January 4th 2010
Knowing that the jazz improviser creates his own material while performing, some jazz listeners assume that the improvisations can reveal the musician’s emotions. To evaluate this assumption, fifteen studies were conducted. These studies focused on the possible perception of anger upon hearing the improvisations of tenor saxophonist John Coltrane. The instigation for the studies was that, during the early part of Coltrane’s recording career, one journalist had written that Coltrane was an “angry young tenor,” and another journalist had referred to “the rage in his playing,” both of which were the opposite of the performer’s stated intentions. Diversity of responses in the data was substantial, and it was found that the widely cited anger perceptions of those two journalists fall within a very small minority view. Nine out of 10 jazz journalists who were contemporaries of those two journalists did not perceive anger, and anger was perceived by only one of 23 jazz musicians. Anger was perceived by only 18% of 355 non-musician listeners. When 492 listeners completed questionnaires assessing their temperaments and heard a recording of the same performance that had elicited the journalist’s “angry young tenor” remark, it was found that those who scored above the mean in their own trait anger were twice as likely to perceive anger in the music as those who scored below the mean. This suggests that jazz improvisation may serve as the stimulus for a projective test, as an inkblot has traditionally been employed. The implications of published perceptions of emotion were demonstrated by two additional studies with a total of 143 listeners. They showed that perception of anger in the music was significantly more likely for listeners who were exposed to the journalist’s perception of anger before hearing the music.