Ep. 37: Businesses turn to jazz to develop teamwork, leadership, and innovation; with Jazz Impact’s Dr. Michael Gold

April 7, 2020

Jazz music has been used by General Mills, Target, IBM, The Mayo Clinic, and The United Nations to develop 21st century skills such as agile thinking, imagination, empathy, and risk-taking. How can the jazz genre inform a business model that has long prized stability and continuity?

April is Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM), a time to spotlight the heritage of jazz music and its importance to American culture. In honor of this, we’re talking today with the founder of Jazz Impact, a company that uses the art of jazz to develop business skills. This episode was recorded before COVID-19 really hit the fan here in the US, which is why you won’t hear references to the virus in today’s conversation. I hope you enjoy this virus-free 30-minutes!


Jazz Impact for Seimens in Munich, Germany

Jazz Impact for Seimens in Munich, Germany

With me today is Dr. Michael Gold who founded Jazz Impact in 1999 to use the art of jazz within businesses to develop creative and innovative thinking. Dr. Gold has brought his interactive workshops to some of the world’s largest companies & organizations, including General Mills, Target, IBM, The Mayo Clinic, and The United Nations. Dr. Gold has a Ph.D. in music from New York University. He has also held senior management positions in the real estate and financial services industries. And he uses the art of jazz to teach leadership development for MBA Programs at Northwestern University and The University of Minnesota.


  • Jazz Impact workshops combine jazz with “interactive and experiential learning to create new ways of thinking about leadership, teamwork, social engagement, and collaboration in business.”
  • Jazz Impact’s Five Dynamics of Jazz are Autonomy, Passion, Risk, Innovation & Listening.
  • Michael developed Jazz Impact based on the theories of Positive Psychology and Appreciative Inquiry
  • “Jazz is the musical expression of our capacity to improvise as individuals and in collaboration with each other.” – Michael Gold
  • “Jazz is the sound of people negotiating change.” – Michael Gold


Dr. Gold says: To bring attention to the actual “act” of listening I ask people to consider what happens when they listen. A very simple question but actually quite difficult to answer.

  • I first ask them to consider “how” they listen. The ensemble plays twice through the melody of Blue In Green with slight improvisation in the second iteration. I ask “how” they listened. People respond by describing visual or emotional scenarios: walking on the beach at midnight, sad, mysterious, lots of colors, a broken love affair, peace on earth.
  • I then ask them to consider the 5 different sensual stimuli of sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch. I suggest that with smell, taste, and touch we more or less choose to engage or at least can disengage if the experience becomes too uncertain or unpleasant. With vision we also have the option of disengaging by closing our eyes. In most cases, though, visual stimuli allow us the luxury of time to interpret. But this is not the case with sound. We can’t shut sound out. Sound is ephemeral. It is there only in the instant that it happens and then gone and we are generally taught to reflect on what we heard after the fact in order to make sense of it.
  • Some psychologists suggest that “listening” is 20% aural and 80% visual. I’m not sure about the metrics but surely we use visual stimuli to clarify the ephemeral experience of sound.
  • Jazz musicians are deeply aware of the need to capture the meaning of sound as it is happening and much of their practice lies in suspending the assumptions and expectations that most of us bring to the act of listening. If we think we know what we are about to hear or assume that it will go a certain way, then we will probably miss the unique qualities that are actually emerging in the moment. Which is, to say the least, a metaphor for our species at this moment in time.
  • I pass out blindfolds and ask people to put them on. We then play two iterations of Blue in Green again in almost exactly the same way. When asked “how” they listened, the overwhelming response is that they became aware of the interconnected dynamics between the instruments. Without the distraction of the visual an entire range of relational phenomena became tangible. They were able to hear “how” we were relating both as individuals and as a single entity.

My suggestion for improv would be to use a blindfold to experiment with your favorite piece of music, perhaps one you’ve listened to for years. Sit with the blindfold on and listen to that piece. Do you hear it differently? Or take a piece you may not know and listen to it first without the blindfold and then again with the blindfold. How does the act of listening change for you? Take this idea and transpose it to a conversation with a trusted friend or partner. What happens to your capacity to “hear the other” in conversation when you cannot use your vision to influence what you think you are hearing from the other. What do you discover? Write down three ways your discovery, awareness or epiphany can be integrated into the way you function at the most granular levels of daily interaction.



Michael shares a personal story from his youth in The Hudson Valley in the late 1960’s and early 70’s:

The area was home to the most profound musicians of the time. Bob Dylan and The Band lived across the river in Woodstock and were playing everywhere. I saw Joni Mitchell in a room that held less than 50 people. Blues, jazz, and Bluegrass bands from all over the country were hanging out in The Hudson Valley. We could hear great live music in small clubs just about every night. 

As a young aspiring bluegrass bass player, I became enthralled with a group called The Arm Brothers.  They were an amalgamation of three musicians who came north from Austin, Texas, to join with a phenomenally talented baritone singer songwriter named Dan Delsanto and three other great musicians from the town of Poughkeepsie.

One evening I went to a performance by Dan (on guitar and piano) and Evan Stover (who was playing fiddle in The David Bromberg Band at the time) at Vassar College. The concert took place in an intimate comfortable living room in one of the Victorian dormitories at the college. The piano was a Steinway grand, the acoustics were wonderful and the setting couldn’t have been more perfect. The room was filled with about 30 students who had presumably come to hear the music. They started with a particularly beautiful ballad that Dan wrote,“Under Blue Mountain,” about a woman who’d broken his heart in a small town near Blue Mountain in the Adirondak Mountains about two hours north of Vassar. The melody, harmony, and lyrics were compelling and Dan’s piano playing and baritone voice were sublime.

As was the case in many college environments at the time, the students were pretty lit up and, while some were deeply engaged in listening, most were chattering away oblivious to the depth of the live musical performance taking place in their midst.

As I listened, I began to notice that Dan was playing chords that weren’t quite right, and his voice was beginning to quaver in a way that was disconcerting. His playing rapidly devolved into nonsensical notes and within moments he was simply banging the keyboard. I looked up and, with the exception of the few who’d been paying attention, no one was aware of what was happening. As I tried to make sense of it, Dan who was a pretty big tough cowboy of a guy, was so upset that he tipped over backwards and crashed to the floor. As he picked himself up, I noticed he was crying.

Everyone immediately stopped talking and there was dead silence in the room.

Evan stepped to the microphone and said to the stunned audience: “The next time people are playing for you, perhaps you’ll listen.”

I never forgot that experience. As both a listener and performer I am keenly aware of the trust that can and should exist between the one who plays and those who listen.

Closing Words

Thank you so much to Dr. Gold for sharing with us today, and to you listeners for joining us. Before I sign off, I wanted to let you know about a unique opportunity that we podcast listeners and lovers have to support Meals on Wheels America’s COVID-19 Response Fund. This is an excellent charity that delivers meals AND social interaction to seniors, who need these services more than ever right now. Thanks to #Reviews4Good, every new review on Podchaser (through April 16, 2020) will result in a 25 cent donation to Meals on Wheels’ COVID-19 Response Fund – and if podcasts reply (which I will certainly do), they’ll double the donation. Podchaser is a comprehensive podcast database that lists ALL podcasts past, present, and future. So before you hit play on your next podcast episode or get started on a different activity, I would really appreciate you taking a quick moment to click here to leave a review.  You can leave as many reviews as you’d like! So while you’re there, leave a review for Enhance Life with Music and all your favorite podcasts. If you’re listening to this after April 16, 2020, the fundraiser will have ended BUT I’d still love for you to help me out with a review

Stay safe, stay healthy, and until next week, may your life be enhanced with music.