Chapter Six


Improvisation is a human right.Muhal Richard Abrams, Guelph Jazz Festival, September 10, 2010

Jazz Sells, Mark Laver, Miles Davis, Grinnell

In this concluding chapter, I draw some of the book’s many different thematic  threads together by highlighting the idea of improvisation. I suggest that the  core narrative of most jazz-based advertising uses improvisation to knit together  crucial skeins of the fabric of consumer capitalism—freedom of expression and  freedom of choice. By framing material acquisition in the sound and language of jazz  performance, the moral of the jazz advertising story reaffirms that consumption  itself can be a kind of expressive improvisation: consumer capitalism invites us  to select freely and creatively from an infinitely variable panoply of commodity  choices in order to express the innermost reality of our identity, just as a mythic  jazz musician might draw liberally upon an unfathomably varied aesthetic palette  to express some otherwise-inexpressible truth about himself and his community.  What’s more, it is an expressive modality that seems to override the tawdry,  mundane questions of commerce and economics, instead ostensibly accessing real,  authentic cultural truth. Needless to say, this improvisation-consumption analogy  is deeply problematic and ignores the nuance and complexity of both improvisation  and consumption; nevertheless, it is this kind of analogy that provides the kind  of narrative and meaning that (as Max Weber suggests) human beings require to  embrace consumption as a viable kind of self-expression, and thereby to sustain the  all-important spirit of capitalism.