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What is improvisation ?

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Dr.Sound 08 Feb 00 - 04:32 PM
Amos 08 Feb 00 - 04:42 PM
The Shambles 08 Feb 00 - 04:47 PM
sophocleese 08 Feb 00 - 05:14 PM
The Shambles 08 Feb 00 - 05:22 PM
GUEST,Rich(stupidbodhranplayer...) 08 Feb 00 - 05:35 PM
Rick Fielding 08 Feb 00 - 06:16 PM
Sorcha 08 Feb 00 - 06:38 PM
SeanM 08 Feb 00 - 07:31 PM
McGrath of Harlow 08 Feb 00 - 07:59 PM
Amos 08 Feb 00 - 08:01 PM
Bob Bolton 08 Feb 00 - 10:16 PM
Callie 09 Feb 00 - 03:25 AM
Bert 09 Feb 00 - 10:42 AM
Rick Fielding 09 Feb 00 - 11:29 AM
GUEST,Roger the skiffler 09 Feb 00 - 11:40 AM
McGrath of Harlow 09 Feb 00 - 02:54 PM
Paul S 09 Feb 00 - 02:55 PM
SeanM 09 Feb 00 - 03:07 PM
GUEST,Frank Hamilton 09 Feb 00 - 04:23 PM
Dr.Sound 09 Feb 00 - 10:10 PM
GUEST 13 Oct 06 - 09:16 PM
The Sandman 14 Oct 06 - 07:11 AM
Bernard 14 Oct 06 - 09:19 AM
The Sandman 14 Oct 06 - 10:50 AM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Oct 06 - 03:24 PM
The Sandman 14 Oct 06 - 04:46 PM
McGrath of Harlow 14 Oct 06 - 05:59 PM
The Sandman 15 Oct 06 - 05:05 AM
Darowyn 15 Oct 06 - 05:15 AM
GUEST,.gargoyle 15 Oct 06 - 07:42 AM
The Sandman 15 Oct 06 - 10:21 AM
The Sandman 15 Oct 06 - 10:23 AM
McGrath of Harlow 15 Oct 06 - 01:38 PM
The Sandman 15 Oct 06 - 02:05 PM
Darowyn 15 Oct 06 - 06:17 PM
GUEST 15 Oct 06 - 08:16 PM
The Sandman 16 Oct 06 - 05:02 AM
The Sandman 16 Oct 06 - 06:55 PM
M.Ted 16 Oct 06 - 10:11 PM
McGrath of Harlow 16 Oct 06 - 10:28 PM
M.Ted 17 Oct 06 - 12:03 AM
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Subject: What is improvisation ?
From: Dr.Sound
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 04:32 PM

I have been playing music all of my life. Since the age of about 20 I have been playing exclusively by ear.

I am interested in what y'all percieve improvisation as.

To me it has become more of a way of life. dealing with each moment from the perspective of the material around me. Allowing experience and inquisitiveness to help guide me making decisions from the feelings of comfort discomfort.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Amos
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 04:42 PM

I think that is a jolly good description, Doctor. Comfort and discomfort might not be the only guiding criteria, though -- unless you include aesthetic sense as a "comfort".

A


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Shambles
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 04:47 PM

I find it very difficult to play things the same way than once, so I don't bother to try too hard now.

Its OK when I am are playing on my own but it does tend to make me a little bit of a trial to play with.

To improvise, seems natural somehow. It is music that is expected to always sound the same that I find more un-natural.

I would think that improvised music came first so that might explain it.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: sophocleese
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 05:14 PM

I think the only way you can really play the same thing the same way each time is if its a CD or tape that you're playing.

Somewhere, I can't remember where so I can't verify this, I heard that shawms used to be used to sound warnings in medieval towns. Particular tunes would be used to indicate particular disasters. I can imagine the scene should a designated shawms player start improvising on those melodies. "Run for Cover its a flood!, no wait a minute there's a bull loose in the market, or is the church on fire?"


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Shambles
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 05:22 PM

Is there any room for improvisation in bugle calls?


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: GUEST,Rich(stupidbodhranplayer...)
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 05:35 PM

If you're playing, and you do something you really didn't mean to do, and it sound s good, and nobody realizes that you didn't mean to do it, or at least they can't prove that you didn't mean to, that's improvisation][

Rich


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 06:16 PM

Good skills + bad memory = improvisor.

Rick


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Sorcha
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 06:38 PM

This is a real toughie for me, as I have only begun to improv. in the last year or so. Granted, before that I seldom played the tune exactly the same twice, esp. with Irish ornamentation, but I'm not sure that is true improv. The band has finally started playing a little more blues, and blues-y folk so I have dredged up some theory and started using diatonic scales and slides. Still not very good at it, but once in a while "Frankie and Johnny" comes out AWESOME!


