"We live in a time of exponential change where paradigms of old seem ineffective, harmful even, from a number of perspectives, and the "new", i.e. wherever it is we're all heading, hasn't made itself entirely clear. In that context, listing a detailed retrospective of past accomplishments strikes me as being significantly less interesting in comparison to sharing what I'm into at this very moment."
"Perhaps more than any other time in history, we as individuals have the power, and possibly also the duty, to assume leadership roles in the creative realization of our own lives and transformation of the societies in which we live."
We live in a time of exponential change where paradigms of old seem ineffective, harmful even from a number of perspectives, and the "new", i.e. wherever it is we're all heading, hasn't made itself entirely clear. In that context, a detailed retrospective of past accomplishments strikes me as being significantly less interesting in comparison to what I'm into right now. And right now, I'm concerned with increasing the quality of my attention and focus in and on this very moment, the next emerging moment and so on, amidst the bombardment of chatter, noise, inauthenticity, and turbulence to which all of us are subjected on a daily basis.
I am curious regarding the impact this quality of attention, or mindfulness if you will, has on the current transformation of how I go about my work, the level of craftsmanship I bring to whatever I may create, how what I do and the person I am relates to the various social collectives of which I am a member, and how I may engage these diverse collectives with the best I have to offer. I am curious about how I may direct my music and musical knowledge, experience, understanding, and frame of reference, toward enabling a wider segment of the population to gain greater understanding of dialogue, empathic listening, co-creation, collaboration, and flow.
From the time I learned to read, I've been curious about the distant lands and cultures portrayed in books. Probably therefore, I was drawn toward a different path than what many encouraged and expected, given my musical education and group of peers. Initially, that path led to Europe, although as an award-winning youth musician, I had been groomed for the New York or L.A. jazz scenes. The consequence of being far removed from the mentorship opportunities available in these great musical hubs was that I've had to figure out alternative ways to continue growing musically and creatively. Every plateau encountered is a generative opportunity, an invitation for reflection and subsequent reorientation.
Living bilingually in a foreign culture also forced me to look closely at who I was (and am), confront the values of my native culture(s) in which I was raised, and define who I wanted to become - oftentimes in stark contrast to the norm of my surrounding environment. I now perceive this reciprocal cultural resistance as a gift, and view the persistence, critical reflection, adaptability and creative skills required to endure, as a profound, empowering advantage. The continually evolving personal identity I painstakingly endeavored to express through music, and whose validity I often had to defend underway, has enabled a successful, joyous, creative life and career comprised of frequent world travel, colorful characters, and a multitude of rewarding musical and personal experiences, enough to fill multiple lifetimes. The nature and cumulative scope of experiential activity has surpassed my childhood dreams, challenged and impacted my entire belief system, and opened my eyes to the commonality of humanity.
As for the uncertain, emerging future all of us face, my relatively informed guess (and presumably also yours) is as good as anybody's. There is no authoritative, ruling class, no "they" with all the answers, and therefore, perhaps more than any other time in history, we as individuals have the power, and possibly also the duty, to assume leadership roles in the creative realization of our own lives and transformation of the societies in which we live, toward a more inclusive co-existence on the planet we share. This prospect excites me.
At a young age, I chose to follow my heart, and have passionately chased dreams which began to manifest themselves as the milestones of life. In that life, my life, I'm now focused on artistry, meaning, purpose, and people. I invite anyone interested to connect, as the journey continues.
Listen to Bobby on your favorite digital platforms.
"When I think of what the word "music" represents, I think of the creation of music, the performance of music, the emotional connection and shared meaning brought about by music, music's ability to heal and sooth, inspire to aspire, and incite to movement, action, and ultimately, human transformation."
The Crisis has been Cancelled
There's music, and then there's music business, or the music industry. The industry, or business of music, along with its marketing, tends to distort our picture of what music is, and the importance it holds for all of us as human beings. Historically, as new technologies have developed, from the printing press, to radio, to the gramophone, to the internet, habits of music consumption have also been affected, and naturally, the means for monetization of music have adapted accordingly.
