This research proposal forms part of my PhD Research in Composition at the Sydney Conservatorium.
A Deeper Shade of Blue: An Autoethnographic inquiry into Australian Jazz Identity
Jazz music’s malleable improvisatory methods and diverse social utility has enabled the recent emergence of distinct creative practices both linked to the genre’s traditional roots in the United States and, simultaneously, to cultures beyond the music’s roots.1 History has commonly used geographic location to help define the “identity” of various jazz cultures linked to these practices. Areas that have been commonly defined by the press and early jazz scholars include cities in the United States such as Kansas City, New Orleans, Chicago, New York along with broader categorisations such as ‘east coast’ and ‘west coast’ jazz. Initially, investigations seeking to distinguish one jazz culture from another typically relied on qualitative methods bent on charting sonoric content. Yet a second wave of scholars in the late 1940s would break new ground in their insistence that differences could only be appreciated through an examination of cultural practices as they related to sonic products (cf. Jackson). Since the publication of Sidney Finkelstein’s (1948) ethnography on American jazz practices, methods of cultural examination as it relates to jazz have been refined and many useful models have emerged for investigating what actually happens when “jazz” music is created in distinct geographical sites. My concern is to explore and delineate cultural practices related to jazz production in a geographically distant location from the genres origins – a site of distinct and unique collaborations, recordings, performances and compositions: Sydney, Australia.2
- The definition of “jazz” around the world is rife with challenges given its contested nature in academic and popular discourse, in which the origins of the music are so remote from the music that the meaning has been adapted and re- conceptualised. How do we create meaning and interpret jazz that is not “authentic?” Without syncopation, the swing beat, the blues ‘scale’, timbral conventions, characteristic ‘bebop’ chromatic passing notes in an improvisation and African American authentication, is it really jazz? This is a complicated field for jazz purists and scholars and has been the source of an ongoing question that has become particularly relevant given that the music has become a truly transnational art form, providing a vast array of meanings and identities to locales (Kater 1987, 1992, Starr 1994, Jones 2001, Johnson 2000, Ansell 2004, Atkins 2001)..
- An exploration of Australian jazz music and identity is a complicated subject given that the music has an experience of its own in the familiar postmodern and postcolonial world beyond its original conception. The analytical problem of viewing music tied to its roots and questions over its authenticity is that musics made in one place for one reason can be immediately appropriated in another place for quite another reason (Frith 1996). Jazz music is now taught in music academies all over the world, allowing national identities to emerge and musicians to translate the jazz
The few high profile investigations into Australian jazz identity on record, such as Sydney Morning Herald jazz critic John Shand’s Jazz: The Australian Accent (2009) and Miriam Zolin’s journal Extempore, attempt to argue for a discrete identity but struggle to find any common threads or aesthetic values in the artists profiled.3 As Shand explains in relation to several descriptive analyses of performances by Australian jazz practitioners, “no pattern emerges in quantifiable sonic terms.” Zolin at least casts a wider net, promoting collections of essays, poetry and interviews between prominent Australian jazz artists and critics, festival directors, venue owners and herself . However, there is little effort made in Extempore to interpret this data within a larger framework. Given this current state of affairs, the need for an investigation into a culture of jazz production many accept as unique but struggle to illuminate in specific terms seems warranted.4
Fortunately, some historical surveys of Australian jazz production have established a set of parameters within which such an investigation might take place. John Whiteoak’s book Playing Ad Lib: Improvisatory Music in Australia 1836-1970 (1990) points out a general eclecticism of the music, created through a transplanted musical culture and a related series of “out-of-sync waves of decontextualised musical influence” (xiv). He remains optimistic in his overall perspective on Australian improvisation, suggesting that within this context-less milieu there exists a “potential [for the improvisatory practice to emerge] as musical Esperanto, or perhaps, pidgin, enabling expressive cross-generational, cross-gender, cross-aesthetic, creative, harmless, educational and joyful human play” (xxii). Bruce Johnson in turn finds convincing evidence to support an argument tradition in their own way (cf. Atkins 2003).
