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Improvisation Quotes

We’ve collected the best Improvisation Quotes from the greatest minds of the world: Jan Hammer, Patch Adams, Damien Chazelle, Thelma Schoonmaker, Wynton Marsalis. Use them as an inspiration.

The problem that I have is with the music business. For some reason it seems almost impossible to get anything, any music, released which includes improvisation or soloing.
Jan Hammer
While watching him work on the set of the film based on my lifePatch Adams – I saw that whenever there was a stressful moment, Robin would tap into his improvisation style to lighten the mood of cast and crew.
In some ways, jazz is the most precise of art forms and the loosest in the sense that it’s all about improvisation, but the musicianship required is kind of insane. To actually play with real jazz musicians is a different level of musicianship that almost has no equal in any other form of music in the world.
Cutting improvisation is really hard, because things don’t match, and you end up with some bad cuts sometimes. But we’d rather have the bad cuts and the great improv.
Through improvisation, jazz teaches you about yourself. And through swing, it teaches you that other people are individuals too. It teaches you how to coordinate with them.
In discussing the process with the actors, I made it clear to them that they could improvise but that the sum total of their improvisation needed to impart certain plot points, and schematic material.
I love improvisation. I mean, it’s hard to edit, because things don’t necessarily fall together – you have to find ways to give it a dramatic scope, shape. But it’s so much fun.
When you improvise alone, you don’t risk a lot, but doing an improvisation when you are two is even more difficult because you need to listen exactly to understand what is going to happen.
‘Sicario’ was a lot of improvisation.
I like to think that we’ve got a plan, so let’s stick to it. That said, once we’ve stuck to it, we’re allowed as much improvisation as anyone cares to indulge themselves in.
Government tends to stifle innovation, and it abhors improvisation. Any good military strategist will tell you that a battle plan rarely survives past the first engagement. After that, you have to improvise to survive and to win.
In essence, I feel I’m more jazz guitar player because I write vehicles geared for improvisation.
There’s always a certain amount of camera improvisation.
Allan Dwan
There are editing procedures for talks just as there are editing procedures in jazz improvisation.
A number of Donald Trump‘s supporters told me during the campaign they had faith that he would be a good president because he would be helped by the experts around him. But the president’s improvisation saps experts of their key skill: pattern recognition.
There is no facet of my professional life that doesn’t require or request improvisation.
Marc Evan Jackson
But one of the things I learned from improvising is that all of life is an improvisation, whether you like it or not. Some of the greatest scientific discoveries of the 20th century came out of people dropping things.
There are a lot of visual marks that have to be hit, and lines that need to be said in a right way – so there wasn’t really any improvisation on the set when it came to the bulk of the script.
I always say that improvisation is the utterance of one’s spirit, and it dictates your life experience, and that’s how you find your concepts and your way for painting your musical picture.
There are definitely some set topics I go onstage with and want to talk about, but there’s also an element of improvisation and spontaneity that I like to bring to each performance and talk about uniquely in that room.
My game is based on improvisation. Often, a forward does not have the time to think too much. You have a second, rarely more, to decide whether to dribble, shoot or pass to the right or left. It is instinct that gives the orders.
I don’t understand why people don’t use improvisation, especially in comedy films, but also, for me, you get more naturalism, and that’s why I like the naturalistic performances and strange rhythms and the way that people genuinely interact captured rather than sort of very mannered performances.
It took me forever, learning improvisation, because I had studied with Lee Strasberg – I dropped out of Chicago and went to his classes in New York for a couple of years, once or twice a week. What I didn’t realize was I was learning directing because he wasn’t all that good about acting, not for me.
Most of the parts are really gone over and over and over again with Tool. It’s a very composed situation. We spend weeks if not months working on all those songs. There’s not much room for improvisation.
My whole life has been one big improvisation.
Both ‘Udaan’ and ‘Lootera’ were largely rehearsed. With ‘Trapped,’ I left room for improvisation.
People’s association with improvisation means one person playing an endless stream of notes over something, and it doesn’t have to be.
Jon Brion
Sometimes people have this notion that improvisation is simply intuitive leaping into the unknown.
There’s nothing that makes you so aware of the improvisation of human existence as a song unfinished. Or an old address book.
Carson McCullers
When improvisation is properly applied, it is compositional thinking, sped way up.
I would make a huge distinction between theater improvisation and film improvisation.
Jazz is all about improvisation and it’s about the moment in time, doing it this way now, and you’ll never do it this way twice. I’ve studied the masters. Why would I want to play ball after the guys who sit on a bench? I want to play like Michael Jordan.
My gigs are built on improvisation: I go out there and I’m like the Energizer bunny.
Meat Loaf
The way I write is, I listen to things in my head, and then I copy them down. I memorize conversations and things like that; I seem to be able to do that pretty well. I suppose in that respect there’s some improvisation, although I work over the stuff after I’ve got it down on paper.
