Dave Brubeck on the keys to improvisation


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SS: Of course, with a jazz group, within the structure of a tune, you have room for improvisation. What are the keys to successful improvisation during a concert? What happens to make good improvisational playing?

DB: Concentration. And, the young kids now use the term getting into the zone. It's how I felt. We didn't have a word for it. But, it's where your mind is -- because of total concentration is starting to sharpen up.

And I used to say, "If this happens three times a year, I'm happy," because you can play good to a certain extent. But, when you get in the zone, it's like a basketball player. I was always interested in sports, and I see the same thing happening in football, or basketball, or tennis, where you get into a position where you're better than you are. And, that's what you hope for.

And, when that happens, for me I can do things technically that I couldn't do ever again. You take more chances, and you're sure you're going to make it. But, if you go into taking a chance, and you're not sure you're going to make it, you won't make it. So, you've got to be really sure of yourself, and take these big chances.

That's the greatness of jazz is that you will take chances that are beyond you. And, you might not make it. But, you must try it if you're going to really be playing what I consider jazz is to be into this thing that's beyond you, and don't expect it to happen too often. Be glad when it does happen.

SS: So, it's something you seek to achieve in every concert, and every performance provides the opportunity to maybe get to that zone --

DB: Maybe get there.

SS: But, it's uncertain whether you'll reach it at a given performance, which is probably part of the motivation to keep playing, right?

DB: Yeah, and I think that Paul Desmond got into that zone at the first Oberlin concert. He was just perfection that night. And, I think I was in that zone in the early '50s when I did Over the Rainbow.

SS: Is that performance is on an album specifically?

DB: Yeah, it's on an old Fantasy -- yeah.

Russell Gloyd: Storyville.

DB: Storyville, yeah.

SS: The Storyville LP, Live at Storyville?

DB: Yeah

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