‘Deed I do: narrating expert vocal jazz improvisers’ experiences of the piano

PhD Thesis

Feldman, Courtney. 2021. ‘Deed I do: narrating expert vocal jazz improvisers’ experiences of the piano. PhD Thesis Doctor of Philosophy. University of Southern Queensland. https://doi.org/10.26192/kf22-ap58

‘Deed I do: narrating expert vocal jazz improvisers’ experiences of the piano

TypePhD Thesis
AuthorFeldman, Courtney
SupervisorForbes, Melissa
Scollen, Rebecca
Institution of OriginUniversity of Southern Queensland
Qualification NameDoctor of Philosophy
Number of Pages282
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)https://doi.org/10.26192/kf22-ap58

Research on jazz improvisation has almost exclusively focussed on the experiences of instrumentalists, leaving singers’ experiences of improvisation veiled in mystery. Inside the jazz scene there is a perception that singers are 'improvisational underachievers' in comparison to instrumentalists. However, a growing body of research has demonstrated the ways in which singers are a distinct subset of improvising jazz musicians, with unique skills and experiences of improvisation. Due to the physiological nature of the voice as an instrument, singers face unique challenges in learning to improvise, and to actually improvise with the voice. Vocal jazz pedagogy, method books, and 'how-to-guides' commonly cite a correlation between playing piano and the ability to improvise with the voice. Many expert vocal jazz improvisers are also known to play piano. Whilst playing piano is advised in the literature, little is known about the experiences of singers who engage in such behaviours, and if the claimed benefits are experienced in practice.

Situated within a narrative inquiry framework, this study employs narrative approaches to investigate expert vocal jazz improvisers’ experiences of the piano. The participants are limited to a small group of expert vocal jazz improvisers who also play piano—Kristin Berardi, Brenda Earle Stokes, Michelle Nicolle, Sharny Russell, and Anita Wardell. Data is collected via semi-structured interviews and observation, with additional reflections drawn from the researcher’s journal. A 'narrative analysis' of the dataset is undertaken to produce re-storied narratives that explored the participants’ experiences of the piano. A subsequent 'analysis of narratives' is undertaken to develop 'resonant threads' across narratives to gain a comprehensive understanding of the nature of expert vocal jazz improvisers’ experiences of the piano, and how those experiences are meaningful for them.
Findings in this study advances the extant literature in a number of ways. They provide an in-depth exploration of jazz singers’ experiences of the piano and extend understanding of the embodied nature of the voice as an instrument. Findings demonstrate the ways in which playing piano is meaningful in building vocal jazz improvisational agency. Singers’ experiences in this study present implications for jazz performance and education, reinforcing that vocal jazz improvisation is worthy of research attention and further investigation.

Keywordsjazz singing, improvisation, embodiment, piano, narrative inquiry
ANZSRC Field of Research 2020360304. Music performance
Byline AffiliationsSchool of Creative Arts
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