Wynton Marsalis and the Lessons of Jazz

Over at Presentation Zen, design guru Garr Reynolds gives glowing praise to the book Moving to Higher Ground: How Jazz Can Change Your Life by Wynton Marsalis and Geoffrey Ward.  He also links to, and comments on, an interview with Mr. Marsalis from a few months ago.  The lessons are many and profound, but one resonated especially with me.  I will not try and do better than the words of Garr and Wynton.  Garr writes:

The lessons found in jazz — its meaning, its history and its relevance for life, business, and education — run deep and wide. It’s really quite amazing. Every student should have a good exposure to jazz (and classical music for that matter) in their education — music education is not a nicety, it’s a necessity. Organizations and schools are always talking about the need to foster creativity and innovation, the need to encourage dedication and self-discipline, and the importance of developing skills for collaboration. Yet the arts — especially jazz — teach all these things. In his book, Wynton illuminates the deep beauty that is found in jazz and why and how it’s relevant for us all. Here’s a line from Chapter seven:

“Our desire to testify through some type of art is unstoppable. A palpable energy is released when inspiration and dedication come together in a creative art. The energy is transformative in an individual who is innovative, but it is transcendent when manifested by a group. There are no words for the dynamic thrill of participating in a mutual mosaic of creativity.” – Wynton Marsalis

 I couldn’t agree more.  I sit on the board of directors of the Capitol Theatre and the Cultural Affairs and Heritage Committee for the city of Moncton, and the Advisory Board and Marketing Committee of the Capitol School of Performing Arts.  I believe that a firm grounding in some art form needs to be a part of our childrens’ school curricula and embedded in our society.  The government (theoretically) won’t let someone graduate without knowing how to read, and having “performed” the act of reading the classics of literature.  They won’t let a student go unless he’s learned math and proven it by “performing” math on a word problem.

 But yet we set loose our children into the world after high school with most of them never having played a musical instrument, written a serious poem, painted or sculpted a visual piece, acted in a drama, danced a minuet or accomplished any other form of artistic expression.  I think this is wrong and short-sighted, and that we must move from an education system that was designed (very successfully) to produce factory automatons and office drones.  The information (as opposed to industrial) age needs a process that produces creative, mold-breaking individuals.  And what teaches creativity better than the arts?



Whoa – That Was Weird

A few months ago, I opined about the whole global warming issue in this post. I sub-divided the big picture into 5 smaller questions:

1. Is it real? (Yes.)

2. Is it caused by human activity? (Yes.)

3. Is it bad? (Yes.)

4. Can we fix it? (Yes.)

5. How/when should we fix it? (Soon.)

Then, yesterday, I watched a very thought-provoking presentation on Larry Lessig’s blog about why taxpayers should fund election campaigns. You can go watch it, but beware, it’s about 40 minutes long.

The spooky part was that in the section where he talks about Al Gore’s campaign against global warming, he shows this quote:

lessig-goreI have never seen An Inconvenient Truth.  But if you switch points 4 and 5, I duplicated Mr. Gore’s asssessment of the climate change situation almost verbatim. As I said in my last post, just drop by the Nobel Prize any day next week.


Wiping Out Teen Smoking

Smoking isn’t cool.  Everyone knows that it’s bad for your health, makes you smell nasty, turns your teeth and fingers yellow, and discourages people from kissing you.  It also leaves a big mess wherever smokers congregate, and is increasingly inconvenient because of restrictions on where you may smoke.  It can also lead to addiction, which makes being unable to have a cigarette (say on a long air trip) very uncomfortable.  Even teens know all this.

So why, then, is teen smoking on the rise, even at a time when fewer adults than ever use tobacco?  Some people are blaming the tobacco companies – saying that by making flavoured cigarettes, and selling them in smaller (more affordable) quantities, they are marketing directly at teens.  These people want big tobacco to stop these practices, as well as cease all forms of marketing.  Here in New Brunswick, starting in 2009, stores that sell smokables are going to have to hide them from view.  (They already do this next door in Nova Scotia and PEI.)  And of course it’s illegal to sell smokes to a minor.