There is no crisis in music, but merely a shift in commoditization (and commodification) practices of recorded music which leave some reeling, and some rubbing their hands. The common statement "people no longer value music" is simply untrue. We, all of us, value music to the extent that the amount of recorded music (i.e. vinyl albums, CD's, mp3's, and streams) being consumed, and the diversity of music sources, i.e. both the amount of individuals producing music, and the available formats, modes, and channels of distribution have never been greater in the history of humankind. And if we the people can consume something, anything, for free or almost free, that's what we will do, and soon, given the current ubiquity of music, that's what all of us will be doing. If we're not doing it already.
There are no fads, no trends, no what's hip, cool, phat, sick, dope, yada yada, and what's not. Those are merely manipulative economic forces at work, the musical equivalent of click bait and fake news. Strip away the sex, image, bling, or whatever else is attached, and all there is, is music.
That, by and large, is a simplified representation of the current state of affairs within one economically powerful sector of the music business known as the recording industry. The recording industry supports an entire infrastructure of people, myself included, whose livelihoods as we've known them either partially or fully depend(ed) upon upholding status quo within the sector. No matter how much we music creators fight for various rights to which we have become accustomed, "a change is gonna come." (Thank you, Sam Cooke)
None of this has anything to do with the art form known as Music. When I think of what the word "music" represents, I think of the creation of music, the performance of music, the emotional connection and shared meaning brought about by music, music's ability to heal and sooth, inspire to aspire, incite to movement, action, and ultimately, change and transformation. Just look at the past 60-70 (or more) years: Jazz brought about social change, as did rock 'n' roll, soul, and most recently in the 90's, hip hop affected the entire world, with credit due to a novel, original mix of jazz, soul, and rock samples.
And right now, we're in a state of flux. We are in between the last big thing, and the next big thing. The current thing is largely about exploiting the artist-audience connection in order to build a brand that can sell cologne, sneakers, champagne, tequila, clothing, cosmetics, or whatever else can offset decreasing revenues from recorded music sales. The next big thing, whatever that means, (imaginably some combination of music genre fusion and AR/VR/AI delivery platform) will not, and never has, emerged from the mainstream or current status quo, it will come creeping up from somewhere completely unexpected, like hip hop from the streets of urbania. But again, none of this has anything to do with music.
People are starving for musical authenticity
Music can blow people's minds. Any kind of music: soft, loud, aggressive, gentle, simple, complex, dense, transparent, whatever. Music, period. There are no fads, no trends, no what's hip, cool, phat, sick, dope, yada yada, and what's not. Those are merely manipulative economic forces at work, the musical equivalent of click bait and fake news. Strip away the sex, image, bling, or whatever else is attached, and all there is, is music.
As a music creator and performer, I know this: People, the audience, are literally starving for musical authenticity, and they are willing to stretch their expectations, imaginations, habits, beliefs, convictions and much, much more, to grasp and hang onto that which speaks truthfully to their mind, body, and soul. I suspect this has always been the case throughout time, or at least until MTV. Especially during these times of transition, there is little rational argument for holding back or playing it safe with regard to any form of creative musical expression capable of such powerful human connection.
If ever there was a time to "give the people what they didn't know they wanted", this is it. In reality, one note, charged with artistry, intent, and purpose, can change a life, forever. Whether performing live, composing, or producing music in the studio, those are the notes I'm looking for, the notes with meaning.
* When someone or something makes an impact, there is a difference; change occurs. When something is true, it is real, fulfilling, authentic. As in "true love".
How badly do you want it?
"Are there any questions?" I was in Yaounde, Cameroon, conducting a seminar hosted by the U.S. State Dept., for a gathering of aspiring professional musicians, vocalists, and songwriters. A hand was slowly raised in the air, followed by a young man who stood up. "Sir, how do I get to be you?" The rest of the attendees smiled and nodded their heads, as if this were a collective question. I winced over the 'sir' reference, but in many cultures, a little bit of gray will automatically earn you respect from younger generations. Of course, the young man didn't want to be me, my assumption was he wanted to be like me, i.e. someone who had chosen what is typically perceived as an uncertain path, clearly loved what he did, and was successful at it. I answered him with a question: "How badly do you want it?" He replied with, "Oh, very badly sir, but I don't know where to start."
