quarrelling with fellow artist Paul
Gauguin (1848–1903), he sliced off a piece of his ear lobe. Van Gogh
committed suicide in 1890.

Itzhak Perlman (1945–), the wonderful Israeli violinist, became ill with
polio at the age of four. As a result of the disease, Perlman performs
and conducts from a seated position.

Beethoven’s Turbulent Times

Beethoven lived in a period of great turmoil. The French Revolution,
which began on July 14, 1789, rocked Europe. The ideals of the French
Revolution included equality and free speech for all. Within four years
those fine ideals devolved into the Reign of Terror that overtook
France and affected the rest of Europe. In 1798, Napoleon conquered
Egypt, beginning his rise to power. Against the political upheaval,
every aspect of human life seemed to shift. It was an age of change in
ideas, the arts, science, and the structure of society itself.

An age of the musician: Earlier in the 18th century, the Church
dominated the world of music. As time went on, the nobility began to
enjoy music and even learned to play musical instruments. Composers
and musicians were their servants. With his fiercely independent spirit,
Beethoven challenged this notion. “It is good to move among the
aristocracy,” he said, “but it is first necessary to make them respect.”
When a nobleman talked while he was performing, Beethoven stopped
playing to declare, “For such pigs I do not play!”
Literature and art also flourished during Beethoven’s lifetime. The
first edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica appeared in three volumes.

An age of exploration: In 1770 Captain James Cook circumnavigated
the globe, charting the coast of New Zealand and eastern Australia as
well as the Bering Strait. James Bruce traced the Blue Nile to its
confluence with the White Nile in 1771.

An age of invention: John Kay patented the fly shuttle in 1733,
making it possible to weave wide cloth. James Hargreaves invented
the spinning jenny in 1765, which spun many threads at the same
time. James Watt invented the steam engine, patented in 1769, and
Robert Fulton initiated steamship travel. The first railroad in England
began operation early in the eighteenth century.

Beethoven became a friend of Johann Nepomuk Malzel, the “Court
Mechanician.” He invented the musical chronometer, which in time was
refined to the metronome, a device that can be set to a specific pace
to guide the musician. Beethoven loved the chronometer and even
composed a little canon to the words “Ta ta ta (suggesting the beat of
the chronometer) lieber lieber Malzel.”

An age of science and mathematics: Joseph-Louis Lagrange
formulated the metric system and explained the satellites of Jupiter
and the phases of the moon. Benjamin Franklin conducted his
experiments with electricity. Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen.
Edward Jenner developed the smallpox vaccine. Musician and
astronomer William Herschel discovered Uranus.

An age of new pastimes: Coffee drinking – which Beethoven loved –
became a part of social life. Gambling, lotteries, card-playing, chess,
checkers, dominoes, and billiards all entertained people.

Human Rights and the Arts

Throughout history, artists have used their talents to comment on
social issues. Beethoven – who lived through the French Revolution
and the Napoleonic Wars, a time of immense social and political
change in Europe and the world – responded through his music. His
only opera, Fidelio, is set in Spain and is based on the story of a
nobleman who is unjustly imprisoned for threatening to reveal the
crimes of a politician.

Beethoven’s third symphony, the Eroica, was originally dedicated to
Napoleon Bonaparte. The finale of his magnificent Ninth Symphony is
based on a poem written by the German poet Friedrich von Schiller,
with words and music that yearn for peace, joy, and the brotherhood
of man.

Like Beethoven, we have lived through enormous social and political
upheaval: world conflicts, the rise and collapse of nations, and
devastating political oppression around the world. We have also seen
hopeful changes, such as the creation of the United Nations as the
principal international organization committed to building peace and
global security.

In Beethoven’s time, as in ours, the arts have been a voice to rail
against political oppression and to make us aware of the plight of
those in the greatest need.

