All of the arts aim to overcome current aesthetic and cultural conventions. In jazz this typical tension is carried out to its extremes. When playing a solo a jazz musician doesn't express a given identity but rather discovers new ones, unfinished and impermanent. In other words, a jazz musician loses his identity in the very moment in which he finds it. A jazz musician engaging in improvisation is thus vulnerable to two sources of risk: on the one hand, he may end up following well-trodden paths (the risk of stagnation); on the other, he may end up not being understood by his listeners (the risk of isolation). Improvisation thus highlights the paradoxical situation of any artist, who must manage the conflicting demands to seek originality through change and to define himself in order to be recognisable. This book addresses this paradox by exploring musical creativity and analysing examples of fierce experimentation, ranging from John Coltrane to Sun Ra.
Davide Sparti is an associate professor in the Faculty of Letters and Philosophy at the University of Siena.