Later the same day during a break in the proceedings, a young woman approached me. I could sense her frustration. "I don't get it", she said. "I've done what everybody says you should do: I learned to sing some really good songs, put a group of musicians together, paid them to go into the studio and record with me. I made a CD with a professionally-designed cover. And nothing has happened." I felt her pain, and asked, "What did you want to happen?" She thought about it for a few seconds and answered, "Hmm. I'm not sure."
The two stories illustrate what are probably the most common challenges I've encountered while conducting seminars and master classes in various regions around the world. One situation indicates a will to move forward, yet at the same time demonstrates a fear of taking a "wrong" step forward. The other situation assumes that there's a generic process which will lead to a desired future outcome, that a desired outcome can be achieved without it being defined in some manner beforehand, or that one initial attempt at success will suffice.
Living life with Artistry, Intention, and Purpose
Even with seminars and master classes which revolve around music fundamentals, we always end up here, discussing the inner workings of creativity, the creative process, living life from a creative orientation, and what essentially amounts to basic life questions: how to embrace fear and uncertainty, how to visualize goals, and work out strategies for achieving them; defining success, learning from failure, establishing good habits and self discipline, how to acknowledge, confront, and overcome resistance - the list goes on and on. Regardless of talent or ability niveau, people often seem to share similar concerns at an identical niveau.
I am humbled by the realization that over the years, literally hundreds of seminar attendees have contemplated or made crucial decisions based on my personal anecdotes of how I've navigated through life via trial and error, as a creative, artistic, independent freelancer experiencing both failure and success. I know this because I continue to receive messages every week from around the world, most often asking, "I did this or that. Now what?" Eventually, I decided to grab the bull by the horns and enrolled in graduate school in order to study transformational processes more closely.
"Creativity and artistic endeavors have a mission that goes far beyond just making music for the sake of music." (Herbie Hancock)
I am not a life coach or cognitive psychologist, nor do I aspire to be a self-help guru. What I am is a musician, composer, producer, and artist, living life from a creative orientation, with a capacity to imagine, visualize, create, realize, and manifest outcomes through artistry, intention, and purpose. Artistry is a form of enhanced skill, creative ability, or a disposition toward self-expression that we bring to our work. Intention, or rather, what I refer to as "criticality of intention" is the intrinsically motivated factor of 'how badly do you want it'. Intentions arise whenever we become aware of desiring something or wanting to accomplish something. Criticality occurs when, in a hierarchy of goals, an intention departs from the norm, that is, when one seeks to do, achieve, or invoke something in particular, and feels doing so is more critical than not doing so.
Perhaps this is the key to persistence, or the differentiating factor between "punching the clock" and bringing one's "A game" to the endeavor. And finally, by "purpose", I refer to the ultimate mission that extends beyond the activity of our work itself. We practice to enhance the skill or ability, learn to become comfortable with its execution at the enhanced level, and then intently, persistently apply our enhanced skill or ability toward a meaningful outcome or purpose. As I see it, an injection of artistry, intention, and purpose is relevant to any pursuit worthy of our extended time, attention, and efforts.
When someone or something makes an impact, there is a difference; change occurs. When something is true, it is real, fulfilling, authentic. As in "true love". By complementing my personal insights with additional interdisciplinary tools, practices, perspectives, strategies, facts, and research, I would like to empower people from all walks of life to achieve their highest aspirations. After decades of immersion, practice, and reflection in the Art of Music, I've learned that as it is in Music, so it is in Life. And often, what is hidden from view in life, becomes clearly apparent in Art.
True Impact* programs are typically tailored toward or custom designed for collaborations with creative and performing arts organisations and institutions, educators and institutions of higher learning, corporate executive and management teams, and human resource departments. If any of the above resonates with you and the values of your group or organization, I'd love to discuss how we can work together.
