Benson on “Premeditated Spontaneity”

Having spent four years of practicing six to eight hours a day as performing jazz guitar major, I wholeheartedly agree with Benson’s take on jazz as “premeditated spontaneity.” That is, contrary to the common and even “romantic” view of jazz improvisation as a kind of musical ex nihilo creative act, Benson argues that jazz improvisers actual heavily rely on musical ideas worked out in advance which, as it turns out, enables them to be spontaneous. “As odd as it may sound, the musician who is most prepared—not only in terms of having thought about what is to be played but even having played various possibilities—is most able to be spontaneous. It is when one already is prepared that one feels free to go beyond the confines of the prepared (with the assurance that one can always fall back on them if necessary). In the same way that Gadamer argues that the experienced person is most open to new experience, it is the experienced improviser—the one who has already thought a great deal about what is to be played—who is most able to play something surprising. Experience can turn into a rut, but is can also beget spontaneity” (The Improvisation of Musical Dialogue, pp. 142-143).