My name is David Reed, and I’m the author of Improvise for Real. The truth is that I never set out to become a writer, nor a teacher of music for that matter. I never wanted to create a “different” way of thinking about harmony. Like most jazz musicians, I just wanted to play.
But for most of my life I felt like I was on the outside of music, looking in at something that I couldn’t fully understand. I would sit in the park under a tree for hours playing simple chords and melodies on my guitar. I was fascinated by beautiful sounds and I wanted to hear them over and over again. But everything I knew how to play was isolated. I had no global vision of what I was doing, no way to relate the sounds of one melody to the sounds of another. Improvisation didn’t come naturally for me either. The first several years that I studied music, I couldn’t improvise anything at all. People would encourage me to just “go with the flow” and play “whatever comes out.” But nothing ever came out!
Despite my limitations, I loved music more than anything else in the world. My father was a jazz trumpet player and I grew up listening to records by Miles Davis, Chet Baker and Billie Holiday. I started playing the guitar when I was nine. A few years later I was playing in rock bands, singing in our school choir and now also playing the trumpet. When I was sixteen, I got a steady gig playing in a local jazz quintet. That was one of the best learning experiences of my life. We played for four straight hours every Friday and Saturday night for almost two years while I was still in high school.
I don’t have a music degree. In college I studied a lot of different things that interested me…mathematics, philosophy, physics, poetry, experimental fiction. But I couldn’t see myself in an academic music program. Music was always a very personal thing to me, and I hated the way music schools tried to reduce it to something that they could put a grade on.
But at the same time, I was fascinated by jazz harmony and I wanted to understand it. I read every book about music theory that I could get hold of. I transcribed entire albums by Charlie Parker, Chet Baker and Sonny Rollins. I wrote out jazz lead sheets of simple pieces by J.S. Bach to try to understand their harmony in my own language. I even used to put Ornette Coleman albums on my CD player and set them to repeat all night long because I thought it would somehow nourish my mind while I slept.
My obsession with music would eventually lead me to study and play in New York, Los Angeles, Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay, Senegal, Guinea Bissau and Spain. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I learned something in each one of these places that would later form an essential part of my own teaching method.
It was in Barcelona, Spain that my method was actually created. For seven years I taught classes in musical improvisation for all instruments. I worked with hundreds of students of all different ability levels and backgrounds. In addition to giving me the chance to explore alternative models of teaching harmony, the experience also forced me to reexamine my own beliefs and attitudes about musical creativity. All of the really big discoveries that led to the creation of my method are the result of this period of experimentation in Barcelona.
It took me many years to find all of the pieces to my own personal puzzle. Today musical improvisation is the greatest source of pleasure in my life, and I love sharing it with other people. I hope that my book can help you to enjoy this same pleasure, by showing you the tremendous power of your own ear and the unlimited creative capacity of your imagination.
Most of all I hope you enjoy the journey. Life is too short to waste time imitating others. Make the decision to believe in yourself and discover your own music!