“Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens.” (Jimi Hendrix)
A few years ago, I was able to experience the forests of Norway with colleagues in a kind of “survival” mode – including campfire romance, building river bridges together, setting up camp for the night without a tent, as well as unaccompanied marches in the lonely wilderness. As a former community service worker in my early 30s, I was able to learn how to read a compass. Also exciting were seminars of overstrained trainers who underestimated the psychodynamics of their group and could not prevent participants from leaving the seminar in tears because so-called “colleagues” continued to unabashedly shoot their bullying arrows.
Many of you will have experienced similar, so-called “team-building” seminars in the course of your career. Often the aim is to strengthen the “we” feeling and to ensure more trust among each other. A wide variety of approaches can be found here, from “hard” to “warm”. All the wishes and intentions on the part of managers have their justification. How much of it is transported into everyday professional life is something everyone has to judge for themselves. If a “team” is well-positioned within a company or department, this is reflected in corresponding results and low fluctuation.
Team, Jazz and the Art of Listening
However, I experienced my strongest personal imprint on “team playing” in a completely different context. Namely in my time as a jazz musician, especially during my years as a student. From my point of view, many characteristics of jazz musicians can be transferred very well into the “normal” everyday working life. What is meant by this and what is required for this?
Jazz musicians are characterized above all by the fact that they can form “teams” within a very short time. An example of this is so-called jam sessions, i.e. a spontaneous meeting of musicians who do not know each other beforehand – almost a kind of “blind date”. What does a musician have to bring to the table? First of all, a fairly good knowledge of their instrument and the respective form. A well-known example is the blues form.
In a jam session, team-building usually begins with a very short “preliminary discussion”, i.e. a brief agreement on which form the perhaps 3-4 musicians (e.g. drums, piano, bass, saxophone) want to play. If, for example, a blues is agreed upon, the key is briefly determined, i.e. to play a blues in F or C. In this formation, the saxophone can play the blues. In this formation, the saxophone can play a well-known blues melody. The communication of 4 musicians meeting spontaneously for the first time at a session could go something like this:
Saxophone: “Okay, are we playing a blues? Key in Bb?
Bass: “Works for me. Shall I play a run-through with drums in mid-tempo and then you come in with the piano?
Saxophone: “All right”
Piano: Gives the thumbs up
Open communication is necessary here. You start together in this phase and begin to play. And in these first “rounds” (12-bar blues scheme) you listen to each other, notice what your “colleagues” can do, what their abilities or limits are, etc. You probably guessed it already:
Listening is one of the most important skills a jazz musician should possess. Only by doing so can he adequately adjust to the situation, be inspired, or give spontaneous feedback to the others by looking at them and spur them on to play another solo, for example. In short: very often people treat each other very benevolently from the outset. As a rule, everyone gets a turn, can and should be allowed to play a solo. People take each other along with them. No one is left out.
Asset Management – Tolerance, Team & “Leadership
In a fixed formation, which is closer to a team within a company, this “we” feeling is of course much more pronounced than in a spontaneous jam session. Regular rehearsals and performances strengthen the bonds among each other, you can discuss arrangements in more detail and take in feedback from all the fellow musicians in the process of rehearsing and incorporate new ideas.
Jazz formations also often have a “leader”, but he or she is not a “boss” in the classical sense, but rather a “primus inter pares”. This mindset of jazz musicians also means that they can adapt to new situations and fellow musicians, i.e. “teams”, at short notice. This high level of tolerance also leads to the fact that it is natural for jazz musicians to contribute their ideas without restraint since the “mindset” of jazz musicians is inherently open. This is a virtue that also brings many advantages to everyday professional life. For oneself, one’s colleagues, and one’s general well-being.
Examples – “Attunement & Flow
Finally, a video recommendation of a jazz formation in which the “Jazz Code” is well reproduced:
www.youtube.com: “The JazzCode documentary – how jazz musicians work”.
(NOTE: “Copy title, paste on YouTube”).
In this context, a live example of a jam session with Wynton Marsalis, one of the greatest jazz trumpeters and jazz ambassadors (Jazz at Lincoln Center), is also interesting. Pay attention to the formation and different vintages starting from the bass player to the guitarist:
www.youtube.com: “Cherokee… Jam session at BOZAR Victor Cafe in Brussels, Belgium”
(NOTE: “Copy title, paste on YouTube”).
Holger Leppin (Plenum Investments AG) studied musicology and psychology at the University of Hamburg. During this time he was a member of the Landesjugendjazz Orchester Hamburg and the Universität Bigband Hamburg, among others, and was active in permanent jazz formations for many years.
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