Jazz and the Music of Every Day Work

This post originally appeared on Medium

Pauses in music are key. They define what you’ve heard and lay the groundwork for what you are about to hear. Without them, it’s an unending wave of noise — it’s chaotic and the beauty from clarity is lost.

I’ve used this analogy to articulate my work process. I value the pauses because they act as defining moments where I am able to get in touch with what I am actually doing (or the team is able to get clarity on what we are doing). The pause allows the important, hidden parts of mental process space to make sense of information and provide new insight. (I’m sure you’ve all had the experience of understanding something better after a night of sleep.) The pause is where the ‘what are we doing’ and ‘why are we doing it’ questions arise — and these are key to remaining engaged.

For some time I’ve imagined this music as classical music. I hear Chopin playing in my head as I justify the need to take a pause. Classical music has a rigid form. It’s beauty is in the clarity by which components are experienced — like a well manicured garden. This makes it the perfect analogy for the pause because the pauses are easily seen.

But then the rest of life happens. In the fast-paced rush of day-to-day work where one must continually adapt and change to the problem at hand, being present is crucial. Classical music, with it’s idealistic and still beautiful structure doesn’t always fit the situation at hand — the situation is changing right in front of you while the notes are being played.

If we are honest with ourselves, doesn’t most of life feel somewhat made up on the fly? Perhaps there is a music known for this style. Jazz.

Jazz has a whole new rhythm. The notes change while the song is being played. It represents being present with the situation. It represents taking the appropriate response to a situation based on feeling and experience. And jazz still has pauses. And again, these pauses set the stage for what is about to come. It’s a moment to get in touch with what matters and to charge forward with that.

It’s important to remember the nuance of improvised music like jazz. It’s beauty is in feeling and adapting to the situation at hand. There is a structure that exists and this structure allows current creativity while containing overall form. Let that sit with the rigid process driven part of the brain for a minute — take a pause.

So play your jazz. Take your pauses. Improvise.

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