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John Edward Hasse

John Edward Hasse

Award-Winning Music Historian & Smithsonian Curator Emeritus

John Edward Hasse

Award-Winning Music Historian & Smithsonian Curator Emeritus


One of America’s foremost music historian-educators, Dr. John Edward Hasse helps audiences understand the power music to move and inspire us to greater heights.

Hasse is a museum curator, author, speaker, and leader in his field. During his 33-year tenure at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History, Curator Emeritus John Edward Hasse developed exhibitions on Duke Ellington, Ella Fitzgerald, Frank Sinatra, and Ray Charles. He founded the Smithsonian Jazz Masterworks Orchestra, now celebrating its 31st anniversary, and international Jazz Appreciation Month, which is celebrated in all 50 states and 40 other countries.

His books include an acclaimed biography, Beyond Category: The Life and Genius of Duke Ellington, with a Foreword by Wynton Marsalis, and Jazz: The First Century, with Forewords by Quincy Jones and Tony Bennett. As an expert on 20th century music, he is a contributor to The Washington Post and eight encyclopedias and has written 50 articles on music for The Wall Street Journal.

His media appearances include CNN, CBS, PBS, BBC, NPR, and several documentary movies. He is the recipient of two Grammy Award nominations and two ASCAP awards for excellence in writing on music.

He earned a B.A. Cum Laude from Carleton College, M.A. and Ph.D. degrees from Indiana University, a Certificate in Business Administration from The Wharton School, and two Honorary Doctorates.

Active in cultural diplomacy for the U.S. State Department, Hasse has lectured on leadership, the arts, and music in 25 countries.

Speaker Videos

Leadership Lessons from the Jazz Masters Trailer

Collaborate Creatively to Make Beautiful Music Together

Why We Need the Arts More Than Ever

7 Lessons from Music about Collaboration

Collaborating by Putting Ego Aside

Speech Topics

Leadership Lessons from the Jazz Masters

In today's swiftly changing business environment, success is captured by the masters of innovation: those who find creative ways to lead, address challenges, and sprint to the head of the pack. The lives of the great jazz masters are rich with lessons that can teach us how.

Because improvisation is the heart and soul of their art, jazz musicians are among the most consistently creative professionals of our time. In improvising their music night after night on the bandstand, they take calculated risks to produce creative results. And the musicians must be ever-resilient in the moment and over time: this music's history has been about inventing and accommodating rapid change.

In a well-illustrated presentation, Smithsonian curator, author, jazz pianist, and NPR commentator John Edward Hasse shares secrets from the lives of jazz masters that can inspire and benefit people in business.

You will learn:

  • How the jazz musician's art – rehearsing, jamming, improvising, and keeping things fresh – can be applied to business
  • How, as a young man, Louis Armstrong revolutionized American music and taught everyone new ways of practicing an old craft
  • How Duke Ellington developed his secrets for finding, stimulating and retaining individual talent
  • How Ellington's affirmation of diversity can inspire today's business leaders
  • How Miles Davis continually reinvented himself as an artist throughout his career
  • How Miles dealt with major change in and out of the workplace
  • How Miles taught – and learned from – the young people he hired
  • How Ella Fitzgerald successfully navigated major changes in public taste
  • How the most brilliant jazz masters have thought "outside the box" and created new paradigms

Collaborate Creatively to Make Beautiful Music Together

"To say 'None of us is as smart as all of us' underscores the key role collaboration can play in achieving success. Music is a field where creative collaboration has produced one brilliant result after another. Creating 'music' together can spur innovative ideas among diverse teams and individuals, and teach the skills necessary to succeed—creativity, teamwork, accountability, and problem-solving. In this presentation, Dr. John Edward Hasse, Curator Emeritus of Music at the Smithsonian Institution, reveals the secrets of successful collaboration in five key lessons drawn from music: Listen closely, Trust, Tune up, Harmonize, and be sure to Jam and Riff.  Using examples ranging from George Gershwin to Duke Ellington, from the Beatles to Tony Bennett and Lady Gaga, Dr. Hasse looks at how these artists worked as teams to negotiate their creative differences and to spark new ideas. This fresh, inspiring presentation is a must-see, illustrated with video clips and live demonstrations at the piano."

Why We Need the Arts More Than Ever

Imagine a world with no art. No movies, no plays, no theater, no poetry, no novels, and no music. So difficult is it to imagine a world bereft of art, it's nearly inconceivable. That's because the arts give so much meaning to our lives. As clean air and water are to the human body, art is to the human spirit. Art feeds our souls, expresses our creativity, stimulates our imaginations, and inspires us to reach for excellence.

In this stimulating presentation, Dr. John Edward Hasse of the Smithsonian Institution lays out an invigorating and compelling case for why, more than ever before, we need the arts in our lives. For example: the arts embody the human imagination, record human achievement, and, along with language and higher reasoning, distinguish us as a species from the rest of the animal kingdom. We humans form communities and cultures by making art: poems and paintings, drama and dance, sculpture, stories, and songs. The arts form links from people to people, culture to culture, and age to age. And, if the arts are vital to the lives of adults, they are especially critical in teaching our children.

Dr. Hasse offers an emotionally engaging, wonderfully dynamic presentation that includes:

  • Moving audio-dialogue from "Hamlet" and The Grapes of Wrath
  • Tributes to Van Gogh and Charlie Chaplin
  • A sample of "The Nutcracker" ballet
  • Poetry by Emily Dickinson
  • Excerpts from Bizet's opera "Carmen" and "Beethoven's 9th Symphony"
  • Ella Fitzgerald singing Gershwin and Judy Garland doing "Over the Rainbow"
  • Duke Ellington's infectious "Take the ‘A' Train" and part of a soaring Louis Armstrong trumpet solo that will lift you right out of your seat
  • A piano solo from Dr. Hasse himself – a solo that never fails to move his audiences