Wednesday, December 22, 2010

And another terrific one covering the same terrain

Coda—Creativity and Improvisation in Jazz and Organizations: Implications for Organizational Learning
Frank J. Barrett
Vol. 9, No. 5, September-October 1998, pp. 605-622

This widely cited article (276 according to Google Scholar) is full of evocative quotes from and stories about jazz musicians (Coltrane, Miles, Sonny Rollins, many others), with parallel organizational learning examples. It's almost too rich in ingredients that match my main interests: improvisation, aesthetics, sensemaking, narrative (many discussions of how jazz musicians both link to the "stories" of the jazz canon and create and rewrite new ones on the fly), ethics (in the ways the musicians relate to one another and make choices that affect each other's performances), and many examples where instant, unplanned move-by-move choices and actions make a huge difference.

A couple of examples from the paper, the full text of which appears to be online as a pdf.

Provocative disruptions as a leadership technique (connections to sensemaking in the unexpected challenge given to the performers), practitioner ethics (the choice Davis made to present the material to the musicians this way, violating their expectations with an expectation they would rise to the occasion), narrative (breaches of canonicity), aesthetics, as well as improvisation:
Miles Davis not only practiced this provocative competence in live concerts, he also extended this to the recording studio. This is illustrated in a famous 1959 session. When the musicians arrived in the recording studio, they were presented with sketches of songs that were written in unconventional modal forms using scales that were very foreign to western jazz musicians at that time. One song, contained 10 bars instead of the more familiar 8 or 12 bar forms that characterize most standards. Never having seen this music before and largely unfamiliar with the forms, there was no rehearsal. The very first time they performed this music, the tape recorder was running. The result was the album Kind of Blue, widely regarded as a landmark jazz recording. When we listen to this album, we are witnessing the musicians approaching these pieces for the first time, themselves discovering new music at the same time that they were inventing it. (p. 609)
Move-by-move, sensemaking, aesthetics, improvisation, and narrative all in one:
Jazz players are often able to turn these unexpected problems into musical opportunities. Errors become accommodated as part of the musical landscape, seeds for activating and arousing the imagination. Drummer Max Roach sees the value in errors, "if two players make a mistake and end up in the wrong place at the wrong time, they may be able to break out of it and get into something else they might not have discovered otherwise." Herbie Hancock recalls playing an obviously wrong chord during a concert performance. Hearing the unexpected combination of notes, Miles Davis used them as a prompt, and rather than ignore the mistakes, played with the notes, embellishing them, using them as a creative departure for a different melody. Any event or sound, including an error, becomes a possible springboard to prime the musical imagination, an opportunity to re-define the context so that what might have appeared an error becomes integrated into a new pattern of activity. Looking backward, the "wrong" notes appear intentional.(p. 610)
There's a lot more, way too much to include here. It's an embarassment of riches. Check it out.

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