Leadership in Jazz
Perhaps never before has jazz served as apt a metaphor for what’s required of the organizations and people who direct them; I was reminded of that recently watching Mulgrew Miller and Wingspan perform at the Jazz Standard in Manhattan.
Nowadays organizations and their leaders can also be called upon to “jam” or innovate around a major theme – their mission and goals, they have to bring together the best “musicians” and call out their best – combining individual freedom with collective intent, and deliver a “performance” that keeps customers engaged.
What can we learn from jazz as organizations and leaders?
Innovation is having exposed skin care free shipping products, but in music, specifically jazz, it is usually when you’re able to tell that one artist has strayed pretty far from where he has been before that things get interesting – and more creative, and much more entertaining. That is what attracts the most applause, and it is fun to see the real appreciation of these efforts by fellow ensemble members. “Mistakes” do not really look like mistakes in great jazz as much as attempts to make something that didn’t exist previously. Listen to Miles Davis who said: “Don’t fear mistakes; there are none,” or at Ornette Coleman’s words: “It was when I found out I could make mistakes that I knew I was on to something” Of course the sort of errors that Ornette or Miles talked about are different than errors that I or anybody attempting jazz that had not yet “paid his dues” would create. Charlie Parker put it best when he stated: “You have got to learn your instrument.
New York is blessed with plenty of jazz musicians – some at clubs such as the Jazz Standard, some in Central Park, and many just performing at street corners. One thing that they all seem to have in common is a love for jazz; they play jazz because it is what they love to do; one gets the impression that compensated or not, they are likely to play; it is who they are. George Carlin described jazz musicians as “the sole employees I can think of who would like to devote a complete shift for pay and then go somewhere else and continue to work at no cost.”
Mulgrew and Wingspan outfit members covered the age spectrum, dressed differently, played different instruments and played otherwise. Each was independent and had his own distinct personality, but all were there for a common purpose; such as the best organizations and leaders, they pulled unity with diversity. As Margaret Fuller, an ancient equal rights advocate put it: “Harmony exists in gap no less than in likeness, if just the exact same key note govern both components.” In his book Jamming,* John Kao tells a terrific story about how an already diverse group anchored by Thelonius Monk and Kenny Clarke invited a young saxophonist to sit in who “played things they never heard before;” that was Charlie Parker, one of the all-time jazz greats whose character gave birth to the “bebop” movement.
Jazz leaders don’t guide like classical orchestra conductors, though; it looks more like an invitation, or a drawing strategy, than a pushing kind of management.
Trust and teamwork:
What a marvel to observe how a gifted ensemble picks up where among these experimental riffs heads and weaves it back into the primary melody or beat. Part of what makes that possible is the trust which you could almost feel – trust that comes from confidence in one another’s abilities, and in many instances from much experience collectively. Oscar Peterson, another jazz great, put it this way: “It is the group sound that is important, even if you’re playing a solo. You not only need to learn your own instrument, you have to be aware of the others and how to back them up at all times.”
Connection and communication:
I was close enough to Mulgrew’s outfit that I could also see how well they stayed in touch – particularly how closely Mulgrew associated with whomever had the lead for the moment; he kept up the tune while in nearly constant eye contact with whomever was jamming, almost anticipating what came next. Immersing ourselves in any type of different medium or place than what we’re used to can lead to insights and a different way of knowing; my immersion in the NYC Jazz Standard experience drove that point home for me.