Pandemic edition post: Three things I learned from jazz.


Pandemic edition post: Three things I learned from jazz.

This post also commemorates Ellis Marsalis Jr., legendary New Orleans musician, who died yesterday from complications from COVID-19.

Preamble: I learned about jazz from my father – a Soviet engineer who designed a new generation of cockpits for the Ilyushin planes. He also was an amateur musician. He would practice piano (which was originally purchased for me: no use came out of that) – and most of what he played was jazz. That’s how I was introduced to the world of Louis Armstrong, Oscar Peterson, Duke Ellignton and Dave Brubeck. Jazz in the Soviet Union was politicized, and the most concerted attempt to crush jazz came after World War II. My father was 5 years old when the War ended.

1. Practice your improvisation skills:

I don’t think I’ve ever heard my Dad to play a jazz song exactly the same way. He always improvised and built on the previous note. “In jazz, a note is neither right nor wrong. It’s the note that follows that will make the difference.” Want to create a culture of innovation in your organization? Short of forming a jazz band, try to encourage idea building and improvisation. Great music can be created that way.

2. You have to really listen:

Instead of interrupting and campaigning for your own idea, musicians have to play together and listen to each other. You can’t just wait to insert your (amazing) solo: you have to built on what others have “said” before you. “Listening, particularly active listening, is simultaneously a skill, an art form and, most importantly, a discipline.”

3. Everybody gets to lead and play:

In a jazz ensemble, everyone leads … for a certain amount of time. Then they step away and giving the spotlight to other band members. This idea of shared leadership really needs to be better adopted in the business world.