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: SeanM
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 07:31 PM

I find that as my ability to play increases, my ability to improvise grows with it.

To me, improv is the heart of music. It's what keeps old pieces fresh, and breathes new life into forgotten ones.

The only danger lies in over improvising.

Do that, and you're playing jazz.

;^)

M


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 07:59 PM

I'm reminded of the scene in Moliere's Le Boutgeois Gentilhomme when M.Jourdain sudenly realises "For more than forty years I have been speaking prose without knowing it."

We spend the whole of our life improvising our way along. Some people seem to have the ability sudddenly to cease improvising when they are making music, but I could never manage to get the knack.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Amos
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 08:01 PM

You want improv on a bugle pick up an old cut of the Andrews Sisters doing the Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B...no question!

A


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Bob Bolton
Date: 08 Feb 00 - 10:16 PM

G'day all,

I think it is something like a video I have somewhere of someone prevailed upon to fill in 15 minutes at an (Australian) Bush Music Festival. At one point he plays a number of Varsovienne tunes on the button accordion ... including, at the end, a quite nice one that I don't know.

The problem is that it is me!

Regard(les)s,

Bob Bolton


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Callie
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 03:25 AM

I think the heart of impro is when a bunch of you are improvising (eek! playing jazz! call the witch doctor!) and either you know each other very well musically or you all know the song very well and you all lead into an unexpected area TOGETHER. I dunno if this is possible in folk as there are fewer musical possibilities both harmonically and rhythmically. But playing jazz, when the whole thing is working, it's working at a meta-conscious level. That is - you know your chords etc etc and you've got beyond having to think analytically about it and HEY PRESTO - there's your magic.

I find it unuseful when people come up with that old chestnut "well, improvising is easy. You just play ANYTHING", becasuse it's just not so. It's not until you know your limitations that you can stretch and go beyond them. A skilled improvisor isn't one who 'just plays anything'. There's got to be art and heart in what the person is playing. Or it's just nonsense.

Amen

Callie


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Bert
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 10:42 AM

Well to paraphrase Rick, I would say it's

"When you don't know what you're doing, but you know how to do it"

Bert


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Rick Fielding
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 11:29 AM

Bert! You've hit the nail on the head. When you're playing blues and you make a mistake, you just say "it's jazz, you wouldn't understand". When playing an Irish tune and you make several mistakes, you say "That's the south-eastern Sligo version". If I mess up a verse on a traditional ballad, I tell 'em I learned it from Sandy!

Rick


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: GUEST,Roger the skiffler
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 11:40 AM

That's where we old jazzers score, we can always get away with a bit of scat singing when the lyrics fly out of mind!
RtS


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 02:54 PM

The Scots call it "mouth music", and they do it all the time. And it's commion enough in Irish music too - skiddilty-i-de-de-dedidle-de-de-dedidle-de-de-da and so forth. Some people might call it singing in tongues, I suppose...


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Paul S
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 02:55 PM

I agree with you, Shambles. If something sounds the same every time, it ain't natural. A few years ago, a young lady I work with went to see a Madonna concert. She told me the next day that parts of it really sucked because Madonna "changed the songs". When I asked what she meant by that, she said, "You know, sometimes she sang words where there WEREN'T SUPPOSED to be any, and other times she didn't sing when she WAS SUPPOSED TO."

I asked, "You mean that she used artistic license with the songs that she had written?"

The young lady just gave me a confused look. She obviously thought that she had paid $50 to go see a very large music video.

Paul.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: SeanM
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 03:07 PM

Paul, we live in a world where that's getting to be the norm.

90% of the 'popular' acts on the concert circuit these days are so choreographed on stage that there's no room for improvisation - not that several of them could even play an instrument to improvise off of.

A while back, a small scrap broke out in a local music 'zine, about whether these spectacles could rightly be called concerts any more. Personally, I think not.

In any case, I've been to a few "big name" modern alterntative shows where they're not afraid to break out of the set stereotype for each song. One of my all time favorite live bands of the "alternative" genre is the Violent Femmes. They do the normal 'hit' songs that most of the crowd expects, but I've also seen them do gospel, 20 minute long acid jazz improvisation sets in the middle of otherwise normal songs, and perhaps more importantly, never seen them do the same set list twice (even on the same tour).

As I said earlier, improvisation is the heart and soul of music. Cut that out, and we'll all be stuck listening to the Backstreet Boys.

M


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: GUEST,Frank Hamilton
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 04:23 PM

Shambles, I refer you to the Bugle Call Rag.

