Russell clears tables at Eggs 'n Things in Honolulu. He's an African-American in his mid-fifties, I would guess. What caught my attention was the rhythm of his work. It was almost like a Gospel two-step, on the 2 and the 4. As we were leaving, I asked him what was playing in his head. He smiled, seemed a bit embarrassed at having been noticed, then said, "Oh, a few tunes really, but they all have to do with love!"
What a delightful lesson in how attitude makes a difference in your work - cleaning tables in a breakfast joint (with really, really good food) in your mid-fifties and you're still dancing to the beat of love!
I wish I could say that I approach all my work, let alone all my life, with that kind of vibe in my head. I don't. But I want to. Russell, in his humble sincerity, has become my inspiration. God bless him.
I got to thinking about the jazz tunes I love that would sustain and enhance that vibe. Two came to mind immediately - Oscar Peterson's Hymn to Freedom and Duke Ellington's Come Sunday/David Danced Before the Lord With All His Might.
Hymn to Freedom
David Danced Before the Lord
Peterson wrote Hymn to Freedom in 1962. It captures for me, as well as any song from that era, the resilience of the black struggle for freedom. It's freedom, in its most basic form, to use your gifts to bless creation. For black jazz musicians, it was their musical talent that provided a means to tell the story of their dignity and worth, denied and then reclaimed. It expressed joy in the discovery of that freedom. It expressed lament that the freedom wasn't more available. And it shouted out confidence that freedom in its fullness would overcome in the end. So struggle on and sing on.
Ellington's Come Sunday/David Danced Before the Lord was part of his Sacred Concert, first performed in San Francisco's Grace Cathedral in 1965. Queen Esther Marrow sang the lyrics as 'Come Sunday' and Bunny Briggs danced the beat as 'David Danced Before the Lord With All His Might.' The message, for me, is that the energy restored in Sabbath rest is used to dance with joy in serving the wellbeing of the creation with all of our gifts.
I have no idea whether Russell even knows these two songs. But he does dance through his day to the beat of their meaning. They are love songs to the wellbeing of creation.
Every not-for-profit that I know of is part of that world-wide movement of loving the wellbeing of creation into fuller form. And every person working with those not-for-profits would do so better if they had a keener sense of the vibe in their heads. To sustain and enhance that vibe, we would benefit greatly by choosing a couple of powerful songs to dance to through the day, especially when times get tough.
What might your songs be? They don't have to be jazz. They may be something from Prince, or David Bowie, or Bach, or Mozart. They do have to draw your attention to powerful positive meaning so that your energy can be focused on that as you dance your way forward.
The latest acronym that Jazzthink is playing with these days is VIBE. It stands for Values, Intentions, Barriers, and Execution. The VIBE Planning Process convenes conversations that:
- identify the most important Values you are serving in your organization;
- clarify your Intentions for serving those values best, then even better;
- take seriously the Barriers that you think will hinder your work; and
- design specific Execution steps to move your organization forward.
This is a flow of paying attention to the most important things, in the most productive order, in energizing your not-for-profit, no matter what state the organization is in. It works to improve an already flourishing organization, confirming its strengths and building on them. It works to refresh the energy of an organization that seems to be complacent or confused. And it works to get an organization out of a mess, whatever that mess may be.
Being in the business of generating social benefit is not easy. We can learn restorative lessons from the rich heritage of black music found in jazz. It will teach us resilience, respect, and revitalization as we work together for the common good.
Choosing those songs that focus your attention on the most positive and powerful vibe imaginable is a first personal step. Contacting me at fraser@jazzthink,com to explore what we might do together to energize the VIBE of your organization is another step. I hope you do both.