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On Narrativity and Narrative Flavor in Jazz Improvisation

On Narrativity and Narrative Flavor in Jazz Improvisation

J Tyler Friedman, “On Narrativity and Narrative Flavor in Jazz Improvisation,” Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia 74, no. 4 (2018): 1399–1424,

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On Narrativity and Narrative Flavor in Jazz Improvisation

Type Journal Article
Author J Tyler Friedman
Rights © 2018 Aletheia - Associação Científica e Cultural | © 2018 Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia
Volume 74
Issue 4
Pages 1399-1424
Publication Revista Portuguesa de Filosofia
ISSN 0870-5283
Date 2018
DOI 10.17990/RPF/2018_74_4_1399
Language English
Abstract This essay investigates an established question in the philosophy of music: whether, and in what respect, music may express narratives. However, this essay departs in two essential respects from traditional treatments of the question. First, the jazz tradition instead of European art music is used as the primary source material. Second, instead of merely posing the question of whether music can harbor a narrative, this essay is oriented by what it argues is a common experience of “narrative flavor” in music – the feeling of having heard a story in non-representational sound. The essay seeks to account for the experiential givenness of “narrative flavor” with the assistance of contemporary philosophical work on narrative and musicological work on improvisation and musical motion. Working with a minimalist definition of narrative that requires (1) the representation of two or more events that are (2) temporally ordered and (3) causally connected, music is found to be able to satisfy the second and third conditions. However, the questionable representation capacities of music lead to the conclusion that music cannot, in the strict sense, harbor a narrative. The experience of narrative flavor is explained with reference to J. David Velleman’s concept of emotional cadence, Brian Harker’s work on structural coherence in improvisation, and Patrick Shove and Bruno Repp’s work on the perception of musical motion. These sources are utilized to demonstrate that improvisations can be structured so as to give the listener the impression of having heard a story by initiating and carrying out an emotional cadence.
Date Added 23/01/2019, 18:45:33
Modified 24/01/2019, 11:20:36


  • improvisation,
  • jazz,
  • emotional cadence,
  • narrative flavor
  • narrativity,


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