Creativity, Jazz, Hip-Hop and Turbulence
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Daniel Seeff is the West Coast Director of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz and host of Excursions Radio on KJazz 88.1 in LA the only hip-hop and jazz radio show in the world…we think.
He’s also a creative leader who has a finely tuned ear for connection. Daniel’s insights may be grounded in his experiences in music but they are not just for musicians. They are for anyone looking to innovate, lead a group, be creative or manage change. We explore the creative process with Daniel and how to, as he puts it, keep the tap flowing, while still pushing for excellence.
[00:00:08.170] – Rob Brodnick
Welcome to the Positive Turbulence podcast, Stories from the Periphery. Here we journey to the edge to talk to Turbulators about their experiences creating positive change.
Hi, I’m Rob Brodnick. Your cohost.
Daniel Seeff is the West Coast director of the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz and host of Excursions Radio on KJazz 88.1 in L.A., the only hip-hop and jazz radio show in the world… we think. Daniel is not only a versatile and talented musician who performs and records in a wide variety of genres, including hip-hop, jazz, R&B, rock and reggae, he has toured internationally and appeared on Grammy winning and multi-platinum albums. He’s also a creative leader who has a finely tuned ear for connection.
[00:00:48.880] – Karyn Zuidinga
Hi, I’m Karyn Zuidinga, your co-host.
Daniel’s insight’s may be grounded in his experiences in music, but they are not just for musicians. They are for anyone looking to innovate, lead a group, be creative or manage change. We explore the creative process with Daniel and how to, as he puts it, keep the tap flowing while still pushing for excellence. We connect that to his work at the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance and how through the program and those connections, they are creating a deeply rooted community of jazz in L.A. Coming up, jazz, hip-hop, creativity and leadership. But first, a word from our sponsors.
[00:01:25.500] – Sponsor Message
The Positive Turbulence podcast is brought to you by AMI, an innovation learning community that is celebrating 40 years of supporting innovation and creativity for organizations and individuals. AMI will be in Greensboro, North Carolina March 25th through 27th this year, 2020. Please join us. You can learn more at aminnovation.org. Also, we would like to thank Mack Avenue Music Group as a contributing sponsor. To hear our theme song, Late Night Sunrise, and other great music visit MackAvenue.com.
[00:02:02.740] – Rob Brodnick
What’s shifted in your world a little bit relative to what’s happening with UCLA, you’ve gone through some rebranding, some name changes and some other things.
[00:02:11.440] – Daniel Seeff
I’m a year and a half into this radio show, Excursions Radio…
[00:02:15.060] – Rob Brodnick
[00:02:15.580] – Daniel Seeff
…in Los Angeles, and it’s a hip hop and jazz radio show. And as far as I know, it’s the only hip-hop jazz radio show in the world. So I always say that it’s the only one. And then if someone comes and tells me otherwise, then I’ll deal with that. The format is I play hip-hop tracks that sampled from jazz, which there are hundreds. And then I play the original back to back.
[00:02:35.050] – Karyn Zuidinga
That’s really cool.
[00:02:36.010] – Daniel Seeff
You can kind of hear the building blocks. KJazz really would like me to bring in hip hop listeners that may be interested in jazz. And this would be their way in. Creating a means for people to find a way into a style of music they may like, but they just don’t know enough about how to get started listening to it because it’s vast and complicated world.
[00:02:54.700] – Rob Brodnick
There’s barriers to entry. You know, it’s really intimidating.
[00:02:58.450] – Daniel Seeff
Right. But if something can get you in, then you can kind of take it from there. So the idea is that the show brings people in through hip-hop and then from that they’d like jazz. I don’t know if that works or not, but I have developed somewhat of a following and get a lot of great feedback.
[00:03:13.180] – Rob Brodnick
I think it’s a good idea.
[00:03:14.790] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, it’s a cool thing to be doing. It’s gotten to the point where people are telling me, you know, friends of mine are saying I was in a bar and a guy that I didn’t know brought up your show and asked if I’d heard it. You know, so it’s sort of it’s getting out there.
[00:03:26.160] – Karyn Zuidinga
[00:03:26.570] – Daniel Seeff
As far as the institute goes, yes, we became the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz. We were the Thelonius Monk Institute up until the first of… well it’s now a year and five days that we’ve had the new name.
[00:03:37.280] – Karyn Zuidinga
So Thelonious, he’s out. Like we’re done with him now? We’ve moved on to Herbie?
[00:03:41.470] – Daniel Seeff
What happened is the Monk family wanted the name back. And so Herbie’s been the chairman for years. And the organization has, I feel, kind of grown around his philosophy. It made a lot of sense for him to take on the name. And it’s been great so far. I mean, it’s been really fantastic. And then I’m still doing lots of studio work. I’m on two albums that are up for Grammys.
[00:04:03.730] – Karyn Zuidinga
[00:04:05.050] – Rob Brodnick
That’s fantastic. Yeah. Congrats.
[00:04:07.230] – Daniel Seeff
Thank you. One is this Spider Man Into The Spider Verse Soundtrack. I wrote the music for the end theme, the end song.
[00:04:13.810] – Rob Brodnick
[00:04:14.570] – Daniel Seeff
And then the other is an album by an artist named Georgia Anne Muldrow, which was kind of a funny thing. I wrote something with a friend of mine and gave it to a producer and he kind of chopped it up and changed it. And he gave it to another producer. So, I mean, I when I heard the track and I never would have known that was me. But anyway, I’m on there somehow.
[00:04:31.180] – Karyn Zuidinga-That connectedness to the theme whenever the theme may be. And in whatever you’re doing. And I wonder if that might be a connecting thread for you between a radio show that is about hip-hop and jazz with your work at the Herbie Hancock Institute and writing music for movies. Is there a theme in that? Or am I grasping at straws?
