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Stuart Grimshaw

Jazzakademie Dortmund

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Bach and Buxtehude sat down and improvised pieces of Baroque counterpoint. So can we.

There are countless books and other resources out there that offer instruction on how to improvise a jazz solo, but none that deal with improvising two, three, or more voice counterpoint. Nobody would suggest that one could be a rounded jazz player without the ability to improvise, since improvisational skills are such a fundamental aspect of the genre. Yet the same could once be said about Baroque music. I am talking here not about the decorium, the use of ornamentation, or the realisation of figured bass, but a real 'start with nothing' approach to improvisation.

There seems not to have been any such literature in the eighteenth century either, or at least none that I have been able to unearth. And yet Baroque counterpoint has such a strong and clear logistical core that it seems absurd that young musicians are not encouraged to lay hands on what I am sure Johann Sebastian would agree is an essential part of understanding everything from a two part invention to the mighty Art of Fugue.

I have searched YouTube, googled, trawled Wikipedia, and tried my friends' and colleagues' patience with questions. And yet it is surprising how little I have been able to find.

Is there literature somewhere?
Are there players, lecturers and teachers somewhere promoting true Baroque improvisation to their students, or even audiences?
Is there even any interest in being able to do so?

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