School of Music


Doctor of Music Education (DME)


Karen Kuehmann


Lester Young, improvisation, improvisation analysis




A long history exists between improvisational analysis models and the jazz improvisation they seek to examine and evaluate. Though often undertaken as a comparison among a varied group of soloists, this qualitative research study employs existing research on improvisational analysis models to examine and analyze select solo transcriptions of tenor saxophonist Lester Young. The purpose of this research is to determine not only the presence and applicability of existing improvisational analysis models to his improvisational work but also identify the multiple unique characteristics of his influential improvisational approach and illuminate those accessible strategies musicians may implement to improve their improvisational understanding and technique. The results of this study demonstrate the extent to which Young’s improvisational approach reflects the characteristics of Chord-scale Base, Motivic Development, Formulaic Usage, and Midlevel improvisational analysis models. In an improvisational sense, results concerning chord-based motivic development and formulaic usage network could be far too general and thus less applicable when comparing Young's improvisational approach to the improvisers before, during, and after him. However, Midlevel analysis results provide a substantially more significant, more accurate perspective of Young’s accomplishments, approach, and influence. An additional implication of this study serves to spotlight the accessibility of improvisation itself. A more precise understanding of the fundamental components of solo construction and performance would greatly benefit many musicians and music educators.

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