When I was about six years old, my dad let me sit next to him while reading through some musical arrangements of his with a group of musician friends.
Dad was a trumpet player, and because of the passion I saw in his eyes when he played, I took up the trumpet too and was proud to be invited to sit with him on this night as I was certain I could follow along, reading the music he was reading, as he and his friends played Gershwin's "Lady Be Good."
All was well, until dad began to play a solo and suddenly I couldn't find the notes on the paper that he was performing. Dad noticed my confusion as he looked down and winked at me as I searched for some sense of this.
Later I asked him, "What were you doing, Dad? I couldn't find the notes you were playing anywhere in the music."
Dad scruffed my hair as he said with a smile, "Oh, Son, I was improvising."
"What's that Dad?"
"That's when you let the music take you."
From that moment on, I began a journey of improvisation that has shaped my life.
Not too long ago, Jazz was looked upon as an "outside" genre and unacceptable in polite company, (unless, of course, that company possessed an awareness level that vibrated with the innovation Jazz delivered).
When I was a trumpet major at USC, I was just shy of having to wear an arm band because I enjoyed and played Jazz. I was also drawn to symphonic music and preferred playing Symphonic music on my trumpet and Jazz on my Flügelhorn.
I experienced so many judgements as well as comments regarding Jazz as being crazy and undisciplined.
I didn't buy into that, perhaps because Dad and I had shared many conversations as I was growing up about the fact that Jazz followed the Symphonic form of Exposition, Development and Recapitulation.
It seemed odd to me that this fact was lost on so many of my professors at the time.
Dad and I also discussed that improvisation was important in our daily lives.
"Rarely do things go as planned and it is my belief that if we want to enjoy life, it is much easier to do so when we follow the moment as it feels right instead of trying to resist it because we came in with a certain 'melody' in mind."
We also discussed how improvisation applied to business.
"Tell me Henry Ford was not an improvisor." Dad would laugh.
Then the world began to catch up, at least that is how it appeared to me.
Adrian Cho wrote the first book to come to my attention, via Quincy Jones, entitled, The Jazz Process. In it he relates how important improvisation is to our current world of business, and I am in full agreement.
Now we have major Universities offering degrees in Jazz Studies.
In my experience,
when I use my plans as a springboard
and not a blueprint.
It occurs when I trust it.
It occurs when I declare what I want.
Improvisation has a gender to me.
She is feminine.
She gives life.
My job is to remain open to her, honor her and create a safe place for her.
I remember my mom sharing with me that she believed women flower abundantly when they feel safe.
I consider my imagination to be my feminine energy.
She brings life and joy as well as discovery and uncertainty to the plans that I make.
"When the piano player goes left, I go with her."
The discipline of Jazz is, for me, the discipline of my soul and sometimes it takes years for my conscious mind to understand just how brilliant she is.
Meanwhile, I trust her.
Eventually my mind will say something like, "What a great idea!"
I trust my inner voice.
I consider outer voices.
And to think that we met when Dad played, "Lady Be Good."
She has been good. Oh, so good.
And she gets better by the day.
So how do we install this?
How does this apply to our lives?
I believe that it boils down to exactly what dad said,
"It's when you let the music take you."
When we take a solo, we turn our consciousness over to our instincts and enjoy the dance.
While reading the music, our conscious mind leads the dance. Our intuition supplies a dose of our individual humanity to it as it follows the lead of the conscious.
When we play a solo, these roles are reversed and our conscious mind becomes the observer and follows.
Our intuition now leads that dance.
To me, this means stepping aside.
And the more I do it, the more accessible it becomes, the more I trust it, the more I let go.
The jazz structure supports this belief and I apply it quite often.
For example, while I'm sitting in a business meeting we may discuss various topics and directions.
As the meeting progresses, ideas come to me. I let them in, trusting my inner voice no matter how outrageous something may seem when it first occurs to me.
I choose to listen and trust, through my free will.
By giving my intuition center stage,
I'm acknowledging her and what she brings.
It's ever new,
it's not proven,
and it's easy for my mind to shut it down.
And when I fight my mind on this, I lose.
Instead, I treat my mind with respect and ask it, in turn, to respect this unproven idea that my intuition is delivering.
I have danced this dance with my mind and heart for so long, that to me, it is proven. When I honor my intuition with belief,
I experience success each time,
and each time is uniquely different.
So what might you do if you have little or no experience of this exercise and feel as though you are starting from square one?
I would suggest taking a step by giving a bit of attention to your daydreams.
Catch your self daydreaming and let it take you, if only for a moment.
I see it as a dance.
Personally, I believe my mind enjoys having my intuition take the lead now and then.
The results have played a major role in the enjoyment of my life.