Last weekend I did a clinic for high school coaches in Missouri and was very impressed with the number of attendees ( approximately 700 ) and the overall event management.   However, it was doing one of the breaks between sessions when I was approached by a small group of coaches who wanted to share with me who they thought  were the best coaches in the country. I tried to be patient and tolerant as they gushed out the same over-rated, and all too often repeated, names that I have heard too many times before. When  asked for my opinion I blurted out, “How many of these guys can GETZ ?”

What ?

How many of these people you just mentioned can GETZ ?

After a pregnant pause, one of them tentatively offered, “You mean the jazz guy ?”

Yes, I mean the jazz guy !

I heard he was a good saxophone player, but I never knew he coached track and field.

He never coached track and field. But,…….let me tell you what he really did that made him one of the very best at what he did, and almost totally escapes the people you have just laid out there. Stan Getz was playing in big bands as a teenager during World War II. He was 17 when he got his first big band professional job. Keep in mind that this was during the time when big bands ruled popular music. He was hired for two reasons. One he was very technically sound on his horn and a great sight reader who could memorize charts and arrangements almost instantly. Secondly, because of his age he was draft exempt. But, as i said and repeat, his technical skill and musicality were superior and very much in evidence even at that early age. He went on to win the DOWNBEAT Magazine poll as  #1  more than any other tenor sax player while he was alive. But it was not his technical skill that set him apart and allowed him to win all those polls over a 40 year history. His first gigs were in big bands where he was given short solos because in those days records were 78s and lasted a little over 3 minutes. So by definition solos were short. This music was written and arranged so it had to be played  within certain limits based upon the arrangement itself. Getz became a big fan and appreciator of Lester “Prez” Young. Young was a tenor player from New Orleans who brought a new approach to the music. At that time “modern” or “progressive” jazz was based upon the musicians knowing the chord changes of a song and then improvising their own melodies that were in basic harmony with the chord changes. This allowed for soloists to create and express their own melodic ideas and still stay within the basic integrity of the song in question. What Prez did was to bring an additional liberating element to the music. He went deeply into the mood and meaning of the song as expressed by the author and extended his playing based on this mood and meaning, thereby creating more freedom to express himself and get free of the limitations created by just playing off  the chord changes. Stan Getz adopted this concept in his playing, while at the same time ushering several genres of jazz. For example, he was one of the precursors of “Cool Jazz”, along with Mile Davis, Chet Baker, and Gerry Mulligan. Later he was able to popularize Bossa Nova as a jazz form. Bottom line, he was able to grow his considerable talent and be in the vanguard because although he mastered the basics,…. he did not let the basics master him ! When asked about what was the secret to his growth and ability to stay out front and be relevant over such a long period,  one of the things he said that spoke eloquently to what differentiated him from many of the other horn players was, ” I listen to the lyrics of the song and get into what the mood and ideas the writer is trying to communicate”. Too many jazz musicians are too ego-centric and self-absorbed to pay attention to the meaning and mood the lyrics are trying to convey and create.

Okay, so what ? What does that have to do with coaching ?

At its highest and most successful level coaching track and field is the same, with the same kind of challenges.

Really ? How ?

First of all, like the good jazz musician, the track coach needs to know the science and structure of what is involved in what she/he is trying to do. And like many musicians, we have track coaches that know the basic science and throw the terms around with such ease and expertise that we become impressed with their command of the basics and this can sometimes be very impressive and blinding at the same time. But, however, the very best coaches, like the very best jazz musicians, have to expand their work beyond just the basics and learn how to gauge the mood and meaning of things that Sir Isaac Newton authored,….. and then find a creative way of mixing and expressing this phenomena. Like Getz, Miles, and Coltrane the best coaches get down with the modal and mood that comes from a creative understanding of the essence of the music and coaching craft itself. So people like John Smith and Bobby Kersee, and Clyde Hart are always seeking ways to get to that next level of meaning and expression, and never rest on their past successes as being the defining and delineating activity in their work. They seek to push the envelope of expression within the sport,…..and as a result contribute upwards of 33% of the U.S. medal count at a typical Olympics and World Championships.  What per cent of the medal count do your people contribute ?

I mentioned Clyde Hart.

You most certainly did ! But did you include Smith and Kersee in your reverence ?

No, but…….

No buts,… that strategic exclusion is fatal.

Fatal ?

Yeah,..fatal !

Brooks T. Johnson

( 407 ) 758 – 0755

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