Working through obstacles

This is part recommendation/part lesson.

I was listening to the podcast Cautionary Tales by Tim Hartford on Bowie, Jazz, and the Unplayable Piano. In the episode, Hartford tells the story of jazz pianist Keith Jarrett and a concert he played in Cologne, Germany.

When Keith Jarrett arrived for a sold out show at the Cologne opera house, the piano that was there for him to play was not the concert grand piano he requested, but was a much smaller baby grand that was horribly out of tune and had broken pedals.

There wasn’t enough time to get the correct piano to the opera house, and barely enough time to attempt to tune the piano. There were two choices for Jarrett: he could walk away and not perform, or he could go out and put on the best show he could given the circumstances.

Jarrett went out and performed, working around the obstacles and playing improvised music as he went.

The show was not only a hit with the audience, but the recording was released and went on to become the best-selling solo album in jazz history, and the all-time best-selling piano album with over 3.5 million in sales. (It really is a beautiful album to listen to while working. You can stream it here)

The lesson is that sometimes when obstacles are put before us, we can either give up or we can press on and do the best we can. In fact, those obstacles can lead to new, creative solutions (which is the point of Hartford’s podcast). If we decide to press on, we never know how successful we’ll be; but it’s certainly more productive than giving up.


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