The jazz storyteller

Improvisers’ perspectives on music and narrative


  • Sven Bjerstedt Malmö Theatre Academy, Lund University



storytelling, jazz improvisation, narrativization, intermedial metaphor


The term 'storytelling' has a long history of prominence in descriptive and prescriptive talk about jazz improvisation. The main aim of this article is to point out that the ways in which jazz musicians themselves employ the 'storytelling' metaphor with reference to jazz improvisation display several important perspectives on perennial and fundamental problems in the field of musical narrativity and offer very efficient ways of dealing with these issues. The empirical interview study summarized in this article constitutes an attempt to decipher the full potential of this intermedial conceptual loan, jazz improvisation as storytelling, based on how it is used by a number of highly accomplished Swedish jazz musicians. From a theoretical point of view, there are severe difficulties involved in viewing any music as narrative. The aim of the empirical study is to provide means for understanding jazz musicians' conceptualizations of their art form; to investigate how they deal with such difficulties. The interviewees favour a metaphorical rather than literal interpretion of the concept of storytelling: for instance, as communication, expression, mission, or vision. Their understanding of storytelling tends to focus on the how – rather than the what – of narrative. In their view, the narrative potential of jazz is connected in significant ways to the music's ontological status as situated activity, including perspectives that concern the construction of musical meaning through narrativization of intra-musical patterns, as well as the significance of cultural competence. In sum, jazz practitioners' understanding of jazz 'storytelling' emerges as an important way of dealing with issues of meaning in music.

Author Biography

Sven Bjerstedt, Malmö Theatre Academy, Lund University

Sven Bjerstedt is Assistant Dean and Senior Lecturer in music at Lund University, Associate Editor of International Journal of Education in the Arts, and a jazz pianist (recent trio album: Peace). His research interests include conceptual intermediality in temporal art forms: Storytelling in Jazz Improvisation (2014), Musicality in Acting (forthcoming).


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How to Cite

Bjerstedt, S. (2015). The jazz storyteller: Improvisers’ perspectives on music and narrative. Jazz Research Journal, 9(1), 37–61.