"The magic combination of People, Project, and Purpose is something to which I am drawn."
Whereas the Third Wave True Impact* platform seeks to share and exchange reflections, insight and viewpoints regarding the inner journey of artistry, the creative process, and living life from a creative orientation, Third Wave 20|20 focuses on sharing experiential insight and observations from the external world. Live performance creates a human connection which encourages personal interaction, and as a traveling, performing artist, one of the privileges I enjoy most is being welcomed into an exchange of ideas and perspectives: at street level, corporate level, diplomatic level, and eye level - across societal, cultural, and personal boundaries. The word 'authentic' is used quite frequently: "While you're here, you must (see, witness, experience, taste, hear) an authentic (insert country, culture, tribe, social group, or organizational happening)." In short, I'm often granted firsthand access to a diversity of experiences ranging from the uncommon to the unbelievable, and everything in between.
There are limitless ways of looking at, and perceiving the world. This seems obvious, but one of the greatest lessons I've learned from traveling and engaging with people across five continents, is that what is accepted as true, correct, right, or proper in one cultural setting may not hold water in another cultural setting: our beliefs, habits and assumptions, the way we go about things, or our typical approaches to problems and challenges. One culture's outlook may in comparison be so far removed from another culture's, that the two actually meet on the other side of the spectrum and intersect in some remarkable manner. Suddenly, ideas, concepts, models, and solutions which emerge in one setting may lend themselves to fruitful modification or adaptation in an entirely foreign context where such thought was initially inconceivable to the predominant native mindset. This extended palette of perspective is a rich palette, as stark contrasts often reveal the core essence with increased clarity.
From economies of means to economies of scale, as creative director, advisor, or consultant, I've sparred with SME's, NGO's, the international diplomatic corps, and entrepreneurs in various regions around the world, assisting each with identifying the true essence of their vision, and helping to fulfill missions to create, build, and realize beneficial contributions to society. These contributions have included newly-patented communications software, human resource programs, educational curricula, developmental and cultural outreach concepts, and music, event, and entertainment content production. The common denominator was a magic combination of People, Project, and Purpose. I have discovered this magic combination is something to which I am drawn, as much as I am to the creation and performance of music at the highest level. It's not that far of a stretch from one to the other.
Meaningful collaboration and co-creation excite me. Meaningful, as in elevating or transforming the quality of life for people. If this is a concept that excites and drives action in your organization, I'd love to connect via one of the links below.
"Ears ringing, still high on the adrenaline rush from the night’s performance, I felt a slight tinge of anxiety. Then I smiled… one door closes, an unlimited number of doors open."
Something happened during the 49th year of my life… Suddenly, everything I had ever wished for was happening. At once. I felt like a child wallowing in a sea of Christmas gifts, birthday presents, big balloons, and lots of love 'n' warmth, all at the same time. I was traveling across 5 continents, playing my heart out on the saxophone, performing my very own music with some of the best musicians in the world, receiving standing ovations, meeting exciting people, visiting exotic places and gaining new perspectives on humanity and human nature. It was as if my birthday was a celebration that wouldn’t end.
After one particularly triumphant night in Tokyo, I returned to the hotel and read my emails. And there it was, a message from the TV production company saying the network wouldn’t be able to alter its shooting schedule for the program I worked on both as musical director and part of the editorial staff, to fit with my international concert schedule.
Since I had already committed to the concerts in writing, there was no decision to make – I was forced to leave the comfort zone of a cushy TV gig, a victim of my own ambition. I had walked the plank to the very edge, now it was time to jump and swim to save my life. Ears ringing, still high on the adrenaline rush from the night’s performance, I felt a slight tinge of anxiety. Then I smiled… one door closes, an unlimited number of doors open. And during that single moment just before the age of 50, after a long career spanning 32 amazing, eventful years, I unofficially retired as a professional musician and became an Artist. It was the only path left untraveled.
"By the end of the performance, we walk away feeling something inside us has changed, that we are not the same individuals as before. The effect can be momentary, or last a lifetime."