[00:04:51.820] – Daniel Seeff
Really, the way it kind of works in the broadest way is that I work at a big jazz organization. Through working there I’ve come to study jazz. I wasn’t playing jazz prior to working there and ended up studying with this great bass player named Ron Carter, who’s the most recorded bass player in history. So I studied upright bass with him, although I don’t play that as much as I do other stuff.
And then simultaneous to that, I began working with this hip-hop producer, friend of mine in 1997, who’s been working with all this time. We’re really close friends and musical collaborators. So during the day I was doing running this jazz organization and in the evening, doing hip hop sessions. And then the radio show was sort of an outgrowth of the fact that I’ve got a foot in both of these worlds.
[00:05:32.590] – Rob Brodnick
Yeah, right. Between the two. That’s awesome. Yeah.
[00:05:35.800] – Daniel Seeff
And also because I see the common elements and I see the elements where I feel like one could benefit from the other.
[00:05:43.630] – Karyn Zuidinga
What are the elements that one could benefit from the other? Being not a hip-hop… I mean I’m familiar with the genre, but…
[00:05:49.900] – Daniel Seeff
[00:05:50.170] – Karyn Zuidinga
You will not be surprised to learn that I’m not, you know, listening to hip-hop on a regular basis.
[00:05:55.070] – Daniel Seeff
Hip-hop is so direct. I mean, the message is so direct. Like immediately upon the first listen, you get it. Jazz sometimes suffers from being a little bit meandering and not as you know. I think, you know, we could go on and on about that. But A- it’s instrumental music. So there are no words. Jazz could benefit from the directness of hip-hop. I’ll say hip-hop could benefit from some of the innovative and musical elements of jazz. Which it has. But there’s more. There’s more that can be done with that. Hip-hop artists are not ashamed to be self-promoters and the medium is made to be sold. And sometimes in jazz, there’s a little bit of a stigma about being too much of it.
So, you know, there are ways in which hip-hop can be very direct in terms of its willingness to get into the public consciousness that jazz could benefit from that as well. And again, these are just ridiculous generalizations, but whatever, I’ll make them anyway. There’s a certain humility to a lot of jazz and jazz musicians because they’re aware of the fact that it takes so much to be able to do this music and that the learning never ends. And hip hop artists and everybody could also benefit from that type of thinking. I’m all day standing next to these jazz greats. And then in the evening, I go right to the studio and work within another genre. So immediately I’m thinking like, oh, wow, this is so different than, you know. So I’m very conscious of that.
[00:07:09.900] – Rob Brodnick
Your brain is forced.
[00:07:11.480] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah. I’m also conscious of how they bleed into one another. You know, the producer I work with loves jazz as much as I do. And we spend a lot of time listening to jazz and talking about what we like. Being someone who’s into jazz and has played jazz, if I’m down there working, it’s coming into the picture just via me anyway. I’ve had the experience many, many days throughout the year to sort of do a one-to-one comparison in the same day.
[00:07:31.200] – Rob Brodnick
As you got these two balls juggling. I’m going to throw in a third ball. Let’s just pick Mozart. Back in the day, he may have been socially conscious and disruptive to a certain extent, but I’d like to offer up the idea that hip hop and jazz both are kind of turbulent, Positive Turbulence, disruptive forms of art in the present consciousness through the present day. And we talked about these kind of musical forms, both participation in the listening, all the aspects of it, as, you know, a little bit of disruption and turbulence. So if I make that proposition and now that you have Mozart in the air with the other two balls, I’m trying to paint a vivid picture of what’s happening here. Maybe respond to that.
[00:08:09.480] – Daniel Seeff
For jazz, I would say it’s got a certain sort of underground status and has in a way for a long time, I guess probably since be-bop, I guess. Because prior to that, when it was touring big band groups, and people would come in, it was sort of popular music. Then I think starting in the 50s, it’s sort of there’s a rebellious nature to it.
[00:08:28.450] – Rob Brodnick
[00:08:28.830] – Daniel Seeff
You know, it’s got a sort of an anti mainstream strain to it. And I would say a lot of the jazz musicians I know today probably feel that. They feel like they’re sort of on a different track than the mainstream. When it’s at its best, it’s sort of challenging. It’s challenging listener by doing things that are — New York jazz musicians always talk about pushing, they’re always like, we got you know, we’re pushing, this guys pushing. Meaning that they’re trying to push the music in some direction that it hasn’t been in yet. Or pushing against the confines of what’s expected in that way it’s got built into it. I mean, being around it all the time, I have so many thoughts on it. But it’s a very tricky thing because you’ve got about a hundred years of music you have to learn to be competent.
And there are different feelings about that. Because I don’t necessarily feel like you need to know every single style to be great at it because some of the greats didn’t. Miles Davis didn’t play every single style. He played trumpet a particular way, although it changed. But it wasn’t like he was this sort of encyclopedic trumpet player that was like, I can do this. I can do that. At a certain point, people pick their lane. Regardless of that, you do have to have a lot of information to be able to do it well. At that point, you have to sort of do something personal to you.
Actually, Al Jarreau, the singer, came and taught at the institute one time and he said that to the students. He said it’s the only style of music where they say learn a hundred years of music, now, what do you have to add to it? I mean, that’s a big undertaking. It’s a difficult thing to do. And then the next layer is, can you do that in a way that connects to a lot of people? And that you’re not just playing to your peers, or just playing in a way that’s sort of checking the boxes of what you learned in college. When it’s at its best it does that. When it’s at its best, it leads, it grabs people’s attention and takes you in some sort of new direction, does something really creative.
Hip-hop does that in its own way as well. More probably, lyrically and in terms of style. And there’s always been socially conscious hip-hop, although the popularity of that sort of waxes and wanes. But when it’s there and it’s happening, it sort of leads the way in that way. I think in the making of both of them, they both have elements of Positive Turbulence. But in the creation in jazz, you’ve got a group of people that stand together and make a group of sounds together, and that can only be done by listening to one another. And it’s constructed so that there’s some prepared material and then a huge open space for spontaneous material. And the best way that works is if everybody is listening and responding to one another, it’s not a pre-plan. It’s not, you know, reading of speech. It’s set up so that there’s a 50 to whatever, 75 percent of it is spontaneous it’s improvised.
