“In R&B and rock, when you are over a certain age, they say goodbye to you. But in jazz, you just kind of level off and continue to gain respect, so long as you keep your integrity.”
George Duke, jazz fusion pioneer
From the moment he heard Duke Ellington play the piano, a then 4-year-old George knew that he wanted to be a performer just like him. And over a long career, the Grammy Award-winning keyboard maestro put out 40 albums. And when his final album, Dream-Weaver (love that name!), was released just recently, it hit No. 1 on Billboard’s contemporary jazz chart.
I love what George said about jazz being a field where age isn’t a barrier. His comment reminded me of a wonderful commencement speech that George Saunders, the award-winning writer, gave at Syracuse University. It was a speech full of wisdom delivered in a way that only a storyteller can deliver it: through stories. In the end, George had a very simple but profound bit of advice for his young listeners:
“What I regret most in my life are failures of kindness.
Those moments when another human being was there, in front of me, suffering, and I responded…sensibly. Reservedly. Mildly.
Or, to look at it from the other end of the telescope: Who, in your life, do you remember most fondly, with the most undeniable feelings of warmth?
Those who were kindest to you, I bet.
It’s a little facile, maybe, and certainly hard to implement, but I’d say, as a goal in life, you could do worse than: Try to be kinder.”
I love the way George wove stories into his speech and the way he endowed it with a narrative flow, one that carried his listeners along. Not only was the message he delivered one that could only have been given by someone who’d lived a rich, full life — but the artful, story driven delivery was surely the product of a lifetime spent among words. This is what makes our calling as storytellers, scribes, rememberers so valuable: Not only do we have wisdom to share, we know how to share it in ways that make it entertaining and memorable. We have riches to offer and the longer we live and write, the riper those riches become. Just consider the two Georges and all they’ve accomplished. And be sure to Google George Saunders+Syracuse University commencement speech — it’s a keeper! Write on!