To play by ear - aesthetic experience and aurality in jazz performance

13. Mar 2014

By Jens Skou Olsen

The aim of this thesis is to contribute with knowledge of how jazz musicians, club owners and audiences create the necessary conditions for making possible experiences of a surplus of intensified meaning through jazz performances. This is done by analyzing jazz musicians’ small group jazz performances in an aesthetic experiential perspective based on a reading of literatures on jazz performance and jazz improvisation together with empirical studies in Copenhagen and New York. The main argument of the thesis is that aesthetic experience (erfarelse) as a concept for enhanced aesthetic experience in combination with aurality as a special kind of communication through music may further a new understanding of jazz performance. The thesis thus situates itself as a scientific contribution to music- and jazz research inspired by philosophical aesthetics.

The thesis uncovers a jazz culture that in many respects opposes the practice of Western culture of commodifying and essentializing music in competitive forms of products and art concepts. The thesis proposes a theory of aesthetic experience (erfarelse) in jazz performance in the form of an enhanced, elevated everyday experience that may be comparable with the Western concept of art but nevertheless is essentially different. The jazz culture studied does not express itself first and foremost through commodified and concept driven music works but rather as socio-musical jazz performances that have no physical existence as objects in the world; these ephemeral musical events exist as living places actualized by the socio-musical aesthetic experiences of engaged jazz musicians, club owners, and audiences creating and interpreting jazz music.

In addition to contributing to a revised understanding of the relations between jazz improvisation, jazz performance, and jazz culture, the thesis proposes a new understanding of jazz performance as a socio-musical cycle driven by distinct aesthetic experiences. The thesis thus contributes theoretically both with a theory of aesthetic experience dimensions in jazz and a typology of jazz performance that points to an understanding of jazz performance as ways of creating, developing and transmitting jazz music through the generations.

Read the thesis summary here (in .pdf-format).