From Disaster to Masterpiece

I love podcasts. They accompany me on trips to the grocery store (along with my facemask), on long runs (and shorter ones), as well as drives. Some time ago I was listening to an episode of Hidden Brain from NPR entitled You 2.0: Why Disorder May Be Good for You. (Here is a link to the recording as well as the transcript.)

Don't worry, this is not a missive on practicing your scales. Special thanks to Andrik Langfield for putting this photo on Unsplash.

This particular episode told the story of the making of the best selling solo jazz album in history--The Koln Concert by Keith Jarrett.

This isn't the actual piano, but it may well have looked like this, at least in Keith Jarrett's so so tired eyes. Thanks to Nathan Dumlao for this photo found on Unsplash.

On January 24, 1975, exhausted after driving from Zurich to Cologne and suffering from intense back pain, jazz pianist Keith Jarrett sat backstage stewing in anger, refusing to go on stage because the piano was not what he had requested. He wanted a specific grand piano. The one on stage was a rehearsal piano that had seen better days. It was badly out of tune, too small to be loud enough for the auditorium, the high end sounded tinny, several keys were sticking and the pedals weren’t working. Most importantly, it would not create a strong enough sound to reach the back of the auditorium.

In other words, this was an absolute disaster.

And it was compounded by lack of sleep over the past 24 hours.

In the end, depending on whose memories you go by, he was convinced to go ahead and play because he didn’t want to let down the 17 year old girl who had organized the concert and the audience, or Keith Jarrett’s feeling that the show must go on.

Regardless of the motivation, he played.

And fortunately, his engineers recorded the performance. Right now, I would recommend you find it on Spotify or YouTube, or if you have it in your collection, put it on. Seriously. Even if you don't particularly like jazz. It's amazing.

Some recollections are that they recorded it to be able to use as a cautionary tale for using bad pianos.

What resulted instead was an amazing improvised masterpiece.

The problems with the piano forced him out of his comfort zone. Literally. He ended up standing to play the piano both because his back hurt and he needed the extra leverage to get a louder sound out of the piano. He used different parts of the keyboard than he ever had before. He avoided the high end because of the tinny sound and focused more on the mid-range and a rolling riff on the bass end of the keyboard--so that the sound might project out to the audience. Listening, you can literally hear him grunting both out of dismay at the piano and how hard he was hitting the keys. Some say that initially part of the playing is mimicking the bells used to tell the audience to put down their drinks and take their seats.

Regardless of what you hear--you will probably agree that it is a genuine musical masterpiece.

All his performances that season of touring in Europe were improvised. But why did this one, which was not the only one released on an album, succeed so well?

It was very different than his other improvisational performances. Somehow, reaching down for the strength to pull this off, he hit on a new formula that resonated with the audience--both there live and later who listened to the recording.

As he said in an interview, “What happened with this piano was that I was forced to play in what was — at the time — a new way. Somehow I felt I had to bring out whatever qualities this instrument had. And that was it. My sense was, "I have to do this. I'm doing it. I don't care what the f*** the piano sounds like. I'm doing it." And I did.” (Source:

Special thanks to Marta Czubak who put this unique photo on Unsplash to illustrate probably the most difficult keyboard to play a tune on.

Right now, and you don’t need to be reminded of this, I am sure, we are each facing an unplayable piano.

Some companies have had to shut down. Some are facing layoffs and budget cuts. All of us are facing complete and total uncertainty.

There have been numerous studies over the past century on what companies do with their advertising and marketing during an economic downturn and the overwhelming consensus is that cutting back and hunkering down will damage your brand and your share in the long run. On the other hand, investing in marketing during a downturn will result in tremendous gains coming out the other side of a downturn.

If you are fortunate to be able to work with a stable or increased marketing budget during this time, thank your lucky stars and use it. But, if like most, you are dealing with frozen or decreased marketing budgets and other hardships, maybe think about looking at your circumstances as an opportunity to go ahead and get on the stage and play the piano differently. More than likely, you will create a masterpiece because you will have to step outside your comfort zone. So be brave, throw caution to the wind, and pound out your masterpiece.