• Improvisation: the mystery.

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    On my latest album, “LA FALAISE”, more than half the tracks were completely improvised.

    Ha, improvisation, a mysterious art! You sit at the piano, sometimes with a vague notion of a mood, maybe a little motif, but mostly…nothing at all, and let the fingers, imagination and a good measure of chance hopefully take you somewhere… It’s like an ultra complex loop of hand, ear, brain, muscle and nerve biofeedback unfolding faster than you can think. The best of them (Keith Jarrett immediately comes to mind, and Chopin also, a long time ago!) literally composed in real time. Of course, I am not part of that league, but as years go by, with practice (and I would dare say training!) it seems to me I am getting better at it. To stay with the sport analogy, my batting average is improving.

    Let’s be painfully clear: 90% of my improvs are worthless. The Pianoteq software I use records everything I play and archives it by date for a set time period (after which it self destructs!). I usually keep my improvs short, under three to four minutes. If I think I hit something good, I’ll play it back, and if my feeling is confirmed I give it a temporary name and save it separately. I try to be very selective: why keep mediocre music?

    But the magic of it is that this 10% or so keeper material often contains surprising melodies and harmonic progressions that make me wonder: where the hell did that come from? This is stuff I most certainly would never have come up with if I “deliberately tried” to compose something. It’s amazing and moving at the same time. When I really am “in the zone”, what I hear immediately suggests the subsequent notes and my fingers instantly reach for those notes. I wish it could happen all the time…but alas…not yet.

    Nevertheless, over a period of a few years, my collection of improvisations contained about 25 little pieces that seemed worthy of inclusion on the album. It was sometimes a difficult choice: a good problem to have! Some are very dark (times ARE hard), others full of a naive kind of hope. Can you tell which tracks form “LA FALAISE” were improvised and which ones are compositions?

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