Jazz & Innovation: How the Jazz Culture Fosters Creativity
Innovate - n. To begin or introduce something new; be creative (American Heritage Dictionary)
What do you think of when you hear the word jazz - smoky, candlelit nightclubs? Street performers on the steamy sidewalks of New Orleans? The swing dance craze? Or do you think of the word as a verb ' to 'jazz up' a presentation for example? What you might not think of first when you hear the word jazz is innovation. That is, unless you are a jazz musician.
In fact, when you examine the world of jazz you will find a culture and a model that has been, and remains a hot bed of innovation. Reflecting the definition above, Jazz musicians have a long history of introducing new ideas: new forms, new techniques, new sources, and new styles. Jazz musicians have found new ways to play their instruments, new ways to establish unique identities, and they have both expanded and re-invented their roles. The very cornerstone of the music ' improvisation ' demands spontaneous creativity or 'instant innovation' from every jazz player every time they perform.
Over the past hundred years, jazz musicians have been striving to 'get different.' The culture has them continuously seeking answers to questions such as: 'How can I come up with something that is different from what everyone else is doing?' Or, 'How can I stand out from my peers/competitors and be recognized as unique?' Like a business seeking to stand out, if jazz musicians are to succeed at standing apart, they must find answers to these questions in real ways that can be implemented and have impact.
Jazz players have had an unstoppable drive to find ways to innovate and they have time and time again succeeded. What has allowed for this success? In large part the music's innovative engine is driven by its culture of Individualism. The improvisatory and individualistic nature of jazz asks its practitioners to find ways to differentiate themselves from their peers ' to attain a unique, recognizable sound. Further, improvisation asks its artists to differentiate themselves from themselves - to sound fresh and different every time they perform. Both of these challenges involve an ongoing quest to find greater resources (internal and external) for expression.
While improvisation is not the only way innovation occurs in jazz, no other is so stark. This 'immediate realization of ideas' - asks individuals to make a significant personal statement: to communicate, to tell their story, and to do it in the moment. It's very difficult to hide when the spotlight is so focused on a player. Improvisation places great demands on the individual to continually find new creative ways to use the abilities they have to make that personal statement and to do it in a way that both earns the respect of their peers and connects with their audience. This demand necessitates innovation.
A New American Music, A Radical Innovation
The jazz model is historically new and musically is a radical innovation. It is not that frequent in history that a new music is born. Since the time of Bach 300+ years ago, Western music has seen Baroque, Classical, Romantic, and Avant-garde musical forms emerge - 4 sub styles in 300 years. In the United States, we had unique ingredients to not only provide the possibility for a new kind of music but a music so innovative it would produce at least double the number of sub styles in less than 100 years. It has also produced a long list of players who have developed a unique and personal sound, changed the way instruments are played, and invented new ways music is played.
Musically, the combination of two ingredients ' European and African musical traditions ' led to the opportunity for the birth of jazz. These two traditions melded European harmonic and melodic concepts with the rhythmically advanced musical heritage of Africa. By fusing aspects of both traditions, taking the strengths of both, new possibilities emerged and a musical innovation began.
Jazz is also adept at combining freedom and form. Jazz allows for maximum personal interpretation however it does have form, rules if you will. Except in extreme forms, players operate within guidelines. Songs have themes, structured forms, and harmonic frameworks. However, these themes, forms, and frameworks are pliable in jazz and allow individuals to operate with freedom paralleled in no other music. To contrast, European musical tradition requires musicians follow the instruction of the composer ' every note, the length of the note, even the volume of the note is dictated. There is no room for personal interpretation. It's quite the opposite in jazz.