Alumni of the Contemporary Improvisation program reflect

Guitarist David Fiuczynski says the emphasis on ear training helped lead him toward his own style. “You internalize all these melodies and you analyze them and you know what the intervals are and so forth,” the 2011 Guggenheim Fellow says, “and once you can identify things that are on the outside, you start to identify things that are on the inside. So that’s a means of finding your own voice.”

Though still an undergrad, bluegrass prodigy Sarah Jarosz already has a Grammy nomination on her resume. She finds immersion in unfamiliar styles to be particularly helpful.

“A lot of how you learn is just throwing yourself into situations in which you don’t necessarily know the language, musically,” she says. “It’s put me in all these situations out of my comfort zone. . . . You’re forced to improvise because you don’t actually know the language.”


Sergio Brandão has a thirst to combine styles. “My interest was a fusion of the Brazilian folk music with the language of jazz,” he says. “We all were speaking a personal language that has combined erudition with true folk searching, and jazz.” His band Manga Rosa continues to refine that approach.

Folk fiddler Lissa Schneckenburger recalls studying connections between Southern preachers, James Brown, and Michael Jackson. “Perhaps the beginning of the line and the end of the line would be quite different, but you could see the strain of influence all the way down the chain.”

Jeremy D. Goodwin

Jeremy D. Goodwin can be reached by e-mail at, and on Twitter @JeremyDGoodwin.