On Narrativity and Narrative Flavor in Jazz Improvisation


On Narrativity and Narrative Flavor in Jazz Improvisation
Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia
2183461X, 08705283
This essay investigates an established question in the philosophy of music: whether, and in what respect, music may express narratives. However, this essay departs in two essential respects from traditional treatments of the question. First, the jazz tradition instead of European art music is used as the primary source material. Second, instead of merely posing the question of whether music can harbor a narrative, this essay is oriented by what it argues is a common experience of “narrative flavor” in music – the feeling of having heard a story in non-representational sound. The essay seeks to account for the experiential givenness of “narrative flavor” with the assistance of contemporary philosophical work on narrative and musicological work on improvisation and musical motion. Working with a minimalist definition of narrative that requires (1) the representation of two or more events that are (2) temporally ordered and (3) causally connected, music is found to be able to satisfy the second and third conditions. However, the questionable representation capacities of music lead to the conclusion that music cannot, in the strict sense, harbor a narrative. The experience of narrative flavor is explained with reference to J. David Velleman’s concept of emotional cadence, Brian Harker’s work on structural coherence in improvisation, and Patrick Shove and Bruno Repp’s work on the perception of musical motion. These sources are utilized to demonstrate that improvisations can be structured so as to give the listener the impression of having heard a story by initiating and carrying out an emotional cadence.
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