Lately, due to the influence of my incredible piano teacher, Donna Coleman, and some reading of this book, I've been considering Schenkerian analysis and the way if could effect my thoughts on and approach to improvising.
For those of you unfamiliar with this method, Heinrich Schenker (1868-1935) proposed that all western music could be analysed in terms of it's "structural framework". This framework can be reduced to a I-V-I progression. Therefore, all movements within this framework are merely moving towards to next one. They may seem like an arrival point when analysed using conventional harmonic analysis, but Schenker argues that this method is really losing sight of the forest for the trees. Veiwed as part of a larger structure, they are merely or prolongations of passing chords between these larger points. Herein lies their true structural function. There are many excellent examples in the book, from a variety of composers, that illustrated this point extremely well.
Schenker was not without his predecessors in this way of thinking, what he really did bring to the table was the potential this way of thinking had for interpretation.
Therefore, unlike some other, more traditional, methods of analysis, Schenker's method is really geared towards performance, and specifically, hearing music of long periods.
Jump forward to my masters study, which revolves around improvisers hearing large-scale rhythmic frameworks, and consequently how surface rhythm interacts with these. If we think of Schenker's tonal concepts and replace them with rhythmic ideas, we can see how this suggests that this 'structural hearing' approach could be used as a means for someone (such as me) to deal with large rhythmic structures while improvising. This doesn't do the work for me, of course, but it sure gives an insight into the type of thinking that may be needed in preparation for, and during it.
Think now of jazz ensembles, what sort of percentage of players in those groups (or even leaders) would be concerned with tackling these sorts of ideas? I'm not talking about doing anything as specific as what Schenker/Salzer expounds, but I am interested as to how this way of thinking and hearing could effect people's approach to making spontaneous music together.
Think of Miles' 60's quintet in it's final stages (this anyone?). One of the things they were really able to do (that to the best of my knowledge not many other groups have really touched) was structure an entire performance of a piece so that it could encompass solos by most of the members of the group while still having an arc that wasn't just a series of ups and downs that corresponded with each member's solo climaxes. I'd argue that this approach could yield a much more satisfying performance, on a much deeper level.