In jazz there are no mistakes, only opportunities

Vibraphone player and improvisational jazz musician Stefon Harris has a unique perspective on the idea of “making a mistake.” On the stage, he says, there are no mistakes – only opportunities:

The bandstand as we call it is an incredible space, it’s really a sacred space, and one of the incredible things about it is that you really have no opportunity to think about the future or the past – you really are alive right here in this moment.

Harris demonstrates the idea of a mistake by having his band play in a certain key, and then directing the pianist plays a note apparently out of key. No one in the ensemble responds to the note, and so it seems completely out of place. Then the band plays again, this time reacting to the “out of key” note, and transforming the music into something completely different, but still lovely.

So the idea of a mistake from the perspective of a jazz musician – the only mistake is If each musician is not aware and accepting enough of his fellow bandmember to incorporate the idea, and if we don’t allow for creativity.

Harris goes on to give some advice to managers in other fields:

The other dynamic is that we don’t micro-manage in jazz – that limits the artistic possibilities. If I really want the music to go somewhere, I need to listen, to be patient, and to pull from what’s going on around me.

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