Episode 46 - Innovation: “Innovators” at 25 - A Unique Partnership Between Art and Industry

The current series of podcasts is focused on innovation, and we're excited to showcase ideas from various industries and people worldwide. In episode 46, President Scott L Wyatt and Professor Steve Meredith invite Sam and Doug Cardon to discuss the PBS special "Innovators," made here in Utah 25 years ago. Sam Cardon composed the music for the special with the goal of celebrating innovators throughout history.

Full Transcript

Steve Meredith: Hi again everyone, and welcome to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. I'm your host, Steve Meredith, and I'm joined, as I always am, today in the studio by President Wyatt. Hi, Scott.

Scott Wyatt: Hello, Steve, it's great to be here and we've got a fun topic coming up, don't we?

Meredith: We do. And as you and I have talked over the years, I mostly am Ed McMahon to your Johnny Carson.

Wyatt: [Laughs]

Meredith: Sorry for our young listeners who don't know who I'm talking about. But today, I'm probably going to do a little bit more of the talking than I ordinarily might and that's because we've been having a series of podcasts about innovation, and whenever I hear the word, “innovation,” it always reminds me of a project that was around Utah about 25 years ago and that I always found to be very innovative. I…we've been talking about it, I think I actually worked on it a little bit, but that's not the point of this. I just always thought this was a terrific and very innovative project, and the name of the project is Innovators, and it was a musical CD featuring the talents of Kurt Bestor and Sam Cardon—both great friends of mine and longtime collaborators in the music world—and of course dozens of other great, talented musicians. But it's how it came about and how the scope of the project came about and how different it is that I have always found to be particularly innovative and a good guidepost to partnerships. We always are talking about partnerships between higher ed and business…they sometimes are natural and then they sometimes appear out of…in ways that we might not have considered, and this was one of those partnerships that perhaps people may not have considered to be a natural partnership. So, anyway, I'm going to introduce Sam Cardon, as I mentioned, a good friend. Hi, Sam.

Sam Cardon: Hi, how are you doing?

Meredith: We're glad to have you joining us. And Sam's brother, Doug, was also part of this project in a very important way and Doug is joining us from Mesa, Arizona. Hi, Doug.

Doug Cardon: Hi, how are you? It's great to be here.

Meredith: So, tell us a little bit, if you can, Sam, about how this whole project came about. It was a partnership with Word Perfect, which was a software program in Provo, Utah. Is that correct?

S. Cardon: Absolutely. In their heyday, they were the king of the hill. They had the most innovative word processing software and we had a mutual friend…Kurt and I had a mutual friend named Randy Blosil that worked at the corporation. He was in charge of marketing and they were releasing the 6.0 version of WordPerfect and wanted to do something other than t-shirts and baseball hats to commemorate it. And Randy came up with the idea of doing a project—a music project—celebrating the idea of innovation and reached out to me and Kurt and this was during the age of…kind of the heyday of New Age music, for lack of a better term, and they never did come up with a better term for it…but I think it was a time where people were just looking for something more than your standard pop music and so it was kind of a golden era for a storytelling type of music. So, it was one of those moments in time where it was the right moment in time, the right opportunity, and a really terrific company that gave us carte blanche. They literally provided carte blanche budget for us and gave us creative freedom to do whatever it was that we wanted. And the greatest luxury  for me and for Kurt was to be able to reach out to my brother, Doug, who is one of the brightest people I've ever known and a huge…always paid the price for a real deep intellectual preparation and we knew that he would be the harvest of great ideas in terms of storytelling. So, we were able to reach out to him and ask him if he would be willing to get involved in this project and help us find the stories that would help us kind of at least try and explain in musical terms this idea of innovation—where it comes from, where that spark of genius happens. We were certainly not pretentious enough to consider ourselves innovators but were certainly trying to take an innovative approach to it. But maybe Doug can talk a little about his take on that.