Hip-hop, there is a strain of improvised hip-hop, freestyling. And there’s a guy that I’ve worked with before named Supernatural, who’s the sort of number one genius of freestyling. He’s closest to a jazz musician, probably as a MC, as a rapper. Most of it’s written. But in the creation of it, having been in the studio on a lot of albums, there is a lot of this kind of spontaneous, kind of improvisational stuff, being done in the making of a record. You know, I mean, people are kind of shooting ideas back and forth and, you know, it’s sort of in this like stew, in this soup that’s being stirred up and then suddenly there’s a finished product.
[00:11:23.820] – Karyn Zuidinga
I suspect that feels very similar to the creative process that I’ve been a part of in the past, creating solutions for software.
[00:11:32.580] – Daniel Seeff
[00:11:33.440] – Karyn Zuidinga
You start with a group of people in a room. And we want to solve this problem. How do we do it? We don’t make beautiful music out of it, but hopefully we make great software out of that same coming together. And sometimes really great things come out of that process. And sometimes less so.
[00:11:49.020] – Daniel Seeff
Right. Sure. There’s a great producer named Rick Rubin who formed Def Jam and produced the Beastie Boys and Jay-Z and all these different artists. And I saw a great interview with him recently where he said… someone was like, how do you write great music? How do you write a great song? He said, you have to write. He said, there’s no guarantee you’re going to write anything great or it’s going to be usable in any context, but you have to be doing it all the time. So if you get together with someone, you write 20 songs, maybe out of that something will come. So you can’t dictate the outcome, but you can start the work and make a goal to complete it, whatever it is. If you don’t reach your result, do it as many times as you need to do it to get to that result.
And there’s no guarantee that even then you’ll get your result. One thing is guaranteed you won’t get the result if you don’t take the steps to actually produce some kind of material. So you have to be making something. To do this kind of thing you do making something all the time. People are like, well, do you wait for inspiration to strike? If you’re writing for 10 hours, you’ll be writing when the inspiration strikes. If you’re sitting, not writing and waiting for it to strike and then you’re gonna start writing. Forget about it. I mean, like, you’ve got to be doing it all the time.
[00:12:48.560] – Rob Brodnick
It reminds me of the Edison quote when he was talking about innovation being 99 percent perspiration and only 1 percent of that genius idea.
[00:12:56.950] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, and I agree.
[00:12:57.950] – Rob Brodnick
Its constant work, constant work.
[00:12:59.100] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, yeah, yeah.
[00:13:00.680] – Karyn Zuidinga
I was struck by that sense of you got to be doing it all the time. That’s a lot, especially when you don’t feel like you have it. There’s a struggle, I suspect in there when you’re feeling kind of meh.
[00:13:11.060] – Daniel Seeff
You have to trick yourself into doing it.
[00:13:12.560] – Karyn Zuidinga
So what do you do to trick myself?
[00:13:14.300] – Daniel Seeff
I mean, you just do something different every time. I mean, I had a conversation with the producer I’ve been working with since 97 is a guy named Khalil Abdul Rahman, who’s a great artist and producer. There was a time that we were working on a bunch of stuff and very little of it was making it to the finish line. And I told him I was like, man, this is really hard just doing this all the time and not seeing anything come out of it. And he’s like, we’re practicing. He’s like, we’re practicing sso when a big opportunity comes, we’re in the best shape possible. That was good. That carried me along until the next success. You just need something to carry you along to the next success. You know what I mean?
[00:13:44.220] – Karyn Zuidinga
Yeah. You need maybe some small wins.
[00:13:47.640] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah! And if you don’t have small wins, you need people around you that will convince you to keep going. People I know they’re doing it. We commiserate about it. It’s like, man, I’ve been working on this thing and I can’t. You know, you’re not getting it where you want it. And they said, well, why do you give it another week? You just need to find something to keep the engine running until the next thing that sort of naturally progresses.
[00:14:06.200] – Rob Brodnick
The parallels to the innovation and the organizational change process are significant. You know, in Positive Turbulence, we talk about looking to the periphery. What’s around you becomes ordinary and maybe not producing the best results.
[00:14:19.240] – Daniel Seeff
[00:14:19.340] – Rob Brodnick
Look outside of the space you’re in, find something that’s like incredibly novel and just like turn that around a little bit and all of a sudden, you know, something is going to come out of it. Even if it’s another piece that gets shuffled to the shelf.
[00:14:32.870] – Daniel Seeff
[00:14:33.200] – Rob Brodnick
It’s that process. It’s it’s a lot of hard work, but you need constant inspiration along the way.
[00:14:38.270] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, that’s true. That’s true. And I do think that having stuff that you do that may not seem directly related to the core thing that you’re doing is helpful. I find that when I’m working on something, working on a song with someone, or working on a recording with someone, and I get offered some unusual gig that I take just kind of on a whim doing some music that I don’t know or a style that I’m not familiar with. And I have to learn that I’m really just doing it for fun.
That will, surprisingly, some element of that will bring something new into the picture. You know, I mean? And I I’ll think, boy I’m glad I spent time learning that music. I never would have thought that that would sort of pay off in that way. Sometimes that’s easier than being sort of uni-focused on something where you start to kind of narrow your view to the point where the creativity seems to kind of dry up.
[00:15:22.120] – Karyn Zuidinga
It seems to me there are two things going on here. One is that I think sometimes we get too narrowly focused and we don’t look outside of our little world enough.
[00:15:29.570] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, yeah that’s true.
[00:15:29.600] – Karyn Zuidinga
And two, I think that we’re perhaps less willing than you as a musician, willing to say, oh, that doesn’t work yet. That’s feels really hard to me.
