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JAM; Jazz Improvisation and the Architectural Design Process

Part 2 Dissertation 2008
Robert Skeet
University of Huddersfield, UK
The American Song Form is by far the most popular structure in jazz music. Beloved of the great American songwriters of the early twentieth century (George Gershwin, Cole Porter et al), the simple poetry of this 32 bar form is a delight to improvisers. A popular example of this format is the show tune ‘All the Things You Are’, written by Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein.

It seemed reasonable to choose this format as a structure for this body of writing, especially as the subject concerns jazz improvisation as a model of creative activity. The 32 bar form is as follows;
Phrase 1: Eight bars long, it is simple and complete.
Phrase 2: An exact repeat, heard with perspective, asking ‘What next?’
Phrase 3: ‘The middle eight’ bars of a contrasting character which act as a dramatic ‘foil’ to the previous material.
Dense harmonies, less ‘composed’ and a sense of being elsewhere.
Phrase 4: Usually of eight bars closely resembling phrases 1&2. There is a sense of a return ‘home’ with understanding.

It was always my intention to ‘improvise’ this dissertation within the structure of a jazz performance. Ideas were researched, tested, discussed, altered, and researched again until a growing collection of ideas began to suggest a suitable arrangement. I saw this as a period of ‘practice’ where I could gradually learn the material and improve my performance technique. When each section was ready I would attempt a ‘take’ on the theme. The resultant speech was then typed up.

The hope that a dissertation would emerge proved to be somewhat optimistic and the resultant text was subject to some considerable editing. Nevertheless, the process was informative and the document remains a case study of its objectives: to relate the techniques of jazz improvisation to other fields of creativity, specifically architecture.

Robert Skeet

The dissertation ‘JAM; Jazz Improvisation and the Architectural Design Process’ echoes the spirit of Jack Kerouak’s hedonist characters Sal Paradise and Dean Moriarty in their epic journey in search of the American Song. Quest, the establishment of familiarity, improvisation within a structure, reflection, and ultimately resolution. Exploring the work and collaborations of architect luminaries the dissertation observes similarities of process that link the architect to the soloist in jazz, and to what extent design is a ‘jam’?

Mr Gerard Bareham
Mr Derrie O'Sullivan
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