As I often say, except for some quarter tones and some microtonal inflections here and there, the 12 notes of the chromatic are the basis of musical thought and form a universal material acting as shared knowledge. Based on this, from one culture to another, one style to another, one composer or improviser to another, the only thing that changes is the way of organising the notes and how they are melodically, harmonically and rhythmically arranged.

These forms of organization of notes make up the mental part of the musical activity, particularly for the composer and for the improviser; however the interpreterwill try to understand thembut will not need to master them as much. Some of these forms of organization are quite simple, some others as in contemporary classical music, jazz or Carnatic Indian music for example, can reach very high levels of complexity. So mental effort is essential.

Even more than in composition, the art of improvisation is a creative process made spontaneously, in the present moment and for which mastering these forms of organization seems essential. In my view, Jazz and Indian music have this in common that they push the mental exercise needed for improvisation to the limits of human capacity. Mastering not only one’s instrument but also the instantaneous understanding of the relations between melody, harmony and rhythm make that improvisation is an artistic form linked to a very special mental exercise. The codes obviously change from one music to another, the frame is different – the same way as a game of checkers is not a game of chess – but jazz, the ragas and the maqams are spaces of freedom among the most binding and enriching.

I cannot resist adding a few words regarding the nature of all these rules defining the frames of improvisation or writing. Because the trap to which musicis exposed, and even more for improvisation and free music, is that these rules must in no way become a straightjacket. We can find in all social environments of music as well as in all political and religious factions, defenders of a rigid classicism and supporters of a continual evolution.For me, there is no choice to make. I take as much pleasure in playing a jazz standard from the ‘50s than in experimenting free improvisation, I enjoy as much listening to a raga played in the purest classicism than to a solo by Zakir Hussain in Shakti.

We often forget that freedom means not having to choose between extremes, but allowing ourselves all the artistic experiments we desire to have, as far as they mean something to us and to the public.

Therefore I think that it is a good thing to explore all these ways of arranging notes between them because the biggest secrets of music are hidden in the mathematics of these physical relations between frequences. But beyond our taste and ability to improvise inside these codified frames, we should also make sure that we do not stick more than we should to these ways of doing things as if they were rigid principles, because the evolution of the forms and rules controlling the artistic forms is the basis of the diversity that makes our cultural richness.

PS : Personally, to spread my personal approach beyond my jazz education and interest for classical and contemporary music, I am also inspired by many foreign music from India, Brazil, China or Morocco. But beyond this multicultural horizon, I also try to innovate by going deeper into personal research about the possibilities of organising these 12 notes according to a system I called « Rajazz ». (If you want to know more about it, go to Rajazz).