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Dr Paul Williamson is an educator and active researcher publishing both practice-based and traditional research outcomes in the fields of jazz, improvisation, composition and music pedagogy.  He is a full-time senior lecturer at the Monash University Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music where he is the Convenor of Jazz and Improvisation.

To contact Paul regarding jazz and improvisation studies or research (Masters/ PhD) at Monash University, Sir Zelman Cowen School of Music: click here 



Monash University

Recent Publications


Teaching Undergraduate Jazz Ensembles within Virtual Spaces

(co-authored with Assoc Prof Robert Burke and Dr Robert Vincs) 


COVID-19 has arguably had a significant impact on the teaching and learning of jazz-based undergraduate performance students. The necessity to rapidly develop a pedagogical framework in response to ‘iso’ was initially directed towards solving technical problems such as audio latency,  online learning platforms and virtual environments. However, this initial response did not entirely address aspects of the jazz and improvisation performance art form that relies on acute listening skills, high instrumental ability, interaction, synchronous playing and importantly socio-artistic transaction.

This paper investigates the enforced necessity to teach tertiary jazz and improvisation ensemble performance online during the COVID-19 pandemic.  We will identify adaptive teaching and learning modalities and reflect on these experiences through assessing the pedagogical efficacy within the small jazz ensemble (combo) context. The small ensemble, being at the heart of any jazz curriculum, offers an opportunity to investigate the unique qualities of real-time, mutually informing, and generative artistic practice that is grounded in improvisation and interaction. 

It is anticipated that this area of research will be significant in the existing and post-COVID environment by creating a greater opportunity to innovate, develop and refine a blended and flexible approach to digital and face-to-face pedagogy.  Finally, this research aims to contribute to fluctuating teaching and learning environments in an uncertain future.  

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Expanding Models of Music Composition: Exploring the Value of Collaboration

(co-authored with Dr Johannes Luebbers) 


Collaborative composition is an established method within music education, but it is a relatively rare phenomenon between composers of large-scale musical works. This research explores collaborative composition in a professional context and highlights the potential and value of its inclusion in specialist composition training at a tertiary level.   The paper explores approaches, processes and outcomes arising from collaborative composition through reflection on a large-ensemble collaborative work, Interpolations, composed by participant-researchers’ Johannes Luebbers and Paul Williamson. 

The participant-researchers’ background as jazz improvisers emerged as a point of significance and was observed to fundamentally impact the collaborative process. Listening and signifying are identified by Monson as integral to the interactive exchanges between jazz improvisers, which extended into the collaborative composition process. This was given the term ‘Jazz Improvisers Collaborative Cycle’ (JICC), reflecting the tacit skills jazz improvisers bring to a collaborative relationship.
The composers were struck by the refreshing and inspiring nature of working collaboratively, the unexpected and complementary ideas and materials, and the value of a constant sounding board that enabled them to formulate, develop and refine ideas. This project suggests collaborative composition as an alternative model that would be valuable for further exploration within education and professional communities.


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Developing one-to-one contemporary trumpet teaching strategies through peer observation and collaborative reflection


Generally, one-to-one music lessons in tertiary settings are delivered by practicing professional musicians. While contemporary musicians draw upon a broad foundation of musical skills, they tend to develop highly specialized skills in a narrow area of performance. This may not be ideal for the one-to-one teaching studio, a situation that calls for a broad repertoire of teaching strategies tailored to individual student needs. This tension is exacerbated, as one-to-one tertiary performer-teachers are often employed on a sessional basis, and as such are offered limited opportunity to receive feedback or professional learning related to their one-to-one teaching practice. This article presents findings from a pilot study employing a peer observation and collaborative reflection approach to professional learning conducted by two contemporary trumpet performer-teachers. Similarities and differences between teaching strategies were identified in order to develop a broader range of teaching strategies that the participants might draw on in the future. In turn, the efficacy of a peer observation and collaborative reflection approach to professional learning for the participants is discussed.

