Greg Thomas (Part 2) – From Race to Culture to Cosmos: Using the Dance of Our Differences to Wise Up, Harmonize, and Actualize

Greg Thomas Jazz Leadership

Greg Thomas, brilliant cultural analyst, educator, musician, speaker, and co-founder of the Jazz Leadership Project, is passionate about the power of culture to transform us as individuals and collectively. Where race is concerned, Greg presents an illuminating, multiperspectival view of the many layered issues around racism in this country. Early on, Greg developed a systemic perspective on how everything fits together, and realized that the issues that plague us are not just about race or racism, but the overarching systemic racial worldview. Greg offers that the way out of this morass lies in adopting a cultural lens to replace the racial lens. And Greg points out that when we further embrace a cultural worldview in a participatory way, it opens up all the doors and windows: creating room for individuals to shine, for groups to experience group flow, for all of us to enjoy beauty and appreciation—the way soloist, band, and audience come together in a shared musical experience. 

When Greg talks about the power of culture, sharing illustrative anecdotes about blues masters, blues philosophy, and great moments in jazz history, it becomes clear just how effective culture is at dissolving boundaries and heightening connection, and how music (in this case) allows us to transcend our differences, our daily burdens, and experience unbounded joy. This is a lively, impactful, and poignant dialogue, with wisdom ranging from the deeply spiritual, the psychological/developmental, to the political and universal. Recorded January 25, 2023.

“Out of the many…one: this is the challenge, the spiritual challenge, for Americans and for humanity.”

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Topics & Time Stamps – Part 2

  • Antagonistic cooperation: competition is part of the American, democratic experience, but there are ways it can be a cooperative competition, e.g. cutting contests in jazz, cypher in hip hop (01:30)
  • Where individuality and the group flow dynamic come together: jazz and the ring shout tradition (04:34)
  • Entropy, consciousness, and culture: the tragic dimension and the comic perspective (05:33)
  • The power of culture: pushing people towards excellence, orienting towards self-actualization, and the Greek notion of arete (06:57)
  • How do we get to arete? The importance of striving for and developing both mastery and wisdom (11:11)
  • The tension between virtues like liberty and equality (15:27)
  • The healing power of music: Art Pepper & Sonny Stitt’s cutting contest (18:00)
  • Stomping the blues and how music merges secular & sacred, reminds us of our range of human feelings, gives resonance to memory, and brings healing and transcendence (21:11)
  • Music affirms the gift of life: moments of utopia allow us to transcend our everyday cares (25:00)
  • The role of creativity, the arts & humanities, is crucial in getting through the meaning crisis and the metacrisis (28:53)
  • Cultural forms and ideas can be picked up at any time and reinvigorated: bringing back the wisdom (29:52)
  • If there are enough of us who can model what it takes to be in flow together, despite our differences, we could tap into higher dimensions of human possibility (32:52)
  • The blues idiom wisdom tradition, great orators Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. & Frederick Douglass, and the embodiment of American democratic ideals (33:36)
  • Striving to achieve the realization of democratic ideals in a multiracial democracy—it’s never been done before (38:34)
  • The fundamental contradiction of being a slave owner in a country based on the principle of liberty (41:30)
  • Ultimately neither slave owner or slave is psychologically and spiritually free in a slave society (42:20)

Resources & References – Part 2

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Greg Thomas Jazz Leadership

Greg Thomas is CEO of the Jazz Leadership Project, a private company that uses jazz music as a model to enhance leadership success and team excellence. Along with his wife and partner Jewel, the Jazz Leadership Project works with notable firms such as JPMorgan Chase, Verizon, TD Bank, and Google. The leadership blog features their writings. Greg has been a professional journalist for over 25 years. He is currently a Senior Fellow of the Institute for Cultural Evolution. As an educator, Greg recently taught a course, “Cultural Intelligence: Transcending Race, Embracing Cosmos,” and co-facilitated a six-month class in 2022, titled “Stepping Up: Wrestling with America’s Past, Reimagining Its Future, Healing Together.”

As Co-Director of the Omni-American Future Project, Greg co-produced a two-day broadcast and awards ceremony, “Combating Racism and Antisemitism Together: Shaping an Omni-American Future” in October 2021 and the second annual event in November 2022, “Straight Ahead: An Omni-American Future, Fighting Bigotry Together.” In September 2022, Greg co-facilitated a one-day conference, “Resolving the Race-ism Dilemma.” He also serves on the advisory boards of The Consilience Project, and FAIR, the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism. 

Podcast produced by Vanessa Santos and Show Notes by Heidi Mitchell

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