Meredith: Right. When WordPerfect started with you on the project, as you suggest, they wanted more than t-shirts and something else. Did they have…did they give you that idea to go find stories to write about specifically?

S. Cardon: They didn't. They just said…their only mandate was “give us something that celebrates innovation.” That was their request.

Meredith: Hmm. I think that was a brilliant choice. I would never consider myself to be a composer, but I've written enough music to know that it's much easier if you have a back story to write to. Much easier to write to a character or to some storyline than to just face a blank sheet of paper. So, you involved your brother, Doug, and how did you choose the stories that you came up with?

D. Cardon: Well, it was a, for me also, kind of a blank table that they asked me to set and it seemed like an unusual request because I'm…was a scholar, for sure, but I was not someone that had a reputation of being a writer or someone who was deeply immersed in the field of studies about people who had innovated and changed the world. But, as Sam said, I do love to read, and I suppose you could consider me widely read. When Sam and Kurt came up with the idea of having me come up with a cast of innovative individuals who were probably of the second or third tier—not Thomas Edison, not Marconian radio, or that kind of thing—

S. Cardon: That's true, I remember saying, “Let's not do the most obvious,” yeah.

D. Cardon: Yeah. And that, of course, made the task more difficult in a sense, but it made it much more interesting and I think gave the number one thing to the work, and that is that this innovation can come from the most unlikely places, but it can be created or be brought about by people who are in other ways ordinary and common in their outlook toward life.

Meredith: So, Sam, you and Kurt contacted Doug and said, “Give us some of these people that may be less known—certainly not people that perhaps immediately spring to mind necessarily as innovators—and did you wait to hear back from Doug?

S. Cardon: We did.

Meredith: As to whom he'd chosen?

S. Cardon: Yeah. We…I think we may have crafted a couple of ideas. It did go two ways a little bit in that, I remember, we wanted to do something Americana so we asked Doug for an Americana  story and he found a gem. This story of C.M. Hatfield who was a…he seeded clouds and was a paid to seed the clouds in San Diego so that it would rain and then it rained so much that it flooded the whole place and he got sued. It was a hilarious story and it was great fodder for our music. So, it was that kind of an exchange as well where, “Hey, we need something like this. What have you got?” or “We're going to do something Brazilian, what have you got in that realm?” And then Doug would come to us with…one of my favorites is Lambaréné—I don't know how you pronounce it, I've always pronounced it…but the story of Albert Schweitzer. And I had heard of Albert Schweitzer, didn't know much about his story but then Doug was able to explain the breadth and depth and it was really inspiring and…so, that's the way it worked. There was a little bit of back and forth, but it was a really wonderful luxury to just wait for somebody else to provide that initial spark of creativity.

Meredith: So, Doug, Sam mentioned the Albert Schweitzer story—what drew you to that story?

D. Cardon: When I was a young person—second, third, fourth grade—Albert Schweitzer achieved quite a bit of notoriety for writing what was then Life Magazine which I loved then mostly because of the pictures that it had in it, but he was featured in it and he was featured in the context of being someone who was important to improving healthcare for impoverished peoples in the equatorial African region of the world. That was my first exposure to him, but I had noticed over the years that his flame had receded somewhat and that you didn't hear people talking about Albert Schweitzer in the course of conversation anymore. There was a period of time where he was consulted by world leaders about what to do about the arms race between the United States and Russia and they would go by whatever means they had to ultimately canoe to get to his hospital on the shores of a river at Lambaréné. And they would ask him for his thoughts on it, and that had to have been somewhat out of the blue for Albert Schweitzer. He was a world-traveled person for that time—mostly between North America and Europe as a concert performer on the organ—but I am sure he wondered, “Why is it that people are coming to me to ask me about how to solve these global problems when I'm running…I used to be in effect a global or a world citizen traveling from place to place but now I'm living in this little isolated place doing good.” And it was his goodness, I think, that drew people to him and it was his wisdom that they appreciated and they knew that if Albert Schweitzer came up with a solution or a suggestion and they followed it or they incorporated it into their programs or approaching these international problems that it would have worldwide credibility because he was not seen as someone who had the interest of the big, the large nations in his heart, but rather, the interest of the world. And he had recently published a work whose theme was The Reverence for Life which was primarily a book about a deep respect for any kind of living being and realizing that it had its place, and why did it have its place? Well, it had its place because it was created by the God who created everything and therefore, in a sense, it was made holy by that act of creation. And why, then, would man feel like they could be casual in its treatment? And so, I think they went to him for that reason. And his books, The Historical Jesus was one of them that I read when I was in high school, and his other works on theology and then the biographical works that were produced by Norman Mailer and others on his life were the things that made him important to me, I felt as though he should be…the interest of him should be revived in some means, and while I didn't expect this project to be a huge platform, it certainly was huge for me because I had no platform prior to it. So, I very much appreciated the opportunity to try and revive an interest in him and his work through this project.

