Jazz musician recommends improvisational and creative thinking across disciplines

Improvisation and creativity can be applied to subjects traditionally weighted toward content, data, formulas, and linear thinking.

Ed Sarath describes the importance of recognizing and affirming the “aha” moments that happen all the time to each of us.

In seminars and classes sponsored April 1-2 by the Center for the Advancement of Teaching and Learning and the Doherty Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership, noted jazz musician and University of Michigan professor Ed Sarath emphasized the importance of improvisation, creativity, and consciousness in all disciplines, especially those traditionally weighted toward content, data, formulas, and linear thinking.
According to Sarath, jazz, due to its improvisatory roots, is seen as a model for creativity in a wide range of disciplines including business, law, medicine, sports, and the humanities. In a seminar called Creativity and Improvisational Thinking Across Disciplines, Sarath explored the principles underlying this connection through practical exercises and discussion.

He defined creativity as a way of tapping into different levels of thinking, marked by extrinsic indicators including invention, interaction, and individuation. He discussed the importance of narrative in content-driven disciplines such as business and medicine. “People want to hear stories, and stories provide context,” he said.

Sarath discussed how some practices emanate harmonious influence on society around them. “We want to be around people who radiate a presence to others around them. That’s why being face-to-face with teachers in education is so important. Education eventually comes down to the presence of the teacher, being in a given moment, and all that you can bring to that event,” he said. “Education should be a place where we can examine the anomalies of our disciplines, those places where creative thinking has the greatest opportunity for fruition. We need to put our challenges, anomalies, and paradoxes front and center in our problem-solving,” he added.

Ed Sarath’s language is contemplative. “We live in a distracted society. How do we get a student to hold a question open for a while?” he asked.

“Creativity is important for learning how to deal with today’s problems,” Sarath offered. “Overarching patterns of thinking are fueled and sustained by composites of tiny ‘aha’ moments, where we reinforce patterns or start to change them…We are constantly involved in the construction and destruction of patterns. Every thought is a category; when we dissolve patterns, we can discover more fluid ways of thinking and being.”

When asked how he nurtures and maintains his own creative development, Sarath said, “I gain sustenance from attending to rigorous detail, while knowing that it relates and is interconnected to bigger things.”

Speaking to Jon Metzger’s Jazz Harmony Class, Sarath asked, “How do you get rid of the noise in your mind so that you can compose? You don’t do it, the music does it. The music composes itself. You must learn to listen to that inner voice, those signals inside you that tell you it’s right.”

Sarath predicted that consciousness, liberated patterns and being in the moment will all be part of a major seachange in our society. Creative individuals will be those who can engage themselves in the current moment, amid increasing noise and distractions. Sarath indicated that creative consciousness is a new field of study, with new groups forming to investigate, such as the American Association of Learning Societies, and the Association for Contemplative Mind in Higher Education.

The seminars were sponsored by the Center for Advancement of Teaching and Learning and the Doherty Center for Entrepreneurial Excellence. Faculty and students from Elon, UNCG, Guilford College, North Carolina A & T, and Greensboro College representing math, business, general studies, foreign languages, and music.

About Ed Sarath

Ed Sarath is a performer, composer, recording artist, author, educational theorist and innovator. He is Professor of Music and Chair, Department of Jazz and Contemporary Improvisation Studies and Director, Program in Creativity and Consciousness Studies at the University of Michigan; and Founder and President, International Society for Improvised Music (ISIM).

His most recent CD release, New Beginnings, featured the London Jazz Orchestra performing his large-ensemble compositions. He has taught and performed at appearances and jazz festivals all over the world. His composition Rites of Passage, featuring Liebman and Michael Brecker as soloists, was commissioned by the West German Radio big band and conducted by Bill Dobbins.

Sarath has applied creativity and improvisational techniques with athletes, business practitioners, musicians and individuals in a wide variety of disciplines. He has appeared at The University of Michigan’s Business School, Harvard Business School, The Forge Institute, and the Program on Negotiation.

Ed Sarath