Philoctetes Center

Jazz Improvisation: The Art of the Ballad (December 14, 2008)

Music Performance & Discussion
Participants: Jane Ira Bloom, Drew Gress, Fred Hersch

Among jazz improvisers it's well known that the high watermark for a jazz artist rests on how well you can express a ballad. The art of playing "slow and simple" sits in direct contrast to the often break-neck speeds and complex musical ideas that characterize a great deal of contemporary jazz improvisation. Well known jazz ballad interpreters like Miles Davis, Bill Evans, Shirley Horn, and Billie Holiday have set the standard for generations of musicians interested in playing less and expressing more. How do musicians play "real slow" and what do they think about while they're doing it? How is it different from their improvisational process when they're playing faster tempos? Do musicians experience a different state of consciousness when they play slowly as a group? What part do lyrics play in a ballad interpretation? Three world-renowned jazz artists and long-time collaborators-pianist Fred Hersch, bassist Drew Gress, and saxophonist Jane Ira Bloom-come together to perform and talk about their experience playing in the slow lane.