Meredith: And, Sam, Schweitzer is a musician, too, along with being all of the things that Doug was just talking about, and a well-known organist. So, that drove some of your…we hear little elements, right? Of Bach and…

S. Cardon: Yes, we do. Yes, because he was a…one of the extraordinary things about him was that he had three world-class careers, as a musician, as a theologian, and then as a medical doctor. And while he was…in his days of a musician, he was particularly famous for performing the works of Bach, so, we incorporated a small portion of “Jesu of Man's Desiring“ in the piece of music. And then the other thing that, as Doug referenced, he had this profound spirituality and so, we wanted to capture the essence of that, his love for Bach and then the fact that he lived in this outpost in Africa. And that was a really interesting thing to bring together those elements and try to figure out a way to fuse them and to make them into something that was coherent and that was cohesive. And it's…those are always the most fun things when you're trying to put square pegs into round holes and something really interesting happens. It's something that we certainly would have never done if we didn't have those excuses to do it and that's one of my favorite experiences of the project was that particular piece of music and it has proven to be really impactful for people.

Meredith: Well, let's go ahead and we'll have our listeners actually listen. This is Sam Cardon and Kurt Bestor, based on the story compiled by Doug Cardon, about Albert Schweitzer, and this is “The Sage of Lambaréné.”

[Plays audio of “The Sage of Lambaréné”]

Meredith: So, that was “The Sage of Lambaréné” and so, we want to move on to another one of the stories. And one of the things that always leaps off this CD for me is—and, I say CD…again, for you young listeners at home, that stands for compact disc. [All laugh] We used to play them, and they were…they came after records, which we also used to play, but that's a different story.

Wyatt: And it came after 8-track. [All laugh]

Meredith: And there was 8-track and cassettes.

S. Cardon: I've got to release it on vinyl, I guess!

Meredith: Yeah, that's right. Anyway, one of the things that…the recordings out of the collection that always jumped out to me was “La Capitana” and Sam, just because I know a little bit about the production of this and I've hung around with you guys for a long time, I know that it wasn't always smooth sailing, but how did you come to “La Capitana?”

S. Cardon: Well, “La Capitana” was one of the pieces on the project where the producers requested Flamenco music. They wanted something with a Latin flare, and so, I remember talking to Doug about that, you know, “What have you got?” And he told us about this famous Flamenco dancer—what's her name, Doug? I can't remember now.

D. Cardon: I don't remember…I only remember her name as La Capitana, which was, of course, the name under which she danced.

S. Cardon: Yeah.

D. Cardon: And it was one that was given to her though by her audience.

S. Cardon: But, it was a…I remember being at…I was actually in Arizona at the time visiting Doug and we were going to go on a grand tour to Mexico and the night before the trip, I think Doug had gone to bed and I stayed up for a little while—and maybe you'd gone to do an errand or something—I remember being by myself at the piano at your house, Doug, and the initial idea for this while I was thinking about Mexico, it came. [All laugh] And the trip to Mexico materialized in a really comical way and we had a fantastic trip, but it's interesting how sometimes the imagination is a stronger influencer than actual experience and…

Meredith: So, her name was Carmen Amaya.

