BOSTON—A packed house welcomed the legendary musician and artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, Wynton Marsalis, to the Harvard Innovation Lab on Tuesday, February 7, for a panel titled "Artist as Entrepreneur." The space was a fitting venue to explore the integration of the arts with business and innovation.
The panel at the Harvard i-lab, located in Batten Hall on the Harvard Business School campus, was moderated by Mihir Desai, Mizuho Financial Group Professor of Finance and Senior Associate Dean for Planning and University Affairs. In his introduction, Desai expressed his vision of bringing more cultural events to the Harvard i-lab. "We're keen to explore how artists and entrepreneurs can learn from each other, and who better to represent that than Wynton Marsalis," he said. "Artists and entrepreneurs are united in their search for creative, original ideas independent of the availability of resources," Desai continued. "Their dedication to their vision goes beyond personal glory and is aimed at building organizations, institutions, and teams."
A nine-time Grammy award winner who leads the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and whose repertoire as a trumpet player and composer includes both jazz and classical music, Marsalis left home at 18 with nothing but a small box, his trumpet, and a pair of old jeans. He urged the audience to stay true to their art and to pursue their creative dreams with integrity and passion, despite the odds. "I didn't heed the calls of 'If you go into music, you're going to struggle your whole life.' In fact, I paid attention to what my father, who was a struggling jazz piano player at the time, taught me, 'Don't have nothing to fall back on.'"
Using the example of Duke Ellington, Marsalis illustrated Ellington's innovative genius in combining "sweet" music i.e., swing and New Orleans-style "hot" music. According to Marsalis, it was Ellington's discipline (he arose at 4 a.m. to practice daily) and likeable personality that allowed him to make a name for himself.
Also on the panel were Nancy Koehn, the School's James E. Robison Professor of Business Administration; Mukti Khaire, Associate Professor of Business Administration and Marvin Bower Fellow; and Rohit Deshpande, Sebastian S. Kresge Professor of Marketing.
Deshpande, a renowned global branding expert, talked about how "jazz has transcended boundaries and geographies and is compellingly international." Koehn brought a leadership lens to the discussion. "We live in a world of immense turbulence and upheaval," she said." How are leaders to function in this environment? And what can we apply from the arts? We need to look beyond the fires and teach humility and distillation. That's what artists do. They see through the clutter to what matters: beauty, truth, and justice. They have the faith to take the harder road, to go beyond survival to thriving."
In his remarkable journey as "artist as entrepreneur," Wynton Marsalis has done just that.