All the world over, ordinary men, women, and children have been
moved to action through music. “We Shall Overcome” and “Nkosi
sikelel’ iAfrika” (God Bless Africa) are two songs that carried a
tremendous amount of influence for Blacks in the US and in South
Africa in their struggle against racism, inequality and injustice in the
last half of the 20th century. And Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony rang
out at the Tiananmen Square protest in 1989 and at the collapse of
the Berlin Wall in 1990.

Beethoven’s Famous Peers

Beethoven was not the only composer writing music in this period.
Beethoven influenced Richard Wagner’s (-1813–1883) early
instrumental works. Franz Liszt (1811–1886) “invented” the solo piano
recital. Giuseppe Verdi (1813–1901) composed great operas. Frédéric
Chopin (1810–1849) and Robert Schumann (1810–1856) also
belonged to this era.


British poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850), along with Samuel
Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), began the English Romantic Movement
in literature. Like Beethoven in music and Turner in painting,
Wordsworth used nature as a theme in much of his writing. Here is an
example of one of his best known poems:
I Wandered Lonely as A Cloud
by William Wordsworth
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o’er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
Continuous as the stars that shine
And twinkle on the milky way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay;
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,
Tossing their heads in sprightly dance.
The waves beside them danced; but they
Outdid the sparkling waves in glee;
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company;
I gazed – and gazed – but little thought
What wealth the show to me had brought:
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.


The shift from the Classic to the Romantic tradition was also reflected
in the work of painters and sculptors such as the Spanish master
Francisco José de Goya and Swiss-born Angelica Kauffmann, who
produced more than five hundred paintings in her lifetime.
The painter who most closely paralleled Beethoven’s move to
Romanticism was Jean-Baptiste Camille Corot (1796–1875). Early in
his career he painted structured landscapes, but as he matured in
works like Ville d’Avray and Memory of Mortefontaine, he showed a
more imaginative style, creating a filmy aura.

Beethoven the Musician

Beethoven’s initial purpose in coming to Vienna was to study with
Haydn and to learn from the great master the style of Viennese
classicism – a structured worldview where the form of things was more
important than their content. Poetry, literature, painting and music of
this Classic period were restrained and rational.

This formal, disciplined study, however, had little appeal to
Beethoven’s unruly, irrepressible, revolutionary spirit. He absorbed
just what suited him, and proceeded on his own course. Thus, we
find, even in his first published compositions, a bold new voice in
music. Formally, these early works still hark back to traditional
classical forms. But the emotional intensity, rough humor, burning
energy and bold modulations reveal a creator who has struck out on a
new path.

By the 1800s, Classicism was giving way to Romanticism and this shift
was evident in Beethoven’s music.

Beethoven and Romanticism

Romanticism valued imagination and emotion over intellect and
reason. It was based on a belief that people are naturally good, that
physical passion is splendid, and that political authority and rigid
conventions should be overthrown.

Beethoven’s Romanticism transformed every kind of music he
composed. One of his most popular compositions is the Moonlight
Sonata, the second of two sonatas making up Opus 27. It became
known as the Moonlight Sonata well after Beethoven’s death, when
poet Ludwig Rellstab said that it reminded him of moonlight rippling on
the waves of Lake Lucerne in Switzerland. Like all Romantic art, it
appeals to the senses more than the mind.

Beethoven’s Romance no.1 for Violin in G, Opus 40 and his Romance
no. 2 for Violin in F, Opus 50, written between 1798 and 1802, were
called romances for their light, sweet tone, almost like a song. This is
typical of the Romantic period in music: many pieces lend themselves
to being sung as well as played.

Beethoven’s movement away from Classicism and toward Romanticism
is clearest in his symphonies. Before Beethoven, symphonies,
originating in courtly dances like the minuet, had conformed to the
ideals of Classicism with rigid structure and rational form. Beethoven’s
Romantic symphonies broke out of those confines and became large,
sometimes epic structures that told a story and plumbed emotional

Beethoven the Artist

Beethoven’s first public appearance as a piano virtuoso took place
when he was twenty-five years old. He was to play his Second Piano
Concerto, but two days before the performance it was still not finished
and Beethoven was suffering from an upset stomach. He continued to
write while a friend fed him remedies and, just outside his chamber,
copyists sat waiting for the music as the composer finished writing
each sheet.

