I went to see Nigel Kennedy the other week at a concert celebrating the work of composers that filled his early years, from Bach to Fats Domino. Featuring a simple four piece of virtuoso musicians from Poland I had the great pleasure of meeting Nigel after the show where I presented him with a copy of “Sex, Leadership and Rock’n'Roll” and was offered drinks with him. He was astonished that I’d noticed a cheeky and subtle reference to the blues harmonica within the 90 minute performance (probably just a couple of seconds of playing – two notes slurred together and made to sound exactly like a blues harp player within one of his classical pieces) As a result, he immediately recognised that I was a musician from my observation.
So, what did I learn from Nigel Kennedy?
Nigel the man
Authentic to the core : Kennedy faced threats at the age of 16 from his classical tutors when he was offered the chance to play with Stéphane Grappelli at New York’s Carnegie Hall. He refused to heed the threats and crossed the line between the classics and jazz. He has also played material by Jimi Hendrix and The Doors giving the establishment a run for their money. A thoroughly warm and authentic individual that refuses to be classified by others. The mark of a true leader – what Rosabeth Moss-Kanter termed a ‘boundary crosser’.
Nigel and the band
Kennedy works with a trio of musicians who he met in jazz jam sessions in his home town of Krakow. Just watching the band work through his set was a exemplar of what I call “planned spontaneity”.
Simplicity : The drummer used one snare drum for much of the performance, using every part of the instrument and his hands to gain an enormous range of sounds from one drum. The work of a true master.
Interplay : Although it was obvious that the show had been extensively rehearsed, the true joy of the performance was when Nigel signalled the guitar player to extend his solos, when there were ‘interruptions’ of the performance by Nigel interrupting the drummer and bass player. Difficult to describe in print so you must catch him and the band on tour.
Timing : The band have exquisite timing, and this allows them to perform various musical acrobatics. The result of a combination of individual genius and the 10 000 hours effect. Just take a look at this for an example:
Teamwork : Given the size of the egos, the miracle of this ensemble is that all manage to leave their egos in the dressing room, playing off one another in a true example of what can happen of how healthy competition leads to peak performance.
About the Blogger: Peter Cook leads The Academy of Rock - Keynote events with a difference and Human Dynamics - Business and organisation development, training and coaching. Contact via firstname.lastname@example.org or +44 (0) 7725 927585. Check out our online Business and Music programme for FREE via The Music of Business Online.