I am happy to announce the availability of my new book:
Improvisation, Creativity, and Consciousness: Jazz as Integral Template for Music, Education, and Society (SUNY/Albany, 2013)
The book is the first to apply principles of an emergent worldview called Integral Theory to music and among the first wave of releases in the SUNY series in Integral Theory, Sean Esbjorn-Hargens editor. Integral Theory draws from wide-ranging disciplines in delineating the interior-exterior dimensions of human nature and potential—which I approach in terms of creativity and consciousness development—and the diverse processes and perspectives that promote this growth over time. The book explores jazz as a richly integral art form that has the potential to catalyze transformations in music, education and society. Key is the jazz process scope, at the core of which is a robust improvisatory aspect that also integrates composition, performance, and a wide range of theoretical and technical skills. Spurred on by this creative breadth, many jazz innovators have engaged with meditation and related practices to enliven the interior foundations in consciousness from which creativity springs. The jazz-inspired, creativity-consciousness template offers inspiration and guidance for personal and collective development across fields and in the world at large.
The book is geared toward wide-ranging readership as it extends its integral investigation of music and musical study to areas such as educational reform, consciousness/contemplative studies, diversity, arts advocacy, spirituality (religious or not), and sustainability/social change. Neither prior familiarity with Integral Theory nor formal musical training are required to grasp its concepts, as I believe the following overview of key areas indicates.
Jazz, integral theory, and music
An integral reading of jazz has important insights to offer both our understanding of the broader musical landscape in general, and in particular the long-standing impasse that besets academic musical study as it seeks to align with that landscape.
Three principles are primary: First is that the central pulse of the musical landscape resides not in the discrete style compartments that dominate much academic and commercial thinking but in the underlying musical reservoir in which all streams originate and unite. Style categories, in other words, are aptly understood not as designations of absolute divisions within a fundamentally fractured musical universe but rather as provisional, language-bound descriptions of dynamic and interconnected regions—what I call process-structure constellations—within an overarching musical wholeness. The purpose of engagement in a genre, moreover, is to realize it as a self-transcending gateway to this wholeness rather than a self-confining destination. This does not mean there is no longer a place for intact style lineages, but that their ultimate functions are not as isolated streams but as tributaries that flow into a common ocean. Integral musical engagement “transcends and includes” the tributaries in connecting with the broader source. In so doing, the reigning ethnocentric/modernist musical paradigm of musical academe may evolve to worldcentric/postmodern and integral stages of growth that are more aligned with musical practice.
A second principle is that creative engagement, in music that which is grounded in improvisation and composition, are key to navigating this transtraditional landscape. Which is where jazz excels. Readers from outside of music are often surprised to learn the extent to which academic musical study is focused in interpretive performance and analysis of European classical repertory at the expense of engagement with the core creative processes of improvisation and composition—once central to the majority in the European tradition—and today’s culturally diverse musical world. Jazz both restores this creative process breadth and, particularly when approached as jazz “writ large” to include its diverse offshoots, brings to the field a powerful framework for multicultural/transcultural engagement. All music—including jazz, European classical, and the infinite array of other genres that exist—is world music, and when approached as self-transcending tributaries has the capacity for new levels of vitality due to connection with the creative source. An argument for jazz to assume a foundational role in musical study, then, is not to be seen as the replacing of the current Eurocentric model with a jazz-centric alternative. Rather, that jazz’s power lies in its capacity to transcend its own boundaries and align with the transcultural pulse of the times. The sustainability of the European classical tradition—for which jazz restores the primary creative processes of improvisation and composition to the majority of practitioners as in earlier stages of this great lineage—depends on this integral understanding of tradition.
A third principle is that creativity-driven connections to the broader musical organically spawn further connections to cross-cultural, cross-disciplinary, and transpersonal/spiritual terrain. In this way, an integral school of music could catalyze a broader integral transformation in education at large by establishing a template that crosses what I call the “exterior-interior divide” that separates conventional learning models and their focus on knowledge as objective and exterior with the emergent integral paradigm that grounds all learning in the innermost, subjective dimensions of the student: consciousness. Different from some approaches to educational reform that fall under the guise of holistic education, the integral does not reject external knowledge but situates it within a broader and unified, inner-outer scope.
To be sure, this will require more than cursory, or horizontal modification of the existing model, but rather vertical transformation from its conceptual, cultural, and curricular foundations on up. In Chapter 10, “The Music School of the Future,” I present entirely new approaches to musicianship training, conception of multiculturalism, teacher training, musicology (conventional musicology gives way to Integral Musicology), curriculum committee work, structural organization of music schools and departments, conversations about race and ethnicity, spirituality, and arts advocacy that are rooted in the improvisation-composition-meditation nexus. Although this degree of reform is admittedly ambitious, I believe that it will yield new levels of joy, fulfillment, depth, and transcultural/transdisciplinary musical understanding that are transmitted to the broader educational world.