Your career don’t mean a thing if it ain’t got that swing

If your career has stalled with the economy, it might be time to change the tune . . . with a little help from your friends in the music world.

I’m thinking of people like Ella Fitzgerald and saxophonist Phil Woods. I had the pleasure of interviewing Woods back in the day when he provided Billy Joel with a sassy solo on the hit “Just the Way You Are.” He’s a legend in jazz circles, and for good reason, playing with a passion, dexterity and generosity toward emerging artists. Good advice for the business as well as the jazz world.

Woods is not the only musical philosopher. Listen to the wide range of talent in the genre, from Bebop to Bossa Nova, and you’ll hear lessons for life, as well as your career. Here are four easy pieces culled from the masters:

  • Take turns. Listen to the interchange between Phil Woods on alto and Roy Hargrove on flugelhorn on their recording “Voyage,” featuring the Bill Charlap Trio. All of the band members solo, but then they step back to give the other person a turn. Works in the office, too.
  • Support others. Elevations is a new band of young musicians from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Their debut recording of the same name is a study in cooperation. The musicians support the material, which is another way of supporting each other. Check out the song “Worlds of Resource” for a refreshing view on working as a unit.
  • Stay cool. Miles Davis epitomizes the attitude and practices it well on the recording “Kind of Blue,” especially on the track “So What.” It predates the phrase “whatever” but captures the sentiment without an excess of cynicism.
  • Swing a little. Put some sass into your work. Listen to anything by violinist Stephane Grappelli and try to keep your feet from moving. Pair him with classical violinist Yehudi Menuhin and the works of George and Ira Gershwin and you’ve got fascinatin’ rhythm. And a model for strutting your stuff at work.

Or as Ella sang, “It makes no difference/If it’s sweet or hot/Just give that rhythm/Everything you’ve got.”

 

Dear graduate: take five

If it’s spring it must be time for graduation . . . and those dignified speakers polishing their well-worn nuggets of knowledge. Time to take a break from all that earnestness and listen to the advice of the most tuned-in of all philosophers–the musicians of the world.

Rather than rehash the old “you can’t always get what you want” debate, we can glean workable advice for building your career by listening to some of the pioneers in a field that is probably 180 degrees from yours–jazz. Here are four ideas from the front lines:

  •  Work hard. No one short of Keith Moon or Buddy Rich has played with the muscle of drummer Billy Cobham. Take the recording “Total Eclipse.” Fire leaps from those sticks, especially during the opening suite “Solarization.” But he also composes the most exquisite melodies. While the rhythm moves your feet, it’s the song that moves your spirit. OK, we’ll use the two P words here, passion and purpose, but let’s not make their discovery a career in itself.
  • Play soft. You can work quietly on occasion and still capture attention. Listen to Joao Gilberto’s sultry guitar work on “The Girl from Ipanema,” or Astrud Gilberto’s vocals on “Corcovado.” High speed and volume all the time will wear out you and your welcome.
  • Have a heart. You may have a constant craving for promotion but consider the feelings of your coworkers. Listen to anything by K.D. Lang or Tony Bennett for a guide to acting naughty or nice.
  • Take a bow. Acknowledging the applause after he’d finished, trumpeter Maynard Ferguson would tent his hands in front of his chest like a praying monk and bow. He’d also acknowledge everyone in the band. That’s a gracious leader, one that others want to follow.

A parting word of advice: stop taking vocational-aptitude tests and hunting for your passion. Enjoy the music. The song doesn’t last forever.