Jazz Visits Northwood: A New Perspective on Business

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Grammy Award Winning Jazz legend Bob James joined Northwood University’s Alden B. Dow Center for Creativity & Enterprise as its inaugural Creative Entrepreneur-in-Residence last spring. During this time, he worked with both undergraduate and graduate students at Northwood’s Midland, Michigan campus sharing his business experiences in the music industry. He discussed the challenges and business concepts he encountered in order to give students a different perspective on how relevant business is in all industries. Hands-on case studies, combined with lectures about his personal experiences, gave our students an invaluable and innovative learning experience.

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Bob James began his professional career in music with very little knowledge, experience, or interest in the commercial side of the industry. While he was very well-educated in music composition, learning about the business side of the industry wasn’t remotely on his radar of practicality when he began his career. His fundamental concern was, and still remains, making the best quality music he could while still staying competitive in the industry. “I guess you could say I was an idealist,” he said when discussing his early career endeavors. Essentially, he wasn’t in the industry for the money, he was following his passion—the same mantra which translated from his own experiences to the Northwood University student body.

As he gained more experience and success in the music industry, James’ idealism shifted toward a more business-oriented lifestyle. However, he still kept his priorities and values intact: the quality of his work always trumped the money he earned. 

Not surprisingly, James’ well-rounded experience in the arts and business, as well as his passion for music, flowed seamlessly into his passion for working with the students at Northwood. In his effort to provide NU students with a complete learning experience, he stressed the importance of focusing on the quality of one’s work over the income they receive because in the end the quality is where one will find self-satisfaction and success.

“If there is one basic premise that I tried to convey to the Northwood students,” emphasized James, “it is my belief that it is possible and desirable to keep your artistic standards high and still achieve financial success.” 

James’ focus on maintaining high standards for himself, and his ambition to grow personally, made a recognizable impact on students, faculty, and staff alike at Northwood, and in particular, a group of DeVos graduate students who had the good fortune to work with James on a new and unique alcohol-based product he is in the process of launching. The experience not only provided the DeVos students with hands-on experience but it also taught them the value of balancing the art of business and business of the arts.

- Northwood senior, Jennifer Hansen