Part 1: The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter (1996)

If you were in a facilitation led by me this past year, chances are high that while you brainstormed or wrote silently or sorted and posted up your stickies in MURAL you heard some retro–tiki, instrumental lounge music playing in the background.

That album is The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter and I played it so much this year that, according to Apple Music, the album (along with killer releases by Hailey Williams and Moses Sumney) is one of my top 5 albums of 2020. 

Most of the people I worked with this year were innovation teams, executives and leadership teams, Chief Innovation Officers and CEOs looking to manage the growth phase of their business or train innovation thinking and best practices throughout their organization.

The work we do together usually spans multiple half-day sessions where we are using collaborative workspaces (like MURAL) to gain clarity or consensus, cast a big vision, work on culture and communication, prioritize initiatives and outcomes, develop a strategic plan or stay accountable to the process.

When facilitating, especially during visioning or brainstorming, I usually build in plenty of time to work silently or write and reflect. And I’m always on a search for music without lyrics to distract from the thinking process. 

Sometimes jazz is what I’m after. But, if it’s too busy (like bop or free jazz) it can feel distracting and chaotic, and if it’s too mellow (like smooth jazz) it can feel hokey. 70s–era Miles Davis is greatly atmospheric (i.e. In a Silent Way) and a personal favorite, but the tone of his trumpet can end up sounding grating or tinny when run through Zoom’s compressors or played through tiny laptop speakers.

Sometimes down–tempo electronic or dance can serve to keep the energy steady throughout a session. Goa (a blend of trance and techno) can work for high-energy activities. Minimalist electronic music with blips and washes of sound works great for quieter sessions (think Brian Eno or Bill Laswell). You may also find various playlists, designed for reading or studying, that fit the mood.

For whatever reason, The Exotic Moods of Les Baxter was the album that I played in the most sessions this year and it took a well-deserved spot in my top 5. I suppose it provided the right balance of tension/adventure (like standing in the line at Disney Land) as well as the non-threatening and nostalgic sounds you may find in your grandparents’ living room. 

I’d love to go through my library and feature some other music that I facilitate and work to. But I’m dying to know — what is your go-to instrumental music for facilitation, working, studying or reading? 

Please sound off in the comments below.


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