- Australian jazz identity has warranted an in-depth ethnographic inquiry for a long time, with Australian jazz research methods lagging behind current musicology topics and techniques. Despite jazz music’s enduring presence in Australia’s cultural fabric throughout its 90 year history here, there have only been a limited number of academic research projects undertaken, including a Masters paper by Tamara Murphy, calling for courage in defining Australian jazz as culturally authentic, and even a Masters paper by Lucian McGuiness, detailing the case for an ethnographic enquiry into Australian jazz along similar lines to the groundbreaking 1990′s work of three ethnomusicologists study of jazz music in New York City: Ingrid Monson, Travis Jackson and Paul Berliner.
- Other examples of Australian jazz discourse include, but are not limited to: Bill Boldiston, Sydney’s Jazz: And Other Joys of Its Vintage Years, ed. Bob Barnard (Leura, N.S.W.: Bol d’Or Publishing, 2007), John Clare, Bodgie Dada & the Cult of Cool (Kensington, N.S.W.: UNSW Press, 1995), Peter Rechniewski, The Permanent Underground: Australian Contemporary Jazz in the New Millennium (Strawberry Hills, N.S.W.: Currency House, 2008), John Sharpe, I Wanted to Be a Jazz Musician (Torrens, A.C.T.: John Sharpe, 2008)
that the Australian approach to jazz is based on Australian cultural tropes of ‘pragmatism’, and ‘mateship’ (Johnson 2000:162).5 Such findings, while intriguing in connection to the recordings studied in these texts, beg a deeper examination of the cultural and social aspects of the music as they are realised in real time.
It seems likely that narrowing geographic boundaries in the study of Australian jazz practice and the adoption of field work methodologies from the ethnographic and ethno-musicological realms will help provide a more specific and illuminating data set. After all, the broad ethnographies of “American Jazz” undertaken in the fifties has given way over the past decades to a much more managaeable style of ethnography apparent in surveys of the New York City jazz scene: Paul Berliner’s Thinking in Jazz (1990), Travis Jackson’s Ph.D. thesis Performance and Musical Meaning: Analysing “Jazz” on the New York Scene” (1998), and Ingrid Monson’s Saying Something: Jazz Improvisation and Interaction (1990). Each of these works identify flaws and debunk previous approaches to jazz studies, which have tended to focus on purely musical characteristics and fail to provide a broader and comprehensive understanding and reflection on the spirit of the music via its cultural traditions. Yet at the same time the authors accept that jazz traditions might not be universal and that small scale data collection is necessary before larger themes can be asserted.
This thesis seeks to address similar issues by carrying out an investigation of jazz composition practice as a function of Sydney jazz culture in an effort to illuminate and refine previous efforts to chart an Australian jazz aesthetic. In broad terms, this research is motivated by a desire to place Australian jazz identity amongst questions of authenticity and cultural nationalism, questions that surround all art forms in Australia.6 But in turn, I aim to gain a better understanding
- Bruce Johnson is an excellent surveyor and narrator of the history of jazz music in Australia. It is interesting to discover that he is an English Professor at University of New South Wales. No doubt that his amateur trumpet endeavours serve as a passion for his inquiries.
- The question of cultural identity lies at the heart of current debates in cultural studies and social theory (Frith 1996). There has been a veritable excursive explosion in recent years around the concept of ‘identity’, at the same moment as it has been subjected to a searching critique. At issue has been a deconstruction of those identities which defined the social and cultural world of modern societies for so long – distinctive identities of gender, sexuality, ethnicity, race, class and nationality. This ultimately warrants the intention to explore identity over other facets of the music such as meaning in order to maintain a modern approach in keeping with contemporary ethnomusicological practice.
of my own composition practice, and to inform my view of Australian jazz culture through the ethnographic lens so successfully deployed in studies of the New York jazz scene. In an innovative twist, I plan on informing my analysis of field notes collected from rehearsals, recordings and gigs with a parallel analysis of my own compositions and recording portfolio.
Purpose and Rationale of the Study
The methods and terms used for studying jazz music have been historically questioned due to its rapid ascendence from folk to high art music. Early pan-European approaches to the field tended to treat jazz as a form of Western art music and analysed it in Western musicological terms. However, rather quickly, many scholars realised such an approach was limited in that it sought to assess jazz success within a European frame. Finkelstein (1948) asserts that jazz music inherited cultural practices from African-American traditions and thus its value lay in more than just the ‘notes’. Ulanov (1952) points out that one can better understand the music if we study the cultural process and aesthetic of the musicians. He explains: “From an examination of jazz musicians’ own words, it is possible to glean the subtle, unruly, and almost mystical concept of the jazz spirit, or feeling, or thinking” (Ulanov 1952:6). Here he refers to the importance of the ‘mystical’ quality of the music – this may be a universal quality in all music however he makes an impact by later suggesting the importance of the enthusiasm and good-humoured irony of the musicians on the musical aesthetic itself.
