Knowing as instancing: Jazz improvisation and moral perfectionism

This essay presents an approach to understanding improvised music, finding in the work of certain outstanding jazz musicians an emblem of Ralph Waldo Emerson's notion of self-trust and of Stanley Cavell's notion of moral perfectionism. The essay critiques standard efforts to interpret improvised solos as though they were composed, contrasting that approach to one that treats the procedures of improvisation as derived from our everyday actions. It notes several levels of correspondence between our interest in jazz improvisations and the particular demands of Emerson's writing, and ends by considering how exemplary moments of instruction in jazz are expressive of Emersonian self-trust.
Keywords Aesthetics  Improvisation  Philosophy of Music  Ralph Waldo Emerson
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DOI 10.2307/432089
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