Jazz and Journalism

This spring, when Wynton Marsalis played at Harvard’s Sanders Theater, I was finishing up a year long fellowship in journalism innovation.

The night was to be a break from my busy schedule of fellowship and start-up life. It was also a respite. Just days before, the Boston marathon had been bombed.

Marsalis’ invitation to sit in the warm glow of the theater, to listen to power bi curso and some music, and to step away, even momentarily, from the worlds of journalism and tragedy where I was spending so much time was a welcome one.

Part jazz theory lesson, part concert, the evening bridged grief to joy as Marsalis and his bandmates reflected on what it meant to play jazz, as a trumpeter, or a drummer, or an audience member.

“The art of jazz is the mastery of time, thousands of decisions made in an instant for the duration of a song,” Marsalis explained. “When we play, there is a supreme cognizance of the present, of the energy in being present, and of the intensity of presenting a collective insight into successive moments of present-ness.”

That night, as we grieved and feared and struggled to understand, we were all so present there in the theater.

And when he spoke briefly about our collective recent tragedy, saying: “Sometimes the expression of grief is such a heavy feeling that only playing will suffice,” he spoke in words I knew from the newsroom. Words I knew from covering every homicide in DC, from crime to conviction, for two years. That sometimes only writing or photography or videography or programming will suffice.

That’s not a mistake. Journalism and jazz both call to our inner selves. They are where we turn for comfort, for sense making, for feeling and explaining and experiencing our world as we see it and as we would like it to become.

Within this frame, I began to see my work, my journalism startup, and my future in new ways.

And so I bring you Jazz and Journalism: A project that looks at journalism through the lens of jazz and improvisation theories.

On this site I will document my research and thinking and invite you to share in the conversation. We’ll share newsroom experiences, discuss the future of news, and, of course, listen to music.

It may not be as crazy as it sounds.

Jazz has informed innovation and management theories in turbulent markets ranging from the arts to health care systems management, offering a framing for new understandings of teamwork, leadership and innovation.

By some estimates, newsrooms have fired as many as a third of their newsrooms staffs. New publishing structures are reforming how audiences interact with their news sources, but also what they expect of their news sources. And new distribution networks are changing what a news report can be.

Scholars of Complex Adaptive Systems theories, a branch of innovation and management theories, tell us that “innovation processes often successfully unfold through improvisation” (Opening Up Innovation: Strategy, Organization and Technology) and that innovation is found in serendipitous, but intentional, action in changing environments. The sort that happens on stage, at a jazz concert, when musicians improvise, each responding to one another, to the audience, to the process of playing music.

We need innovation. Improvisation. In journalism. And so jazz, I think, offers us a way forward. To build the journalism industry not just that journalists need, but that our public needs, too.

Join me for the conversation.

One thought on “Jazz and Journalism

  1. Rod White

    Re: A New Leap: Congratulations!! Go for it it, be brave. In new media we may tap things into out computer but we are not alone, we are all part of the noosphere.

    I would recommend ‘Septemberly’ by Charles Mingus, Mingus at the Bohemia


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