My husband and I went to hear the Christian McBride ensemble play at Sculler’s on New Year’s Eve. The experience was exhilarating and inspiring. Christian McBride is a magnificent master of ceremonies, relaxed, friendly and funny. He is also an amazing Bass player, as relaxed and communicative while playing as he was while speaking. We particularly enjoyed the “duet/duel” between McBride’s Bass and his drummer of 25 years. The give and take, call and response and the sheer joy expressed by the musicians made us feel like we had an insider’s intimate view of the essence of Jazz. The pianist, saxophone and vibraphone players were all first rate. McBride compared playing at Sculler’s small room to wearing comfortable old shoes…it gets more comfortable over time. Comfort doesn’t explain the energy in the room. Like every Jazz ensemble, each player is given the opportunity to shine as a soloist, and then the group picks back up and instantly integrates and returns to the theme/primary melody of the music. The music builds and develops and ends at a place we hadn’t experienced before. What a great way to start the New Year. One of my favorite sayings is “It’s close enough for Jazz.” That is usually said in the context of being smart about the hours we need to accomplish what we need to do for our clients, in a more interesting way than the 80/20 rule. It comes from the stereotypical view of Jazz as imperfect as compared with exacting Classical music. Perfectionism is costly and not necessarily better, so let’s stop when we’re making Jazz, and not try for Classical music.
Instead of perceiving these forms of music as different for better or worse, both styles of music provide great role models for teamwork. Classical Chamber ensembles are in fact quite similar to Jazz ensembles. There is no conductor, the instrumentalists pay careful attention to each other, the great music doesn’t happen without all participating and playing to the highest level that they are capable of, which sometimes means being silent but supportive, and sometimes means being the star. Leave it to Yoyo Ma, Classical Cellist, to take this ideal musical model of teamwork to a new level. When you are a master, it may be hard to find new challenges. When you are a lifelong learner and person who is open to new ideas, strange magic can happen. Yoyo Ma has generated several ensembles of musicians from many cultures. One of his groups, Silk Road Ensemble, includes musicians and instruments unfamiliar to western culture. Another group includes American bluegrass musicians and instruments. If you can, listen to the recordings or watch videos from these groups. You can hear the joy in the music, the respect from each musician to all. Yes there are soloists, but within the context of a close-knit, although diverse, group.
I have written many times about how architecture is a team sport, with team members as numerous as a-z. You may think that it’s funny for an architect to use music as a way to learn teamwork. Others may utilize sports analogies. I am neither musician nor athlete (although I do love golf), but I have enjoyed leading teams of designers, consultants, clients and contractors for almost 20 years in a small ensemble, and for many years in other firms large and small. Inspired by Yoyo Ma and Christian McBride, I hope that my expertise creates a team that can work effectively together, in relaxation, with joy and with an open mind to new ideas, new people, new styles and new ways of working together.