The Jazz Improvisation Ensemble – Embodying the Soul of Jazz, Sans Sheet Music

By Yuvraj Bhagat, Contributor

Numerous classes can be taken through Kalamazoo College’s music program; one, however, stands out from the rest as an improvisational group, rather than a traditional band or ensemble.

This group is Kalamazoo’s Jazz Improve Ensemble, a creative lab that embodies the soul of jazz music. The Jazz ensemble is open to all aspiring musicians, accepting musicians of every level, and void of any restrictions on the instruments that can be played.

“The reason I joined is because this is one of the few places that accepts a jazz violinist,” said Emily Pizza ’16.

The class meets every Friday at 4 in the afternoon. It’s typically a very small class with no more than ten people. The small class size adds a communal vibe to class.  This, in turn, helps musicians explore their musical creativity. There are no scripts, no set guidelines, just the music and what you make of it.

The concept may seem perplexing to some. Yet once seen in action, the music comes together like tributaries combining to form one smooth flowing river. To hear this product is truly a spectacular thing; and so the Index decided to explore the processes behind it.

First, all of the musicians establish a rhythm. Then, they add a general melody to go with this rhythm. Desalvio, the ensemble’s director, calls this the “harmonic roadmap.”

From there, a particular musician takes the lead on the piece. The musician, referred to as the soloist, is at liberty to take the music where he or she pleases.

“The soloist varies the melodic component of the piece, while the rest of the group maintains the harmonic roadmap,” said Director Desalvio.

In essence, the soloist injects his or her own personality into the music, while everyone else creates the underlying harmony of the piece, maintaining unity within the work.  Once the soloist is satisfied with their artistic contribution, the soloist rejoins the harmonic roadmap and passes the torch onto a new soloist.

This pattern continues until all the artists are content with their unique creations. This emphasis on this kind of creativity and spontaneity pushes each student in the Jazz Improvisation Ensemble to explore their musical instincts and redefine themselves as musicians.