The study aimed to explore and understand how six South African jazz musicians acquire and practise the skill of jazz improvisation. Formative influences and practice methods were studied with the hope of identifying factors that are unique to the South African jazz context.
The study followed a qualitative research paradigm, with a collective case study design. Data were gathered through semi-structured interviews which allowed the researcher to probe issues of interest that arose during the course of the interview. The interview questions focused on the musical background, formative and ongoing influences, practice techniques, and improvisation acquisition methods of jazz musicians.
The sample consisted of six expert South African jazz musicians with national and international performance, as well as recording, experience. Following the collection of the data, the results were transcribed, thoroughly analysed and then triangulated to ensure a reliable result. The data revealed three superordinate themes: 1) early and later influences; 2) motivation; and 3) processes in acquiring improvisational skills.
This set of South African jazz musicians revealed that early and later influences include a combination of being self-taught and formal lessons, the black South African church setting, family members, active listening, transcribing, imitation, working with various musicians, and, the limitations of the apartheid era on the development of black musicians.
Intrinsic and extrinsic motivators shape the manner in which South African jazz musicians view and approach jazz improvisation. It was found that their attitudes and values play a significant role, pertaining to improvisation, factors that affect the transition from general to stylistic improvisation, and, the issue of musical integrity in relation to written or memorised solos.
The study revealed that the processes in acquiring improvisational skills include and encompass organic versus structured methods of learning, which includes formal and informal practice, and the importance of issues such as understanding the fundamental jazz rudiments and techniques, developing an identity, authentic self-expression, using mistakes as an opportunity to learn, and the transference of knowledge from an aural to cognitive understanding.
The research leads to the conclusion that although each musician has a unique musical journey, there are elements in the acquisition of jazz improvisation skills that are inescapable such as honing a good technique, intrinsic motivation, active listening, effective practice routines, formal and informal learning, formal and informal practicing, and the development of a unique ‘voice’. The research identifies unique self-theories, experiences and cultural components that guide the ways six South African jazz musicians acquire improvisation skills.
Dissertation (MMus)--University of Pretoria, 2015.