Beyond Borders

Broadening the artistic palette of (composing) improvisers in jazz

Dick de Graaf
Supervising team:
Walter van der Leur (promotor), Marcel Cobussen (promotor)
Musician type:
composer, wind
bartok, clock, improvisation, jazz, messiaen, saxophone
2010 - 2017
20th century music



The goal of my research is to contribute to the variety of existing jazz idioms by expanding jazz languages with methods derived from twentieth century composers of “new music”. I will do this by showing how examples of these composers’ methods can be transmitted into the practices of jazz composers and improvisers. As a teacher of improvisation I am also interested in how I can offer alternatives to today’s common practices in conservatory jazz education.

Apart from desk research on the art of improvisation as seen from different perspectives and the analyses of musical examples, my research consists of a series of case studies with professional ensembles and master students. Peter Schat’s theoretical model The Tone Clock, Olivier Messiaen’s Techniques De Mon Language Musical and a selection of compositional techniques by Béla Bartók are used to create jazz compositions. My compositions contain characteristics of these composers’ models, to serve as vehicles for improvisation with their idioms.

With the data collected from these case studies I will design models that combine their characteristics as tools for the composer improviser. Although my research is mainly conducted as artistic research in and through musical practice, I will also consider the historical, theoretical, ethno-musicological and pedagogical contexts of my approach.

The final result of my research will be a series of performances of compositions by the various ensembles in a number of music stages in the Netherlands. Together with the defense and the publication of my doctoral thesis these performances are foreseen in the Spring of 2016.

Results of my research sofar are the composition Carillon (12 movements based on the 12 hours of the Tone Clock, finished July 2012) and a series of compositions using various Messiaen modes. Carillon is recorded end of January 2013 with my saxophone quartet Dicke Luft. With the Messiaen inspired compositions I am experimenting in various jazz ensembles, in constant discussion with professional colleagues and master students at Codarts and elsewhere.

A publication about the relation between theory and practice in my work is foreseen in the Dutch Journal for Music Theory in 2014.

Related events

November 20, 2017 (20.15)

PhD concert Dick de Graaf

On November 20 Dick de Graaf will present the artistic outcomes of his research project in a concert at the World Music and Dance Centre in Rotterdam.


8.15-8.30 PM: "Bach Reflections" – Dick de Graaf-tenor saxophone
8.30-9 PM.: "Bird Buzz"–Dick de Graaf New Quartet
9-9:15 PM: In dialogue with the Doctoral Examination Committee
9:45-10:15 PM: "Bird Buzz"–Dick de Graaf New Quartet

"Bird Buzz"–Dick de Graaf New Quartet consists of:
Dick de Graaf - tenor saxophone
Loran Witteveen - piano
Stefan Lievestro - double bass
Jimmi Hueting - drums