Why Jazz is like Hybrid Thinking

Miles Davis Vinyl Records

When a jazz musician is coming up he divides his free time between two pursuits: memorizing the heads of the standards and transcribing and committing famous solos to memory.

In a genre that celebrates the improviser, then, why spend so much time on memorization? Why memorize Miles Davis’ Boplicity solo when you’re supposed to be improvising out on your own?

As a musician you do not know, until you get up on stage that night, whether the room will be demanding a rip-roaring bepop scream, or a hip-swaying purr. The same notes, a different context, and a whole new experience.

“If it sounds good, it is good” – Duke Ellington

Memorizing the heads of the jazz standards fuels the musician’s vocabulary when improvising, allowing the soloist to make seemingly “genius” connections in the moment. Riffing on Night in Tunisia and recognize that you are passing through a Pink Panther chord structure? Make the connection, drop a few quotes and get the audience howling along with you.

Studying the standards, memorizing the greats, and knowing the bounds you have to operate within — there are only 12 notes, after all — gives the jazz musician the tools he needs to respond and create at a moment’s notice.

Strategists who are able to make connections “in the moment” with a client are exercising a similar practice – the continual study of organizations and leaders, and a nuanced application of a finite set of rules.

At Xische, we call this hybrid thinking, and the rules are the same.


Image credit: @HayeurJF | FlickrCC BY-SA 2.0

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