Woodshedding is an old jazz expression – it means to go deep in isolation to build your chops, get your groove on, master your instrument. As the legend goes, in 1937, when he was only 17 years old, young Charlie Parker – before he became the great “Bird” Parker – would go down to the High Hat Club, also known as “the cutting room” to play with the great session musicians of the day.
One night, after young Parker ran out of breath and ran dry of new ideas in the middle of his solo, the great session drummer Jo Jones unscrewed his cymbal and threw it with a crash at Charlie Parker’s feet. The gesture was clear. Take a hike kid. You’re cut.
The same thing happened to Parker just a couple years earlier, when he was only 14 years old. And when he was that young, he didn’t know what he didn’t know. He was so humiliated then that he quit the instrument for three months and refused to play. But this time he had a different reaction. He was indeed humiliated being cut from the stage, but this time around Parker worked even harder at the instrument. That summer he secluded himself at a resort in the Ozark Mountains to work on his playing. He joined a house band to pay for his roof and bread. But what he was really doing was wood-shedding and playing alone hour after hour each day to develop his virtuosity.
He emerged from that self-imposed seclusion and presented the world with an astonishing contribution to a new developing form of jazz known as bebop.
Here’s what I believe: The key to developing innovation and excellence starts by having the courage to develop our own niche mastery, and to understand and know that our actions make a difference.
First Reach In: Find your most compelling signal in the noise that surrounds us. Find the intersection of your passion and talent, and with perseverance, tenacity, grit, hard work and pluck, take it to the woodshed. In the constant din of noise that surrounds us, we need to understand the power of a mute button to silence the static while we focus.
Next Reach out: to a teammate, friend, colleague, or loved one, with encouragement and accountability enrich them to do the same. Multiply that excellence in others. For remember, a rising tide lifts all boats