“There’s nothing new under the sun — but the sun ain’t always shining on everything,” remarked program moderator and guest musician Dominic Fragman to the nearly 70 people at the Spirit of Innovation and Freedom event, hosted at the Patuxent River Naval Air Museum on Saturday night.
A companion project to the Spirit of Jazz & Democracy, the innovation and freedom program seeks to foster an environment of mutual understanding, tolerance, intentional listening and expression through a series of concerts, workshops, lectures and classes that feature improvisational art forms such as jazz and spoken word poetry.
Panelists at Saturday’s event sought to highlight the role of improvisation and innovation as common elements that unite seemingly dissimilar disciplines such as aerospace engineering, science, poetry and music.
“All of these disciplines are united in the spirit of innovation,” said Pierre Sprey, a defense analyst and former co-designer of the F-16 fighter aircraft, who became a record producer later in life.
“Innovation is simply the process of extracting old ideas and combining them in new ways”, according to Sprey. In his advice to future inventors in attendance at the event, Sprey shared his belief that the great creators are those who have understood and mastered the concepts that came before them, and expanded upon those thoughts by adding “their own wrinkle.
“One of the key drivers of innovation is dissatisfaction in what has come before,” Sprey said.
The degree to which a team or individual can cultivate an environment of innovation and improvisation depends on a person’s tolerance for risk, noted Matt Scassero, retired vice commander for the Naval Air Warfare Center Aircraft Division. In his current position as director of the University of Maryland Unmanned Aircraft Systems Test Site, Scassero described the balance with which he must factor, including “who brings what to the table, and what risks can we accept.”
“Allowing for the freedom of self-expression through improvisation teaches individuals patience and tolerance within themselves as they explore and express ideas,” Fragman said. “This, in turn, leads to tolerance of expression and exploration of ideas in others.”
A pair of master musicians, drummer Paul Murphy and jazz pianist Larry Willis, performed a fully improvised concert with guest performances by poet laureate Jere Carroll and multi-instrumentalist Fragman.
“You’re never going to hear the same thing twice,” Fragman said of the ensemble’s highly unconventional approach to composition and performance. The musicians did not read from a single sheet of music — they composed as they played, both listening to the expressions of partners and adding their own unique rhythms and harmonies.
In keeping with the evening’s theme of innovation, visitors were able to preview a new exhibit and tour a tiny house on display by St. Mary’s College of Maryland professors Carrie Patterson and Barry Muchnik.
The passion that Patterson and Muchnik demonstrated toward the community project was evident in their interaction with museum visitors. “There is so much love invested in this structure — every painted surface, every choice of building materials, every rivet, every piece of wood,” described Patterson with a smile.
“Every element was intentionally and specifically chosen with a single focus in mind: What will create the greatest connection with the community?” Muchnik added.
The tiny house was designed not only as an example of sustainable living, but as a piece of functional art work. The house will remain on exhibit at the museum through the museum’s Technology and Arts Festival on Jan. 26. For more information, visit www.paxmuseum.com/events.php.