There are varying degrees of improvisation. In the jazz world, it's assumed that you know the tune and can play the melody and a decent set of chord changes before you take off on it. Style is also a factor. Be-bop doesn't work in a jazz band very well. It's a force fit.

Many great improvisers such as Mozart, Charlie Parker and Django Reinhardt did know what they were doing but not in a conventional sense of being able to substantiate it with theoretical explanations. They knew it by feel and experience having lived with the music they played for a long disciplined period of time. They knew their instrument having played and practiced. The quality of their improvisation is predicated on the last statement.

Frank


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Dr.Sound
Date: 09 Feb 00 - 10:10 PM

Feeling is the key to the process.

Think about tuning a guitar string sometimes you can get it so close that you can't really tell if it is flat or sharp but you know it isn't right cause it just doesn't feel right.

I think we use these same sensetivities when we play music especially when we are improvising.

The more we exercise these senses, the better we get at improvising.

The more slack we cut ourselves the easier it is for us to learn from "sounds that we might have prefered other places". This the term that I use for what some folds might call "mistakes".

cringing from "mistakes" makes it impossible for you to really hear where you went and where you lmight go from there.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: GUEST
Date: 13 Oct 06 - 09:16 PM

This is folk music - are you sure you don't mean impoverishment?


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 Oct 06 - 07:11 AM

it has two forms melodic improvisation .and chordal improvisation.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Bernard
Date: 14 Oct 06 - 09:19 AM

Yup... impoverishment sums it up!!


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 Oct 06 - 10:50 AM

to mcgrath of harlow.mouth music is more like melodic improvisation.
   chordal improvisation, bears no resemblance to mouth music or what we call here in ireland diddling or lilting.
diddling or lilting, first came about because the English tried to ban the playing of musical instruments in Ireland, so the Irish kept their traditonal culture alive .by singing the tunes, it is a very simple form of melodic improvisation, because they wouldnt have sung the song the same way every time.
but to call improvisation, mouth music is an over simplification, as I say chordal improvisation is not mouth music.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Oct 06 - 03:24 PM

Mouth music can be improvised as much as any other type of music.   

Looking back at that long ago post what I was saying was that diddling and scat singing are similar in that they are both varieties of improvised mouth music
..............................

t has two forms melodic improvisation and chordal improvisation.

And a third form, surely - rhythmic improvisation.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 14 Oct 06 - 04:46 PM

agreed,but from your post,it read as if you were saying, that there was only one kind of improvisation, and that was mouth music.
when in fact its one of three.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 14 Oct 06 - 05:59 PM

If you take it as referring to the thread headline (which it wasn't), rather than to the previous post (which it was) and you might read it that way. But I agree - if I had meant to say that mouth music was the only kind of improvisation, that would have been very silly.
.........................

Of course there's an important fourth kind of improvisation, involving the words - ranging from the one singers do, when they forget a word or a line and adjust to cover, to traditions in which whole songs can be improvised - blues for example, or dub and rap and so forth, or work songs of various sorts.

.........................
I like it when an old thread comes back to life, at least when it's one that hadn't beaten a topic to death.

I noted a suggestion back there where Callie expressed doubt as to whether group improvisation has a role in folk music. Unless folk music is defined in a very limited way, I can't see that as being right.

Mind a lot of time when people talk about group improvisation, in jazz typically, what they actually mean is one person at a time doing a relatively improvised solo, against a prearranged background. True collective improvisation is a much rarer bird since jazz got all clevered up.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 05:05 AM

would Gamelan music come under the heading, of group improvisation/


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Darowyn
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 05:15 AM

Not really. The majority of the Gamelan parts are written down and learned by rote. Effectively they are repeated loops. The Bonangs- that's the things like inverted cooking pots- improvise around the framework of the chimes, the improvisation is rhythmic as well as melodic. If it is used, the Rebab- a two stringed fiddle, will also improvise. The Drummer effectively controls the performance, like a conductor, and signals the changes from one pattern to the next in a similar way to the leader of a Samba batteria uses a whistle.
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: GUEST,.gargoyle
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 07:42 AM

It is a playfulness, granted by the Muses.



Sincerely,

Gargoyle




Freqently accidental at first, it can become heady and addicting like mead. I great deal of playful fun.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 10:21 AM

There are two very simpleforms of improvisation that I teach guitarists.
the Blues Scale.NO1. FLAT3, 4 ,SHARP 4,5.7 OF theMajor scale. A blues scale against A major chord,Then same pattern againstSUB DOMINANT and DOMINANT,its a six note scale that can be used to improvise around.
then the pentatonic major scale, a five note scale[ more used in country rock or light rock]and also seems to work for a lot of American traditional material.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 10:23 AM

Gamelan, sounds to me like its using the Pentatonic major scale.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 01:38 PM

Gamelan and improvisation. There is a section in a book "A Guide to the Gamelan" by Neil Sorrell about this:

"Because the word 'improvisation' has no absolute meaning it must always be used with care and myriad qualifications. To state that Gamelan music is improvised is likely to convey the impression of a freedom, even looseness, which it does not have; but to try to close the matter there would do the great disservice of denying it has that element of choice and interpretative spontaneity that is crucial to any great musical tradition.

