Should you ask 100 different people what “is” jazz, you will probably get more than 200 answers responding to what jazz is “not.” But almost hands down, all will agree that jazz is about the “swing.” The swing is the defining element of jazz....the flow, the back and forth, the give a little – take a little improvisational action among musicians right in the spur of the moment. Because jazz is much more than music, with so many individual moving evolving parts makes it so difficult to define. It's an art form that has constant elements but always evolving. Jazz is a behavior, an attitude like leadership.
Long time friend, progressive thinker, minister and jazz music lover, Matthew Williams grew up in a family where the arts, harmony and innovation was freely welcomed. I could remember during our high school days in Chicago watching on the side-lines as Matthew would creatively bring the best out of others. He had this unique way of maintaining his own identity and beliefs while giving others the opportunity to explore for themselves. This guy was no doubt a leader. I can also remember like it was yesterday as we were preparing for a “show-choir” performance. (Yes. I was in show-choir....not like on “Glee” though...lol) As we were attempting to figure out our routine, Matthew rose to the occasion. He began to distribute tasks among the group, while empowering us at the same time to share our ideas and thoughts. A couple weeks later, the motivated group hit the stage, delivering a creative performance that had students raving through the halls. Little did Matthew know, he had the traits of a jazz leader. He allowed his upbringing, his family, ideas and experiences to motivate a group to perform....and to feel good about it. Even at this level, leadership was in place.
It was not until a few years ago in my study of jazz that I began to recognize its similarities with the concept of leadership. . Both jazz and leadership gives power to an individual while respecting the combined strength of others.
Recognize Yourself - The first thing that is prized in jazz, the number one thing you learn is that “you have something about you that’s creative and special.” Sound like yourself. Before you can lead anyone else or confidently reside in a position of authority...you must recognize your unique talent and gifts. All of your experiences up until now has shaped your sound. This is what makes you special. Jazz requires honesty and a truthfulness about who you are. But you must first recognize that you, your ideas, your feelings and your thoughts are worth sharing.
Distribute Responsibilities – Every member of the jazz band has a clear identified role. The clarinets are not attempting to play the low notes designed for the trombone. Also, the baritone sax is not screeching to hit the high note of the trumpet. Ever single member in the band has the power to derail the musical train. But each individual leader has committed to combining their strengths to create something fresh and innovative.
RESPECT (Empower) OTHERS – Not only is it understood, during a jazz performance, the freedom of individuality and the role of various positions; but jazz performers respect others as well. For when you respect others, allowing them to explore; they become empowered.
As a avid lover of jazz music, I'm not sure if Matthew consciously knew he was exposing his peers to this American art form called jazz. But he also introduced us to a piece of history, an element of our culture...the democratic decision-making process. Who would have thought that a high-school performance was an extension of Jazz. That's what that swing leadership is.
“You are riding the wave of that [time], and while you’re doing that, you’re addressing the harmonies which are changing, and you’re creating melodies which go all the way back through the consciousness of your people, and you’re giving logic and form to it. You’re expressing the deepest feelings you can possibly express, and they’re being changed by the other people who are playing.” - Wynton Marsalis
Thank you my good friend, Matthew Williams for showing me Jazz in action. Leadership that stirs innovation.
Jazz – Swingin' Leadership
Recognize your unique ability
Distribute responsibility among group to facilitate participation
Empower members to accomplish their responsibilities
Make Decisions (democratically)
Creative Coaching through Music:
“Music can change the world because it can change people” - Bono