Date of Award


Degree Name

Master of Music



First Advisor

Dr. Andrew Rathbun

Second Advisor

Dr. Scott Cowan

Third Advisor

Matthew Fries


Composition, Jazz, improvisation, free music, music

Access Setting

Masters Thesis-Open Access


Jazz is a recent and flexible art form, rooted in the twin musical strains of occidental canon and folkloric African-American music. From its genesis, jazz musicians have had the difficult task of reconciling these seemingly opposite musical parents while simultaneously building a new musical canon that respects and upholds its past, even as it celebrates new individual voices. Like any multifaceted challenge this balancing of elements has not always gone smoothly, and attempts to codify the delineation and categorization of jazz remain controversial even now. There is additional challenge in defining the nature of “free” improvised music. While free music is often labeled “free jazz,” there are wide swaths of improvised music that have originated and matured entirely separately from jazz itself. Yet it is also true to say that improvised individual expression is core to the identity of jazz. Jazz then becomes a three-legged structure comprised of composition and canon, the communal nature of folkloric music, and the individualistic freedom of improvisation. This paper serves as a practical exploration of the connections between these apparent extremes: free improvisation and pre-composed jazz. A detailed analysis of the conceptual underpinnings of nine pieces of mine, composed between the years 2018 and 2020, form the foundational element of this exploration. These pieces served as exploratory works for combining jazz, free improvisation, aleatoric composition, and elements of Western classical music.