[00:15:39.800] – Daniel Seeff
It is. It is. That’s tricky. That’s something that you deal with when you’re creating music with people. I think of doing creative stuff with people like turning on a faucet and you want to keep the faucet on and the water flowing out of the faucet. Anything you do that gums that up is anti- your goal. Being overly critical of another person’s idea and then they kind of shut down. They may have a ton of good ideas, but now you’ve just kind of made them insecure about sharing. And now you’re basically you’re turning the faucet off.
So you have to find ways to sort of trick yourself and the whole group into being the most open you can to get the most ideas out. But then you also have to find a fair way of moving away from ideas that may not work. And that’s another thing I keep mentioning, Kahlil, but I’ve just been working with him for so long and I’ve learned a lot from him. He never says that’s a bad idea. Someone will say, oh, I got an idea for a bridge of a song. And he’ll say, cool, let’s check it out. Even if he doesn’t think it’s a good idea, he lets the person get the idea all the way out, listens to it, then it’ll be like, why don’t we try a different kind of… You know, he doesn’t, there’s never a negative. There’s never no.
You want to keep that person on the output mode so you don’t want to do anything that’s going to make them kind of tense up. Let them get the idea out and then say, hey, let’s try something else. In a way that you’re encouraging the group to all look for a different solution. A thing that’s always brought up in songwriting, especially is let’s see if we can beat that. You know, I got a bridge for a song. Let’s see if we can beat that. Meaning like, let’s just see if there’s something better out there that we can all agree on is an improvement on what we’ve got. If not, you live with the one you’ve got.
[00:17:05.610] – Rob Brodnick
It’s like the Yes…And phrase we use all the time.
[00:17:08.590] – Daniel Seeff
[00:17:09.740] – Rob Brodnick
It’s positive affirmation, but there’s more. And let’s give it a twist. Let’s change a little bit and let’s just see where it goes rather than shutting it down, because then you’re turning into faucet off.
[00:17:19.450] – Daniel Seeff
Exactly. And okay, so that ties back in exactly to what we were just talking about. Years ago, kind of on a whim, I took the Groundlings course, which is an improv comedy group here in L.A. Groundlings is like, Will Ferrell came out of Groundings, I think Kristen Wiig, a lot of lot of SNL actors. And that was so valuable for music stuff because it’s… Yes…And is their like, that’s the foundation of their entire thing. You improvise a scene. Someone says, I just came from the Department of Motor Vehicles and the person behind the desk was an octopus. And you say, yes and there have been more octopuses around in service positions in the last year. You know, you just. Whatever it is, you take it and you go with the next thing.
And in that class, I would always think like, God, I wish I could bring some of the students of the institute here to see this, because all these principles are really, would be really well applied in jazz, and I’d say in the studio work that I do. But I feel like in a funny way, sometimes some of the stuff I’m talking about happens more naturally in these record making situations I’ve been in.
[00:18:19.150] – Karyn Zuidinga
[00:18:20.110] – Daniel Seeff
I mean, there’s a difference. I’m working in a situation where it’s all professionals that have been working in that field for a long time. Where the students at the institute are more at the early part of their careers, a little bit less experienced.
[00:18:30.280] – Karyn Zuidinga
So let’s back it up, actually. We haven’t really talked about the institute much. So the Herbie… give me the full name of the institute, please.
[00:18:36.490] – Daniel Seeff
It’s the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz. And it’s a non-profit that was established in 1986 as the Thelonious Monk Institute of Jazz. And we have a whole variety of different programs. We do an annual event called International Jazz Day that is a partnership with UNESCO. We have a competition that’s sometimes on the East Coast, sometimes on the West Coast. That’s a different instrument every single year. And there’s a panel of renowned people on that instrument who select a winner and that person gets a scholarship and a record deal. And then we have a whole series of high school programs around the country.
Out of the West Coast office the main program is the Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance, which is what I’m responsible for. There’s a application process where we have an application online. It’s very challenging. And we get about 150 applicants, 30 of them are selected to fly to Los Angeles and audition for Herbie Hancock and other heavyweight jazz musicians. And then they select one band to study on a full scholarship for two years. And it’s a master’s program. So for two years, they all work together as a band and they study with different artists that we bring in on a monthly basis. People that we bring in are sort of like the cast of living greats in jazz. So each month they’re getting to interact with some hero of theirs that they grew up listening to. And learning from them throughout the course of the week. And then they graduate. After two years, they receive a masters from UCLA in music.
And we’ve had a lot of very successful graduates who are out there now, you know, in jazz and on Blue Note Records and touring and winning awards. And we’ve sort of seeded the jazz community around the world. And I would say actually we really plant a lot of seeds here in Los Angeles. Because we bring these musicians from all over the world to be part of this program. They study with all these greats and about 50 percent of them stay here. We sort of built up this foundation of great jazz musicians that now live here and they all play with one another. Like people from different classes play with one another.
Once they get in, they’re not paying anything. It’s a scholarship. They’re studying with the greatest jazz musicians in the world. And we also provide housing and a living stipend. So I just mentioned someone else at UCLA who asked about the application process. He had the same reaction, he’s like, oh, my God, you make them audition for those guys. I said, if we’re going to award them with this unbelievable experience, then they have to do something to earn it first. As I would expect someone would do for me if I you know, if someone’s going to give you this incredible thing, I would expect them to make me do the most impossible thing to achieve it.
[00:20:55.810] – Karyn Zuidinga
Tell me about these students. I guess largely young people must be, what, in their 20s?
[00:21:01.420] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, mostly in their 20s. Some some in the early 30s. They’re incredible. I mean, that was a very interesting thing, because when I started my involvement with the college program, I was a musician. I was not playing any jazz. And I played mostly guitar. Now I play mostly bass. I was amazed at the ability of all these students in the program. When I began, I was about the same age as the students in the program.
You know, I remember asking the bass player, because I was just starting to play bass, I said, well, how often do you practice? He said, Well, now I don’t practice as much as I used to. But, you know, at the peak of my practicing, I was practicing 7 hours a day. To meet someone in their 20s that has made a decision to do something that’s going to be a challenge, maybe they don’t know how much of a challenge it will be at first, but to do this incredibly challenging thing, devote them to a style of music that involves studying stuff that starts in the 20s, and goes up to the 60s, and now beyond. And is going to put in that type of time seven hours a day. I was amazed.
