At the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership, we are fortunate to meet and work with many talented Arizonans. Unfortunately, I have not yet had the pleasure of meeting the obviously talented members of the Ellington Band at the Tucson Jazz Institute. In May, these high school students won—for the second year in a row—the most prestigious prize available to a young jazz ensemble, First Place at the Essentially Ellington 2014 Jazz Band Competition and Festival. Now in its 19th year, the competition is sponsored and produced by Jazz at Lincoln Center and led by jazz great Wynton Marsalis. Bands are invited to compete with 15 appearing in the 2014 finals.
As jazz musicians, the students at the Tucson Jazz Institute are learning skills that are very similar to the ones the Arizona Center for Civic Leadership is working to strengthen across the state. These players learn to listen to one another in musical conversations. They work together towards a cohesive sound that still honors each player’s style. But they can also improvise. And of course, they practice, practice, practice.
Wynton Marsalis has noted: “In Jazz, improvisation isn’t a matter of just making any ol’ thing up. Jazz, like any language, has its own grammar and vocabulary. There’s no right or wrong, just some choices that are better than others.”
In jazz, the best choices come out of discipline, technique, listening, and working as a group as well as an individual. In civic leadership, the good decisions are based on real knowledge, skills, and commitment along with the courage to use them in new ways.
I hope you will check out the Tucson Jazz Institute. You will enjoy the jazz and you just might see civic leadership in a new light.