Lessons Learned… From a Jazz Quintet 07-18-2022

Mitch Schneider
July 18, 2022

I love music. All kinds of music from Classical to Swing. Folk to Heavy Metal. Especially, live music. When I’m listening and close my eyes, I can see it and feel it in waves of color and sound that wash over me.

I can’t pick out a particular artist or name a tune after hearing just a few bars. I’m generally so completely immersed in what I like that I would rather enjoy what I’m listening to than analyze it.

The other night Lesley and I left the sanctuary and safety of our home to take in an evening of live Jazz at a local club. Something we haven’t done in years. It wasn’t a random choice. We went to see a specific musician and his group with our kids. A jazz quintet assembled by Danny Janklow, the son of a family friend.

Of all the various kinds of music, Jazz fascinates me most. I think it’s the ability of each musician to express themselves while remaining true to a central theme. https://youtu.be/eIRJNQSi8xI  

There are five musicians in the Elevation Band, Danny’s group. Keyboards. Guitar. Bass. Drums. And, of course, Danny on alto sax.

They were amazing. But on the way home, instead of thinking about the great music they shared, I found myself thinking about the management and leadership lessons these gifted musicians had to offer anyone willing to look beyond the notes. What they might have to say about running a small business — or, any business for that matter — successfully.

I kept thinking about how the group’s performance might appear to someone who didn’t understand what makes jazz — jazz. That while each musician had the opportunity to soar individually, they always returned to a coherent, central theme. An over-arching structure.


I was fixated on the unique contribution each musician offered in support of a greater whole. How it all came together, and how that simple model could transform the operation of a small business — like the ones I’ve been involved in my entire life.

Obviously, this was Danny’s group. He put it together and the music was all his. Much like an entrepreneur, he set the tone. Sharing his vision with the group and then with the audience.

The drummer and bass shared responsibility for the tempo. For maintaining the beat — the rhythm — within which the rest of the group could operate. The guitar, keyboards, and sax were able to take flight because the drums and bass were able to provide the foundation that improvisation demands.

It was all new music, and each composition was solid in its own right with each solo gloriously unique, flying high above the composition and then returning almost gently to the piece.

I couldn’t help but think the same should be true of any business. In an auto repair shop, each mechanic or technician — each employee — should have the ability to do their best work within the context of a central structure. A set of policies and procedures that encourage individual effort, not constrain it. Everyone should have the opportunity to exercise their creative abilities so long as it celebrates a central vision. The leader’s vision.

I’ll bet everyone reading this has either been forced or had the opportunity to improvise at some point in their lives. The chance to riff and then return to a central theme. Although, uncomfortable. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Like a lot of the music we listened to the other night, it can result in something unexpected and beautiful. Something that allows your imagination to run wild and your soul to take flight.


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