Vol. 14 No. 1 (2023)

An Analysis of Mary Halvorson's Improvisational and Compositional Style

Paul Mock

Published 2023-05-30

How to Cite

Mock, P. (2023). An Analysis of Mary Halvorson’s Improvisational and Compositional Style. Journal of Jazz Studies, 14(1), 59–89. https://doi.org/10.14713/jjs.v14i1.193


Mary Halvorson has established herself as one of the leading figures of free improvised music since the turn of the millennium, winning DownBeat Magazine’s Best Guitarist category in 2017, 2018 and 2019 and receiving a “Genius” Grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation in 2019. Despite these accolades—and the many reviews of her albums and performances, interviews, and opinion pieces in the jazz press—there has been a marked dearth of scholarly literature dedicated to analyzing her music and her guitar playing to date. This article is intended to open the door to a more critical discourse about Halvorson’s artistry, achievements, and her position in the intersecting jazz, avant-garde, and free improvising communities. Throughout, I draw extensively on interviews I conducted with Halvorson and one of her early mentors, guitarist/educator Joe Morris as well as my own transcriptions of her work to detail how Halvorson approaches composing and interpreting music in a meticulous manner while still preserving space for the adventurous and sometimes chaotic aesthetic of free improvised music.