JPW Heirarchy…

Jazz Performance Workshops, often called JPW’s, are the required ensembles for Eastman Jazz students. These groups embody a rhythm section (drums, bass, piano and/or guitar) and horn players. Jazz combos (another name) have a very common hierarchy system – the horn players are the leaders. They not only play the melody and generally take the first solos but also call the shots in a gig or rehearsal setting.

According to Conservatives (such as More, Burke, Madison whom we read), unequal distributions of power and hierarchies are necessary. They understand society to be like a body in which different groups have certain roles. The brain as the leader is entirely in charge but relies on the rest of the body or the commoners to do their job. Similarly, the body or commoners rely on the leader or brain.

In JPW, I have seen how the stirrup of hierarchy norms can cause immediate trouble. For instance, if a bass player calls to go back to the head (melody) of the tune, the horn player may not be prepared because he was planning something different. Another example occurs when a drummer calls to trade eights but no one may hear him. To solve these problems, typically we just stick to the hierarchical norms and let the horn players take charge.

However, couldn’t we all take part in leading these ensembles somehow? Perhaps a more egalitarian approach would increase the happiness of each member and thus make better music. In this class we read Mill and learned about utilitarianism – x is good as long as it creates the greatest happiness for the greatest number. Dismantling the hierarchy of JPWs I believe would satisfy that concept fundamental to Mill’s thinking.

The question becomes how can we rid this hierarchy and still maintain a well functioning JPW? Most recently in class we read about Benhabib’s deliberative democracy. She explains that the best solutions arise from free and open discussions where everyone as equal rights to speech and questioning. Through that method, members of JPWs could discover ways to communicate more proficiently and come up with solutions that everyone understands. Furthermore, with all members on the same page, there would be no tension between group members and that would surely make the music better.

While the conservative approach may be logical, I support utilitarianism and deliberative democracy. From music groups to society in general, hierarchies are necessary to some degree yet questioning, altering, or dismantling them, if it creates a positive change, should be possible options to be derived from free and open discussion. Long live Jazz and Democratic theory!

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4 Responses to JPW Heirarchy…

  1. njalensky says:

    I really respect how well thought out your argument is in your post. I completely agree that having a more egalitarian could increase the overall happiness in the group. However, I believe that this could only work when planning a course for the tune to play out before the downbeat is given. There still needs to be a fall back leader during the piece. If something is to go astray, you need only one person to rise to leadership and guide the others back on track. Mistakes can be made and the group can go off course from the original plan. One can draw this as a parallel to Schmitt’s point on how a dictator can be democratic. If the people view that the general will is to give away democracy, then one should be able to rise to power and guide them back to where the actual general will is. It does not matter who it would be, a horn player or rhythm section member, but sometimes things will get off and the most efficient way to get back on track is to have one person take control.

  2. scter117 says:

    Thanks Nick! I agree. Another example could be representative democracies. While everyone would like to have their opinion directly voiced, the time required for such democratic procedures can be dysfunctional or impossible. Especially in times of crisis or of a quickly needed decision, having a smaller number of people in charge of decision making truly is quite necessary. Similarly, during the actual playing of a tune one leader (or two, each one with a different duty) would best keep the group together. If all members try to lead there would surely be a great dis-functionality. I support the representative democracy and a more democratic jazz ensemble dynamic nonetheless for justice, equality, and community. As we learned from Mill and Benhabib, the greater the participation and happiness of group members or citizens the greater the society or group will function.

    • dkeezing says:

      This is a fundamental element of liberal and conservative philosophies, and I’m always given pause when I hear the conservative argument articulated. I was brought up in a very liberal family, and I myself am (naturally) very liberal. But, when I read a writer like More, something about her ideas strikes me as compelling, if only for a second. I’m of course a big believer in equality and free and open discussion, but…doesn’t a society also require people to do more menial tasks? And will the liberal obsession with leveling the playing field lead to a shortage of, say, auto-workers? Or will there always be people to do all types of jobs, even if our society is obsessed with leveling the playing field? Something about the metaphor of the people in a society being like organs in a body sounds very sensible at first. Why should the bass player call to go back to the head? Who does he think he is, a horn player? It’s like a liver telling the heart that it’s taking over the heart’s job! But, to me, this notion sounds logical until you think about it for longer than a few minutes. It fails to adequately consider the spectrum of human impulses. Yes, some people might be perfectly comfortable and happy with their lot in life and have no desire to change. Other people might be told that they must do such-and-such a job because that is what is expected of them, and then say: “No! I’m going to be a musician!” And you can’t fight human impulses like that. The powers that be have tried throughout history, and they always ultimately fail. Having said that, I agree that there are instances in which people need to know what the best course of action will be, even if it conflicts with whatever beliefs they may have. Equality is a great thing to strive for, but sometimes it is best if the horn player leads the group. What course of action will lead to the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people is a good way to determine what should be done in each instance.

  3. scter117 says:

    Thank you for your comment. I admire your insight onto how the conservative side seems logical but perhaps to robotic to work with diverse, ever-changing humans. In a way, conformity really is whats at question here. If a society was all accepting of conformity then we could easily see a conservative ruled world. People would accept that “this is what people do” etc. However, history (especially recent centuries) shows that we don’t like heavy conformity (or at least its visible qualities). We like to think I’m living my life MY way and doing things because I think its right for me etc. Yet, this can only exist to a certain degree before ones self interest damage another’s. Hence, some level of conformity is surely necessary.
    If people could together decide what level of conformity their willing to partake in, then perhaps conservative and liberal desires could both be partially satisfied. However, such an occurrence is very unlikely. Conformity (especially in “demoratic America”) is like a bad word for most people (although we ALL subcome to it on different levels. Therefore, an acceptance of conformity and ones role in society (liver, bass player) would ultimately lead to the end of basic power disputes. While we could all still have our freedoms to change our place or ask for different laws, our acceptance of those often disliked realities could change our nation for the better.

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