Storytelling in Jazz Improvisation: Implications of a Rich Intermedial Metaphor

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)


The phenomenon of intermedial conceptual loans is central to our understanding of the time-based arts. This thesis focuses on the usage of the term storytelling with regard to jazz improvisation. The aim of the investigation is to clarify how this concept is used by Swedish jazz practitioners.

The framework of the study includes theories of narrativity and of metaphor as well as educational and sociological perspectives. The study aims at an exploration of a multivariety of perspectives. Accordingly, the analysis of the empirical study – which consists of qualitative interviews with fifteen jazz musicians – as well as of relevant previous writings is carried out by means of a broad inclusionist hermeneutic approach. Throughout the multitude of issues thus explored, qualities of openness, wholeness, and listening stand out as crucial to jazz improvisation and to musicians' understanding of it as 'storytelling'. The quality of temporality permeates any improvisational activity; the results of the study are structured in accordance with this perspective.

The study points to several implications of the usage of the concept storytelling regarding jazz improvisation. From a theoretical point of view, the results exemplify the bidirectional function and relevance of rich intermedial metaphoricity on a conceptual level. Artistic implications of the usage of 'storytelling' in jazz contexts include the dynamics between structural and communicative aspects of the music, as well as the dynamics of different kinds of authenticity: on one hand, authenticity regarding the tradition in which the improviser is situated; on the other, authenticity regarding the improviser's own individuality. With regard to educational issues, the multivariety of required artistic skills in the improviser arguably calls for a rich learning ecology framework including collective, experiential, and exploratory approaches to improvisation. From a sociological point of view, the storytelling metaphor is shown to function as a kind of exclusionist counterdiscourse employed by an older generation of musicians against a younger one, by an autodidactic musical culture against an educationalist one, or by advocates of authenticity against technical proficiency.

In conclusion, the concept storytelling as a rich intermedial metaphor is shown to be significant to the practice and reflection of performing artists through its ability to mediate holistic views of what is considered to be of crucial importance in artistic practice, analysis, and education.


Research areas and keywords

Subject classification (UKÄ) – MANDATORY

  • Performing Arts


  • jazz improvisation, storytelling, narrativity in music, intermedial metaphor
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Supervisors/Assistant supervisor
  • Petter Dyndahl, Supervisor
  • Liora Bresler, Supervisor
Award date2014 May 9
  • Lund University, Malmö Faculty of Fine and Performing Arts, Department of Research in Music Education
Print ISBNs978-91-981344-3-8
Publication statusPublished - 2014
Publication categoryResearch

Bibliographic note

Defence details Date: 2014-05-09 Time: 10:00 Place: Lilla salen, Musikhögskolan, Ystadvägen 25, Malmö External reviewer(s) Name: Monson, Ingrid Title: Quincy Jones Professor of African American Music Affiliation: Harvard University, USA ---

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