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Apprenticing the jazz performer through ensemble collaboration: A qualitative enquiry



The one-to-one teacher-student relationship is a common learning configuration within jazz education. However, opportunities to learn through engagement in ensemble performances and industry-level recording opportunities with esteemed jazz performers are rare classroom environments the tertiary jazz music institutions offer. This qualitative study examines ‘real- world’ jazz performance contexts within an Australian tertiary music course, exploring students’ learning experience spanning three diverse collaborative projects. Bandura’s Social Cognition Theory is utilized to elucidate an ecological system of musical development, where learning occurs in a social context within dynamic, reciprocal interactions between learners, environment and students’ adaptive behaviours that are bounded by context, culture and learner history. Findings from pre- and post-participation interviews reveal student and educator perspectives of engaging in authentic experiential learning situations. A stratum of positive influences impacting students included metacognitive, behavioural, emotional affordances, as well as the cultivation of a wider social, environmental and cultural/creative confidence and an expanding collaborative community influencing individuals’ learning decisions. Students and educator participants expressed professional-level expectations, real-world outcomes, and a deeper musical connection and understanding by students of the guest artist/composers’ intention, musical aesthetic and expert band direction. The authors maintain that inclusion of experience-based education and embedding of authentic professional industry experience and creative music-making contexts within educational settings enhance the learning of students and potentially enculturate richer musicianship in students and their developing creative communities.

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PhD Thesis

Developing Technical Control, Ensemble Interaction, and Flow within Jazz Performance



This exegesis explicates the approaches, processes and experiences within my performance practice. It explores relationships among studio practice, performance, the flow state, improvisation and composition. The exegesis also looks into balancing individual conception and technical control with interactive ensemble performance. The outcomes of this research project include compositions, commercially released recordings, and a major recital.


The practice-led research model has been a pertinent methodology in this research for experimenting, documenting, and reflecting within my studio practice, rehearsals, performances, recordings, and compositions. Research-led practice has also been a key methodology in this project, establishing concepts and theoretical constructs, such as the idea of flow. Additionally, the investigation of trends within Australian jazz and the examination of seminal practitioners and ensembles has contextualised and influenced my approach as a composer and contemporary jazz trumpeter.


The advantages of performing in flow, the development of technique that enables the practitioner to execute ideas with accuracy and immediacy, and developing a flexible vocabulary for improvised and interactive ensemble performance are specific to my own performance practice and have provided a grounding for developing my recital. These approaches might be adopted in the future by other practitioners, specifically jazz musicians seeking to gain greater awareness and understanding of the preparation and experience of improvised jazz performance.


Although the literature within the field of practice-led research is growing, to date only a small portion of it has focused on the specific issues relevant to performance within jazz music. In addition to the primary recital outcome, a secondary aim of this research was to develop a better understanding of the particular issues that jazz musicians face within performance



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Masters thesis 

Constructing the Collective Consciousness: Individual Player Identity within the Collective Jazz Ensemble​


This study investigates the role of the individual improviser within the ensemble context as a means of observing the interplay of the ‘creative language’ between individuals and its manifestation within a group dynamic. Criteria as exemplified by the Miles Davis Quintet were used as a means to ascertain the quality, level of interaction, elasticity of compositions, ensemble ecology, musicianship, playfulness, role-play, and other relevant factors in an improvised music setting. The attributes of the Miles Davis Quintet were used to examine the individual and collective identities within the By a Thread ensemble, with the prime intention being to facilitate the construction and development of a collective consciousness within the ensemble.

The research topic arose from the author’s aspiration to obtain a deeper connection and sense of community with other practitioners in which to undertake a collective musical journey. The purpose of approaching the research from a practitioner-led perspective was to obtain a greater understanding of the author’s art, to achieve insight into the processes of improvisation, and to create contemporary jazz that was inventive in structure and detail.

A review was conducted on current literature pertaining to collective creativity, collaboration and improvisation; additionally, the interaction, creativity, and individual and collective identities within the Miles Davis Quintet. An in-depth examination of this distinguished modern jazz ensemble was undertaken to elucidate their relevance to this research.

