Creativity: What Leaders Can Learn From Jazz ?


What makes Jazz different from other music styles and what has it to do with creativity and leadership ?

Jazz is an American music originated in the early 20th century in New Orleans with small bands of five-to-seven players. Jazz is a music that was played as a way to free musicians from the rigidity of standard dance or marching bands. Jazz was propelled commercially mostly as 12-to-15 musician big bands, in a style that became known as swing (1935-1945). Swing was built around highly rhythmic riffs with strong soloists (see most famous Swing Era Artists ) providing “breaks” or moments of spirited improvisation against backdrops of arranged composition.

What is interesting is the combination of structured compositions called “Jazz Standards” and totally improvised solos taken in turn by each musician. Sometimes the band has a well designated leader, especially in big bands but very often there is no leader and yet the listeners can hear great cohesion in  rhythmical momentum.

In jazz, the composition is secondary to the performance itself and the listeners can enjoy the unique style and musical personality of the artist. When listening to two trumpeters playing same notes in the same tempo and context we immediately know that one was Louis Armstrong while the other was for example Miles Davis. The first impression that affects the listener is the sound emanating from the instrument. The tone that is heard is an extension of that artist’s voice and on a deeper level, their persona.

In  cross-functional or multicultural teams each person brings her expertise, knowledge, language or jargon and unique personality. Like in a jazz band, creativity can be expressed to solve a problem or create a new product or service if the team members are fearless and feel supported to express their own ideas. The role of the leader is not to provide the answers but to foster an atmosphere of trust and at the same time being able to get productive outcomes and make decisions.

There is also an interesting aspect in jazz music: many musicians and singers don’t read the music but play by ear. That means the soloists and the band must listen to each other, be in the moment,  pay attention to subtle signals and intuition, feel the music and the “groove”. Creativity, like jazz and improvisation, cannot be learned at school or in a book, you must expose yourself, play and explore new paths to generate new ideas.

I experimented great moments of pure joy as a jazz singer. I never learned to read music yet was able to sing and improvise in very eclectic music styles during my years in college and beyond. The fact that I sang jazz also helped me to listen and appreciate better other musicians.

In conclusion, leaders should be like jazz musicians, more interested by the execution of the strategy than by the planning process, be able to make some risky decisions and not afraid of making mistakes in order to generate original ideas.


Related articles:

Jazz-Inspired Leadership: Change Observer: Design Observer

Leadership Lessons From The Geniuses Of Jazz

Practice Improvisation to Become a Faster and More Creative Thinker

About Anne Egros

Zest and Zen is a blog about Expat Life Challenges, Global Leadership, Intercultural Communication, Health and Wellness, Nutrition, Change Psychology, Life Transitions
This entry was posted in American Culture, creativity, Executive Coaching, innovation, leadership and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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