His career would be full of such last-minute scrambles. On the morning
of the concert to present an oratorio, Christ on the Mount of Olives, a
friend found Beethoven sitting in bed, composing the part for the
trombones. The piece had its first rehearsal at 8:00 a.m., with the
trombone players reading from the original sheets of music.

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony

By the time the Ninth Symphony premiered in Vienna in 1824,
Beethoven was almost completely deaf. Nevertheless, he insisted on
conducting the orchestra himself. He continued conducting even when
the piece had ended because he could not hear that the orchestra had
stopped playing. One of the sopranos tugged at his sleeve so that he
would turn around to face the audience – an audience wild with

Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony continues to move the hearts of people
everywhere. It was played during the Beijing student protests in China
in 1989 and at the dismantling of Germany’s Berlin Wall in 1990. It
has become a symbol of unity, of love, and of the overwhelming power
of music to change those who hear it forever.

Ode to Joy from Symphony No.9 in D minor, Opus 125

Praise and joy, immortal gladness
Gift to all eternally.
We give thanks for joy unbounding,
Celebrate life’s harmony.
Refrain (2x)
Music’s magic boldly sounding,
Bring together friend and foe.
All unite as sisters, brothers.
Sing with joy in lustrous glow.

What to Listen for

The “three periods”

The historian William Drabkin notes that as early as 1818 a writer had proposed a three-period division of Beethoven’s works and that such a division (albeit often adopting different dates or works to denote changes in period) eventually became a convention adopted by all of Beethoven’s biographers, starting with Schindler, F.-J. Fétis and Wilhelm von Lenz. Later writers sought to identify sub-periods within this generally accepted structure. Its drawbacks include that it generally omits a fourth period, that is, the early years in Bonn, whose works are less often considered; and that it ignores the differential development of Beethoven’s composing styles over the years for different categories of work. The piano sonatas, for example, were written throughout Beethoven’s life in a progression that can be interpreted as continuous development; the symphonies do not all demonstrate linear progress; of all of the types of composition, perhaps the quartets, which seem to group themselves in three periods (Op. 18 in 1801–1802, Opp. 59, 74 and 95 in 1806–1814, and the quartets, today known as ‘late’, from 1824 onwards) fit this categorization most neatly. Drabkin concludes that “now that we have lived with them so long … as long as there are programme notes, essays written to accompany recordings, and all-Beethoven recitals, it is hard to imagine us ever giving up the notion of discrete stylistic periods.”

Bonn 1782–1792

Some forty compositions, including ten very early works written by Beethoven up to 1785, survive from the years that Beethoven lived in Bonn. It has been suggested that Beethoven largely abandoned composition between 1785 and 1790, possibly as a result of negative critical reaction to his first published works. A 1784 review in Johann Nikolaus Forkel‘s influential Musikalischer Almanack compared Beethoven’s efforts to those of rank beginners. The three early piano quartets of 1785 (WoO 36), closely modelled on violin sonatas of Mozart, show his dependency on the music of the period. Beethoven himself was not to give any of the Bonn works an opus number, save for those which he reworked for use later in his career, for example, some of the songs in his Op. 52 collection (1805) and the Wind Octet reworked in Vienna in 1793 to become his String Quintet, Op. 4. Charles Rosen points out that Bonn was something of a backwater compared to Vienna; Beethoven was unlikely to be acquainted with the mature works of Haydn or Mozart, and Rosen opines that his early style was closer to that of Hummel or Muzio Clementi. Kernan suggests that at this stage Beethoven was not especially notable for his works in sonata style, but more for his vocal music; his move to Vienna in 1792 set him on the path to develop the music in the genres he became known for.

