The great jazz musician Dave Brubeck died yesterday. Here’s the Brubeck gold quote:
“Jazz is about freedom within discipline,” he said in a 2005 interview with The Associated Press. “Usually a dictatorship like in Russia and Germany will prevent jazz from being played because it just seemed to represent freedom, democracy and the United States.
“Many people don’t understand how disciplined you have to be to play jazz. … And that is really the idea of democracy — freedom within the Constitution or discipline. You don’t just get out there and do anything you want.”
Getting out there and doing anything you want is the adolescent definition of freedom– a definition that confuses freedom with license. While slavish rule-following is mechanical and deadening, undisciplined self-expression collapses into its own narcissistic banality. Greatness in any field– art, business, athletics, religion, politics, education, farming– is grounded BOTH in the rules and limitations of that field, AND then improvises in response to the unique needs of the moment.
Greatness knows the rules, and when/how to break them. Jazz is one of America’s great gifts to the world.