Books and Writings

Deconstructin(g) Jazz Improvisation: Derrida and the Law of the Singular Event

Literary critic Jacques Derrida was skeptical that jazz improvisation could actually transgress or ignore preset formal and harmonic structure-the "law of jazz"-to achieve totally spontaneous creations and unique, unpremeditated events. Ramshaw argues that no event generated in jazz improvisation is ever totally singular, nor is such an event totally absent in legal institutions, otherwise held to be diametrically opposed to the spontaneity of jazz. She refers to Derrida's own writings on deconstruction for this insight.

The Other’s Language: Jacques Derrida Interviews Ornette Coleman

Two highly original thinkers share their views on improvisation. Both experienced discrimination: one as an Algerian Jew in colonial France, the other as an African-America in depression-era Texas. Both believe it put them at a distance from their own "languages of origin" yet spurred them to creative acts.

Jacques Derrida on improvisation:

"The very concept of improvisation verges upon reading, since what we often understand by improvisation is the creation of something new, yet something which doesn't exclude the pre-written framework that makes it possible."

Constructing the Jazz Tradition


This artful survey of interpretations of jazz history is also a challenge to the notion that there can or should be any single one. DeVeaux shows that common claims as to what jazz is about-a form of resistance, a folk art, an autonomous high art-coexist uneasily, and that each has been used to support otherwise antagonistic stylistic agendas. He calls for closer inquiry into the nuanced history of each period and rejects dogmatic assertions of jazz' "essence."


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