Character of Jazz
March 22, 2010 by Dr. Neal Mayerson ·
I love YouTube. Someone recently turned me on to a Keith Jarrett video. For those who may not know, Jarrett is an amazingly gifted pianist who plays mostly in the jazz genre. He is a master technician and improviser. He is capable of firing off machine-gun-paced riffs as well as hesitating on spaces between notes to create dramatic tension. I am sharing this link to his rendition of Somewhere Over the Rainbow to make some points about character. Upon watching this video here’s what you’ll notice:
• A person playing the piece instead of letting the piece/score play him. How often in our lives do we take the script that others give us and play out their version of us? This happens all too often. Instead, we can think about how we can take the basic requirements of situations and infuse our own character into playing them out. Jarrett honors the melody and structure of the song while at the same time making it his own. Think of doing the same in your life – adding your character to situations and relationships. Play your life instead of having it play you. This video clip is about Keith Jarrett more than the composer Harold Arlen.
• Modulation. Our character strengths can be played strongly and softly. Certain situations call for us to blare them while others require a more nuanced application. Develop dexterity with your signature strengths (your top 5 strengths as measured by the VIA Survey of Character so that you can play them well in different situations. The perseverant, critically-thinking litigator needs to come on strong in a courtroom, and may need to soften those strengths in handling an argument with a spouse. Watch Jarrett lean into some notes more than others to wring out his most perfect self-expression.
• Song choice. This is a song so embedded in popular culture that the subject matter of the song is known without actually singing the lyrics. If birds can fly over the rainbow, why, then oh why can’t I? Why can’t we all form aspirations and work towards them? My top signature strengths of character are creativity and perseverance. I create and persevere like birds fly. It’s what comes naturally to me. We all can fly over the rainbow.
• Engagement and meaning. Jarrett doesn’t use the music to show off his technical talent. There are no amazing riffs or complicated derivations. Instead, he tries to perfectly apply his strengths of talent and character to the inherent beauty of the song to create maximal engagement and meaning. In watching him there is no doubt of this. This matching of strengths and activity is what I refer to as a “power zone.” When we construct such an experience for ourselves we experience an amazing sense of “aliveness.” Find your power zones in life.
• Beauty. Play your life as beautifully as you can. That’s what Jarrett demonstrates in this clip. He simply sat down with the aim of playing that song as beautifully as he could. In the moments of your work, your relationships, your leisure time, find beauty.
Push it forward,
Let it play.