The preparation, processes and development of the By a Thread ensemble were analysed to establish outcomes for this study. This included an examination of the ensemble’s common language, compositions, rehearsals, cues, co-creation, live performances, elasticizing of the musical parameters, role-play, ecology, exploration and risk taking, simultaneous improvisation, contrasting voices, repertoire variety, performance environments and recording.

The process of identifying key attributes of interaction, play, identity, and creativity of the Davis quintet as a model for By a Thread resulted in tangible strategies and outcomes. The strategies facilitated the development of By a Thread’s identity, collective consciousness, cues, co-created language, elasticity of compositional parameters and approach to performance.

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                                  Part 1                  Part 2


Innovating Models of Jazz Composition: Exploring Signification as a Tool for Collaboration

(collaborative research with Dr Johannes Luebbers)



Jazz performance is understood to be fundamentally collaborative (Jackson, 2002), and jazz
performers are frequently also composers. However, jazz composition largely features single-
authors and rarely engages explicit collaboration between composers, despite the widely
recognised benefits of collaboration (Barrett, 2006; 2014; John-Steiner, 2000). This research
investigated the application of signification within collaborative jazz composition. Defined by
Monson as repetition with a signal difference leading to the “transformative reuse of material”
(2009, p89), signification is a common characteristic of jazz improvised interactions. This
process of signification, as defined by Monson, can also be applied within the dialogue of
collaborative composition. In the composition of Interpolations, the collaborative process was
comprised of improvised interactions that signified upon musical ideas, resulting in the
transformation of individual suggestions to collaborative outcomes.

A significant contribution of this research is the identification of the Jazz Composers Collaborative Cycle (JCCC), a new iterative collaborative compositional model featuring repetition/reuse of material resulting from signification. JCCC creates a framework where the response of one collaborator becomes the source of signification and inspiration of the other. Though prominent in jazz performance, signification has not previously been applied as a tool for collaborative composition.

Recording & Composition: 20 minutes 

Published 2018 (FMR Records & APRA/AMCOS)

Cultivating a Unique Musical Idiolect Within Jazz Improvisation


How can jazz practitioners cultivate musical idiolect through examining their decision-making processes within jazz improvisation?

This research investigates the cultivation of a musical idiolect over a five-year span by examining decision-making processes within jazz improvisation from a participant-observer perspective. The term ‘idiolect’ is used by music researchers such as Moore and Ibrahim (2005) and Pareyon (2009) to describe a performer's unique sonic identity.

The research aim was to document the transformative change in my improvisational language and musical identity. Four areas were targeted for mapping idiolect across multiple performances: extended techniques, polyrhythms, phrasing and timbre.

This research is innovative in its longitudinal nature of examining and developing musical idiolect within jazz improvisation. The performances revealed new understandings of existing knowledge on how a musical idiolect can be individuated, by demonstrating that personal idiolect can be cultivated by the choices made in selecting, shaping, and expressing existing language.

The use of a generative Iterative Loop Cycle methodology (Gander), comprising iteration, selection, transcription and replication phases, led to the identification of idiolect patterns and habits in the four target areas of my improvisation. This methodological approach is an important heuristic avenue for future research by music performers.

The research excellence was evidenced in reviews acknowledging a unique idiolect, including in The Australian (4.5 stars), The New York City Jazz Record, Loudmouth and Extempore. Performances at prestigious festivals, including the Hong Kong International Jazz Festival (China) and the Taichung International Jazz Festival (Taiwan), highlight the prestige and recognition of performance quality.

Recordings: 272 minutes & Concerts: 960 minutes

Published 2018

Re-Interpretive decisions within jazz performance and composition arrangements

Music Performance portfolio.​

Published 2016.

Timbral variations and effects within improvisation

Music Performance portfolio.​

Published 2016.

Developing flow within improvised Jazz performance

Music Performance portfolio.​

Published 2015.

Polyrhythmic Melodies within Jazz Improvisation

'Power of the Idea' recording and performance portfolio.​

Published 2015.

Fixed and non-fixed materials in Jazz Composition

Composition portfolio

Published 2013.

Developing ensemble interaction within jazz performance

Recording and performance portfolio.​

Published 2011.

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