Collaborative Authorship in Jazz Music

For an hour and a half tonight, I sat in a great room in the Kissam Center listening to a jazz concert that quickly turned into a jam session. It began as a scheduled event with three blair students, playing piano, double bass, and percussion. And right from the start, it was incredible. What struck me, as I sat watching this music in creation, was that these three students were not looking at their music stands — they were looking at each other. The bassist was watching the pianist, and the percussionist was watching the hands of the bassist. Sure, they had sheet music, but jazz is about collaboration, and as I watched I was reminded of our discussion of collaborative authorship in The Wreck of the Golden Mary.

In Melisa Klimazsewski’s essay “Rebuilding Charles Dickens’ Wreck and Rethinking the Collaborative,” she talks about the value of understanding collaborative authorship as layering upon and playing off the collaboration, instead of only deriving value from the individual contributions of authors. These jazz musicians demonstrated that perfectly. Each instrument was played well, but what made the performance so engaging was that they played off each other’s work as they progressed through each piece. Then, other musicians joined in, until the group contained a piano, a keyboard, a bass, percussion, two trombones, a saxophone, a flute, and an accordion. Most of them didn’t have music, and that’s when the best music seemed to be made. The bass, percussion, and piano played almost constantly, and the other instruments layered on top of them. The whole experience was like watching an analogy in motion, though I don’t think I ever expected to compare something like jazz to literary criticism!

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