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!