During a lifelong journey of immersion in the art of music, I have time and again felt in my body and soul, lived and witnessed, the power that music holds to inspire, heal, motivate, bring out the best in people, and drive human transformation. The following is a reflection on some personal thoughts which are currently undergoing refinement and revision, regarding the generative, dialogic nature of jazz improvisation, and its value as a model for presence-based dialogue in non-musical contexts. Here, focusing on the significance of listening:
I experience the performance of jazz improvisation as being a non-verbal dialogue, unfolding in real-time as the future emerges, moment for moment. I perceive this non-verbal dialogue as being generative in nature, in that we musicians shed our egos to expose our true Selves, meet and interact with each other and the audience with open minds, open hearts and open will. Discerning the will of the spirit within the group, we embrace uncertainty, without knowing beforehand where the journey will lead us, but with a confidence that our intention of honest, truthful co-creative musical expression will lead somewhere worth going, possibly to a sound never heard before, or a sound that needs to be heard at that very moment, forging lasting bonds underway, between each musician on stage, and the audience who is an active participant in the ongoing dialogue.
By the end of the music performance, this multi-hour exchange of non-verbal dialogue, the greater We, i.e. musicians, crew, venue personnel and audience – may walk away with the feeling that something inside us has changed, and as a result we are not the same individuals as before. The effect can be momentary, or last a lifetime. One could say that on a certain level, we experience a profound bond of interconnection and relationality with others through a shared listening and collective attunement to deeper realities channeled via musical expression and its appreciation.
In a peak-level musical improvisation performance context, literal listening is second nature. Shouting out musical cues verbally can interrupt the flow of energy, therefore, as they say in the film “Star Wars”, masterful musicians use “the force”. Beyond the components of the music, there is energy and intent. And when any musician at this level of proficiency intends to make a shift, or a move toward something else – whether a different section of the form, or a different outpouring of energy or expression, there is a felt-sense of tension which seeks resolution. You can feel it, before you can hear it. You can feel the future before it emerges, and once you hear it - when you hear it, this resolution of tension - the future is now and a new reality emerges.
Within the context of jazz improvisation, there is profound significance in the act of listening. What takes place is Deep Listening: an active form of listening extending beyond the empathic. Deep Listening requires patience, presence, and practice. With continual practice, this deeper, more present form of listening becomes a way of being for jazz improvisors.
Music occurs in the construct of time, moment by moment. And then the moment disappears. There is little time for cognitive evaluation, and therefore, most musicians choose to “empty” their minds and not think, to let go, and be present, to feel the emotion of the music surge through their heart as it is created. They intuitively sense their unique place in the collective expression, based upon what is heard, how what they hear touches their heart, and what their heart urges them to express through their musical instrument.
For a jazz musician, before the moment of sounding the note, there is silence within, a Deep Listening, discerning the will of the spirit within the group. The subsequent sound created has an intention to communicate emotion from the soul, which then becomes interwoven with the sounds from the co-creators and fills the room, not only with music, but with energy. A cyclical energy which moves the audience, who in turn give back to the musicians, who in turn give more to the audience. This dynamic of Deep Listening with an open mind, open heart, open will and crystallized intention generates a spiral of, well, let's call it "love energy" - shared by all present.
Renown jazz guitarist Pat Metheny offers this explanation in a 2006 interview by Lloyd Peterson from the Scarecrow Press Book "Music and the Creative Spirit: Innovators in Jazz, Improvisation, and the Avant Garde":
“The mix of a musician with a sound that they love, that they are pursuing and aspiring to is a recipe for a certain kind of intensity. When this intensity gets applied to a spontaneous act such as improvisation, in the right hands, with the right material and the right kindred spirits, the result can be basically the highest level of human achievement manifest, i.e. the Coltrane quartet, the Miles quintet of the 60's … The listening part of you is really the leader …”
"The listening part of you is really the leader." When we Deep Listen beyond the words, beyond the notes, the melody, harmonies, rhythm – of music or the soul – that is where we encounter true direction.
