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Cool cat jazzes up medical session

If the number of times your presentation gets mentioned by other speakers is a measure of achievement, John Hasse's talk "Leadership Lessons from the Jazz Masters" at the American Medical Group Association's conference was a rousing success—just as his piano interludes successfully stirred attendees from their Saturday-morning drowsiness.

In addition to having one of the liveliest and most memorable conference keynotes in memory, Hasse also has one of the coolest job titles you'd ever want to put on a business card: curator of American music at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of American History.

Dr. Farzad Mostashari took to heart Hasse's suggestion to take risks and improvise when, during his lunchtime talk later that day, he described the federal government's meaningful-use health IT program in jazz terms.

"We have to swing together," said Mostashari, head of the Office of the National Coordinator for Health IT, as he described the program as having medication-safety and patient-engagement "chords." Noting the instrumental nature of electronic health records, Mostashari said "meaningful use" means that "every piano should have every key."

The conference's closing speaker, Dave deBronkart (better known in cyberspace as "ePatientDave"), referenced Hasse and said, "That guy this morning really cranked me up," before proudly announcing that Benny Goodman's "Sing, Sing, Sing" was the ring tone on his cellphone.

Hasse had played a clip of that song while comparing the leadership styles of Goodman the disciplinarian and Duke Ellington the mentor. He noted that Goodman often hogged the spotlight while Ellington shared solo space with other band members. That could be one reason why Goodman's bands were known for "legendary turnover" while Ellington's lineup enjoyed "legendary longevity."

Hasse asked his audience what type of leader they'd like to work for and what type of leader they'd like to be.

He urged the audience to, in their hiring, "affirm diversity" as Ellington did. Sir Duke, he said, composed music that highlighted a musician's strengths while downplaying musical weaknesses. Hasse recalled how Ellington had a trombonist who was said to be only able to play eight notes, "But, man, what great eight notes," so tunes were written with those notes in mind.

True collaboration can achieve outstanding results, he said, recalling how Ellington wrote the basic tune for "Satin Doll," but then Billy Strayhorn added harmonies; Johnny Mercer added lyrics; and Ella Fitzgerald put her own stamp on the words.

The essence of jazz, according to Hasse, is the creation of something new from something old and of something personal from something shared.

Improvisation, Hasse said, is "composing at the speed of thought," and he encouraged the audience to use their experience and knowledge to improvise—though not necessarily during surgery.

Follow Andis Robeznieks on Twitter: @MHARobeznieks.

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