Creative models: American blues, Scandinavian jazz
Creativity often benefits from models. I’ve written about a couple of models in previous posts: in August 2010 I proposed Harry Beck as a model for authorship and in March 2011 I reflected on Jim Ede as a model for publishing development. Here I consider two further models – and the transition I’ve found myself making between them.
The first model is Super Session, an album recorded by Al Kooper. Mike Bloomfield, Stephen Stills and others in 1968. I first bought a copy, on vinyl, in the mid-1970s.
I don’t know the exact origins of the album, but evidently a good deal of spontaneity was involved. According to Wikipedia, Al Kooper booked a recording studio for two days. On the first day they recorded blues tracks played by Kooper and Bloomfield. On the second, it seems that Bloomfield failed to show and Kooper called on Stills instead. The tracks that he recorded with Stills include distinctive versions of songs written by Bob Dylan and Donovan. Whatever the exact circumstances, the album sounds attractively unbuttoned and fresh.
In 2006 when, with my fellow-director Karen Haynes, I founded a publishing services company, I chose Super Session as my model. Having resigned from a corporate job, I wanted a new way of working (and living) – something more flexible, diverse, and both relaxed and exciting. Super Session – with the contrast in styles between Bloomfield and Stills and its varied pace (‘It takes a lot to laugh’ goes at breakneck speed; ‘His holy modal majesty’ doesn’t) seemed the ideal model.
Well, as it turned out, it was and it wasn’t. It worked well as an aspiration. For me, the guitar jams on the first side of the album, often soaring, provided a sense of energy and ambition. But as a model for a way of getting things done, a way of (above all) sustaining things, it didn’t work for me. Maybe other people can run their businesses in that unbuttoned kind of way (though I doubt they’re in book publishing), but I can’t: I need more planning, more sense of structure and focus.
So I have found I need another model – not to altogether replace Super Session (which still serves to refresh my aspiration), but certainly to supplement it. The new model I came across one evening in a Scandinavian restaurant on the way back from a conference. I was eating alone and so found myself listening to the music more carefully than usual – and liking it. The waitress told me it was by Bo Kaspers Orkester.
It was a new name to me, though evidently they have quite a following in Scandinavia. I now have three albums – New Orleans, Pa Hotell, and Sondag I sangen – and listen to them regularly.
As models for implementation they seem to me to work very well. The temperature is lower than in Super Session (perhaps I’m recalling the sleeve notes for the latter – “it’s 100 degrees in New York and Bobby Kennedy just got shot”). I often listen to Bo Kaspers Orkester whilst I’m working – the laid-back treatment allows one to. And the music harmonises with my sense of how to run a creative business. One needs vision and one also needs to keep on keeping on – seeing the tune through to the end, as it were. Quite a lot of publishing consists of low-key implementation – checking the ISBNs on Bowker and Nielsen, checking the authors have adhered 100% to the house referencing-style (they never have!). Listening to Bo Kaspers can accommodate that; Super Session certainly doesn’t. Perhaps Kooper and Bloomfield’s jamming would serve better as a model of authorship than of publishing?
The Bo Kaspers sound brings (reflects? evokes?) too a sense of mellowness, serving as a reminder of things going well. Kooper, Bloomfield, and Stills first, followed by Bo Kaspers Orkester, is I think a recipe that works.
What’s your model?