Despite Ulanov and Finklestein’s early calls for investigations into the cultural parameters of jazz production, progress in the immediate aftermath of the publication of their works was slow. Indeed, a sustained attempt to assert jazz’s status as an art music in the academy in the following decades relied on the erasure of the “extramusical” from its study, and favoured the analyses of thematic development, musical structure and tonal organisation (Schuller 1958, 1968 1989, Pressing 1977 Kernfield 1983 Williams 1982, 1988). Those who saw the benefits of Ulanov and Finkelstein’s approach tended to be African American writers, who’s perspective of the music and its relations to African American roots and its cultural function dominated their commentary (Amiria Baraka /Leroi Jones 1963, 1967; Ralph Ellison 1964a 1964b 1964c 1964d 1964e 1986; Albert Murray 1970 1976). In the last two decades, it has become increasingly the norm to employ ethnographic methods which build further on those of Ulanov, Finkelstein and the studies of many in the Black Arts movement. These investigations operate from the assumption that modes of jazz production are not universally shared (although they do tend to overlap) and that narrower geographic frames are necessary to generate meaningful data about cultural practice. In turn, those driving these ethnographies have a tendency to embed their own understanding about jazz practice into the data set as a way of nuancing findings and clarifying bias (see Berliner 1994; Jackson 1998; Monson 1996).
These researchers all utilise ethnographic fieldwork methodologies which include the collection of field notes and the analysis of interviews. Yet each reject the idea that the data they collect can be presented in a supposedly “objective” scholarly context. They instead embrace the subjective voice, adding personal reflection to their data set and commenting on what they view as their own cultural biases, enabling a panoptical perspective of the subject to emerge. Their perspectives form an integral component of the researcher-subject relationship dynamic that defines their data sets. As Berliner explains:
Using myself as a subject for the study-training myself according to the same techniques described by musicians-offered the kind of detail about musical development and creative process that can be virtually impossible to obtain from other methods. So, too, did reflection during my own performances on the experimential realm of jazz. Musical experiments in the practice room-for example, trying to invent and develop musical ideas-proved especially useful for testing different
ideas about improvisation (Berliner 1994:10).
Leon Anderson (2006) puts forth the notion that these methods are part of a unique methodological approach known as autoethnography and argues that they form an important new category of inquiry and investigation. The research examples he cites forcefully demonstrates that a deeply personal and self-observant ethnography can rise above ideographic particularity to address broader theoretical issues. Robert Murphy’s The Body Silent (1987) utilises autoethnographic methods through an investigation of the authors experience with spinal disease in this manner. As Anderson reflects:
Murphy’s book seeks connections to broader social science theory-especially using his own experiences to argue that conceptions of liminality provide a more accurate and meaningful analytic framework for understanding human disability than does a deviance perspective (Anderson 2006:378-379).
Anderson also points to the importance and unique nature of the subject-researcher dynamic that enrich the data set through facilitating the ‘inside perspective’ on a given subject. These include the commitment of the researcher, given their immersion in the field of research, the narrative visibility of the researchers self, the ability to observe the interaction of the researcher’s investigation on the subject (‘analytic reflexivity’) and dialogue with informants beyond the self. Anderson’s new approach is an attempt to realise a sub-genre of analytic ethnography that goes beyond the limits of an ‘outsiders’ perspective, and provide an alternative to evocative autoethnography that is not inhibited as simply a ‘novel-like’ style of research.
As a researcher and performer/composer, I am well situated to produce a similar analysis of the Sydney jazz scene. My work as a saxophonist and composer operates in a fertile overlap of jazz, popular, world, experimental and electronic music, bringing me into contact with not only all of the
musicians involved in the survey, but with related musicians from other music communities that help inform the jazz ‘identity’ and define the music within the broader framework of Australian music. I have an intimate overview of the current Australian jazz scene and have an extensive network through ten years of performing, recording and touring as a professional musician. I am happily preoccupied with music and connecting with people through my multiple projects and record label, Earshift Records, making my position the ultimate in terms of researcher insight, experience and commitment.
