«Take 5» or How Jazz Can Guide Your Career

“OhDave Brubeck, this must be us!” it sounded friendly toward me when I received an older couple at Zurich Airport. At a young age, I had the fortune to serve as a working student for a Swiss Jazz concert agency.
The all-inclusive package for which I had to guarantee included among others the procurement of rare lemon oil for an alto saxophonist, the lending of small change for a jazz guitarist or to establish contacts with (female) fans.

As quid pro quo I was fortunate enough to experience international stars such as Kenny Barron, Eddie Gomez or Michel Petrucciani behind and in front of the stage. The following five take aways are left to me, which later became also relevant for my own career management:

First: Be prepared ‒ None of the musicians walked aimlessly to the stage, the set lists were always perfectly prepared and, based on this fixed frame, flowing transitions, announcements and improvised organizations were possible: Preparation is everything, in Jazz as well as in management!

Second: Learn to Listen ‒ For novices, jazz mostly seems to be unstructured and a bit messy, in order to see through the sometimes complex structures. Once these are defined, it is clear how subjects are taken up and freely exchanged by the musicians. This requires, as in professional practice, to listen carefully and to ask if in doubt, because: He who asks is leading!

Third: Let it Flow ‒ Once the audience was won, the musicians have left the security zone and ventured into often unknown musical spheres, wheras jazz standards were suitable for the audience as a secure musical base: Only those who are leaving the comfort zone, are open to new experiences!

Fourth: Reduce to the Max ‒ The most surprising fact in Jazz for me was, that it is not important what is played, but what is NOT played. As in management, tempo, rhythm and improvisation are the key factors for any successful corporate development. For further enlightenment, see Frank Barrett’s amazing book «Yes to the Mess. Surprising Leadership Lessons from Jazz».

Fifth: Be Modest ‒ In all these years, the most successful musicians I had met, were the most modest of them all. I remember for example my private Japanese lessons with Ray Brown or talking history with Jim Hall. Both were also excellent educators who could pass on their knowledge to the next generation: Sharing is the power of real leadership, both in jazz as in management!

P.S.: By the way, it was Dave Brubeck and his wife, who I picked up at the airport. His elegance and modesty remained to me as a personal role model, or in other words: “Take 5!”

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