“Long Form Live I” is a continuous, fully-improvised solo jazz performance, representing a break from the confines of traditional setlist expectations in favor of a more informal, unscripted path. It was mid-July, 2020, and I’d been doing a lot of live streams on various platforms since quarantine started in order to stay connected with people and have an outlet for my creative impulses. The shows were going well.
There’s one way I felt a bit boxed in, however, due to my own preconceived notions of what my concerts should be—that they should be a certain number of songs, a certain length of time, a certain mix of material. Then there’s the pressure to get the arrangements right, to present my own tunes in the best light possible way and any covers in a new and interesting light. I always get really nervous before my solo shows, whether I’m in the room with the audience or not. Often it just comes down to feeling not quite as free as I do when I’m just sitting down to practice; some of my best performances have been with no one watching and the recorder off, just improvising for 30-40 minutes at a time, sometimes even longer.
It’s really hard to hack into that mindset of feeling completely free when you’re performing or recording. Even when I’m practicing and I hit record with the intention of coming up with something different and new that I can present to the world, it’s a hit-and-miss endeavor. When you try to make something happen with a lot of expectations attached, it usually won’t happen.
What I realized is that for me, one of the most constrictive expectations is that of performance length: i.e. I have to come up with something that’s a YouTube-friendly length, or an Instagram-friendly length, or no one will watch it or listen to it. Anytime I try to improvise with an eye towards making my way to the ending before too long, I’m by definition not staying within the moment, and thus defeating the purpose of improvisation.
So one night I decided to go on Twitch and play with no set list, no plan, for as long as I wanted, and not worry about who was watching (I think I did get a viewer or two) or what they might think of the performance. And guess what?
It came out great.
28 minutes and 13 seconds of stream-of-consciousness playing, traveling through many different grooves, meters, key areas and moods, imbued with a sense of passion and limitlessness that I strive for in all my playing but don’t always achieve. It’s by no means an error-free performance, but it was never meant to be one. The goal was to play my feelings until I felt I had said enough, and in that I think I succeeded.
I mixed and mastered the album myself. I’m still learning when it comes to producing, and I’m sure I didn’t get everything right, but after 2 weeks of with the tracks I feel like I have the them in a good place, so off to the world they go!
I hope that it will take you on a journey, that it’s cathartic, and that it will lift you up if you’re feeling down.
Performed, recorded, mixed and mastered by Jake Smolowe
Album art by Jake Smolowe