trumpeter playing his trumpet in black and white

We recently watched the Ken Burns series, Jazz. In the second episode called ‘The Gift’ Burns explores the seminal point when jazz took a giant leap forward. A young Louis Armstrong joined Paul Whiteman’s band and Armstrong’s improvisational brilliance changed their playing from symphonic jazz to a freer, more swinging style.

The Jazz narrative explored how each player needed to first learn the notes in the songs they played. But then, the solo musician had to tell their story, or add a personal touch to the recognizable melody. For example: Miles Davis played ‘Concierto de Aranjuez’ like you’ve never heard it in Sketches of Spain. Bill Evans made Richard Rodgers’ ‘My Romance’ into a breathtaking, lyrical beauty. Our contemporary, George Kahn (on his latest album Dreamcatcher) renders ‘I Feel Pretty’ in a bright, up-tempo version that only his talented quartet could deliver.

Knowing the nuts and bolts of your profession is the entry fee. But to speak memorably on your subject requires stepping out as a solo performer. You have to craft your story and add your personal touch to the material. Whether the topic is insurance, retirement plans or contract law, if you deliver these timeless standards with a new twist, you will draw the audience to you and your message.


  1. Bruce Gendein says:

    Terrific advice. Follows closely on the concept that “Best Practices” stifles innovation.

    • Deborah Shames says:

      Yes. Best practices or structure give you a starting point and mitigate anxiety. But then you need to “break it” to make content your own. Thanks for writing!

  2. George Kahn says:

    Deborah and David, thanks for the shout out! It is all about having the skill and then getting out of the way.. Thanks again.

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