Jeff R Warren


Musical Improvisation and Social Action


Can art be used as a model for social relationships? Several scholars make this argument, and improvisation in music is often cited as a source of such a model. One such example is the argument that jazz, as an improvised music, is a model of democratic social interaction, in contrast with symphonic music which is organized around the oligarchic control of the conductor. Simply put, jazz is a better model for society, and has something to teach us about the way society is organized. Despite the obvious problems in this argument, such as the fact that the so-called democratic art of jazz was created under oppressive conditions, there are deeper problems with the assumption of what improvisation actually is in this argument. An examination of the process of improvisation will conclude that many of the arguments for using improvised music as a model for social relationships is unfounded. In this paper, I argue against using the arts (and specifically musical improvisation) as a model for social relationship, and argue for the exploration and cultivation of social relationships that take place in the creation and interaction of any sort of art. Rather than promoting the “Bono” model of using art to obtain the power to enact social change, or the view that forms of artistic practice can enact social change by transposing them to non-artistic practices, I argue in this paper that social change in art is most influential in the relationships created in the process and experience of the art.


Jeff Warren teaches in the Music and Fine Arts departments at Trinity Western University. His main teaching and research interests include 20 th century art, jazz and popular music, improvisation, meaning in music, postmodern aesthetics, ethics, Levinas, Gadamer, and psychology. He has published and presented his scholarship internationally. Jeff also serves as the Artistic Director of the Verge Arts Series at TWU, an interdisciplinary series that presents new art and scholarship. As a performer, Jeff has played bass in groups including the West Coast Symphony, the jazz trio Fulcrum, the nuevo flamenco trio De La Terra, and many rock/pop studio sessions. Jeff is currently working on a Phd in music and philosophy at Royal Holloway, University of London under the supervision of Nicholas Cook and Andrew Bowie. His working title for is “Musical Experience and Human Relationships: Improvisation, Repetition, and the Ethics of Music.”