Jazz, Kant and Zen

The Philosophy of Improvisation

In: Culture and Dialogue

Transgression and experimentation are at the heart of the musical composition with which this work begins. The compositional approaches employed developed from a consideration of Kant’s Critique of Judgement (1790) which offers a compelling explanation for the apparently bizarre “claim to objectivity” commonly made in judgements of taste. Kant’s final conclusion around the source of the claim is, for me, disappointing. This current work re-examines and extends his argument through an elision with Zen writing, and offers an alternate account. It is posited that the “claim to objectivity” operates as a linguistic marker, acknowledging the presence of experience that is trans-rational and supra-linguistic, and indicating a point/place at which language ceases to be viable. It relies on and incites an implicit shared understanding that aesthetic experience often exceeds language, and further indicates that one or more of the myriad unspeakable things are accessible nearby. This understanding is explored in relation to compositional practice, finding a powerful synergy with the writing of composers, improvisers, and avant-garde/jazz theorists. The work concludes with the suggestion that aesthetic experience and the “beautiful” may therefore signpost the ineffable, referring back to the score with which this work began.

  • 1

    Jonathan Day, “Image, word and sound – transmedia and the transcendent,” Twice Upon A Time: Magic, Alchemy & The Transubstantiation of the Senses (Centre for Fine Art Research, Birmingham City University, 2014) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5o1_VxKdmUk, accessed 12 May 2016.

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  • 3

    Ibid., 52.

  • 4

    Ibid., 59.

  • 5

    Ibid., 56.

  • 6

    Ibid., 58.

  • 7

    Ibid., 89.

  • 8

    Ibid., 59.

  • 9

    Ibid., 58-59.

  • 10

    Ibid., 60.

  • 12

    Ibid., 56.

  • 14

    Ibid., 59.

  • 16

    Robert Pirsig, Zen And The Art Of Motorcycle Maintenance, (London: Corgi, 1974), 234.

  • 18

    John Baldock, Zen Wisdom (Shaftesbury: Element, 1994) no pagination.

  • 19

    Philip Toshio Sudo, Zen Guitar (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1998), 158.

  • 27

    Ana Maria, Schluter Rodes, “The Experience of the Beautiful in Zen”, Sufi (Spring: Seattle, Spring 2002), 32.

  • 29

    Jonathan Harvey, In Quest of Spirit (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1999), 28.

  • 30

    Derek Bailey, Improvisation: its nature and practice in music (New York: Da Capo Press, 1992), 54.

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