GUEST POST: Andrew Bain on ‘Teaching – Playing – Researching’

by Andrew Bain

‘Playing and listening to music together provides a cultural space and a cognitive means through which individuals and social groups can coordinate their actions and behaviours’. (Borgo, 2006: 5)

As David Borgo (Sync or Swarm, 2006) alludes to above, the very act of ‘playing’ is a coordination of actions and behaviours, and I ask to what extent is the simple act of ‘playing’ in a group improvised context informed by a reservoir of improvisational knowledge alongside a keen awareness of intelligent transactions? My third and final PhD case study asked these very questions. Completed in December 2017, the project featured improvising musicians Peter Evans (trumpet), John O’Gallagher (saxophone) and Alex Bonney (electronics) in a freely improvised setting with no composed music, no rehearsal and no pre-conceived ideas. We simply played. But what does it mean to ‘simply play’? And is it even possible to have no boundaries within improvised group performance?

As a player, my greatest challenge is finding a way to develop group improvisation; as an educator, my greatest challenge is passing on the tools needed to do the same thing. In my roles as senior lecturer, jazz drummer/composer and emerging researcher, I have been dealing with this confluence for some time. At the heart of my playing and research is the cultivation of an active connection with my conservatoire jazz students aiming to maintain an open dialogue about my mode of working and its relevance to their personal evolutions. In my final thesis chapter, I ask, to what extent has this been successful, and how can my findings contribute to further good practice in higher education?


A graduate of the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, London and Manhattan School of Music, NYC, Andrew Bain has performed with many luminaries of the jazz world, and in many major festivals, on both sides of the Atlantic. Andrew is Senior Lecturer in Jazz at the Birmingham Conservatoire and Artistic Director of Jazz for the National Youth Orchestras of Scotland.

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