“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said.” ~ Peter Drucker
New Orleans is known for a lot of things, like Mardi Gras, Cajun food, architecture, and jazz. Walking along Frenchmen Street, it is crowded and, if you were there last weekend, unseasonably warm. Frenchmen Street is a buffet for the musical senses. Every club, restaurant, or hotel lobby is filled with music and lyrics to accommodate every palate. Once you hear something you like, stumbling in and making new friends is easy. As you sit down, the irregular syncopated phrasing and improvisation is enough to make you feel good from the inside out and get your body moving with the music.
Jazz is fun to listen to, but equally fun to watch. The experience is one that allows the audience to be a spectator on a private conversation. Just like all conversations begin with a topic, a jazz performance begins with a composition. While this is the starting point, every musician needs to listen to where the conversation is heading before translating the feeling it evokes and responding. Similar to conversations, it is impossible to respond intelligently until you understand what is being said. There is no sheet music and no room to hide behind other opinions. Listening to jazz is an open exchange of personal perspectives and inspiration that occurs in that moment. The exchange is neither good nor bad and is not judged. The beauty of jazz is the opportunity to share feelings and communicate through music with mutual respect. Everyone has a say in the performance. A chance to express themselves. As with any conversation, the topics may stray from the original, but always make it way back to the beginning to close out the composition.
One of the characteristics of jazz, that is too often missing in daily conversations, is mutual respect in the exchange of ideas. Instead of really listening to another point of view, we too quickly form an opinion and respond carelessly. We allow time, deadlines, and stress to place limits on our interactions with other people. We brush aside a conversation we are not interested in having without acknowledging how important it is to the other individual. We condone this behavior in our personal and professional lives, but we are disgusted when we see it occur with our politicians or in the news. We say, “the problem is no one listens to each other anymore,” when we should be saying “the problem is I don’t listen to others anymore.” As a country and in our various industries, we all experience mounting challenges and obstacles, many of our own creation. However, when we start to tackle the problem, we begin to understand that the real issue is a lack of communication. We fail to listen. People all around us are hurting, some are struggling, while others may be celebrating, but we minimize these feelings, whether bad or good, because we prematurely respond instead of truly listening.
Jazz would not be as enjoyable if it reflected how we actually communicate. Jazz compositions take the time needed to allow everyone to have a voice and know that every voice is respected. Beautiful music occurs when we take the time to listen.