Bringing out the best

I absolutely love Duke Ellington.  I like his big band stuff, I like his small group stuff (only a few months ago I heard for the first time “Money Jungle” featuring another favorite, Charles Mingus) and I like his style.  I think he embodied ‘cool.’  Even when he wasn’t cool, (when bebop was taking off and his big band style was losing its audience) he had class.

But he wasn’t alone.  His band was made up of additional stars that all brought their best to his music.  Not only that, he often wrote parts for specific players.  When he composed, it wasn’t just “Lead Trumpet” or “Lead Alto Sax,” it was “Clark Terry” or “Johnny Hodges.”  Further, the fluid and improv nature of jazz colors that whole interaction.  He wasn’t writing everything down for Johnny, he was writing the outline, and Johnny filled in the rest, with his own tone, style, and approach to the part.  I can imagine Duke sitting at his piano, writing down a line and some changes, full of excitement and energy, thinking to himself “I can’t wait to hear what Clark does with this.”

This is the kind of person I want to be.  I want to be a part of a community that fosters an environment where people can bring their best gifts to bear, unashamedly.

I don’t think there’s any formula to this.  In a lot of ways it’s an issue of character.  Am I the kind of person who is willing to submit my desires, my individualistic (often selfish) goals to a group in the interest of allowing others to flourish?  Am I continually asking myself the questions, “How can I support what this person is doing?  How can I call out and encourage their gifts?”

There are some real dangers, too.  Some people have crazy ideas!  I’m not always sure what to do with that.  There have been some situations where someone is really trying to manipulate me into telling them what they should do in a particular situation.  Other times, I know the person is somewhat all over the place and their wacky idea probably won’t ever go anywhere.  I think in these circumstances it’s best to just hang in there for the long haul, and with patience and grace try to remain encouraging.

The other night some friends and I were discussing the next few months, and some things we’d like to accomplish and how we can help each other to do it.  It’s really cool to be part of a group that is bringing ideas and energy to the table, and to share and build off of each other’s enthusiasm.

I know it’s not the same as Duke Ellington and his band.  But there’s a parallel line here.  Part of Duke’s success was his ability to encourage others to bring their best to the table.  My understanding is he did it without strong-arming, intimidating, or otherwise coercing them.  His music helped usher in a new culture, a new way of being that didn’t exist before.

I think it’s possible for our communities to do this, too.  I’m looking forward to living and hearing about more of these stories.

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~ by Joe Paparone on June 18, 2010.

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