The first period

The conventional “first period” begins after Beethoven’s arrival in Vienna in 1792. In the first few years he seems to have composed less than he did at Bonn, and his Piano Trios, op.1 were not published until 1795. From this point onward, he had mastered the ‘Viennese style’ (best known today from Haydn and Mozart) and was making the style his own. His works from 1795 to 1800 are larger in scale than was the norm (writing sonatas in four movements, not three, for instance); typically he uses a scherzo rather than a minuet and trio; and his music often includes dramatic, even sometimes over-the-top, uses of extreme dynamics and tempi and chromatic harmony. It was this that led Haydn to believe the third trio of Op.1 was too difficult for an audience to appreciate.

He also explored new directions and gradually expanded the scope and ambition of his work. Some important pieces from the early period are the first and second symphonies, the set of six string quartets Opus 18, the first two piano concertos, and the first dozen or so piano sonatas, including the famous Pathétique sonata, Op. 13.

The middle period

His middle (heroic) period began shortly after the personal crisis brought on by his recognition of encroaching deafness. It includes large-scale works that express heroism and struggle. Middle-period works include six symphonies (Nos. 3–8), the last two piano concertos, the Triple Concerto and violin concerto, five string quartets (Nos. 7–11), several piano sonatas (including the Waldstein and Appassionata sonatas), the Kreutzer violin sonata and his only opera, Fidelio.

The “middle period” is sometimes associated with a “heroic” manner of composing, but the use of the term “heroic” has become increasingly controversial in Beethoven scholarship. The term is more frequently used as an alternative name for the middle period. The appropriateness of the term “heroic” to describe the whole middle period has been questioned as well: while some works, like the Third and Fifth Symphonies, are easy to describe as “heroic”, many others, like his Symphony No. 6, Pastoral or his Piano Sonata No. 24, are not.

The late period

Beethoven’s grave at Vienna Zentralfriedhof

Beethoven’s late period began in the decade 1810-1819. He began a renewed study of older music, including works by Johann Sebastian Bach and George Frideric Handel, that were then being published in the first attempts at complete editions. Many of Beethoven’s late works include fugal material. The overture The Consecration of the House (1822) was an early work to attempt to incorporate these influences. A new style emerged, now called his “late period”. He returned to the keyboard to compose his first piano sonatas in almost a decade: the works of the late period include the last five piano sonatas and the Diabelli Variations, the last two sonatas for cello and piano, the late string quartets (see below), and two works for very large forces: the Missa Solemnis and the Ninth Symphony. Works from this period are characterised by their intellectual depth, their formal innovations, and their intense, highly personal expression. The String Quartet, Op. 131 has seven linked movements, and the Ninth Symphony adds choral forces to the orchestra in the last movement. Other compositions from this period include the Missa solemnis, the last five string quartets (including the massive Große Fuge) and the last five piano sonatas.


The Beethoven Monument in Bonn was unveiled in August 1845, in honour of the 75th anniversary of his birth. It was the first statue of a composer created in Germany, and the music festival that accompanied the unveiling was the impetus for the very hasty construction of the original Beethovenhalle in Bonn (it was designed and built within less than a month, on the urging of Franz Liszt). A statue to Mozart had been unveiled in Salzburg, Austria, in 1842. Vienna did not honour Beethoven with a statue until 1880.

There is a museum, the Beethoven House, the place of his birth, in central Bonn. The same city has hosted a musical festival, the Beethovenfest, since 1845. The festival was initially irregular but has been organised annually since 2007.

The Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies serves as a museum, research center, and host of lectures and performances devoted solely to this life and works.

His music features twice on the Voyager Golden Record, a phonograph record containing a broad sample of the images, common sounds, languages, and music of Earth, sent into outer space with the two Voyager probes.

The third largest crater on Mercury is named in his honour, as is the main-belt asteroid 1815 Beethoven.

A 7-foot cast bronze statue of Beethoven by sculptor Arnold Foerster was installed in 1932 in Pershing Square, Los Angeles; it was dedicated to William Andrews Clark Jr., founder of the Los Angeles Philharmonic.