Imagine if capitalism could harness the power of communication, collaboration and culture. Imagine if capitalism could serve its best and highest purpose of driving global economic prosperity. Imagine if capitalism were in the hands of leaders who strive for both long-term corporate profitability and to meet the needs of society for better nutrition, healthcare, education, infrastructure, and energy. Imagine if finance could be the vehicle for this form of capitalism. Imagine if finance were inspired by jazz.
In this article, we suggest that capitalism should “Take Five” and be inspired. “Take Five,” the best-selling jazz single of all time, is simply stunning. “Take Five,” thanks to the work of American jazz pianist and composer Dave Brubeck, shows the extraordinary value of a global perspective, a willingness to experiment, to collaborate, to innovate, and to embrace the value of deviating from the traditional “time signature” of the music of the day. This is precisely what capitalists and financiers ought to consider doing today.
From Rockefeller to Soros and Buffet, the virtuosos of finance may be inspirational, but all pale in comparison to the global wealth creation that has come from the greats of jazz. The cultural richness they have created is incalculable. These jazz titans are so much larger than life that to mention their surnames is not enough. She is not just Ella Fitzgerald, she is “The First Lady of Song.” From “Pops” (Louis Armstrong) and “Prez” (Lester Young), to “The Bird” (Charlie Parker) and “Trane” (John Coltrane), we have received the gift of jazz. These giants and their brilliant instruments infused each note with meaning and emotion. Their tunes drew deeply upon the heritage of slavery in the fields and the desire to communicate. Through “call and response” came a new language for expression. Through pain and triumph, came the spirituals and the blues.
Dave Brubeck said that “Jazz is the voice of freedom: get out there and improvise, and take chances, and don’t be a perfectionist.” The greats in both finance and jazz pay exceptionally close attention to communication and connectedness, relationships and ideas. Wynton Marsalis guides us every day that “Through improvisation, jazz teaches you about yourself. And through swing, it teaches you that other people are individuals too. It teaches you how to coordinate.”
Jazz has a special language. Finance too can have a special language: one which could embrace the principles of economic sustainability. One which should take into account all the environmental, social and governance imperatives of business without shutting out the realities of a resource-constrained world. And, as Herbie Hancock would say, “It’s not exclusive, but inclusive. That’s the whole spirit of jazz … In jazz we share; we listen to each other; we respect each other; we are creating a moment.” In jazz we can be inspired by Sarah Vaughan as “Sassy swings the Tivoli.” In finance, we should do the same thing. We can aspire to learn from jazz. We can even make finance swing.