Jazz Birthdays: Cozy Cole (1906) and Barney Kessel (1923)

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Barney Kessel tells his own story in this interview. A topnotch and reliable professional who always played tastefully, he did a great deal of studio recording. When he began to win jazz polls, he made a series of “Poll Winners” recordings that showcased his talents. Here he plays “On Green Dolphin Street”.

Drummer Cozy Cole said “The more you study, the more you find out you don’t know; but the more you study, the closer you come.” This is why he was a lifelong student of the drums, even after achieving big success. In the business world, the analogous concept is called “continual improvement” in which there is ongoing gradual innovation. Cole’s style was “flexible enough to fit in with anyone” said drummer Louis Bellson. This widened his market, and he played with dixieland, swing and bop musicians. He was in the powerhouse rhythm section of Cab Calloway’s orchestra for 3 years and played with the Louis Armstrong group for 4 years. Here’s one of his small group recordings (part 1 and part 2) and a longer album.

Being below New York drinking age, I saw and heard Cole with Henry “Red” Allen and Coleman Hawkins from outside the Metropole Cafe. So did other tourists and New Yorkers. Through the plate glass window, one could see the musicians on a raised stage.

Today, I’d like to add a few preliminary thoughts on jazz, entrepreneurial activity and love.

I didn’t set out to understand the entrepreneur, but examples of entrepreneurial activity appear in the descriptions of how jazz musicians succeed, how they developed jazz music itself, and how they developed various business aspects of the business. How does  entrepreneurship work in a free market economy? Austrian economist Joseph Schumpeter zeroed in on the critical factor: Innovation drives economic change. Innovation in jazz came in many ways. One way was product differentiation. Jazz differed from ragtime. Big band swing differed from small group polyphony. Bop differed from swing, and so on. Yet all retained common elements that made them jazz. The musical differences are many and different artists discovered or invented them.

But how are we to understand innovation?

Austrian economists examine the entrepreneur far more than do neoclassical economists. In 2005, Bianchi and Henrekson could still write an article titled “Is Neoclassical Economics Still Entrepreneurless?” Austrian economists Murray Rothbard and Israel Kirzner have both gone beyond Schumpeter to understand entrepreneurial actions.

The central insight of Kirzner, adopted by Rothbard, is that innovation requires alertness. As Richard Ebeling explains it:

“But to be ‘alert’ is to notice something that others have neither seen nor thought of before. Alertness means thinking and seeing ‘outside the box’ of the known set of opportunities and routine ways of doing things. It is the process of discovering new knowledge and possibilities that no one has either previously imagined or noticed.

“In Israel Kirzner’s view, one of the most important reasons for open, competitive markets is for individuals to have the profit incentives and the chance to benefit from alertness. The free-market institutional order creates the conditions under which people will be more likely to have the motivation to be alert, even though we can never know ahead of time what their creative discoveries will generate and unearth.”

This discovery process links to Hayek’s insight that specialized knowledge (a division of knowledge) is coordinated and used through decentralized free markets. Innovations create new knowledge. The entrepreneur does the innovating. He gets a profit or loss by doing so, and the expected profit is an incentive to innovate. Innovations adopted by consumers in the market reward their creators and benefit the consumers.

In this economic theory, an economic factor drives innovation: the possibility of profit. Is this what drove innovation in jazz? Partly. It’s easy to spot the business end of jazz music. I propose that profit is not the only factor in the discovery process of jazz innovators, and not the only factor in discovery and innovation more broadly. It may not even be the most important factor.

I propose that “love” is a basic factor, and, as I shall argue, the love is a particular personal manifestation of self-expression. Love here means a strong attraction, regardless of profit, an attraction so strong that it creates a drive and motivation to continue against adversity and against the unknown, that is, not knowing what will result. Love motivates “trial”, and trial can end in error or failure as well as success. Love is behind the drive, and the drive is the central element in the trial.

Time and time again, we observe and jazz musicians tell us in their own words that at an early age they were attracted to an instrument or to a band or to a sound of another musician. They wanted to play and they kept on playing. At that point and later as they grew up, gain and profit were not really considerations or not major considerations. Playing the music and playing it well were number one. Mastering an instrument takes hard work or labor, as an economist would say. What motivates that work? Love that creates a desire. What drives love? It’s a form of self-expression. Love underlies a want or desire, which appears in a particular form that is unique to the person. A desire to play the music can influence a long series of choices that could prevail for years on end.

The value-scales or utility functions spoken of by economists stop at the doorstep of the mysteries of the person. Behind that door lie attractions, loves and desires that give rise to drives and motivations.

Although I admire and support that basis of libertarian thought that emphasizes non-aggression, it’s incomplete. It says what should not occur. There is another positive aspect to the libertarian foundation that emphasizes what should occur: the person’s individuality and self-expression. Non-aggression is a basic social and ethical concept to be strongly supported, but for what reason? It’s so that each person can develop his or her self, his or her individuality.

Self-expression quotations can be found here. Among these, Ansel Adams writes

“No man has the right to dictate what other men should perceive, create or produce, but all should be encouraged to reveal themselves, their perceptions and emotions, and to build confidence in the creative spirit.”

This quotation captures the two sides of the libertarian coin. Non-aggression for the purpose of self-expression.

7:28 am on October 17, 2012