FIDDLING WITH IMPROV: Jazz pianist Daniel Kelly
Several years ago, after a quirky twist of fate, this Northern NY fiddle player began playing with a jazz pianist from Brooklyn, NY named Daniel Kelly. At rehearsals, I had endless fun picking Daniel's brain about jazz chords and plotting how we could add funk and Latin grooves to old Irish reels. We worked up a killer concert set, but it wasn't until our on-stage, live performances that I was treated to the gem of Daniel's art form --"free" improvisation.
I must confess, as a fiddler, I thought I was pretty good at improvising--that is--not playing a tune the same way twice. Folk musicians feel a lot freedom from written music as we instinctively add ornaments and let our bows dance up and down with wild abandonment. Coming from the jazz tradition, Daniel uses fiddle tunes as a spring board and then jumps. Really jumps. He sometimes breaks from the chordal structure of the tune and then composes something new on the spot... which is pretty cool... and has deepened my fascination with the world jazz improvisation.
The non-musical definition of "improvise" has two broad categories: 1. unrehearsed spontaneity and 2. creatively using materials that are readily available. I think these definitions work for us, too. In a flash, Daniel's hands make sense of his creative stream of conscious, whereas I subtly re-work and modify the given melody as I play. Admittedly, the musical results are very different, but what I appreciate is that both of us are truly "fiddling" with the tune, (yes, pun intended!) as we add a bit of ourselves to the wide and beautiful world of folk music.