This app was borne out of the observation that, while music made by careful reproduction of notation encourages perfection of technique, music made by improvised processes requires greater flexibility. Of course, both technical skill and flexibility are necessary in all music, and both are things that every serious musician aspires to. However, there are already plenty of books of exercises to help with the former. Developing flexibility is, like improvisation itself, more personal and mysterious, and is given less attention in our culture as a whole.
The name of this app is actually somewhat misleading. Jazz is currently the genre of music perhaps most associated with improvisation. However, countless other genres and creative artists throughout human history have used it too. In fact, improvisation can be considered the oldest and most fundamental act of creativity. The jazz and blues tradition born in cosmopolitan 19th Century New Orleans was the first to reintroduce improvisation back into Western culture though, after the intense focus on intellect that gave birth to the scientific method had frozen it out. So while this app is named after jazz out of respect for this, it can be used by any creative musician who wants to improve their flexibility. It can benefit those who play blues, rock, latin, fusion, reggae, ambient, world, non-idiomatic free music, and genres that don’t even exist yet! Even musicians primarily involved with performing notated music will find that it can add enjoyment to practice routines.
Flexibility is necessary in improvisation, and creativity in general, because they’re all about being in and adapting to the present moment, and we never know what might be coming our way. Even in repeating patterns such as a bass riff or chord progression, there’s still enough room for spontaneous variation that, if we’re not present, we can be thrown off. We want to be surfing the wave of the now, but it’s always in motion.
So how do we develop flexibility? One answer is to use randomness, which provides the same unpredictability that we encounter in the creative process. For example, rather than practicing scales in a familiar pattern such as the circle of 4ths, practicing them in a random order every time not only encourages flexibility on an instrument but exposes the ear to a greater variety of harmonic movement too. Or if a chord pattern such as 1-2-3-5 is being taken through a chord progression, the rhythm it’s played with can be randomly chosen.
That’s one of the things that the Jazz Tarot does - it’s a practice randomizer. The fundamental aspects of music - individual notes; intervals and the different patterns they form together; chord progressions; rhythm - are all represented and can be randomized in various ways. There’s also an ear training exercise, a place for you to input and choose repertoire, and some inspirational quotes from the masters of creativity of various different idioms.
Another feature of the Jazz Tarot is exactly what it says it is - a tarot deck. Based on a similar structure as the cards traditionally used to give readings and offer insight into a person’s life path, the virtual cards here each contain an exercise relating to an aspect of music. When you request a reading from them, a random selection gives you a suggestion of what to do. In the way that improvisation was largely frozen out of Western culture, the same is true of the more mysterious aspects of human experience as a whole too. Such innovators as John and Alice Coltrane, Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman, Jimi Hendrix and Laraaji have consciously integrated these aspects into their art. And the Jazz Tarot is an invitation to you to explore the influence the unknown can have on yours too. More information on how these cards are structured is available in the original document An Approach to Creative Jazz Education, available from my website: huwlloydimprov.com (HYPERLINK, PLEASE)
So use the Jazz Tarot to liven up your practice routine, push you in unexpected directions, and connect with the mysteries of creativity. Most importantly though, use it to have fun. As Joseph Campbell put it, follow your bliss. We live in a period of history when the real power of creativity and improvisation is still going largely unrecognized, and turning one’s art into something that supports oneself doesn’t come easily. There’s only disappointment in pursuing this path unless you really love what you’re doing. Coincidentally, it’s also only when you viscerally love your art that it can have the effect it’s meant to have on its audience. There’s enough music out there being made with mainly financial concerns in mind, or out of unquestioned habit. The fact that genuine creativity can be such a challenge to make a living from is a goad to the adventurous among us, to take risks doing exactly what we believe is necessary to unleash the true power of art. That’s what people will support us for, and what the world as a whole needs from us as artists right now. May the Jazz Tarot be of help to you on such a journey.
Finally, the Jazz Tarot is itself a journey, and one that you’re invited to contribute to. Feedback on how it works for you, and how it could be improved, is welcome via the website linked above. I look forward to hearing from you.
Huw Lloyd, December 2018