[00:21:54.450] – Rob Brodnick
Daniel, I saw you with your student band.
[00:21:57.990] – Daniel Seeff
Right. The last group.
[00:22:00.110] – Rob Brodnick
In a performance setting. And I remember you went around and picked the person out. We may have had, I don’t know, seven or eight performers in the room. And you named a song and a style of music.
[00:22:12.200] – Daniel Seeff
[00:22:12.370] – Rob Brodnick
And they just… they went into that. And, you know, I work with a lot of grad students, master level courses, and I can’t imagine any course I’ve ever taught or topic where I could call one of the students out and say, stand up, now, give an oratory about this topic, but we’re going do it in a different style. It blew me away.
[00:22:33.530] – Daniel Seeff
[00:22:34.440] – Rob Brodnick
To support your point that there’s some real special people doing this kind of thing. Eventually I’m going to get to a question about leadership, but I’m going to save it.
[00:22:45.500] – Daniel Seeff
To elaborate on what you’re saying, to be a functional jazz musician, you’ve got to have about three hundred tunes. That’s the jazz terminology for songs, compositions, memorized. And not only do you have to have them memorized, you have to be prepared to walk into a situation and with about 30 seconds of conversation, get up and play it in whatever way is being asked of you. So that when you walk in, and the singer says, well, I want to play Fly Me to the Moon, but I’m going to do it in a different key than you’re used to and do it in G flat. And we’re going to also change it so that there’s seven beats every measure, you know. And then you just have to be like, okay, cool. Get up and do it at the level that if it was recorded, it could live on an album for a hundred years. I don’t know any other style of music or really any other thing that requires that type of skill.
And I’ve worked in it. I’m functional to a degree. I’m not like the students in the institute, but I’m still in awe and have just the utmost respect for anyone that can do that. And I know what it takes to do it. I know the type of sort of single-minded commitment it takes to do it. So I’m you know, my hat is off to anyone who is capable of that.
Another element of it that I don’t see in too many other places is that there’s this incredible multi-generational element. Where people starting in their 20s are studying with people that may be in their 80s. And in American culture, especially compared to Asian culture, my wife is Taiwanese, doesn’t have a built in thing of obligatory respect for elders. In jazz it absolutely exists. The understanding walking in is that these people have the information, and we have to defer to them, and be as respectful of them, and ask for them to share that with us. And then you can go into a jazz club and see onstage a 23 year old, and a 60 year old, and an 80 year old, and then a 19 year old on drums. And that’s just a common thing. And again, I don’t know of any other area. I mean, OK. Here’s another example. There’s another place where hip-hop could learn from jazz. There isn’t sometimes that same respect for previous generations as as much as there could be.
[00:24:41.360] – Rob Brodnick
Good point. Yes
[00:24:42.560] – Karyn Zuidinga
It’s all new all the time.
[00:24:44.070] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah. Because it’s you know, it’s. Yeah, that’s the thing. It’s the race to be whatever the next cool thing is and kind of catch the attention of the public. Jazz has that element as well, but with a heavy dose of respecting previous generations and their knowledge and wisdom and what they know from their years of experience.
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[00:25:32.630] – Rob Brodnick
Thinking about, okay, I’ll bring up the word structure, I’m going to come back to Mozart, there’s a requirement and it’s a note for note timing. The symphony leader, they lead this and they’ve got to get it right. If it if it misses the mark, you know, to the ear of the aficionado, it’s going to be less of a recording because there was a perfect in the past. OK, so structured in that sense. For jazz, there’s structure in that there’s moments of structure, but then there’s moments of non-structure and there’s a structure in that. So, let me open that door for you to take it further because I’ve reached my limit.
[00:26:05.410] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah. For the most part the structure of jazz is that everybody plays a melody together at the beginning and everyone plays a melody together at the end. And then in between each musician gets to take a turn improvising. But while they’re improvising, they’re improvising over the same structure that the melody is based on. So the structure is twelve measures with a certain set of chords that’s continuing in a loop underneath each person’s solo and they each have a chance to play over that loop any number of times, maybe three times, five times. It sort of depends on how fast the tune is and how many people there are to play, etc..
That’s like the quickest basic way that a lot of jazz functions, not all of it. That formula is built in with room for personal creativity. We know we got to play this melody the beginning. We know we got to play at the end. Even within that, one guy could be like, I’m going to split off and play the harmony just because I feel like it. And I think it’s going to sound good. If it works, it worked. If it didn’t, they don’t do it again. They don’t do it at the end. Okay, we’ll try that on the way out. Maybe I’ll actually drop out, let the other guy play the melody and play a little embellishment in between, you know. Same thing didn’t work. I won’t do it on it at the end. But in between they each have a chance while they’re playing the melody and while they’re improvising everybody that’s continuing to play like the drummer or the bass player. The piano player can change what they’re doing. If the new soloist come on to play and the piano player thinks I’m going to change my pattern to play this because it’s going make him do something different. They get into something. You know what I mean? So there’s all this…
[00:27:33.240] – Rob Brodnick
Responsiveness happening during the making of the music.
[00:27:37.560] – Daniel Seeff
Yes! Yes! They all know that they’re going to hit the endpoint together. They’re gonna wrap it up. They’re going to bookend it with the melody and get the end to sort of restate the main theme and be like, here’s where we started, here’s where we’re ending blah blah blah. But then there’s all a whole world of jazz where that doesn’t happen. All other types of formats, they all play a melody at the end. And then all hell breaks loose and they could do whatever they want. You know what I mean? And end wherever they want, you know. But they have to listen each other and try to make it feel like it’s got some kind of a shape.