This is, of course, ridiculous.  No-one advertises marijuana or displays it in a store front and not only is it illegal to sell it to teens; it’s just plain illegal.  Yet I haven’t noticed a marked decline in pot usage despite these measures.  Making cigarettes harder to get is not going to reduce teen smoking, because as I said at the top, smoking isn’t cool.

But smokers are.

That’s why they smoke.  They are the types of people who do romantic, dangerous, edgy, prohibited, difficult things.  These are kids that skateboard down stair rails or do back flips off cliffs into the water or defy the teacher and get sent to the principal.  They are what every teen wants to be: cool.  So this predisposition to “coolness” in their personality makes them smoke, and by association, smoking itself becomes cool.   Except it’s not.  The proof of that is seen in the adult population, where willfully doing a stupid and expensive thing is NOT seen as cool, and as a result very few “cool” adults smoke.  (Think about the crowd of folks you see clustered around the butt-catcher on their coffee break when it’s -20º out — any of them look like Brad Pitt?  Didn’t think so.)

So instead of making smoking more difficult (and therefore, more desirable) for teens, let’s make smoking more available to them.  So if you’re a teen, you can have unprotected sex with your boyfriend, ski way too fast down a hill, go wakeboarding at 50 knots, do BASE jumping, or smoke a cigarette.  They’re all dangerous, they all give you a thrill, and they’re all discouraged but not (in my new model) prohibited by society.

The only thing different is that smoking is addictive and leads to long term health problems.  So let’s remove that part.  Manufacture cigarettes that don’t have any of the bad stuff in them, but look and taste just like real smokes.  And put ’em next to the Doritos at the convenience store.   And price them way lower than “adult” smokes, so only those people who are already addicted to nicotine would pay top dollar for the harmful ones.

You can drop my Nobel Prize off at the house.


Wear Your Yarmulke Today

It’s the first day of Hanukkah!


Wishing You a Merry Christmas

My posts will be infrequent over the next two weeks because of the holidays, but here’s wishing everyone a joyous and warm Christmas* and a happy and prosperous new year.

* Or whatever religious or non-religious name you have for your end-of-year shenanigans.


Winter Wonderland

Here in Canada, it occasionally snows.  It’s been a fairly regular occurrence for the last 50 or 60 million years.  It’s pretty safe to assume, even with global warming, that we can expect to see snow every winter in the foreseeable future.  Why then, can people not LEARN TO DRIVE on snowy streets?  Here’s a photo from today’s paper:


As you can see by looking at the cars’ tires, despite being reported as a “heavy” snowfall, there are only a few centimetres of snow on the ground.  Hardly enough to cause a problem for anyone with snow tires and minimal knowledge of how to drive in snow.

I posted about this on Facebook last night, and my friend Craig sent this video by Rick Mercer ranting on the subject, so I’m obviously not alone in my dismay that we, as a nation, seem to be just as dumb as the Californians who build their million dollar homes on hillsides that are completely covered with a type of plant that burns up every few years as part of its natural lifecycle.  Or people who settle in flood plains.  What are we/they thinking?

As always, when I have these little rants, I (tenuously) tie it back to the marketing theme by reminding all marketers that people are not rational.


Wholly Crap! I Didn’t Write a Post Today!

Too busy at work today, and a party to go to tonight at my friend Erik’s company, i communications.  So I’ll let someone else entertain you.  This blog is about how one person hates cute animals.  Language NSFW.


What a Great Excuse for a Party!

nyeveWhen I worked the Montréal bar scene, the three highest revenue days of the year were, in order: Super Bowl Sunday; St. Patrick’s Parade day; and New Year’s Eve.  But New Year’s Eve was the most profitable, because we charged admission.  For the other two events, most bars actually offered freebies (like Irish Coffee or live music for St. Pat’s, or complimentary chili or pizza for the Super Bowl) to entice customers.  This cut into the margins, obviously.

It also made St Pat’s and Super Bowl bar-hopping  days, when you would visit several establishments in the course of the day.  This was for three reasons: they begin in the afternoon (unlike New Year’s), so there’s more time to move around; there are no cover charges; and these events don’t usually involve getting dressed up.

