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September 2009 | Volume 3, Issue #3

In This Issue
Jazzthink Thought Provokers for Nonprofits
Jazz, Leadership, and Teamwork Quote of the Month...Gavin Knight
The Cellar Jazz Club
Quick Links
Over the summer, I found some time to go back and rummage through some of the quotes that I have gathered over the years.  In the summer issue of the Utne Reader in 2002, Margaret Wheatley wrote an article entitled, "Some friends and I started talking ..."  The story that inspired Wheatley's reflections on conversations involved a Canadian woman who started to talk with friends about how to help orphans in Vietnam.  The result was a grassroots movement that got 12 incubators and a container of other pediatric medical supplies to that country. 
What struck me yet again was Wheatley's conviction that ordinary conversations among ordinary people about important things spark significant changes that improve the world.  That's the power of the right conversations among the right people about the right things.  Here's the quote I drew from the article:
Margaret Wheatley Before there were classrooms, meetings, or group facilitators, there were people sitting around talking. When we think about beginning a conversation, we can take courage from the fact that this is a process we all know how to do. We are reawakening an ancient practice, a way of being together that all humans intimately understand.  We also can take courage in the fact that many people are longing to converse again. We are hungry for a chance to talk. People want to tell their stories, and are willing to listen to yours. I find that it takes just one person to start a conversation, because everyone else is eager to talk once it has begun. "Some friends and I started talking. . ."  Change doesn't happen from a leader announcing the plan. Change begins from deep inside a system, when a few people notice something they will no longer tolerate, or when they respond to someone's dream of what's possible.
So, what's the conversation you can start from deep within your organizational system that will provoke beneficial change?  How can you initiate the conversations that will enable people to talk with each other about their aspirations and how to achieve them?  That's the responsibility that a brilliant leader, no matter what their position in an organization, takes up with relish.  And you really do have the capacity to exercise that kind of influence.
To read the whole Wheatley article, click here


Jazzthink Thought Provokers for Nonprofits

I have started to write and post one-page Jazzthink Thought Provokers for Nonprofits designed to spark conversations among nonprofit boards, staffs, and volunteers about how to improve performance to enhance impact. These can be found and downloaded on a new website with lots of great resources for building nonprofit capacity called Idea Encore. Click here to find my discussion starters. While you're on the site, explore the wide range of materials available there, much of it free just like my stuff. And don't forget to rate the Thought Provokers. It helps draw attention to them and increase their use. Many thanks.

Gavin Knight Jazz, Leadership, and Teamwork Quote of the Month
Gavin Knight is a consultant and business coach based in Wellington, New Zealand.  His name and a link to his blog where he developed this comparison appeared last month in one of my Google Alerts.  Gavin spent over 20 years working in large organizations, such as Hewlett Packard and  Ernst & Young, before starting his own portfolio life in 2008.  He has just begun to explore jazz as an analogy for leadership.  He's off to a great start.  This section is longer than I normally include in the Jazzthink E-zine, but the contrasts Gavin draws are worth considering carefully in their entirety.  

Michael Hyatt's comparison of Orchestra Conductors and Leadership generally


Gavin's contrasting this with Jazz

The conductor starts with a great score. Conductors have a plan. They start with a musical score and a clear idea of how it should sound. Only then do they attempt to recreate in real time their musical 'vision'.


In jazz, the plan is much less defined. Unlike an orchestral 'score' a jazz 'chart' does not specify each and every note, it's pitch, it's length, it's volume, it's tone, it's speed, etc. Rather, a jazz chart outlines the general theme of the piece, and specifically the transitions from one stage to another. The musicians know where they are going, and the transitions along the way, but not necessarily the specifics of each and every moment (until they get there). They innovate along the way.

The conductor recruits the very best players.
Great conductors attract great players. Mediocre conductors attract mediocre players. The very best players want to work for the very best conductors. Like attracts like.


In jazz, selection of the team is critical. Each musician's skills must be up to the challenge of following the selected jazz chart. Just as importantly they must also be able to knit together as a team. Because jazz ensembles tend to be smaller than orchestras, these factors are much more important for jazz.

In an orchestra however, the individual skill of each player is much less important than the ability of the conductor to bring them together. This is less obvious in a world class orchestra where, almost by definition, each player is probably world class in their own right. But think of a school orchestra under a skilled and passionate conductor - they will be able to produce a musical performance far beyond their individual capabilities.