There’s varying degrees of openness to it. And I feel like all those degrees have been really well explored. You know? And will continue to be where you’ve got groups that are real set to the point where I know stories of some famous jazz musicians that basically after several takes in the studio, were kind of writing out their solos for people like, well, I like your first phrase on this, so play that. So this record you’re hearing is a lot less improvised than than you’d think. All the way over to we’re gonna get onstage and with no material and just go and everything in between. It’s set up in that way to expect the individual to bring their ideas to the table.
[00:28:40.140] – Rob Brodnick
That’s my cue for leadership. I’m ready to go a little bit now. So in the modern organization versus maybe the historical machine organization, leadership is driven from the top within boundaries and structure and individuals are replaceable cogs. All of that kind of stuff. There’s still a lot of companies that run that way today. They’re having a tough time of it. I think. Our conditions now require a better responsiveness, individual creativity. We have a lot of changing conditions around us. So when I think about the structure of jazz relative to leadership, does everyone get a chance to lead? And how how does that happen? How does that get communicated? What’s inside the live performance?
[00:29:21.570] – Daniel Seeff
I would say there’s a couple ways to think about that. When performance is happening in a lot of ways, the person that’s soloing is leading for that, the length of their solo. So even if it’s somebody else’s band, it’s you know, I’m trying to think whoever it would be. [Let’s use] Branford Marsalis’ band. When the piano player is playing Branford is not playing. The piano player is soloing and he’s interacting with the bass player and the drummer in kind of in a way he’s leading in that moment. Then when Branford comes back on, he’s leading. Now, if he’s [Branford] a leader of that band, he’s going make certain decisions about what the material is, what performances they’re going do, any kind of global creative ideas about how they’re going to approach the music.
So I do think that the best examples — I’m a big Miles Davis fan and especially of the group that Herbie Hancock and Wayne Shorter were in, which was his 60s group. I think that group to me best exemplifies what jazz can be because of the way it sort of was put together, in the music they played, in the recordings, the live recordings and the studio recordings, which are all pretty different from one another. At the end of the day, Miles Davis had to make the final decision about what music was going to be played. And even sort of coaxing the band into doing certain things to get the most out of them. I was talking to a friend of mine about that last night. We were saying that we feel that he, in some ways, tricked the band into doing certain things that they wouldn’t have done on their own. By putting them on kind of an uneven footing to get them to respond a certain way.
The last thing he wanted was for anyone to play pre-prepared material. He wanted as much of it to be spontaneous as possible. So to do that, I feel like he did. You know, this is me saying this after listening to a lot of outtakes and reading a lot, talking to Herbie Wayne Shorter and Ron Carter. I wasn’t there, but I’ve tried to do my homework on it. That he [Miles Daivs] tried to pull the rug out from under them so that he could elicit from them something they wouldn’t do if they were in their comfort zone.
[00:31:11.950] – Rob Brodnick
That’s a little Positive Turbulence right there.
[00:31:14.410] – Daniel Seeff
[00:31:15.730] – Karyn Zuidinga
Or is that a it of negative turbulence?
[00:31:18.780] – Rob Brodnick
I don’t know. It sounded really good.
[00:31:23.000] – Daniel Seeff
But see, this is the interesting thing. On the sessions, Herbie said they felt very uncomfortable. He said we would come out of those sessions just feeling like, God, we didn’t get anything done. None of that’s going be usable. Then these records came out and they’re classics. So that’s another interesting thing. Are people that are involved in the creation, is their feeling about it the most important thing? Or is the feeling of thousands of others who absorb that and are influenced by it and feel uplifted by it? Is that more important?
And I’m not saying there is an answer to that, but it’s a very interesting thing. That if you have a favorite movie and you find out that the actor that made the movie hated making that movie, but you love the movie. So what’s that? What’s the priority the way the person making it felt or the way that people you know? So that’s another sort of interesting thing to think about.
That is an example, I think, of Positive Turbulence. My observation is that there does need to be, at the end of the day, a final person to yay or nay what’s being discussed in the group. I think without that, it’s very hard to get to the finish line.
[00:32:20.180] – Rob Brodnick
Yeah. I mean, sheer chaos is pure non-structure. You need a little little bit of a catalyst in there to just, you know, bring it all together.
[00:32:27.940] – Daniel Seeff
I think where the sort of degrees can vary is in how much micromanaging the leader does. If the leader wants to get down into every single detail and dictate that it’s going to go down in their style, then the people really are interchangeable. You know, then what’s the difference being person A person and B? They’re just gonna be following orders anyway. If the leader is… another thing my friend and I talked about last night is that Miles was willing to put together a group where he didn’t know it was going to happen.
And he was okay being uncomfortable with it. He was okay being like, I don’t know what these guys are going to do when it comes time for my solo. Maybe I’m going to sound terrible because I’ve given them so much free rein to do what they want. You know, that’s a leadership style style that takes a lot of courage because you got to be willing to look bad in front of the people that are that are working for you, so to speak. You’ve got to be willing to fail and be able to justify to yourself, well, I failed because I wanted to try something new and I’m going to keep failing until that results in something new, you know, and be okay. Not say, okay, I failed we’re going to go back to this strict structure. I mean, that it takes a certain amount of guts to move forward like that because you have to be okay being afraid, basically.
[00:33:36.080] – Rob Brodnick
Wise lessons from jazz to the world of leadership, without a doubt.
[00:33:40.080] – Daniel Seeff
That’s what I’m saying. I really do feel like there are things that can be learned when it’s being done well in jazz. There’s a lot to be learned from that that is applicable to everything, relationships, business, whatever.
[00:33:51.280] – Karyn Zuidinga
It struck me that it comes down to so much about, not just the leader, but the people on the team.
[00:33:57.220] – Daniel Seeff
[00:33:57.850] – Karyn Zuidinga
Everybody’s trusting everybody that whatever’s going on here is okay.
[00:34:01.930] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, that’s right.
[00:34:02.180] – Karyn Zuidinga
And that if the leader is, quote unquote, failing, that’s okay, too. We’re not all going to go to hell in a handcart right now.
