Take the leap.

Why talk is jazz

We say our roundtables are like improv. Why?

Recently, as I was talking to someone I just met, I noticed that there’s certain rhythm to how our conversation was flowing.

He would talk a little, and then I’d chime in. When there’s a pause, how you start up the new topic or a followup question matters, and the exact timing of it, affects the mood of the conversation.

There’s an audience, too. Each one of us has in us the talker, who is thinking about what to say next, and the listener, who’s trying to take in what the other person is saying. A listener can be engrossed in someone’s monologue, but more often, she gets tired of listening, or distracted from what’s being said. When this happens, the talker inside you tends to take over, and boom, you’re no longer listening. The engagement ends when the other person notices you’re not listening.

Did you hear that?

Time to start a new song.

The art of dialogue is in training your listener to stay focused longer, and at the same time making sure your inner talker stays quiet when it’s your turn to hear. The more you hold your listening, the more meaningful the conversation. Marriage counselors know this.

But more than that, I’m realizing lately, I need to practice the music-making of conversation. My timing, my tones, my body language. These are the parts that we make conversation with, and I have to admit, I still have pretty lousy chops.

The jazz analogy, for me, is very useful in visualizing the skills needed to converse well.

“One of the things I like about Jazz, kid, is I don’t know what’s going to happen next. Do you?”
—Bix Beiderbecke, cornet/piano player, jazz musician

“The most important thing I look for in a musician is whether he knows how to listen.”
—Duke Ellington

“If you understood everything I say, you’d be me!”
—Miles Davis

“You have to practice improvisation, let no one kid you about it!”
—Art Tatum

Making it up

When talking with someone skilled at making conversation flow, you can just ride his music. It’s soothing, fun and elating. They’ll chime in with just the right tone, at the right moment, nudging you to go on, and you find yourself discovering more about yourself while talking. They know how to dislodge you from tired, canned lines to find fresh, new threads that really mean something because you’re holding them with that virgin freshness, because you’re coming up with something awesome in the moment.

OS Dialogues

Orangutan Swing dialogue/roundtable sessions are ways for us to practice this art with you. Consider it a mutual lesson in conversational dance, because you’re teaching us as we’re teaching you.

I’m convinced this art of improv in conversation will be paramount to progress as a society, just as arithmetic and literacy were exonerated in the past. –AM