My solo music – I get up onstage, I improvise and it’s my improvisation. When I get up onstage with Fred Frith and Mike Patton, then we’re improvising together. Then it’s not my music; it’s our music.
To write a book about improvisation is partly a contradiction in terms. Improvisation is spontaneous. It’s in the moment.
It scared me to death to think about improv, but I got hired for a year at Second City in Chicago, which made me nervous, but I found I could improvise. Then I was in a group called the Ace Trucking Company, which we’d do, like, a half hour set of material, then open up for improvisation.
Actors need bricks to play with, and in fact we rejected all the improvised fragments we had made without a plan. Improvisation without a plan is like tennis without tennis balls.
Improvisation is terribly haphazard.
I can’t speak American dog very well. There was a lot of improvisation with Uggie – like when I put the dog on the table or sometimes I follow him, sometimes he follows me. I had a lot of treats in my pocket. We worked with Omar Von Muller, the dog trainer. It was very easy because it was a big movie.
Out of 30 years of Second City I was probably the third African-American with the main stage cast. I was surprised when I first heard that. I think part of the reason that improvisation has never been popular with African-Americans is that it isn’t popular in the inner cities.
Tim Meadows
We like to create an atmosphere where people can try whatever they want and experiment. But ultimately people tend to fall on the script and there isn’t a ton of improvisation. There certainly are some improvised moments and we encourage that. If it’s better than what we wrote it’ll be in the movie and if not, it’s out.
With ‘Slave Ambient‘, I was writing things on top of loops. Now I really get the structure of the song down, but I leave room for improvisation in the studio.
They were looking for actors – real actors – who could play instruments. There was a lot of improvisation and scene work involved in addition to the music. The auditions went on for a long time.
Micky Dolenz
Classical stuff takes a lot of rehearsal time and preparation, but with stuff that involves improvisation, you can over-rehearse it and it gets stale. You don’t want it to be too comfortable. In fact, a good sound check, a good rehearsal usually means a bad performance.
If anybody is a master at improvisation, it would be Ken Jeong. He is hilarious.
Anneliese van der Pol
There’s a relationship between music and spirituality and inspiration and to a certain extent improvisation that draws me in, because I don’t totally understand it. I know that those relationships have been telling me, since I started making records, where to go. What to write down.
The genius of our country is improvisation, and jazz reflects that. It’s our great contribution to the arts.
I never left jazz. The relationship between structure and improvisation – that constant conversation and tension – I’ve always wanted in every genre and song that I perform.
Most of my favourite moments in film have been when I’ve had an opportunity to say something from scratch, something original, whether I jotted down a few lines or it came out in improvisation.
John Brown was the abolitionist to end all abolitionists. People thought he was crazy. He was like John Coltrane playing free jazz, exhausting all possibilities in his approach to harmony and improvisation.
Improvisation, if you play it at the top of your intelligence, leads to a kind of truth that people find really accessible.
Songs seem to always spring from improvisation.
I find Indian music very funky. I mean it’s very soulful, with their own kind of blues. But it’s the only other school on the planet that develops improvisation to the high degree that you find in jazz music. So we have a lot of common ground.
All you’re trying to do in an improvisation is get as much material as possible for the editing room.
I allow a lot of room for improvisation and funny stuff. I always feel planned.
With improvisation, I just do it. It might be a total failure but then you just throw the dice again.
Christian Marclay
Improvisation is too good to leave to chance.
Improvisation has to do with exploring something like two brothers in a room together. You find out things about situations by discovering the things that they aren’t saying. It’s a way to explore scenes. Sometimes it’s more useful than others, but it’s always there to see if there’s anything that you might improve.
The main three components are the blues, improvisation – which is some kind of element that people are trying to make it up – and swing, which means even though they’re making up music, they’re trying to make it up together. It feels great, like you’re having a great conversation with somebody.
Certain kinds of speed, flow, intensity, density of attacks, density of interaction… Music that concentrates on those qualities is, I think, easier achieved by free improvisation between people sharing a common attitude, a common language.
I can put together a pretty decent meal from whatever happens to be in the refrigerator and the pantry. I like the challenge of this sort of improvisation, the rigor of limitation and sometimes having to take a risk.
I love improvisation.
Nora Dunn
I wanted to look at the mentality that can breed that sort of intensity, that kind of cutthroat, pressure-cooker feeling, especially a form of music like jazz, that should be – or you’d think should be – all about liberation and improvisation and everything.
It ain’t about if he knocks a guy out. It’s about how he knocks a guy out. It’s the style, the improvisation.
The only band I was really over-into was Cream. And the only thing I really liked about them was their live stuff ’cause they played two verses, then go off and jam for 20 minutes, come back and do a chorus and end. And I love the live jam stuff, the improvisation.
My shows have room for a bit of improvisation. In a film, you can’t have that risk; you can’t have someone taking 10 seconds longer.