[00:34:09.130] – Daniel Seeff
[00:34:09.430] – Karyn Zuidinga
When the team doesn’t have that kind of trust, it can feel that way.
[00:34:12.360] – Daniel Seeff
[00:34:12.820] – Rob Brodnick
Good leadership requires good followership, I believe. And you need to know when to just sit back and listen and watch and realize that any moment you’re going to be the leader again.
[00:34:23.890] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, that’s right.
[00:34:24.780] – Rob Brodnick
In complex, really turbulent environments, that’s how successful leadership works. I hear it in the music and I love to watch live jazz performances because I can actually see the visual cues that I can’t see when I’m listening to the music. You know, just amazing.
[00:34:40.120] – Daniel Seeff
And the leader in those situations. Karyn, to your point, may have to encourage the people that are working for them to be comfortable with the situation because the people might say, like, I don’t know, you know, you’re sort of creating this blah, blah, blah. And that leader might have to say, you know, go for it, do your thing. If it doesn’t work out, don’t sweat it.
Actually, Herbie used to say that Miles would say, let me take care of the audience. He was like, you guys do your thing. I’ll take care of the audience. In performance, that would be the fear of failure that you alienate the audience, that the audience is bored and leaves, that they don’t want to come back. Next time, the next show is empty. Guys don’t make any money. You know, those are the kind of concerns of a performer. And they had a leader that was like, you guys go nuts and I’ll take care of them. Which to Miles meant as much about wearing a slick suit, standing onstage a certain way, playing familiar material. Everyone associated him with My Funny Valentine. I’ve heard that the band didn’t want to have to play that every single night, but he would say, if we want to do what we want to do, we’ve got to give them something they want. That leadership style can also involve making the people on the team feel safe enough to be risk takers. And to say to them that, hey, I as the leader, I’m going to step back and allow for a little bit of madness here just to see what we can get out of it.
[00:35:51.170] – Karyn Zuidinga
I also heard a really interesting thing around compromise. How Miles would say I’ll take care of the audience. So it was okay I’m going to play for them, I’m going to give them something accessible that they can understand and relate to and familiar with and know. And in so doing, I’m going to create space for us to do a whole bunch of other things. And I think there’s a leadership lesson in there, too. Around balance and around compromise and around opening. It’s okay to do really far out creative things, but you have to give the people you’re doing it for a safe place also.
[00:36:21.350] – Daniel Seeff
That’s right. Well if Miles was a corporate leader. He would say, look, our customers know our product and we need to give them this element of it. That’s the thing that they value the most. If we give that to them, we’re buying ourselves space to do a bunch of other stuff. You know, I mean, it’s an olive branch. It’s like saying like, we know you want this thing. We’ll give you then. But since we’re giving you that, we’d like you to come with us and be part of this part that you’re not familiar with.
[00:36:44.960] – Karyn Zuidinga
Yeah. Very cool.
[00:36:47.210] – Daniel Seeff
I’m learning that in doing my radio show. I actually I got a long email from a listener last night outlining what he thought works and doesn’t work. And he said, I hope you don’t mind me being direct. I don’t, because there are people who pay for that. They’re companies who pay for, you know, marketing stuff, in what their patrons think of their product. This guy is just giving it to me. So I’m like, sure, I’ll take it and be as direct and harsh as you want. But I read through it and he said, he had all these points about what he thinks the audience likes. What keeps his friends coming back and listening. And he could tell when I knew a lot about certain artists and when I didn’t. And he said, you know, your passion shines through when it’s artists that you seem to know a lot about. And that’s what keeps us engaged. He said, when you don’t know as much about it you seem to skim the surface. And that would be maybe a good time for you to bring in an expert so that we could get that. I’m getting this feedback to see what what I need to hand them to keep them engaged. That can buy me some space to do what I might want to do.
[00:37:41.510] – Karyn Zuidinga
Yeah, that’s really cool.
[00:37:43.200] – Rob Brodnick
I’m thinking about the development of the young jazz artist. These qualities that we’re talking about are not common. They’re hard to develop. If you were to go to a management training program, you probably wouldn’t be taught this stuff. I think everyone should be a jazz performer before they try to become a manager. Is it selection? Do you only pick the people destined for greatness that have these abilities either pre developed or baked in? Or are there things that you can do? How do you develop the young artist to be present in that stage and to take on the leadership? Any tricks or tips? Because you do this and you do it extremely well.
[00:38:19.640] – Daniel Seeff
What happens in our process is that the panel is looking for signs of people that have something individual that have chosen an individual approach. So it’s funny when we’re talking about this stuff, they’re looking for signs of the sort of DNA of what we’re talking about. If someone improvises a certain way that feels unique and feels personal and you’re watching, even their body language just feels like this is like a message coming out of this person. It’s so specific to them. They’ve already made a choice to veer off of the safe route because they’re not going to sit down like I’m going to memorize everything John Coltrane did. And when I go to play a solo, it’s basically gonna be bits of stuff I learned from him. That’s safe. And it would work, you know, that that would be a safe way to approach it. It’s like you could get up there and that would please a lot of people. It wouldn’t change the course of the music in any way. But it would be a safe choice and it would be a functional choice and it would be effective. And you might be able to make a career out of it, but you might plateau at some point.
[00:39:11.690] – Rob Brodnick
Right. You can only do that for so long.
[00:39:14.190] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah. And I’d also be hesitant to criticize someone who took that approach because maybe there’s a place for that. Maybe people want to go see that. And if it satisfies an audience, that’s probably okay. But the attempt of what we’re trying to do at the Institute is find people who are trying to carve their own path. At the audition the panel is looking for these little signs, these little granules of… okay that person seems to be really making their own choices in a specific way.
