One of those things that is cool about youtube. They've got people out there that are rigging video cameras up above their pianos, and demonstrating how to play jazz piano. This guy took it to the point of actually annotating his performance.

It's interesting to note how much of purist different performers are about jazz. People that don't play jazz don't always understand what it means to improvise. A friend was recently dumbfounded to realize that I play my piano solos differently every time, perhaps thinking that all jazz performances were pre-written. Others see it on the other end of the spectrum - that improvisation is purely inspired, akin to being psychic or touched by God. The truth is it's somewhere in between. (Okay... maybe not as close to the "touched by God" end...)

But here it's interesting to note that the performer is very definitely planning certain licks for certain points. The prepared bass part has a riff at about 1:57 that the piano mimics - he's clearly planning to play that part then. And when combos rehearse tunes for performance, it's common for instrumentalists to work out favorite licks to the point where a solo section becomes a bit more structured and prepared; very different than what would come out at a fakebook jam. It's more prepared than I'd want to be for a gig.

I still get stuck in wanting to know what the "right" way to do it is - if I'm improvising "too much" or relying "too much" on licks I already know. I think the truth is there just isn't a right (or wrong) answer.