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Valuing the Contributions of Those Around You

Improvisation is the willingness to live within the bounds of the past and yet search for the future at the same time. Improvisation is the desire to make something new out of something old.… It is experienced in being open to letting the people around you…have impact on what you are creating.

Wynton Marsalis is the artistic director of jazz at the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York City. He's earned a Pulitzer Prize, written several books, and plays a mean trumpet. On a Tuesday evening late in August 2001 at the Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village, he was playing "I Don't Stand a Ghost of a Chance with You" on his trumpet without accompaniment. As he neared the end of the song, the sound of a cell phone intruded into the drama of the moment. A jazz critic in the audience scrawled on a sheet of notepaper, "MAGIC, RUINED," and people began to chatter. Marsalis improvised. He played the notes of the cell phone ring tone—slow, fast, and in different keys—and when all ears were back on him, he seamlessly transitioned the silly cell phone tune back to the ballad and finished the song. In the words of the jazz critic, "The ovation was tremendous."

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