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Jazz leadership is needed

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What kind of leadership is needed in the world today? I would like to use the musical world to contrast the different styles of leadership currently in place.

In classical music, the music score plays a pivotal role in the delivery of the music. Musicians are trained on how to read the music and to also play it precisely. The conductor or the solo instrumentalist is a key driver on the interpretation of the music dynamics in terms of the volume of the sounds, the tempo and the different accents on certain parts of the music.

What is non-negotiable is the notes that are played; they must be the same in every performance. For example the “Moonlight Sonata” by Beethoven, has been recorded by countless pianists. The music notes are absolute and have to be played precisely while the music dynamics, which are relative, give the different performances a unique quality.

The level of freedom afforded by classical music is limited because precision is highly rated, which makes the music predictable and familiar for the audience. The skills level that is needed to participate in this field is high, which makes this an elitist venture. Studying theory, ability to read music and knowing the subtle elements of one’s musical instrument is a minimum criterion to participate in this field.

On the other extreme you have genres such as folk music or struggle songs, where precision is not a key requirement. Anything goes when singing folk or struggle songs because the music is intended for the greater purpose of uniting the community or fighting for a cause. The music is not produced for the inherent enjoyment and appreciation of the music.

The feature of these genres is that these are open for everyone to participate where the majority of people can be offkey without anyone being concerned. Furthermore, the skill levels required to participate in the performance are low, which makes this music widely accessible. So the music is used as a small feature within a greater cause of either the achievement of freedom or for the rituals in church or community.

When you apply this analogy to the current environments in developed and developing countries, you have a conflict between the two environments, which are not integrating very well.

The classical music world is mostly akin to the developed world where investors appreciate certainty and predictability. This is a world where skills are critical and there are clear distinctions of superiority based on skills and class. This is where the rules are absolute and everyone respects these rules.

However, the interpretation of these absolute rules is quite relative, which is great business for lawyers who are able to help with interpretations that can ultimately be adjudicated by the courts of law. There is generally good progress in terms of material goods and services, but may be backward in terms of spiritual progress and other intangible qualities.

On the other end of the spectrum, you have the developing world environments that correspond to the folk and struggle song genres, where the rule of law is relative and flexibility reigns supreme. There is no certainty and predictability.

The skill levels do not matter because the key is to ensure inclusivity and that the community spirit is maintained. There is no progress in terms of material goods and services, but there is an overwhelming goodwill and spiritual depth within the people living in these environments.

In South Africa, we have both environments which are finding it difficult to co-exist. What is needed is the third wave of leadership that transcends both the classical and the folk/struggle world. The answer lies in jazz leadership.

Jazz is characterised by a deep theoretical understanding of music, which is coupled with great room for improvisation. The ability to read music is not critical but understanding music theory is indispensible to improvisation.

No performance is the same in jazz because the present circumstances are always taken into account in the rendition of the music. The skills component is also high, especially around the music instrument because you cannot manipulate the instrument to yield rich music without understanding it deeply.

Furthermore, in jazz you cannot improvise successfully on nothing, which is why in America, for example, the songs from Broadway are used as standards on which to build on improvisation.

Jazz leadership is able to respond aptly to the constant changes to the environment without losing the groove of the music. This is type of leadership is needed not only in South Africa, but the world over in light of changing economic circumstances.


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