I have been thinking about Teams a lot lately, particularly those that are formed in a crisis. They typically execute with “show up in a conference room at ….” and from there, take on a life and a feeling that is hard to describe. Leaders of those teams have a unique challenge – how to assemble a group that has all of the various skills that might be needed, and then, how to keep them together when there is not a lot that they share. Differences that bring strength and breadth also challenge you to communicate and lead in a way that says execution is about the work and not about what happens to you or others 😉
execution took on a Different meaning in Van’s life now. His producer died from a heart attack – and his widow thought it was because Van had been pushing back. It also turned out his contract was up a week after the funeral, and without the contract, his visa would be revoked. Oh – and Bang was known for ties to organized crime – hence the 20K in the warehouse 😉 Luckily he was in love with an American citizen, Janet Rigsbee whom he married, then left the contract and moved to Boston. He performed some blues and started to explore more of a folk feel with acoustic instruments. The combination developed a series of songs that feel completely Different than either withThem or Brown Eyed Girl…
… songs which he recorded in 1968 with a group of musicians from The Modern Jazz Quartet and others who worked with Charles Mingus – led by Richard Davis on the acoustic bass. His manager Merenstein remarked, “If you listen to the album, every tune is led by Richard and everybody followed Richard and Van’s voice.” “I knew if I brought Richard in, he would put the bottom on to support what Van wanted to do vocally, or acoustically. Then you get Jay playing those beautiful counter-lines to Van.”
Van’s recollections were similar “The songs came together very well in the studio. Some of the tracks were first takes. [But] the musicians were really together. Those type of guys play what you’re gonna do before you do it, that’s how good they are.” “What stood out in my mind was the fact that he allowed us to stretch out,” recalls the guitarist, Berliner. “We were used to playing to charts, but Van just played us the songs on his guitar and then told us to go ahead and play exactly what we felt.” The songs produced no singles and were mostly just an asterisk on his career for many years. I have to be honest – like most of the critics and consumers in 1968 – I didn’t get Astral Weeks when I first listened to it.
And like many masterpieces, it was mostly misunderstood until more and more musicians pointed back to it as formative. Springsteen credits it as the inspiration for his first album, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ. Martin Scorsese said the first 15 minutes of Taxi Driver are based on the album. It finally was certified Gold – in 2001 – over 30 years after its release. It is now regarded as one of the most important and influential albums of all time. In my recent listen to it, I have reframed him as one of the greatest singers and lyricists riffing live over an amazing jazz and rhythm section, complete with harpsichord, vibraphones, and of course, an amazing bass player 😉
Teams that execute well together are simply amazing to be on. I am extremely fortunate to have had many of them in my career – where whatever came along, someone was there to say “Oh I can do that”. Some were formed by amazing leaders, some came together completely by accident – crises tend to force that to happen – while others are carefully kept together and continue to execute for years. I am aware of one team I was on for a bit that has now been together for more than 15 years – the time I have been doing this new career – and they are still building on the Differences that made it amazing from the start…
Here is the description of the Astral Week’s sessions: The recording engineer for the album, Brooks Arthur, remembered the sessions in 2009: “A cloud came along, and it was called the Van Morrison sessions. We all hopped upon that cloud, and the cloud took us away for awhile [sic], and we made this album, and we landed when it was done” In a Rolling Stone interview in 1972, Morrison told John Grissim, Jr.: “I was really pretty happy with the album. The only complaint I had was that it was rather rushed. But I thought it was closer to the type of music I wanted to put out. And still is, actually.”
Doesn’t that sound like a team you would want to be on, to lead, to simply be a part of… and so Different than the execution of most. The link I included starts with the title song, but it will play the whole album, described as a song cycle – a group of songs that go together but may or may not tell a story. I found it to be the perfect soundtrack for executing Differently. Jazz, Folk, Pop, Blues… all with a Celtic accent. And an interesting palate cleanser before we dive into the more well-known hits from a career that, at this point, was not at all clear… much like us in this transition between last year and … what will come next. If you want to build a team that is ready for take-off, I would suggest a playlist from and for the heavens – Astral Weeks.