The name Artie Shaw probably only means something if you were born before World War II. At one point the band leader was so big, he could turn down Frank Sinatra with the words “I don’t really like boy singers.” He was one of the greatest jazz musicians of all time, but aged 44 at the peak of his success, he hung up his clarinet and retreated to the relative obscurity of a writing career.
In a BBC documentary aired last week, just two months after his death, the musician reflected that he stopped playing because he didn’t like himself. He had become a tyrant (not to mention the eight marriages he clocked up). Even during his most successful years, he routinely disbanded his successful outfits and retreated to write until the muse or money forced him to return.
Shaw’s relationship with his audience was described enigmatically. He confessed to not really understanding them, observing that audience and artist effectively operated on different trajectories and it was essentially random if they intersected at some point to produce a successful outcome. For Shaw, despite his commercial success, the intersections between where he was going as an artist and where the audience seemed to want him to go were too infrequent. He seemed mystified by what they liked of some of his work, for which he often had a poor regard.
The lesson for business is that the tension between commercial and creative can place an intolerable burden on the artist. So how do you nurture talent, which by its nature is going to be awkward?
Secondly, success, as has been observed before, cannot normally follow on from success, but needs to be modulated with retreat and recovery.Donate and help me buy back my Fender ('About' tells you why)
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