The conductor is visible, so that everyone can see him. The conductor stands on a platform, so that every single member of the orchestra can see him. This is the only way the orchestra can stay in alignment, with each player starting and stopping at the appropriate time.


This is much less the case with jazz than with orchestral forms of music because the jazz leader is typically also one of the musicians. It is usually only in big band jazz that you will see a visibly identifiable 'conductor' from the very start of the piece. Even in big band jazz the leader is usually one of the musicians and often slips quietly back into the group to perform a musician role during a piece.

The conductor leads with his heart. Great conductors are swept up in the music. They are passionate. They don't just play with their head; they also play with their heart. You can read it on their face. You can sense it in their movement. They are fully present and 'playing full out'.


Passion is important in both orchestral and jazz music. But in jazz it also has a part to play in determining how the musicians improvise during the piece.

It is no accident that jazz is closely related to soul music, and that soul music is called 'soul'. Likewise with 'blues' style jazz - it is very emotive and passionate music.

The conductor delegates and focuses on what only he can do. The conductor doesn't do everything. He doesn't sell the tickets. He doesn't participate (usually) in the preliminaries. He doesn't even make sure that the orchestra is in tune. He stays off stage until it is time for him to do what only he can do - lead.


In jazz it is much more about what each of the musicians can do, whilst staying together as a group. It is quite common during a jazz piece for each musician to take the lead and perform a solo.

The conductor is aware of his gestures and their impact. A conductor can't afford to make an unintentional gesture. Everything means something. The flick of the wrist, the raising of an eyebrow, and the closing of the eyes all have meaning. A good conductor can't afford to be careless with his public demeanor.


In contrast, in jazz the leader's movements are typically much more subtle, and not always easily discernable except to those closely attuned to them. Also, not every gesture by a jazz leader is about leadership. Some movements will be about them enjoying the music itself, or simply displaying their passion for the music. Often, only their fellow musicians will be able to discern which gestures relate to leadership of the performance, and which do not.

The conductor keeps his back to the audience. Conductors are aware of the audience but their focus is on the the players and their performance. The only time the conductor stops to acknowledge the audience is before the playing begins and after it is finished. Other than that, he is focused on delivering an outstanding performance.


This is not typical in jazz, because the conductor role is not usually a standalone role. Even in big band jazz - which does have a conductor - the leader would only have their back to the audience while conducting, and even then not always - it is quite common to conduct a big band from side on.

The conductor shares the spotlight. When the concert is over, and the audience is clapping, the conductor turns to the audience and takes a bow. A good conductor immediately turns to the orchestra and invites them to stand and bow as well. He shares the glory with his colleagues, realizing that without them, the music would not be possible.


This is even more pronounced in jazz - and occurs throughout the music, not just at the end of the piece. I have even seen lighting used to emphasize which musician is currently carrying the lead.

The conductor represents the exclusive use of the commanding/coercive and pacesetting styles of leadership in Daniel Goleman's typology, while the leader of the jazz group represents an agile and adaptive blend of all six of Goleman's styles. (Click here for a Jazzthink Thought Provoker on Goleman's styles of leadership that you can use with your team to discuss what blend of styles might work best for them.) A lot of leaders don't realize how deeply shaped they are over long periods of time by models of leadership from parents, teachers, bosses, and mentors that involve being told what to do.  To become the kind of leader who convenes conversations that co-create a different future involves deliberate practice that changes the way you show up deep within your organizational system.  Firm intention and persistent practice of the kind of leadership Gavin Knight has described on the jazz side of his comparison can develop the attitudes and behaviours best suited to achieve such beneficial consequences.


To read Gavin Knight's full blog entry, click here. 


Enjoy Great Jazz in Vancouver 

The Cellar Logo

 "Vancouver's answer to the Village Vanguard, this small (70-seat) club/restaurant presents the best local jazz, as well as some touring acts.  Great sound, which has been used to enhance the club's record label, Cellar Live."
- Down Beat magazine's list of 100 best jazz clubs in the February 2009 issue
Cory Weeds, the leader of the Jazzthink Trio, is enjoying remarkable success with his latest CD, Everything is Coming up Weeds.  It has reached #6 on the JazzWeek Jazz Chart.  For more on the CD and its official release at The Cellar on September 16 and 17, click here