Consider the Jazz Band Leader

Art Blakey

I read recently about the leadership lessons we can all learn from the orchestra conductor.

Well, sure.


The script for an orchestra conductor is finished. The composer finished it and, in a way, handed it to the conductor saying, “Here. It’s finished. Do it this way.” Of course it’s up to the conductor to decipher and interpret what the composer meant, but for the most part, an orchestra conductor’s job is prescriptive. His responsibility is to keep everyone on the same page.

Now, that’s a big responsibility. And if it all falls apart, from the listener’s perspective, there will be only one person to blame.

Consider now, the jazz band leader.

All the same responsibilities are in place as are with an orchestra conductor. The jazz band still needs to start and finish at the same time, but what happens in between is anyone’s guess. It’s up to the band leader to shape the piece as it moves.

In most cases, the jazz band leader is an active member of the band.  She has something to contribute to the sound.  She has the talent to take a solo but digs moving others into the spotlight.

She knows the individuals of the band and their strengths and sensibilities. Thus, she knows who should take the lead and solo next.

She is always keeping an ear to the band and an eye on the audience to know what is next. Should the trumpet player take another chorus, or is it time for a piano solo?

Jazz as an art is always changing.

Somewhere tonight, an arrangement of All Blues will be played. It will be recognizable but original all at the same time. It will call for a leader who can sense the need for change and decide where to take the sound next.


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