In the same way that people grow when emotionally moved by a story, a music performance, or a work of art, I see the members of my social collectives blossom, develop, and endeavor to bring forth the best within, as they feel the focus and intent of my personal deep listening, seeking to sense the meaning in their hearts.
I am aware that in the performing arts, we practitioners are not typically eradicating disease or saving lives, but our sense of urgency in, and commitment to what we do is the very reason why what we do is able to impact an audience so powerfully.
Where does this urgency and commitment come from? Will, passion, perhaps purpose. You have to feel "it", and want it. You have to recognize the potential that an act which, in the scheme of things, may seem relatively insignificant, can in fact have huge impact, and approach this act from the heart. This is true in life as well. On a day to day basis, these moments of Deep Listening magic may not always be monumental, but they are cumulative to a greater dialogue taking place over the course of time, regardless of the setting, on stage or off-stage, at home or work, with friends, strangers, or one's self.
I have experienced Deep Listening as a key element in creating beneficial outcomes within my personal life through inner dialogue; as an artist through collaborative musical dialogue; as a father and life partner in the dialogue of my personal relationships; in the seminars I facilitate to empower young musicians and creatives as they confront the future. From these experiences, I have come to view the practice of Deep Listening as a gateway to the generative field of dialogue, an applicable practice for teams, organizations, or in any context where people wish to come together and co-create beneficial outcomes. The generative field is a field of creativity rooted in the present, and in being present, as the future emerges. Whether note for note, or moment for moment.
Jazz musicians are passionate and purposeful about the endeavor. We are in a flow, present and focused. There is a sense of urgency – not a strained urgency, but what I call a criticality of intention, or perhaps a will, desire, or intrinsic drive to co-create outcomes which are greater than the whole. Through Deep Listening, we are able to sense information from the collective, allowing us to contribute beneficially to the co-creation in progress. Through practice, we maintain a state of readiness, prepared to perform at our highest capacity, and feel a significance in our pursuit, under all circumstances.
I would maintain that the musical dynamics described above indicate a model which is accessible for all people and worth emulating in non-musical contexts. I.e., that we may endeavor, with open minds, to perceive human interaction at all levels as an opportunity for the exchange of shared meaning. That we may, with open hearts, embrace the unknown, the uncertainty of the future, with open curiosity and without fear. That we may engage in Deep Listening beyond words, present with all senses, summoning our most true energy and directed spirit from within, enabling an awareness that there is rich creative opportunity to shift limitlessly beyond the restrictions of any existing structure, as we strive to contribute beneficially to a greater whole.
"No matter your station in life, no matter the odds for or against you, opportunities for change, development, movement - however minute or monumental, abound."
I love to travel, and do some of my best thinking during long-haul flights. Armed with full-coverage headphones to keep noise and disturbances to a minimum, plus an old-school pad of paper with pen for when the device batteries run low, the prospect of 12 – 16 hours in a bubble of relative solitude is bliss.
During one of many flights across the African continent, I came to a realisation regarding life choices – and share it as often as possible with whomever may benefit. The premise is, Infinite Possibility Is Real. In other words, anything can happen. Which is a good thing. Thusly:
“In a space where anything can happen, there are both positives and negatives. Focusing on the positives is a conscious choice, and on the path toward the positive (i.e. what is good or ‘right’ for us) we will undoubtedly have to navigate negative obstacles along the way. Obstacles which deter us, hold us back. Bumps in the road. This is where focus, determination, and most importantly, faith or belief in oneself comes into play.”
In any given situation, no matter your station in life, no matter the odds for or against you, opportunities for change, development, movement – however minute or monumental, abound. The journey from where you are to where you want to be may at times appear to be littered with insurmountable obstacles. While obstacles are and always will remain exactly what they are – a tangible, definable entity… Possibilities are infinite, limitless. Anything can happen – you can play it safe, or you can go for it. You can choose to believe you can’t, or you can choose to believe you can.
Failure makes you wiser, success brings awareness. So I say go for it. Focus. Take the steps, do the work. Have faith. Believe.