There was an audition where a student was in the audition and, you know, we call certain tunes from the play. So I said, well, why you play this? And he said, What tempo? And Herbie said, well, that tune you called, to me, is like that tune you called is normally played at a fast tempo. We’ve already heard a bunch of fast tempos. And the musician said, oh, we don’t need to play it fast. And just without anything went into it slow. And this composition is never played slow. And Herbie was so impressed. And when he left, he’s like, I like him. He saw what was needed. You know, you called the tune. I said I didn’t want it fast. He thought okay, let’s do it a completely different way.
So they’re looking for signs and it could be something as small as that. Just sort of taking leadership at a moment, actually, and then put them together in a room for two years and bringing all these great artists who basically will sort of fan the flames of that part of them. Rather than, maybe they go into another environment where that sort of gets ground out of them. The environment is just saying that you’re trying to do your own thing, we don’t really need your own thing. We need you to do the job. Just stick, stick to what we expect on your instrument. Do that. And all that other stuff is you could do that on your own time as a hobby. In this program the idea is everyone that comes in is saying, yes, bring that out. I mean, bring that out so that by the time they’re out of the program, we hope they have formed that into something really solid. And they have the confidence to stand up and say, this is what I do.
[00:40:54.100] – Rob Brodnick
You’re looking three to five years out in your world. Some of the things that are inspiring you. Where do you see some of your future investment of your time and energy, either around a particular project that’s fascinating or maybe how you keep yourself inspired?
[00:41:08.800] – Daniel Seeff
The radio show is the newest thing for me. I’m really enjoying developing that. Working on records. I’m not so connected with an audience per se. Because if I played bass or guitar or wrote a song, the artist is the person that the people buying that record will be familiar with. And there’s no way for me to get any direct feedback. They’re really relating to the artist. And I’ve been to concerts where people are playing something I wrote. And it’s really gratifying to stand in the audience and people cheer when the song starts.
But the fun thing about the radio thing is I literally have people email me directly and say, Hey, I love what you did on the show. Would you consider doing more blah blah blah? And I’m totally open to whatever it is that they want to hear. I have certain goals with the show. I want to share music that I love with people. I want to point out some interesting stuff about how the music was made and how it connects to other music, things that they may not have thought of before. I love bringing on guests and talking to them about things.
And I’ve learned a lot from talking to the guests, things that I wouldn’t have thought of. The nice thing is that if somebody says, hey, do a show on this. This artist is cool, I’ll do it. I’m totally willing to go with what they’re interested in, because if it fits into the sort of overall format of the show, let’s do it. I’m down. Let’s go. And then if they have criticisms, I want to hear those, too. It doesn’t get in the way of what I’m trying to do. For me to adjust it, to make it something that they feel is going to be more fun for them to listen to.
[00:42:27.250] – Rob Brodnick
What’s the format of your show? When are you on? How do people find it?
[00:42:31.420] – Daniel Seeff
Thursdays from 10 to midnight on KJazz, 88.1 in Los Angeles. If you don’t live in Los Angeles, you can listen on KKJZ.org and it plays live. But also two shows stay up on the Web site. My last two shows stay up and then it rotates. People can listen that way. I know I have people listening outside of Los Angeles, I get messages from Oregon and everywhere.
[00:42:55.030] – Karyn Zuidinga
Thank you to AMI, who have nurtured us in developing this podcast, is the source of so many of our guests. And of course, the founder, Stan Gryskiewicz, is also the author of the original book and dare I say, the Herbie Hancock of Positive Turbulence.
[00:43:08.410] – Rob Brodnick
Stay tuned for our Positive Turbulence Moment, where we take a minute to look at Daniel’s experience working on the closing theme for Oscar winning animated feature film Spider-Man: Into the Spider Verse.
[00:43:20.230] – Sponsor Message
AMI as a pioneering non-profit organization comprised of committed individuals who foster and leverage creativity and innovation in organizations and society. AMI identifies leading edge innovation, shares experiences, sponsors research and recognizes innovation and creative processes. Find out more at aminnovation.org And thank you to Mack Avenue Music Group our contributing sponsor, for providing our podcast soundtrack, Late Night Sunrise.
[00:43:48.340] – Rob Brodnick
And here’s our Positive Turbulence moment.
[00:43:50.780] – Karyn Zuidinga
The Spider Man closing theme touches my heart because back in the day when my son was a small kid, I would sing him the old Spider Man theme…
[00:44:00.280] – Karyn Zuidinga
Spider Man, Spider Man does whatever a spider can…
[00:44:01.620] – Daniel Seeff
Spider Man, Spider Man does whatever a spider can…
[00:44:03.610] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah, sure, of course
[00:44:04.840] – Karyn Zuidinga
As a bedtime song, and he loved it. And Spider Man was his guy.
[00:44:10.510] – Daniel Seeff
Me too. Actually, Spider Man was my guy! And this may sound weird. I don’t even know if the producer that I work with would agree with this. But when he asked me to write some music for this, I really felt like I was the right guy to do it because I grew up on Spider-Man and I felt that I could come up with something musically. That…
[00:44:28.110] – Rob Brodnick
That feeling! Yeah
[00:44:29.230] – Daniel Seeff
Yeah. That it got the feeling of him swinging across the city with the web, you know, like I know that really well. So I would come up with a riff and I’d be like, nah, that doesn’t quite sound very Spider Man-ish. And so, you know, I like you know, if I been a character, I don’t know. I don’t know how well I would have done it. So, yeah, I think being really into Spider Man was an advantage. Yeah, sure. Seriously! It seems funny, but its true.
[00:44:54.810] – Rob Brodnick
If you want to share a Positive Turbulence moment or otherwise comment on what you’re hearing, please drop us a line at podcast@PositiveTurbulence.com.
[00:45:02.650] – Karyn Zuidinga
Be sure to tune in next time when we’ll be talking to Elizabeth Isele founder and CEO at the Global Institute for Experienced Entrepreneurship She’s going to seriously turbulate your thinking about retirement and working with older workers. Head over to PositiveTurbulence.com to find out more about us, our wonderful sponsors, Positive Turbulence, our guests or check out our very cool and very diverse reading, watching and listening to list. Until next time, keep the turbulence positive!