Methodology and Presentation of Data
I begin this project with a qualitative analysis of interviews that have already taken place within Australian jazz writings, as well as data from the writings of Shand, Whiteoak, Zolin and Johnson. I have delineated from these works a set of methods used in the past to construct definitions of Australian jazz identity. The three central themes of this discourse are pragmatism, mateship and eclecticism. The second half of my thesis uses this analytical model as a way of guiding reflection on my own compositional practice. Data taken from my own field notes on rehearsals, recordings and performances is tested against these themes as I trace the development of six compositions and recordings from my portfolio: four piece jazz ensemble – The Vampires – a collection of compositions from the March 2012 CD ‘Garfish’ (Earshift/Fuse), Compass Quartet with Bobby Singh and Sarangan Sriranganathan “River Meeting Suite”, released October 2011 on the CD ‘Ode to an Auto Rickshaw’ (Earshift/Fuse), Compass Quartet with Jackson Harrison “Onierology” Suite (upcoming release), Sirens Big Band commission “The Political Game,” Sydney Symphony Fellowship sextet “Reflections – a Dedication to Mike Nock,” and Ku-ring-gai Philharmonic Orchestra – “New Meanings”. I conclude that while the existing themes framing Australian jazz production seem to match the data I have gathered, more specific subcategories can be identified when one focuses on a narrower geographical space. For instance, notes gathered thus far indicate that themes such as pragmatism are multi faceted and contain discrete components such as economic, political and aesthetic concerns unique to both artists and community.
With the PhD, I would like to test the sub categories I have identified in my own experience against the experiences of others in the Sydney jazz community. This project would involve additional field notes and interviews in relation to the development of several new works in which I play either a leadership or supporting role. Some of these projects include a new album from an upcoming field trip to Greece in which the cross-sections of jazz and Balkan Brass music will be explored (funded by the Ian Potter Cultural Trust), a residency with afro-beat-hip-hop/jazz project The Strides at Campbelltown Arts Centre in February 2013 (with additional funding pending from Australia Council), a new album release for the Jeremy Rose Quartet, a musical work being composed for a Big Band ensemble, and a large orchestral work.
This expanded project would help address some of the deficiencies in the respective literatures on Australian jazz and illuminate the cultural practices lying behind the Australian jazz identity. By expanding discussion beyond my own compositions, this research project will help flesh out how “Australian” approaches to jazz composition are realised across the Sydney scene and how these are distinct from other locales of jazz music production around the world.
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35;4 August. Sage Publications
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Blue Nippon: Authenticating Jazz in Japan Duke University Press, Durham ed. Jazz Planet University Press of Mississippi, Mississippi
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D. Walker (eds), Australian Popular Culture, George Allen 7 Unwin, North Sydney
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Art, Improvisation, Trojan Press, Melbourne
As a professional discipline, jazz and creative music composition has yet to extensively address the issue of identity and hybridisation. As a saxophonist and composer in the field of jazz and creative music, I find myself working in a fertile overlap of world music, including reggae, afrobeat, tango, indian and african music, as well as the many sub-genres of jazz – bebop, modal, and free, just to name a few.
Living in the twenty-first century in a country far removed from jazz’s origins poses interesting questions regarding identity, transnationalism, and hybridisation. How current artists have forged an identity among the growing conservatism in jazz is an important question and central do my research. As certain sections of the jazz community has become increasingly institutionalised, authentism appears to often be based on ethnicity and racial background.
The projects that I compose and perform with form an eclectic mix of influences and styles. The concept of a ‘project’ is becoming the norm among the Australian jazz scene, as well as abroad. A band’s compositional and performance practice adopts cross-idiomatic improvisational and compositional lexicons, forming hybridisation of jazz and unique musical identities. My compositional portfolio and exogesis will examine existing discourse on the topic of hybridisation in jazz and its use of identity, as well as use musical samples to place my compositional practice in a contemporary and global context.
