The Center of the Sound

I’m a big jazz fan—classical, smooth, it doesn’t matter the type. I love all of it. Years ago I was at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival sitting under a small canvas tent on a typical summer afternoon, ready to listen to Branford Marsalis and his quartet. Branford walks up on the stage, grabs the mic, and looks out to the audience of about 32 folks and tells us he’s going on a discovery—searching for the center of the sound. I had no idea what that meant.

He and the other musicians starting playing experimental type sounds that contradicted each other in harmony and structure. About five minutes into this session, his father Ellis walks up and sits at the piano and starts to play. The other musicians change their direction and follow his lead. Then Branford whispers to the audience that they found the center of the sound, the core, the sweet spot if you will. It was the most beautiful piece of music I had ever heard.

This experience was a life-changing moment for me. It showed me another way to dig deep in my area and discipline, searching for my center of the sound or the center of my creativity. I was always the one who would dig as deep as I could to find the insights, the truth, to connect with my audience. This new learning became part of my discovery throughout my career.

A couple of years ago, I was working in New York on the US Marines account where the strategic platform was to increase the number of officers in the Corps. I wanted to use this new approach on a real assignment for one of our clients, and this seemed to be the perfect one. I shared the strategic direction with the eight teams and then asked each and every one of them to think about this; why would someone be willing to give their life for their country? And then I directed this question to each member on the team. Would you give up everything in your life at that very moment to suit up with your dress blues to serve and protect each and every person on the planet? It was quiet in the room; no one uttered a word. I could see them all in deep thought. I heard, “Hell NO! Are you crazy?” and “How much do they (Marine officers) make?”

I then spoke to them about my experience of searching for the center of the sound. I told them what it meant to me personally, and what it could mean to those who were ready to be the next warrior, the next Marine. What came out of this experiment wasn’t what I had expected. Many if not all found their reasons, their purpose and truth, as to why they would join the elite force of the Marine Corps. More importantly, the team had just discovered their center of the sound. The thinking that came out of this exercise was breathtaking!

The campaign titled “Where I’m From” was developed with a digital and social focus, but also included traditional TV. This campaign not only won awards, but it also won the hearts and minds of many of those who call themselves the elite force in the Marine Corps.

Now that I’ve left New York for the smaller and more attractive market, Richmond, Virginia, I continue to use this learning in searching for the center of the sound on the current business I manage, like Sandler Training and CarLotz.


Posted by Quincy Cherry, Creative Thought Leader at initiate-it, a digital first, full-service agency. We’re driven to find a better way, everyday, in everything we do.