New Year’s is different.  You plan to go somewhere (and stay there) for the evening, usually with a crowd of friends.  You probably put on some fancy clothes, which might make it difficult to walk around Montréal sidewalks in December.  And it’s an evening-only affair, sometimes not starting until ten or later.

So on New Year’s, you can sell tickets to pay for the “freebies” like party hats and Champagne at midnight and snack food, etc.  But this creates competition:  if you are going to commit to spending the whole evening in one place, and pay money to do so, how do you pick the right place?

Here’s my free advice to bar owners:  have a “Leap Second” event.  2008 is going to be a Leap Second year, where an additional second is added to the world’s atomic clocks to make up for the gradual slowing of the earth’s spin.  A Leap Second is different than a Leap Year, where an extra day is added every four years to account for the fact that it actually takes about 365.25 days for the earth to orbit the sun.

So you can say your bar is having TWO New Year’s Eves – one at 23:59:60 (note that you don’t usually find a number higher than 59 in the seconds column) and one at 00:00:00.  Then again, maybe explaining it all will be too complicated.  Perhaps the good ol’ free jello shots would be easier.


Wiser Imbibers

drinkers1If you’re having a slow day at the bar, with only a few customers, there are a number of reasons to try and get them to sit together instead of singly.

The first is that, unless one or more of them is a real pain in the arse, they’ll probably have a better time together than they would have apart, simply because humans tend to be social animals.

The second is that if they end up making new friends, the most logical place to get together in the future will be where they first met, i.e. your bar.  And every time they enter your bar, they’re more likely to see friends already there.

The third is purely selfish: they’ll be easier to serve than if they were spread out.

The fourth is that they’ll probably drink more – whenever the fastest drinker finishes, the natural action will be for everyone to buy a new drink.

The fifth is that they’ll be theoretically smarter.  This study done by the Higher Education Center tested people’s cognitive prowess when they were sober and drunk, both alone and in groups of four.  The people who were on their own fared considerably worse when they were drunk, but the groups showed virtually no change in their ability to perform mental challenges.  So it turns out that the adage, “You shouldn’t drink alone,” is good advice for more than one reason.


Winter Happens, Man – Deal With It

busIt would be easy to write this post from a “When I was a boy…” viewpoint, as in, “When I was a boy we had to walk 16 miles to school through 12 foot snow drifts when it was -60º and fighter planes were strafing us and Siberian tigers chased us the whole way!”  But this is too serious an issue to be flippant about.

Today, my daughter’s school district cancelled school because of “road conditions.”  The condition of the roads?  One centimeter of wet slush.  And it was raining, so even that was disappearing fast.  And the forecast temperature for today is 13º C (55º F), so it’s not like it’s going to freeze later, at the end of the school day.

Last year there were something like 9 snow days and only 1 or maybe 2 were truly warranted.  So that’s 7 days × 16,000 students × 6 hours/day = 672,000 hours of educational time that were needlessly withheld from our children.  And that’s just our school district.  Multiply that number by all the other districts and provinces.  I personally think that education is the most important challenge facing us these days, and doing less of it is not the answer.

And there’s the cost!  I don’t know how many teachers there are or what they get paid, but if we assume that they make $30 an hour and are responsible, on average, for 20 kids each, then that’s over a million bucks worth of teaching that taxpayers didn’t get what they paid for.

I don’t blame the teachers, of course.  I blame the over-cautious administrator that makes the judgement call early in the morning.  What’s going though his/her mind is, “If I cancel school today, then the worst thing that can happen is that some wacko blogger will be mad at me.  If I don’t cancel school, and FOR ANY REASON (weather-related or not) any harm comes to a child, I will be vilified and fired.”  Hmmm.  Tough choice.

But we need someone who can make that tough choice independently of their own situation.  We need someone that balances the cost to society of under-educating our future workforce, with the extremely small chance that something bad might happen.  Maybe it’s impossible for a human to make that decision rationally – maybe we need some kind of software that inputs all the meteorological data and spits out the answer.  Someone go invent that.

And I was exaggerating before – it was only 8 miles.