Wynton Marsalis: “How I Work”

*** From Coach O: On Nov. 1, I posted an article about Howard Schultz (Starbucks). This article was part of a series, “Secrets of Greatness – How I Work” on Fortune on CNNMONEY.com (October 2006). They interviewed 12 accomplished people to get a glimpse into their work habits and mindset. Today, we will look at Wynton Marsalis, Artistic Director, Lincoln Center:

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Wynton Marsalis – “How I Work”

Artistic Director, Jazz at Lincoln Center

Executive summary: Challenge each other — but don’t hold grudges.

You don’t want trumpet players and musicians being your primary business decision-makers. It’s not possible for me to do that and write music, program the season, and conduct the band. I really do let people do their jobs, so when we come together, we know what each is supposed to do. But I weigh in on everything.

I’ve never sent an e-mail. I have a computer but haven’t plugged it in. I do have a cell phone. I just learned how to text on it. I do everything longhand or talk it out with my staff, and then they type it.

I have to do a lot of other work besides playing and composing — like speeches and fundraising — but everything is for jazz. Even if I’m talking about American culture or American people, it’s really about jazz. So it all goes to what my skill set is. I’m really not an organized person. For me, my philosophy is “Just do it all, all the time.”

I rely on my team. Right now we’re writing a script about Count Basie’s music for a young people’s concert. Phil Schaap, the curator, is responsible for the history element. I explain the music — riffs, breaks, calls and responses, orchestration, short chords — those things I’ve taught many times. We all talk it together, get an outline, and then revise from that.

In terms of managing the Lincoln Center orchestra, we’re part of that continuum of jazz. Our thing is to create the sort of relaxed environment that’s part of our music. Most of us came from jazz people, so we have that in us naturally. There are always tensions that come up. Part of working is dealing with tensions. If there’s no tension, then you’re not serious about what you’re doing.

But there’s a certain warmth in there too, and a familiarity. We challenge each other, we fight, but we don’t have a lot of grudges. The music is about improvising and being able to create new things at the spur of the moment with other people. There’s not a long line of people who can do that in the context of a groove. To find a groove means practice, practice, and more practice. I’m very serious about this.

We rehearse a lot, and everybody comes to rehearsal. And I will send you home if you’re not playing right. Now, I do lose my temper. If the young band members aren’t practicing, aren’t playing right, I will cuss them out. But I’m not volatile. We have the same system of understanding, the music, and a love between each other. It’s a flow.

 — Interviewed by Ellen McGirt

For the complete article, “Secrets of Greatness – How I Work” visit: http://money.cnn.com/2006/03/02/news/newsmakers/howiwork_fortune_032006/index.htm

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