There are several reasons why this research is important at this time. First, there are a number of important artists who’s music demands an assessment of a new perspective on jazz hybridisation and identity. My main objective is to articulate the features that make their music successful through literature surveys and musical analysis,
Secondly, a contextualisation of my work among current research and musical examples will greatly assist and allow my work to be placed within a global and up-to-date framework. Thirdly, improvisation through composition is an area of study that is generally overlooked. Without broadening the scope beyond the limits of this research, I wil also argue that compostional choices such as performer selection and the creation of improvisational platforms are an integral part of jazz compositional practice.
Reviews of research on case studies of different jazz hybrids have concluded an increased interest in global sounds and a quest for new and under utilised influences. (Farrell, 1988; Kalmanovitch, 2008; Levy, 2007, Nettle, 1998; Zorn, 2000) The reviews revealed a relationship between many artists – one in which the the common trend is that artists create ‘projects’ to adopt cross-idomatic identitities to explore transnational influences. Several other researchers highlighted how a number of artist’s have used their ethinic identitities to forge what has been labelled as “identity jazz”. (Gendreau, 2009; Kalmanovitch, 2008; Levy, 2007; Völz, 2006)
One study which examined causal effect of the relationshop between Indian music and jazz was conducted by Tanya Kalmanovitch. Kalmanovitch conducted a landmark study on Indian Karnatak Music’s contact with jazz music in three contexts – jazz pedagogy, intercultural collaboration, and the Indian Diaspora in the United States. The study presented a comprehensive analyses including reference to recent recordings by pianist Vijay Iyer, saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa and drummer Ravish Momin, as well as highlighting their accounts in historical, policitcal and social contexts.
In another cross cultural study, Clair Levy reveals the open nature of jazz and its response to the work and influence of Bulgarian-born musician Milcho Leviev. The genesis of Bulgarian music’s odd meter rhythms and jazz paved a new direction for the music. “In a certain sense there has always been globalisation. Just not on the same scale as it is today.” (Leviev, quoted in Levy 2007:26)
The globalisation of the music was also a common topic of discussion in several studies which examined the origins of jazz’s transnational nature. (Monson, 1998; Farrell, 1988) Research confers that John Coltrane stands out among others as one who explored the spiritual ideas of the East and West and theories of harmony. Kalmanovitch (2008), also provides a comprehensive account of Coltrane’s use of Indian music concepts, and further suggests that this concept of experiencing or even creating freedom through improvisation is still prominent in contemporary jazz aesthetics.
Further case studies in the research include Strunk’s study on the music of Wayne Shorter, who elaborated and extended bebop and modal harmony by manipulating the functional progression of chords – using common chords in uncommon ways. (Strunk, 2005) Strunk is much more analytical than philosophical/sociological, however there is a link between the research. The research suggests that the concepts of modal jazz harmony fostered a new world for artists to create other world connections and hybridised forms.
Perspectives were added from non-jazz related research to broaden the research to contemporary classical music. Research indicated Australian composers such as Peter Sculthorpe and Ross Edwards have drawn from unqiue indiginous characteristics of Aboriginal Song, traditional indigenous instruments and concepts suggested through the Australian landscape. (Boyd, 2007; Williams, 1988) There is a clear gap in the research on Australian jazz collaborations and hybrids, suggesting possible future analasyis.
Another component of the research focused on the music of Nigerian saxophonist Fela Anikulapo-Kuti and his style of music prominent in the 1970s’ called Afro-beat. Much of the research covers Afro-beat’s origins and Kuti’s legacy. (Grass, 1986; Gendreau, 2009) A revealing study by Gendreau details a case study of Afro-beat’s resurgence since Kuti’s death in 1997 in three North American bands and the hybrids created through displacing the music from its original context. The research suggests that Afro-beat music deserves a re-evaulation and further scope for collaborative use.
Research covering the topic of improvisation was also evaluated. At the risk of broadening the scope of this research too wide, the focus was limited to include the most cited references.
The relevance to my compositional research is clear – many elements of jazz music is not confounded to the traditional paradigm of composition. Decisions such as who will play the composition and how the composition frames an improvisational platform are integral to making the composition potential more than the individual composer can portray in notation and conduction. Hence these aspects of the music demand critical attention.
