What Jazz Can Teach You About Being a Better Collaborator

by | Aug 3, 2022 | Leadership

As one of the most beloved genres of music ever, there are endless stories and lessons that we can learn from jazz. Playing, or even just listening to it, can transport us to another dimension of sound and emotion. On top of that, it can also benefit your mental and physical health. The art of performing has several moving parts that need to work together to create that symphony of music and style, and thus teach us a lot about the art of collaborating. Jazz legend Thelonius Monk even said, “The philosophy of jazz represents tolerance, teamwork, and inclusion.” 

Collaboration is a useful skill at every junction in our life, so mastering it will ensure that you’re prepared to take on whatever challenges you’re faced with. Plus, it has been proven that collaboration has a direct correlation with positive workplace performance. So how does jazz really make you a better collaborator? Let’s find out. 

React on the fly.

Improvisation is one of the biggest building blocks of jazz. Most solos in jazz music are not planned in advance; they are born out of the emotions that the musician is feeling in the heat of the moment, and it’s how you end up with some of the greatest solos of all time. 

Wynton Marsalis is an American trumpeter and jazz educator at the Lincoln Center in New York City. According to Marsalis, “In jazz, improvisation isn’t a matter of just making any ol’ thing up. Jazz, like any language, has its own grammar and vocabulary. There’s no right or wrong, just some choices that are better than others.” Great improvisation takes a little bit of practice, and a whole lot of trust in your instincts. If you can improv on the fly, nothing can stop you from doing whatever you want. 

Identify patterns.

Improvisation doesn’t mean throwing strategy completely to the wind. Patterns of behavior and standard guidelines become more necessary in improvisation. Jazz improvisation is filled with common structures and even constraints. Once these routines become internalized, that’s when we can really start to have fun with the music. 

When you can identify how things are supposed to happen, you’re more prepared when things go wrong. You can determine how to get the project, or in the case of jazz, the song, back on track to success. All music is structured as a pattern. Learning those patterns and building upon them is how we create masterpieces. 

Trust your team.

One of the biggest and most influential albums of all time is Miles Davis’s Kind of Blue, and it’s also a crowning achievement in terms of teamwork. Davis had already been attracting attention since the mid-1940s with his electric trumpet skills, but it wasn’t until 1959 that he crafted what many consider to be the greatest jazz album of all time. This was only possible because he saw the potential of his collaborators. 

Davis knew the potential of his band of up-and-coming musicians, which included saxophonist John Coltrane, alto saxophonist Julian “Cannonball” Adderley, pianists Bill Evans and Wynton Kelly, bassist Paul Chambers, and drummer Jimmy Cobb, which is why Davis chose to trust everyone and record the album with zero rehearsals. 

What resulted was a fresh and raw new sound, which is exactly what Davis was going for. He trusted his team to deliver, because he had listened to them evolve, and he knew when to nurture their growth. By building up those around him, he himself grew to even greater heights of success. This proves how high you can soar with the help of your own team. 

“All That Jazz”

There are endless examples of why music lovers enjoy listening to jazz for insight, as well as leisurely entertainment. The amount of collaboration and teamwork needed to create some of the most iconic jazz sounds is bigger than many realize, but when done correctly, it can create some truly astonishing music. It’s like Herbie Hancock once said: “It’s not exclusive, but inclusive, which is the whole spirit of jazz.” 

One of the greatest collaborations you will ever experience in this life is your relationship with your significant other. Want to keep that relationship strong for years to come? Check out our blog, “Keeping Your Relationship Exciting After 40 Years Together.”