"Garap, meaning treatment (literally 'working on') refers to the way a musician realizes another part from a given one...A similar situation would arise in our culture when one is harmonising a given melody at the keyboard or reading a figured bass. In each case the act involves improvisation, but a context is established and a framework within which the realization will be accepted but beyond which it will probably be judged unclear, inappropriate, and even wrong.

"No problem is thought to have but one solution, and garap is the art of finding the solution that fits best, but does not necessarily preclude others - nor the desirability of variation."


Which all seems very relevant to what happens in a good session, in our traditions.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 02:05 PM

Thanks.[In each case the act involves improvisation but a context is established and a framework etc].
exactly the same for the Blues scale and the Pentatonic major scale, regarding improvisation.one has a   structure of six notes and one of five.
so here improvisation is not totally free, freedom is allowed, but within certain rules, restricted to certain notes, related to the chords.
it is not generally accepted to mix the blues scale and the pentatonic major, willy nilly,.
However using the pentatonic major scale for the tonic and the blues scale for the sub dominant is considered acceptable ,or vice versa.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: Darowyn
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 06:17 PM

There are two Gamelan scales Slendro and Pelog. Slendro, I think is the one which is close to Pentatonic, though a couple of notes in the scale are not quite the same. I can play along with our Gamelan at work on my steel guitar, but not on a fretted one.
Incidentally Dick, I believe you used to live next door to my brother Steve. His house was called Twites cottage.
Cheers
Dave


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: GUEST
Date: 15 Oct 06 - 08:16 PM

Seems to me there's a lot of improvisation goes on in folk music, very often fiddlers or whistle players, who maybe get to do an impromptu "fill" between verses of a song: those who are good at it, can really enhance a song and not just have to play the straight melody. (Bach might have called it "theme and variations")
We do it in my mixed instrument class, with some interesting and even quite melodic and harmonic results!


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Oct 06 - 05:02 AM

to Darowyn ,yes I did ,4 twites farm cottages, Great Saxham, suffolk. Give him my regards, Dick.


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: The Sandman
Date: 16 Oct 06 - 06:55 PM

an interesting comment was made by HUMPHREY LYTTLETON he says,in the full sense of composing extemporarily that is without preparation,improvisation has proved to be not essential to,and practically non existent in good Jazz.
   however the statement there is improvisation in jazz is a truism so widespread that many conclude that if there is no improvisation it is not jazz.,these and the following points are made in the jazz book by Joachim E berendt
1. the once im provised is equal to improvisation.
      2.the above can be reproduced by the one who produced it, but by no one else.
      3.both improvisation and the once improvised are personal expressions of the situation of the musician who produced them. 4,
4.The concurrence of improviser, composer, and interpreter belongs to jazz improvisation.
5. insofar as the arranger corresponds to point4 , his function differs from thatof the improvising composing interpreter merely in terms ofcraftsmanship and technique;the arranger writes,even when writing for others, on the basis of his experienceas an improvising composing interpreter.
   6Improvisation-in the sense of points 1 to5- is indespensable to jazz;improvisation in the sense of complete unpreparedness and unlimited spontaneitymay occur, but it is not a necessity.
I think the most important thing here arePOINTS ONE AND TWO.if i,m playing a tune and I put in my own embellishments, Then choose to repeat it that is improvisation.
If another concertina player comes along and copies my embellishments note for note then it is not IMPROVISATION. Dick Miles


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: M.Ted
Date: 16 Oct 06 - 10:11 PM

With due respect to Humphrey Lyttleton, composing completely without preparation is the fundamental element in free jazz. And there are any number of players in more mainstream sounding jazz who usse the same technique to jump into a tune and go with whatever happens--often a bent groove, or a peculiar sound--Monk did this a lot.

A lot of old blues players did this, as well, and could spontaneously improvise variations on floating verses, and so could play the same song, three times in a row, different every time.

At any rate, as evidenced above, it is more difficult to describe the process than to actually do it--


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: McGrath of Harlow
Date: 16 Oct 06 - 10:28 PM

The difficult thing is to make it sound good rather than merely unexpected...


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Subject: RE: What is improvisation ?
From: M.Ted
Date: 17 Oct 06 - 12:03 AM

That, Mr. McGrath, is the difference between genius and all the rest of us.


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