Blog Archive - July 2011
[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature on work and life.]
Discovering a Cool World
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio, a rock and roll city (with a great symphony). No one I knew listened to jazz. Then I moved to Chicago in the mid-1980s. One night I end up with a group of friends at the Green Mill. To be honest, I wasn’t impressed, but I kept listening. The city’s public radio station used to carry several hours of jazz programming each week. Somewhere along the way I heard two great young artists, Kurt Elling and Patricia Barber, who played at the Green Mill. I went back, and I was hooked.
I discovered a fairly young art form that had a great history. From Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, and Ella Fitzgerald to Wayne Shorter and Wynton Marsalis, jazz players built a tradition based on invention and respect. Artists will frequently cover each other’s songs, sometimes in a faithful way, more often in a bold reinvention. Jazz invites such experimentation and play. Elling won his first Grammy Award a few years ago for reinventing a collaboration between John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman. Barber has covered music ranging from the Doors to French singers, and she based a CD on Ovid’s Metamorphoses. Where so many rock bands just play songs that were hits 40 years ago, jazz challenges its artists to grow and try new things.
While I write this post, I’m listening to jazz on the Internet. Many have mourned the death of jazz on the radio, and I did to for a while – until I discovered AccuJazz, a website that offers a catalog of channels broken down by genre, period, artist, and other categories, such as the one I’m currently digging, World Fusion. It also features the music from several jazz festivals, which helps raise the profile of new talent and some from the old school as well. The website gives the listener great freedom. If I don’t like a song, I skip to the next one. If I don’t like an artist, I can “ban” him or her from my channel. It also lets me flip from channel to channel:Chicago to Guitar Jazz to Best of Jazz 2010 to Ellington.
One of the things I like most about being at live jazz shows is watching how musicians work, how they concentrate and still have the freedom to take a solo and find a new sound. While one band member is playing a solo, the others listen and often shout encouragement. A nod of a head will signal admiration for a special effort. This is especially true for drum solos. Drummers keep the rhythm. They are a band’s foundation. However, when drummers step forward to solo, it’s fascinating to see how an overlooked instrument can sing in the right hands. In my experience, the best drummer I’ve seen play is Paul Wertico. On CD and film, Art Blakey holds the title. Blakey headed the Jazz Messengers, a finishing school for several great players. Blakey was an outstanding drummer who made those around him better (Think Michael Jordan).
Jazz isn’t popular. That used to bother me, but I’ve learned to enjoy the music and forget about those people who don’t get it. Jazz is a world of music. My goal is to keep exploring it and keep getting lost in it. That’s the joy of great art. It takes us to new places and lets us spend time with old friends. As Billie Holiday sang, “Nice work if you can get.”
Sunday extra helpings: This is a link to website that has video of John Coltrane playing A Love Supreme, which is to my simple ear the greatest jazz composition.
Here’s Dave Brubeck playing “Take 5” in 1966. Listen to the sax player, Paul Desmond, a true genius – as is Brubeck, still playing in his 90s!
Laura Clawson of the Daily Kos has written a very informative article on changes in union contracts, especially in the auto industry. New assembly workers sacrificed 50% of the previous starting wage ($30) under a new contract. In California, BMW outsourced a logistics operation rather than negotiating with the Teamsters. Clawson cites writers who point out this irony: BMW could not treat its employees this way in Germany.
Why can they do this in the U.S.? Laws here are not written to protect workers. They protect the employer, or -- more accurate -- the people who move the jobs out of the U.S.
You never want someone who is reading your resume to ask this question. Your resume should focus on experience, skills, and achievements that are relevant to the position you are seeking. After you’ve written and edited drafts of your resume, read it again with this question in mind: “Why am I reading this?” If the employer would not care about something, cut it out. Following this strategy will make your resume stronger, and it will help you land more interviews.
Who is the worst sell out for workers: The Democratic Party or unions? Today we learned that President Obama is talking about compromising with the Republicans, which will almost certainly mean cuts to worker-funded retirement programs, Social Security and Medicare. The Huffington Post reports that the National Education Association has adopted language that leaves the door open to incentive-based pay systems. Who stands up for workers anymore? If something doesn’t change, we will see protests in America as there have been in Greece and Spain. If that were to happen, we can’t just blame the Republicans. The workers’ alleged friends have sold out.
The New York Time’s science writer Natalie Angier has written an informative and witty piece on the natural instinct for humans to share the wealth out of a sense of fairness. She presents examples from several societies as well as scientific studies of children and adults. Even a study of Democrats and Republicans shows a commitment to fairness.
Hopefully politicians will read this and act naturally – out of sense of fairness.
Thanks to my friend Bill Savage who sent me this article.
