Chris Donnelly vs. Keith Jarrett (Post-game Analysis!)

In case you missed it, I lost.

In a previous post, I explained that Keith and I competed to make a point with my student.  I got to the student first, but she was unconvinced when I tried to pass on this lesson.  A few days later, she heard Keith say the exact same thing and “Eureka!”

Why did I lose?

The #1 reason I lost was because I’m not Keith; it has nothing to do with my message, or my output.

This is an important thought: My output could be a source of significant influence; it could change the world, but nobody would listen because I’m not Keith!  There are many issues implicit in this.

Amplifying Sources of Positive Experience

Keith Jarrett is a hero to many people, myself included.  Thus, his output gets amplified throughout the community.  Here are some reasons why:

  • Played with Miles Davis
  • Played with all your other heroes
  • Releases records on a major label
  • Has been performing for 60 years
  • Has perfect pitch
  • Performs in major concert halls, all over the world
  • All your friends like Keith Jarrett
  • He’s American
  • Oh…and he’s a monster piano player

People who hear Keith for the first time may not care for his music.  But when they learn that he played with Miles, positive experience through association may begin to take root.  We like to think that we respond only to his pianism, or his music.  But that’s naïve.  All of the above points (some more than others, plus many more) contribute to our devotion to Keith.

Networks of Positive Association

I have demonstrated that I and other “lesser-knowns” may possess and impart the same information as Keith – information that is equally good, maybe better than what Keith offers.  But most people will never know because we lack extensive and influential networks of positive association.  This is very similar to what I wrote in Getting the Gig.  Your music doesn’t get gigs, positive associations get gigs!

Nodes in a network could be a person, a company, a radio station, or a website – anybody or anything that amplifies your output because of direct positive experience or positive association.  Certain nodes in a network will amplify output more than others.  Also, different nodes respond to different parts of your output – your music, bio, resume, appearance, demeanor, etc.

Keith is associated with some of the biggest and most influential nodes in music history.  By contrast, I’m associated with a few influential nodes in contemporary Canadian jazz.

Connecting with Nodes in a Network

After I recorded ‘Solo,’ I mailed out copies to a few of my music teachers, mentors and heroes and asked them to write a short paragraph about what they heard.  I would use their written words to promote the album.  I was trying to connect with an already existing local, Canadian jazz network.  Fortunately, this network responded positively to my output and it has been amplified as a result.

If my network hadn’t responded positively, it’s not because my output wasn’t any good. My (and your) output could be just as good if not better than Keith’s!  That’s the whole premise of this post.

I think that no matter what your profession is, if you want to have influence, your output has to be associated positively to a pre-existing network, however big or small.

This seems like common sense.  Consider this Calvin Coolidge quote:

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than unsuccessful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb.”

Yes, persistence is the solution.  But only in the hopes that eventually, a larger pre-existing network will accept your output!

The Network’s Precepts

If you’re struggling to connect, you should ask yourself: “Which networks do I want to connect with?” and “What precepts do those networks respond positively to?”

For example, if you’re a jazz musician and want to have influence in the jazz community, it’d be useful to identify with precepts like ‘the mastery of your instrument,’ ‘the mastery of the musical language,’ ‘improvisation,’ ‘genuineness,’ ‘New York City’ and ‘Miles Davis.’  It wouldn’t be very useful if you identified primarily with ‘commercial music,’ ‘marketing,’ ‘immodest networking,’ ‘Silicon Valley’ and ‘Kenny G.’  You may find success in these things, but don’t expect that the jazz community will pay attention to you or your output!

Some precepts, like the above examples, can be fairly obvious.  But networks also have many unspoken and cultural precepts.  I’m sure most networks would disregard my output if I always performed naked!  Actually, all of the great beacon fires – Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Keith Jarrett and many others – are considered great because they exemplify every known, unknown, unspoken and cultural precept in a network.

Nodes and Networks in Time

Interestingly, when we refer to traditions or lineages, we’re actually referring to networks of positive association through time.  “Acknowledge the tradition” is just a more graceful way of saying: “Create positive associations between you and the network’s precepts!”

The word “tradition” usually refers to (at least) one or two past generations. In this case, acknowledging the tradition is a matter of associating with precepts that a network has celebrated over the last one or two generations.  In a way, this goes without saying; core precepts only exist because they have evolved over numerous generations.  “The mastery of your instrument” has been a core belief for hundreds of years.

This leads to an important point and the most powerful reason why I lose vs. Keith Jarrett.  It’s what separates my network from Keith’s network, lesser-knowns from beacon fires, and unrewarded geniuses from rewarded geniuses.

Keith Jarrett exemplifies every precept, including the association with a tradition of beacon fires!

I don’t claim to exemplify the community’s precepts, but if I ever become a beacon fire, it will be because I associated with other beacon fires – nodes in a network that exemplify its precepts, and communicate to the rest of the world that I exemplify those precepts too!

– – – –

In the meantime, I admit defeat and will always be humbled by Keith Jarrett.  At least I can say that I would probably claim victory over Keith if my mom were a judge.  Right Mom!?

I’ll leave you with a question:

Are there any universal precepts?

The video below is a TED talk from Denis Dutton.  He proposes that it’s “skilled performances” and “virtuoso technique.”

To complement this, I would propose another: “Positive associations!”

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