Last month, I was fortunate to be able to participate in a workshop concert with actor Taylor Mac, with musical director/arranger Mark Hartman. Taylor is developing a 24-hour show that will encompass the entire history of popular music, and this concert in Chapel Hill was a workshop for music selections from the 1780’s.
Taylor’s objective was to have his show reflect his life: to create a chaotic show where anything could happen at any moment, and it would be perfectly alright to make mistakes. As a jazz musician, the idea really appealed to me. Some of the classical musicians in the group were a little less comfortable – one person even got cold feet and decided to bow out of the gig.
But I was puzzled when Mark Hartman immediately began to work out the form of each song in painstaking detail. I wondered why we would need to have these thorough arrangements, when our objective was to have chaos and freedom.
When we performed Taylor’s show a few days later, it was more chaotic than any of us could have imagined! When Taylor went completely off the hook and really started performing, we band members were glad we had some sort of structure to the songs we could refer back to. Without Mark’s arrangements, we would have been completely lost.
I learned so much from working with Mark Hartman. And I think the same principle can be applied to Jazz: in order to improvise with freedom and imagination, you have to buckle down and practice the rudiments of your art form.