Today’s Chicago Sun-Times reports that management of the Joffrey Ballet is threatening to lock out its unionized dancers. Last week the National Basketball Association engaged in a lockout against its players. The National Football League has been in a lockout for several months, despite enjoying billion dollar profits. Lockouts are all the rage today.
Let’s define a key term: a lockout is not a strike. I’ve encountered several people who blame the “greedy” players for striking. Nothing could be further from the truth (Of course, for today’s American political right wing and those who follow its message, truth and facts do not matter.). A lockout is a negotiation tool used by management to pressure union employees to accept contract terms. It is the exact opposite of a strike.
In the Sun-Times article Joffrey management employs the language of a victim to describe its actions: “We have, with great reluctance, been forced to cancel the beginning of our 2011-2012 Season.” Who is forcing them? A lockout, like a strike, is a strategy in which the side that thinks it has a stronger negotiation position makes the first move.
If the management of the Joffrey has such reluctance about a lockout, why doesn’t it offer to extend the current contract during negotiation or offer to go to mediation? Management doesn’t mention these options because it thinks it’s holding a winning hand that will force the dancers to take pay cuts. It’s the same game in the NFL and the NBA.
Remember the question asked in the old labor song: Which side are you on? Yes, professional athletes are well paid. However, their careers are short, and they often suffer from injuries long after their careers end. Dancers are less well paid, and they too suffer from injuries long after their careers end. The owners and management? They have long careers with little risk of work-related injury.
The question facing workers in Europe as well as the U.S. is: Can we stand by and watch those who have profited most over the last 10 years take even more while they ask workers from pro athletes and elite dancers to teachers and government servants to take cuts in pay and benefits? Who is doing the hard work, and who is profiting most from that work? Ask that question.
Which side are you on?
[“Sabbath” is Career Calling’s Sunday feature that ponders life and work.]
Made Local – Made Well
Earlier today I went to a new farmer’s market that’s being held at St. Gregory’s Church inAndersonville. Our traditional farmer’s market is in a different location on Wednesdays, but this new market features some vendors that made me think about the importance of buying local.
My starting point at the market for the last two weeks has been the booth of Metropolis Coffee, a local roaster that makes the best coffee I have ever tasted. The company offers a wide range of flavors, and they support good causes in the community. What I like about Metropolis at the market is simple: Iced coffee (Prospero brand).
I also purchased red lettuce, snow peas, and cherries. A nun sells French baked goods, and for $3.50 I bought an apple tart that was my fine lunch today. Beyond the quality of her baking, profits from the sister’s booth support her order’s mission of helping the homeless: great bakery for a good cause.
All of the vendors grow or bake their goods a short drive from Chicago. In a world dominated by Wal-Mart and Starbucks, local purchases may be symbolic. But they are also a choice about how to live. I spend more for what I get at farmers market. The food tastes better, and I’m told its healthier. When I buy pork from Crystal at C.D. Farms, I know where my food is coming from. I know the farmer, and I like her. Maybe it’s just nostalgia, the desire to live in Mayberry, but it feels good.
After the market, I stopped at a new gallery called The Haymaker Shop. We have many (many) home furnishing shops in the neighborhood. This one’s different. Most of the items are made from wood, elaborate tables, chairs, bowls, and clocks. In a few cases, the artists used wood with a noticeable flaw: a break or gouge. These were some of the most interesting (and most expensive) pieces. Everything in this shop was first rate quality, again, the work of local artists.
We live in a time of fast food and mass production. We want cheap. We want “super size.” At least, that’s what most people want. We’ve been educated by advertising to think cheap is better, especially if cheap “goodness” comes in a big flashy container (branded, of course). Farmers Markets and businesses like The Haymarket Shop and Metropolis Coffee are fighting this trend. They say, "Pay a little more for something good." They ask us to be conscious about what we buy, to think local and support the businesses of our neighbors. I’m grateful to live in a community where such choices are available.
Once again, Seth Godin identifies behaviors that hold us back from reaching our goals. Why don’t we get what we want or do what we want? Often, it’s because we fear being wrong. Choice gives us an excuse not to choose. How can you get around this problem? I’d recommend two great books: The Dip and Poke the Box. Both were written by Seth Godin.
Think Progress reports that 89% of income growth since 2009 has gone to corporate profits. Wage earners have only received 1%. Workers are losing while the country’s most wealthy corporations are taking more and more. The late Senator Ted Kennedy put it best, “When will the greed stop?”
On a positive point, nearly 100,000 people have signed Senator Bernie Sander’s letter to President Obama that urges the President not to give in to Republican pressure to cut social programs. Based on the statistics above, do the rich need even more?
Click here to read and sign the letter.