During this year's Vancouver International Jazz Festival, I got the opportunity to chat with pianist Miles Black at the bar at Cory Weeds' Cellar Jazz Club. Miles is one of my favourite jazz pianists of all time, with a sensitive touch on the keyboard, a delightful breadth of styles, a creative commitment to collaboration, and an awareness of the dynamics of jazz that informs, inspires, and delights.
He told me how he learned his art by imitating and practicing. He began playing professionally in his home town of Victoria, BC, at the age of 14. He'd listen to one of the few records they had in his home and learn the techniques and flow. He'd go down to Nelson's Music and memorize a page or two of music, then go home and play it over and over again. Then he'd go back and repeat the process
Listening, even if it's in your mind as you read, is the first crucial step. Then practicing, with focus and persistence, is the next one.
That experience in learning the art form made him a superb teacher of jazz as well. In his teaching, he is always paying attention to the space he creates for his students to discover their own unique genius. They learn the foundations by imitating, but as they grow more proficient they begin to appropriate and innovate with their own particular gifts. Miles strives to create and hold a space in which his students can learn to play their own brilliance in their own style as a contribution to the collective performance of the group. In holding that space, Miles is always offering wisdom and support to help them grow into their virtuosity.
The next morning, as I was having coffee out on our balcony, I found myself wondering how many of us really take our conversations as seriously as Miles takes his piano (and the 3 other instruments he now plays - sax, bass, and guitar).
I don't buy the argument that our conversations are less important than Miles' playing nor that they don't have the potential to have the impact of Miles' playing. They do, if we are willing to take our performance in conversation as seriously as Miles takes his performance on his musical instruments.
Does your voice in your conversations have a sensitive touch?
Do you have a delightful breadth of styles in using your voice?
Is there a creative commitment to collaboration that comes through in the tone and vibe your voice generates?
Is there an awareness of the dynamics of your conversation - of the potential of your conversation - in informing, inspiring, and delighting?
This summer I'm going to spend a bit more focused and intentional time on the balcony - with coffee in the morning and wine in the late afternoon or evening - holding a space to consider and practice the voice in my soul. I'll be honing the styles I want to bring into my relationships that will generate the vibes that will provoke value.
Will you join in your version of that project? I hope so. And do let me know what you discover.