The research all presented various musical styles and form that utilise improvisation, suggesting that composition has much to learn from improvisational traditions, and is generally undervalued. (Bailey, 1980; Nettle, 1990; Nyman, 1974)
Another important research on improvisation and jazz music’s identity was from Rae-Connor, who provided a case study of bassist and composer Charlie Haden and his Libertation Music Orchestra. The research contextualised the struggle of the black civil rights movement to non-black performers by aligning itself with progressive political movements throughout the world and utilising musical narratives. Haden stands as a model for extending the African American tradition as a non-black without appropriatition. This has particular resonance with my compositional research as an Australian jazz composer and saxophonist by presenting ways to perceive my work as a hybrid of jazz without losing its authenticity as a valid artform.
An alternative discourse was also surveyed, one which exposes the artists as being reactionary to the growing canonisation of jazz. (Kalmanovitch, 2008) The research suggests that the viewpoint of jazz music as the “classical music of the twentieth century” runs the risk of a growing conservatism and backward looking art form. (Levy 2007) A number of researchers notifed the decline in growth of the music since the artform’s early days – as is implied in the title of British journalist Stuart Nicholson’s book Is Jazz Dead? (Or has it moved to a new address), suggesting that American Jazz is stagnant, and jazz’s true creative potential has since flowered in Europe. (Nicholson, 2005)
I believe that the reaction to a blossoming monopolisation of the genre by ‘young black lions’ was that there was a general shift towards more global sounds and ideas of cross-idiomatic hybridisation.
A number of important recordings that contribute to this discourse have also been referenced for the purpose placing the literature in the context of the music itself. The range of recordings show that jazz artists are becoming more preoccupied with representaions of ethinicity and identity. The range of projects diversified to an increasing interest in global sounds.
Trumpeter Dave Douglas (1963-) explored Balkan traditional music in the Tiny Bell Trio, Indian music in Satya, and contemporary classical music in Parrallel Worlds.1 Saxophonist John Zorn (1953-) created the Masada project, which feature different ensembles interpreting a range of “Jewish” inspired compositions. Kalmanovitch elaborates to suggest that representaions of ethnicity have become commonplace in modern jazz – non-black musicians creating jazz ‘projects’ where the compositions and performance style are often hybridised and cross-idiomatic rather than follow the path of mainstream jazz.
Further analyses of prominent American diasporic recording artists illustrate the concept of “identity jazz” even further. Indian-Americans Vijay Iyer (1971-) and Rudresh Manhanthappa (1971-) both explore their Indian heritage by using Karnatak elements as a means of organising relationships among instrumentalists and creating a multi-levelled, polyrhythmic environment.2 Another important reference is Peurto Rican saxophonist and composer, Miguel Zenon (1976), who successfully forges his latino heritage with modern jazz compositional vocabulary and harmony.3
On musical reference texts, Ludmila Ulehla Contemporary Harmony: Romanticisim through the Twelve-Tone Row (1994) and Liebman’s A Chromatic Approach to Jazz Harmony and Melody (1991) contain a gradual study of the increasing harmonic complexities in contemporary musical structure with an awareness of the relationship of root tones to their parent tonality.
The examples and concepts offered provide an excellent method for organising chromaticism and will be used throughout the duration of my course. Ron Miller”s Modal Jazz Composition and Harmony Vol.1 and Vol. 2 (1997) will also be consulted for the development of the chromatic-modal system and asymmetric form.
A survey of this material presents ideas for future analyses, particularly in the field of improvisation and jazz music pedagogy. A growing concern is the canonisation in jazz institutions, as well as ‘real book’ rote learning. Utilising this research will present ideas to address this issue.
This research places my compositions in a historical, political and social context, and serves as a case study of jazz in contact with the non-Western world and other non-jazz influences. This research through composition aims to provide an account of jazz’s international character and contribute to the body of work in jazz and its many hybrids. Ultimately, this account aims to contextualise my compositions and highlight important points of collaborative potential.
The literature surrounding my research through compostion encompasses many different aspects of hybridisation and identity. The challenge is to piece together a context for my own work and put it in a framework where I can verbalise what makes a work successful and why. The hybridisation of styles in jazz and creative music has yet to be addressed, and my portfolio and exogesis will deliver a discussion and exploration of these ideas. I hope to also outline the lack of literature in the field of improvisation and creative music, and make calls for further discussion on its potential for further practise and teaching around the world.
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Inception (2010) written, produced and directed by Christopher Nolan, Warner Bros, United States.