Jazz has undergone the ultimate irony. Born in New Orleans, Jazz was once deplored by the music establishment and academia as modern day rap is now considered offensive by ears accustomed to Beethoven. It was the devil’s music. Now it’s hard to find an article about it in anything other than media outlets aimed at upscale audiences. The New York Times just printed an article titled Jazz Is Alive and Well. In the Classroom, Anyway.
One of my favorite classes in college was “Jazz: Its Evolution & Essence”. I woke up for that 8:30 am class three days a week and loved it. Though I not a morning person, listening to jazz and our professor’s eloquent talks about jazz’s development was an inspiring way to start the day.
Yet the class distinctly represented the difference between what jazz was and what jazz is. The only way you’d listen to jazz at 8:30 am during that music’s golden age was if you were still awake from the night before. The essence of jazz was improvisation and pushing the envelope. It was playing your instrument in a way that would make a music professor cringe. So if jazz was about breaking the rules, what happens when it’s embraced and defined by rules?
These two lines in the article are telling (the first in reference to the days of John Coltrane and Miles Davis, and the second in reference to today):
The music’s instructional methods were rigorous but not yet codified.
Today’s aspiring player has a choice of school programs, method and theory books, videos and transcriptions.
The great jazz musicians we blazing their own trail, breaking the rules, and not hanging around universities hoping for tenure and donations from wealthy individuals. Today’s jazz musicians are doing just the opposite, and losing America’s ear.
So what am I doing writing about jazz on the Venture Voice blog?
The idea of learning entrepreneurship in school (or business in general even) was considered ludicrous years ago. Starting a business was something you do, not something you study. The big successes in entrepreneurship broke the rules and beat the odds. Innovations by entrepreneurs (just like the jazz greats) succeeded because they connected with and delivered value to masses of consumers, not because they were appreciated by experts.
Now entrepreneurship is a class at most business schools. It can be studied, and there’s a right way and a wrong way to do it. Or so it seems.
Entrepreneurship is as jazz was. A practice defined by making new things in new ways, not on copying what’s been made. An effort that will impact the world, not a university department.
That’s not to say studying entrepreneurship doesn’t have value. The jazz greats certainly had their influences and did many jazz impressions of more classical works, but they had integrity and followed their own vision. There’s a lot you can learn from the success and failure of others. But when you get advice from professors or even Venture Voice guests, make sure you do what’s right for your venture rather than blindly follow the structure laid out by others.