Baseball players practice, runners practice, so how can you practice being funny? You get up onstage. You train as an improviser, playing make-believe, using the vernacular of improvisation, saying ‘yes and’ to other people’s ideas, making statements.
Ali Farahnakian
What I love about jazz is the improvisation, the fact that you never know what’s going to happen next.
Cyrille Aimee
Ginger Baker was never my favorite, but he was part of the group Cream that opened the door to what we did. They were the first band to really get into improvisation. They were an absolute necessity to what came later.
Here’s the truth. Your teens and twenties are your Plan A. At 50, you’re assessing whether Plan B or Plan C or any of the other plans you hatched actually worked. Your sixties and seventies, they’re an improvisation.
Our lives are a sequence of things. When we’re alive, they’re continuing, just as my words now are an improvisation. So the idea of 30 years is actually quite nebulous. It’s impossible to encapsulate it. All you can do is go: ‘what next?’
I started in documentaries, and that was a great help to me with improvisation, because with documentaries, you’re handed a big lump of footage, and you have to shape it and make it into a story – which I love doing.
I made ‘St. Nick‘ on a 30-page outline. ‘Aint’ Them Bodies Saints‘ was a full-bodied script, but it still had a lot of room for improvisation. There were scenes that weren’t there on the page – just a sentence saying something happens. I was like, ‘We’ll figure this out when we shoot it.’
The emphasis in each piece is on building a whole, totally integrated structure. In doing this, we try to carry on – in ensemble as well as solo sections – the mood of a jazz soloist. I mean that principle of kinetic improvisation that keeps a jazz solo building.
Cecil Taylor
Working with animals forces an actor to work harder because you have to be quick when it comes to improvisation, and you can’t break character – at all.
Kyle Massey
My father was king of the guidebooks and our holidays were always planned, taking us from a great gallery to an ace cafe to a beautiful view. And as an actor, I loathe improvisation because there’s no structure and no one knows what’s going on.
Olivia Williams
I like films that are well-written and concise and with not a lot of room for improvisation.
Patrice Leconte
Acting is really scary, but it’s also challenging, fun, hard work. There’s always an element of improvisation with every actor, even when something is really scripted.
There’s always some room for improvisation.
The interesting thing about improvisation is you’re making something up in front of the audience. Now music helps you out a little bit because you have an instrument that’ll separate you from the audience.
The immediacy of improvisation is intoxicating, but there’s an intimacy that you get that’s very different when you’re doing drama.
Improvisation is almost like the retarded cousin in the comedy world. We’ve been trying forever to get improvisation on TV. It’s just like stand-up. It’s best when it’s just left alone. It doesn’t translate always on TV. It’s best live.
I allow an area for improvisation because the chemical things actors bring to stories make it not work.
Vincente Minnelli
All of the material for ‘The Fine Line‘ was created via improvisation with my partner, but not in front of an audience. We’d continue to refine it in front of an audience based on their responses until it was set and scripted.
To sing a song is like whispering to a child‘s ear. It is an art heavily relying on improvisation.
As you know from reading many of these Negro writers, we don’t deal too much with the discussion of democracy and what it means and how improvisation fits in all that.
As I get older, I’m trying to accept improvisation into my day-to-day living.
I’m very bad with improvisation. I hate it.
In ‘Silence,’ there was no improvisation at all; really, you’re dealing with a script and a 17th century way of speaking.
I never know what it’s going to look like. Wouldn’t be much point in painting if I already knew the outcome. I have a subject in front of me and I start flooding colour and making marks, I don’t know, it’s improvisation isn’t it?
Peter Wright
I stopped being interested in improvisation, and I continue to not be that interested in it. Comedians can do it on a different level because they have a goal, but if you’re improvising something that’s dramatic, there’s not that much to be good at.
Even though there is randomness and improvisation in my music, I want to have some concrete idea that I can hold onto.
Miguel Zenon
Improvisation is not a presentational form, except in small doses, or as a game. It’s a tool.
Bernard Sahlins
I think improvisation is a technique and a tool. I think that even the best of them fail most of the time, and in the end, the audience is not interested in how you got there but in what you’re saying. The more clearly and concisely and artistically you say it, the more effective it is.
Bernard Sahlins
There isn’t much improvisation in film – there’s virtually none. The people that theoretically could be good at this in a theater situation don’t necessarily do this in a film in a way that will work, because it’s much broader on a stage.
I’ve always been into improvisation.
I love improvisation. You can’t blame it on the writers. You can’t blame it on direction. You can’t blame it on the camera guy… It’s you. You’re on. You’ve got to do it, and you either sink or swim with what you’ve got.
Not with the Rochester Philharmonic, but I formed my own orchestra, made up of musicians from the Eastman School, where I’m on the faculty now, direct the Jazz Ensemble and teach improvisation classes.