Canadian jazz legend Oscar Peterson is the first person who comes to my mind when l think of great performance. From the time, as a teenager, he passed his Montreal Conservatory of Music exams playing a jazz version of a Gershwin tune instead of classical music until now, still doing gigs in his 80s, Peterson has been a model of dedication to contributing his unique voice to great performance.
For Peterson, great performance is about curiosity and passion.
Peterson is curious about the value he can create for himself, his fellow musicians, and his audiences. He is also curious about how best to create it, how to work with others to innovate. “What will happen if I play with this person?” he told an interviewer for Readers’ Digest in August 2005. “With that person? … You try something and see what happens. And sometimes you create something new.” He is always exploring possibilities to create new value.
Peterson is also passionate about what he does, about the value he helps creates through his talents and skills. For him, music is a passion that flows through his whole being. “Music is directly from the person: body, mind, and soul,” he said in the interview. “That’s the idea of jazz. If it doesn’t swing, it ain’t jazz. Swing is deep feeling, an emotion. … If you’re really swinging, you’ve really gotten into it, gotten to the depths.” He is passionately involved in offering value to others, and thereby experiencing value himself.
The first lesson from Peterson, then, is that curiosity will help you discover the value that your colleagues and clients seek, what it will be like to play with them, the things you can offer that will be most relevant and resonant for them. The second lesson is that your passion for the value you have to offer is infectious. The depth of integrity from which you speak of the value you can help them create will attract your ideal colleagues and clients.
In jazz or in any other kind of performance, managing the interaction of curiosity and passion well pays big dividends. The curiosity is about discovering what will create benefit for others. The passion is about moving them with a vision of the results that are possible if you play together.
But curiosity on its own is not enough. Neither is passion.
It’s when you build the capacity to use them together that you create something new with your colleagues. It’s when your curiosity taps into their passion, and sparks their curiosity, which then taps further into your passion, and you begin moving together, in sync, creating the swing of great service. That’s when the swing of great performance has happened.