Friday, 7 February 2014

standing on the shoulders of giants...

if I have seen further, it is by standing on the shoulders of giants...
- Sir Isaac Newton

A few months ago now, sprint coach Kebba Tolbert recommended a new album.  Available for free on-line, Q Tip - in collaboration with Busta Rhymes, and more than likely a teaser for future individual projects - released an album called ‘The Abstract and the Dragon’.  I’ve never been a huge fan of Busta - not even in his old LONS days - but I was looking forward to some new Q Tip.  

...what’s this got to do with coaching, you ask?

Well - even though the album has some decent tracks on it, I just can’t listen to it beginning to end (yes - I’m one of the few people left who actually does this).  The  far-too-frequent ‘interludes’ just kill the flow!  

I hate interludes....I just don’t get it.  I bought your album because I want to hear your music.  Not your inane studio chatter.  

And ‘The Abstract and the Dragon’ is just filled with it.  Totally ruins the listening experience for me, to the extent that I will probably never listen to it again...

Another artist that is fond of the ‘interlude’ is one of my favorites right now: pianist Robert Glasper.  Brooklyn-based Glasper used to play piano in Maxwell’s band, and has released some straight-up jazz trio albums in the past.  Most recently, he has been fusing his jazz sensibilities with his obvious love of ‘neo-soul’ and hip-hop, recording with artists such as Mos Def, Erykah Badu, and Talib Kweli.   

photo: Erich Schlegel

His first such ‘experiment’ as a leader was 2012’s ‘Black Radio’, which won the Grammy for best R&B album.  It’s a fantastic album - interludes and all; unlike Tip and Busta, Glasper is quite skillful in how he blends the interludes into the album - without destroying the flow.  His latest album ‘Black Radio 2’ is full of killer tracks - perhaps my favorite being ‘I Stand Alone’, featuring Common and Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump.  

But guess what?  

There’s an interlude stuck right into the middle of it.  

But this one’s a doozy.  

Author Michael Eric Dyson has written - and recites - an exceptional concise piece on the development of ‘Black music’:

The irresistible appeal of Black individuality - where has all of that gone?

The very people who blazed our path to self-expression and pioneered a resolutely distinct and individual voice have too often succumbed to mind-numbing sameness and been seduced by simply repeating what we hear, what somebody else said or thought and not digging deep to learn what we think or what we feel, or what we believe

Now it is true that the genius of African culture is surely its repetition, but the key to such repetition was that new elements were added each go-round. Every round goes higher and higher. Something fresh popped off the page or jumped from a rhythm that had been recycled through the imagination of a writer or a musician. Each new installation bore the imprint of our unquenchable thirst to say something of our own, in our own way, in our own voice as best we could. The trends of the times be damned

Thank God we've still got musicians and thinkers whose obsession with excellence and whose hunger for greatness remind us that we should all be unsatisfied with mimicking the popular, rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity that God placed deep inside each of us

Brilliant stuff! 

And some crucial lesson for coaches:

On conformity: 

...‘individuality’...‘mind-numbing sameness’...‘simply repeating what we hear’...‘digging deep to learn what we feel, or what we believe’...

On the collective nature of creativity:

...‘repetition’...‘every round goers higher and higher’...‘something fresh popped...that had been recycled through the imagination’...‘each new installation bore the imprint of our unquenchable thirst to say something of our own’...‘the trends be damned’...

On passion:

...‘obsession with excellence and a hunger for greatness’...’unsatisfied with mimicking the popular, rather than mining the fertile veins of creativity’...

My take-away:

Knowledge is not simply the ability to describe something.  We must understand its being.  How it came into existence...its genesis...its growth...although we know best what we have made ourselves, we can also understand what others have made.

Knowledge is historical.  Creation is collective.  

I recently finished re-reading Leroi Jones’ classic collection of essays on jazz, 'Black Music'.  Writing on the origination and progression of the music, Jones opines: 

Using, or imitating, an idea or concept is not necessarily imitation and, of course, the converse is true; imitation is not necessarily use...Someone who sings exactly like Billie Holiday or someone who plays exactly like Charlie Parker (or as close as they can manage) produces nothing. Essentially, there is nothing added to the universe. It is as if these performers stood on a stage and did nothing at all. Ornette Coleman uses Parker only as a hypothesis (emphasis mine); his (Coleman’s) conclusions are quite separate and unique. Sonny Rollins has certainly listened quite a bit to Gene Ammons, but Rollins’ conclusions are insistently his own, and are certainly more profound than Ammons...

from cartoonist Hugh MacLeod

Don’t simply repeat what you have heard.  Be critical of everything you read.  Our predecessors' work allows us to see further and dig deeper. 

Identify the concepts common to successful coaches and programs.  Who are the coaches that innovate?  What are the innovations, and from where do they stem?  Successful coaches do not adopt innovations only when their colleagues have already done so.  They combine the most successful innovations and ideas of others, and combine them in a sensible way that meshes with their own philosophy. 

Standing on the shoulders of giants means not to blindly copy what others have done previously, but to learn from the generation that preceded yours, apply those lessons to your practice.  In your way.  Which makes sense to you.

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