Straight Life

“Life is a lot like jazz… it’s best when you improvise.” -George Gershwin

One of my favorite jazz tunes of all time is Freddy Hubbard’s “Straight Life”. It is a marvelous piece of experimental jazz that drifts and wanders down different musical avenues and somehow always returns to a coherent theme. I’m no music critic, nevertheless, I love it because I get lost every time I listen to it.

I lose track of the rhythm and flow and find myself unable to track where the music is going. The music sounds to me like it has descended into chaos without rhyme or reason. Then, just as I realize I’m lost, I’m rescued by a few notes that form a recognizable signature and I’m drawn back into the familiar themes of the overall tune. I also love it because it feels like there is a full throated joy expressed in all that exploration. As the music drifts into chaos and back to order again, there is a feeling of boundless enthusiasm and playfulness. I feel like the trumpet says, “follow me!” And you follow, not really sure where the music will go. And then there is that moment of panic when you realize you’ve lost the rhythm…and it’s just that moment when the sly trumpet steps in to rescue you by re-establishing a rhythm. I hear the trumpet say, “I got you!” And off we go again.

It’s probably not for everybody, but I absolutely love it. Maybe that’s because it’s a feeling I get a lot. I work with lots of different companies. These companies are places with complicated and subtle rhythms and timing. It’s easy to get lost in organizations like these. You have to be willing to listen to the chaos and wait for a recognizable rhythm to emerge. That can be scary, because you’re never quite sure if a rhythm will materialize or not. But it can also be playful, where you say, “Follow me!” And you ask them to find a different rhythm. At first there is chaos, then, slowly, a new rhythm emerges. And throughout it all, like the trumpet, I’m there to say, “I got you!” And off we go again.

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