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Bach, Blues and Sun Ra or The Art of Improvisation in Music

Updated on July 7, 2010

Improvisation in Music

The first humans who invented music were improvisers, the first cries of a new born child is improvised music. So, improvisation is the main source of new inventions in music. Everything starts with improvisation.

In the following hub I would like to introduce three great achievements in the art of improvised music.

Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21st l685 in the town of Eisenach in Thuringia/Germany. For many years, members of the Bach family throughout Thuringia had held positions such as organists, town instrumentalists, or Cantors, and the family name enjoyed a wide reputation for musical talent.

The young Johann Sebastian was taught by his father to play the violin and the harpsichord. He was also initiated into the art of organ playing by his famous uncle, Johann Christoph Bach.

Bach's abilities as an organist were highly respected throughout Europe during his lifetime, although he was not widely recognised as a great composer until a revival of interest and performances of his music in the first half of the 19th century. He is now regarded as the supreme composer of the Baroque, and as one of the greatest of all time.

But was he really a composer or rather an improviser who had no possibilities to record his music and for that reason he wrote down his improvisations? Some well known musicologists agree that he (and others like Beethoven, Mozart and Chopin) was first of all an improviser. In the late 1970s I met a church organ player who was well known for his cooperation with jazz musicians, and asked why he worked with improvisers, he replied that the music of Bach was beautiful but sometimes a bit boring. I think it is really boring to listen again and again to Bach's music when it is played in the same way, exactly in the way he wrote it down, something Bach probably had not in his mind when he wrote down his improvisations.

The Blues

Blues is the name given to both a musical form and a music genre created primarily within the African-American communities in the Deep South of the United States at the end of the 19th century from spirituals, work songs, field hollers, shouts and chants and rhymed simple narrative ballads. Blues was played on the American continent by descendants of African slaves, it was played on instruments which European immigrants had brought to the continent - it was the first World Music.

Many of the early Blues musicians were travelers, and so the original, improvised form, the Country Blues was spread all over the countryside by these traveling musicians until it reached the big cities where it was turned into the City Blues and later Rhythm'n'Blues. Recorded examples of the early Country Blues are rare, but the City Blues and especially the Rhythm'n'Blues are well documented. In all his stages Blues influenced jazz musicians and later it became an important source for creative rock music and other forms of popular music.

Sun Ra

Sun Ra (May 22, 1914 – May 30, 1993) was born in Birmingham, Alabama. He was a prolific jazz musician, piano and synthesizer player, poet and philosopher known for his "cosmic philosophy", music and performances. From the mid-1950s to his death, Sun Ra led "The Arkestra", an ensemble with an ever-changing lineup and name (it was also called "The Solar Myth Arkestra", "His Cosmo Discipline Arkestra", the "Blue Universe Arkestra", "The Jet Set Omniverse Arkestra", and many other permutations; Sun Ra asserted that the ever-changing name of his ensemble reflected the ever-changing nature of his music.)

Claiming that he was of the "Angel Race" and not from Earth, but from Saturn, Sun Ra developed a complex persona of "cosmic" philosophies and lyrical poetry that made him a pioneer of afrofuturism as he preached awareness and peace above all.

Sun Ra's music ranged from keyboard solos to Big Bands of over 30 musicians; his music touched on virtually the entire history of jazz, from traditional to free jazz; he was also a pioneer who made extensive use of electronic keyboards and who experimented with free improvisation as early as in the mid-1950s.

His music is well documented, especially on his own independent Saturn label which he founded long before others came up with their own independent record labels.


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    • giocatore profile image

      giocatore 6 years ago

      I enjoyed this hub. Listening to Ra now on Grooveshark, thought I'd poke around HubPages and found this nice hub. Interesting, up and sharing.

    • steveamy profile image

      steveamy 6 years ago from Florida

      Sun Ra is still ahead of the time out there on Saturn. Saw him once in Hartford Ct. an amazing event....

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 6 years ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Great hub! It left me wanting to read more about it all.

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 6 years ago

      I am back once again because this is one of my favorite hub subjects of all time and naturally three of my favorite artists or genres - Bach, Sun Ra and the blues!

      lake erie time 11:19am wednesday Sept 14

    • funride profile image

      Ricardo Nunes 7 years ago from Portugal

      I always felt like I couldn`t play anything like others did... now I know why, because I never learned to read/write music I never got to play famous musics. But I like to play and sometimes the result sounds good... I`m an improviser :D

      Thanks for this awesome hub!

    • BennyTheWriter profile image

      BennyTheWriter 7 years ago from Northeastern U.S.A.

      Truly awesome hub! I love Bach, I love the blues. I should really know more about Sun Ra as a student of jazz performance and history, but this is an awesome preview of his work. Great insights on the history of improvisation!

    • Dink96 profile image

      Dink96 7 years ago from Phoenix, AZ

      THAT's what I'm talking about! Great hub!

      Space is the place....

      I see that you posted a Little Ed & the Imperials album -- have you ever seen that cat perform? Insane!

      Take care..

    • epigramman profile image

      epigramman 7 years ago

      I don't have a profile anymore - I come from Mars - I don't need one - but when I thought I was human - in my human profile I namechecked Sun Ra and J.S. BACH - as two of my favorites - what a small world isn't it!! needless to say I have finally found my home and without anything further to say - I WILL FOLLOW YOU until they blot out the sun!!!

    • tonymac04 profile image

      Tony McGregor 7 years ago from South Africa

      Thanks for this awesome Hub, my friend! You have touched all my favourites here! JSB is still one of the coolest musicians around!

      Love and peace


    • nextstopjupiter profile image

      nextstopjupiter 7 years ago from here, there and everywhere

      Thanks for reading my hub! lorlie6, of course, I know "Space is the Place", even from some life performances. Paraglider, maybe Bach was the first jazz musician!

    • Paraglider profile image

      Dave McClure 7 years ago from Kyle, Scotland

      Good one! Lots of top jazzmen have been inspired by Bach over the years.

    • lorlie6 profile image

      Laurel Rogers 7 years ago from Bishop, Ca

      My favorites are here, nextstopjupiter! Bach, the Blues and Sun Ra-imagine my delight when I saw this in my email! My favorite Sun Ra album featured 'Space is the Place'-ever heard that one? I remember listening to it in the 70's.

      Thanks for a great hub!

    • M.s Fowler profile image

      M.s Fowler 7 years ago from United states

      Just pure beauty!

    • suziecat7 profile image

      suziecat7 7 years ago from Asheville, NC

      This was a very interesting music Hub. I need to check out Sun Ra's music. Thanks.