Pianist Cecil Taylor once said: ‘Improvisation is the ability to talk to oneself’. The AB scores offer you ‘guide tones’ for passages where you can improvise, and you can imitate the improvisations you hear on the CD tracks, or you can launch out and respond personally to the melody, rhythm and chords you hear using your own musical ideas, drawing on all the music you’ve ever listened to throughout your entire life! Jump in, get started, give it a go even if you feel awkward, don’t be afraid of playing wrong notes or beginning phrases you can’t finish, like sentences you try and speak in a foreign language. Your technique can be refined later, including so-called ‘bad habits’. Making music is about more than technique. As we work through songs, Charles Beale’s comment is worth remembering: ‘Making mistakes fosters the self-awareness from which we discover what we need to learn next. Make hundreds of confident mistakes and so learn from them!’ Sax player Archie Shepp once said: ‘Don’t strive for complexity as much as you strive for simplicity’. Teacher Denis DiBlasio says: 'some of the greatest solos in jazz have used basic major or minor scales and sometimes not even the entire scale'.
We do however need to respect the chords underpinning a song on which we improvise, and need to devote time and attention to listening to their distinct tonalites. That's not to say we have to be scared of playing over exotic or unusual chords but we do need to do them justice, given how carefully they will have been chosen by the song's composer.