Jazz and Business

 

By Carli Muñoz

Jazz artist and restaurant owner

IN THE WEEDS

restaurant staffers like to call it when one gets caught up in a difficult situation as a result from overload in multitasking. As one of the performers along with other very fine guest artists, I was engaged in the opening of a most special performance at my club/restaurant, Carli Café Concierto. Moments before starting the show, also as an owner and host, I found myself caught up and overwhelmed with endless details related to who comes in, who sits where will everyone fit, is the staff ready, are my guest happy, are the regular costumers getting a table, the chatter just went on and on!

In effect, the way I felt during the beginning of that performance was that I didn’t accomplish any of the tasks at hand to my satisfaction! I exaggeratedly thought “God, my clients are upset! On top of that, I’m not focusing on the show because I’m thinking and worrying about everything else! Everyone by now must be upset with me! I failed! I failed my clients and worst of all I am failing my co-players and myself!” Sounds bad… right? You bet! But was it really? No. Failure was only in my perception, created only out of my own created circumstances. Once I shifted my way of thinking to the present moment it all shifted along with me. After all, the manager and staff handled everything perfectly! If the euphoria of the crowd at the end meant something, the show was still highly successful. On my way out to get some well needed fresh air after the performance, I bumped into a musician colleague of mine who was there and who I highly respect as a great musician, I told him how badly distracted I thought I played and he said to me: “even when you play badly distracted you sound great”. I thought that was a great compliment! At any rate, the other presentations turned out much better, thanks to a lesson well learned; to let the staff do their work and trust the process.

THE CHALLENGE

Not unlike a businessman executing a new interactive business task or presentation, it is common for a sensible jazz musician to feel challenged before a performance. I have been performing regularly at one place or another for more than 40 years (probably an average of 300 days of the year or more. Got a calculator? And I still feel challenged every single time I sit at the piano to play; of course rarely with the stressful intensity I had on the story I just told you, but nevertheless challenged! Clearly, jazz playing is an ever challenging and changing process. And the human and mental aspect of how you feel plays a huge roll in the outcome of the performance. Some could argue that in business what really counts is how well you prepare yourself and that should account as well as to how you feel confronting a business challenge. I agree, and also when playing jazz as well as any other kind of music, preparedness plays an important role too. But in jazz playing, there will always be other elements affecting the delicate balance of the interaction between the performer and the audience. At its peak, the spontaneity present will never cease to flabbergast the audience and the performer.

I believe that good business can be almost as an intense and rewarding musical experience. I say almost because it would be unfair to compare anything else to the joy and the magic of music improvisation - you can tell by the contorted faces and expressions of ecstasy when jazz musicians are improvising. On the other hand, if a business speaker made such nirvanic expressions or facial contortions, most certainly it would be a comedy for the audience. And by rewarding I mean beyond monetary gratification, or in addition to. It is true that the term business implies dealings where goods or services are exchanged in one way or the other for the benefit of all parties involved, although this is much too often forgotten. To me, the only good business is the one that creates value for all concerned.

A NOBLE CAUSE

I find that business if it comes from a noble ideal, and clear purpose could be the dynamo for a very productive outcome. By that I mean an outcome where a great number of people would be inspired and benefited; ideally benefited enough to benefit others, and so on. Although jazz playing is gratifying in itself it can also have a purpose, just like in any other professional endeavor. The purpose could be as simple and basic as just expressing oneself, or as mundane as pandering to the crowd. I mention purpose only in the context of making an analogy with business. Purpose plays only a very abstract and distant role in the consciousness of actual jazz playing, wherein business it remains in the forefront as a major consideration. And of course, when jazz music is paired with business for a common purpose and a noble cause, it is truly a beautiful thing, and although in a subtle way, very powerful. BREAKING THE RULES

Business, same as jazz, is also a creative process. And although there are routines, techniques, procedures, and strategy in business, creativity like in music, plays an enormous role too. It is probably not different than other creative processes except that in playing jazz, contrary to business, improvisation is the rule, even though technique and strategy play a substantial role. Jazz is a good example of where the rules must be learned in order to break them. By the way, I wouldn’t suggest doing the same with business on this last particular; especially when the rules imply ethical values!

Jazz also has its protocol but it applies mostly to standard procedures and mostly within ensembles. Take a duo, for instance, you can agree to establish sharing a set number of bars during the solos in order to share or trade improvisation. It is also possible (and ideal) for the players in the duo to already know by experience and intuition if to share, and when to share during solos. Personally, I find that the least said the better. I figure that if I have to tell the musicians playing with me explicitly what to do or how to do it, I may not have the best choice of musicians. I find this to be somewhat true in business except that in business verbal communication for the alignment of purpose is highly critical. In Jazz alignment of purpose is personal and generally not spoken.

JAZZ AND LEADERSHIP

Jazz leadership is a very delicate balance of power and humility and give and take. I compare it to a delicate ecological system where every little thing counts including thoughts, attitudes, emotional state, surroundings and general well being affecting the whole experience. But most of all, I think, it relates to the interaction with the other players and the level of awareness. I find it very important to choose, or better yet attract players that will be on the least, complementary at one’s present level of playing, and even more advanced (that can be relative). I say ‘on the least’ because the ‘better’ the player, the ‘better’ I will play and be challenged and motivated, as a player and as a leader. Note that ‘better’ for me may not be what is ‘better’ for someone else. ‘Better’ at a certain level may not even be a valid term in the jazz vocabulary at all. That is why I like to use the term ‘complementary’, because it really should relate to where you are or are going musically, just like in business; it is all relative to the context

Many years ago I read a book that caught my attention and turned out very significant later in my life. The name of the book was Leadership Jazz, written by Max De Pree. On this book, De Pree likens business leadership to the art of leading a jazz ensemble. To my surprise, one of the things I realized reading the book is how highly top CEOs valued jazz ensemble leaders and composers. A great deal of non-musician (and closet musicians) high-end business professionals place jazz musicians and especially composers and leaders on a bigger than life realm! It certainly gave me plenty to think about. The book cited countless ways in which jazz leadership is an ultimately sophisticated model for business leaders to emulate and draw inspiration from. Although one should never second guess the intention of a writer I thought De Pree probably intended his book as an inspiration to business leaders. But with me it took different effect; it turned a jazz leader into a businessman.

On the next issue, I will share some insight of my journey in the creation of Carli Café Concierto.

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Carli Munoz