Lewis Nash playing with George Cables and Peter Washington at Kitano.

Lewis Nash playing with George Cables and Peter Washington at Kitano.

Last night Ellie and I traveled to Manhattan to hear some great jazz. We anticipated the pleasure of listening to exciting music because the trio performing included George Cables – master pianist, composer and musical storyteller with fellow musicians Peter Washington, the amazing stand up bass player and Lewis Nash, drummer extraordinaire. Together they exemplified what it means to communicate!

Those of you who are experienced musicians know (for those who aren’t, I now mention) that any beautiful music requires really listening. When musicians play together, focused listening to each other is essential. Without it, the musical conversation breaks down immediately! Yet some do it at a much higher level than others.

What does this kind of listening have to do with our daily lives? Well – when we return home at the end of the day, wanting — needing, actually — to share our experiences, we seek the safety and comfort of significant others who really ‘get us’!

When that doesn’t happen, what does it feel like? Everyone knows that experience. Sometimes our significant others focus on their own feelings and needs, instead of really paying attention to us.

Understandably this can be disappointing and even painful. When we keep interpreting defensively; everyone wants to be listened to and we don’t always want to listen at the same time, a painful and destructive pattern of distrust can set in. From there, the emotional result can only be feeling isolated, alone and not safe!

While we want to be heard, we have to think about that need differently – in the context of mutual needs. If we don’t accept our responsibility for how we think and communicate, we can expect a negative pattern to develop and continue. Really listening requires true respect, which, in turn, requires giving up struggling over power and control.

Since George Cables, Peter Washington and Lewis Nash are equally superb musicians, with much respect and appreciation for each other, we watched and listened to all the signs of great communication. Washington’s solos demonstrated a level of bass playing few others achieve. Every note that sang out from his stand up bass was purely beautiful. You could hear him musically communicating to George Cables, “I understand your story and here are my thoughts.”

In the next moment Lewis Nash took the lead. As a drummer myself – merely ten feet in front of his beautiful drum kit, I was mesmerized by every nuance. In the intimate, living room-like jazz environment, I observed the intensity of Mr. Nash’s listening skills and precise rhythmic choices of cymbal and drum tones pouring out with human passion and sensitivity — eyes glimmering, face lit up with childlike joy. There was nothing less than glee as all three communicated with one another and heard the appreciation of the “living room.” It was magical – enthralling!

I thought — if only all of us could listen to each other like that! Of course in this musical conversation, no one was feeling disrespected, hurt, misunderstood or unappreciated. The challenge for us, then, is developing the capacity to really listen to one another even when pain and fear are present.

For Ellie and me — music lovers and communication professionals — when people are communicating on the highest levels, they consistently demonstrate the elements of respect and undefended listening.

To say communicating effectively is challenging is a gross understatement! However, for those willing and able to quiet defensive instincts even in painful moments and really listen to each other, beautiful, respectful and sensitive music may emerge!

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Jeff Levine

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