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I'm sorry, if you think the great players from the past learned "jazz theory" your wrong. There certainly was music theory, and there's a lot to learn, but the sorts of substitutions and jazz teaching being referred to was an academic way of trying to express what was played AFTER THE FACT and not learned by those players.

Improvisation is spontaneous composition. It's playing what you can hear in your head and making it come out of your horn. Can you learn theory and lots of finger memory patterns? Yes, of course, then that's just cut and paste and not necessarily improvisation. If you can't hear what you're playing before you've played it then it's not improvisation. It's like touch typing while reading what someone else has written and you may not even know the meaning of what you're typing.

Making music is an art form in which we communicate to others. The "greats" were great because it was personal communication. They weren't doing anything other than playing what they could hear in their heads. So, do you think that learning by rote formula is going to make you play what you hear in your head? Can you hear music in your head? If you can, then the best way to learn to improvise is to follow that and practice for a few thousand hours until you've made the connection from your head to your horn.

Learning to fake improvisation is OK, as long as YOU recognize that it's not real. Learning to play fast is also OK and may satisfy you. If you are trying to impress an audience, but basically have nothing to say other than I can regurgitate a bunch of finger memory riffs and arpeggios quickly, then it's like watching the world's fastest typist. Amusing for a very short while, but what did they type? A great work of art, the next best seller? Or is it just a bunch of quickly dispensed drivel?

If you're a beginner then first see if you can play a melodic line. If you can produce a melody by improvising, then you are on a good trajectory. Blues is a good way to start as the form is limited, but the range of improvisation isn't. One of the most important tenants of blues is that you MUST be able to give emotions to your audience. That's a very good start point that many who aspire to playing jazz forget.
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