S. Cardon: Oh, OK, there you go.

Meredith: Yep.

D. Cardon: That's right.

S. Cardon: Anyway, and we…I remember getting done with the piece of music and it was written to be a challenging, virtuoso piece of music for a guitarist and we sent the music down originally—I won't say this guy's name because I don't want to throw him under the bus, but he was a famous guitarist who had several CD's out—and we sent it to him and he sent us an email saying that he felt like it was too hard it and didn't really reflect his style, that's what he said. And so, we sent it to another guitarist named Grant Geissmann, who's a very well-known L.A. session guitarist and Grant agreed to a price and then we sent it down down and then he called back and said, “I need more money.” [All laugh] So, he spent some more time preparing and…we had a fantastic rhythm section. My gosh, we had Dave Weckl on drums, Neil Stubenhaus on bass, Grant Geissmann on guitar, Sheila E  was the percussionist on that particular song, and it was just a really, really fun experience in the studio. I think that one was a little bit more of…that was a musical journey for us, and it was less driven, I think, by story, but that was a convenient way to give an excuse to do a production and make it special. And it did definitely have elements of Flamenco. One of the most interesting is a technique called “las Palmas” where two groups of people clap and when you listen to it, it sounds like almost impossibly fast claps, but it turns out there are two people clapping, one on downbeats and one on upbeats. And it's a really impossible thing to do, so even with these amazing session musicians in L.A. they had a really hard time doing it and apparently you…

Meredith: Yes, I've tried to recreate that at home and have never been able to successfully do it. [All laugh]

S. Cardon: It's really hard. In fact, Dave Weckl was the session leader down there and, you know, you have these famous guys in there and it he was just like - - it was kind of like Soup Nazi “No Soup for You” and he would just kick them off. [Laughs] And it took them a while to get that done, but it was a really fun experience to create that and to pay tribute to that vast region Flamenco music that's so amazingly inspirational.

Meredith: So, Doug, what drove you to the story of Carmen Amaya? What was particularly interesting about her life or her dancing that attracted you to that story?

D. Cardon: I think the fact that she was someone who, out of obscurity, emerged as someone who transformed Flamenco dancing. It had been a dance, in my understanding, that had primarily been the province of men.

Meredith: Right.

D. Cardon: And women danced Flamenco, but they were mostly accessories on the performing platform or the stage. Carmen came from a family of dancers and picked it up as a little girl and was just so gifted, so fiery, that  when I heard that…I had seen footage of her dancing and had heard people comment and say how great she was. I'm no judge of Flamenco dancing, except as a common person might be, but when I heard this music and it had that fiery quality that you suggested earlier, and it was a no-contest deal from that point on as to who the story ought to be about. So, I did some additional research on her and her career and realized that no only was she a wonderful dancer, but she also transformed the art of Flamenco dancing introducing  different ways to create the rhythms that they danced to but, in particular, introducing this special gift that female dancers bring to an art form like dancing. And…

S. Cardon: That footage is featured in the PBS special, which is really fun to see.

Meredith: That's right, it is. And it is, it's very cool footage. We'll make sure we put a link on our website to that so that people can go find the video footage of that, but for now, our listeners, we're going to give them a chance to hear. This is “La Capitana.”

[Plays audio of “La Capitana”]

Meredith: So, anyway, that…I have to say, that is one of my favorite all-time pieces of music that Sam has ever produced, “La Capitana.” Great. Very exciting.

S. Cardon: Thanks, Steve.

Meredith: A great listen.

Wyatt: Very fun.

Meredith: Always makes me happy to listen to that.

Wyatt: And it's hard to listen to it and sit still.

Meredith: It is, it is. [All laugh]

Wyatt: Very hard.

Meredith: Yeah. So, one last story. I think you had already mentioned this earlier in the podcast, Sam, but there's a great story that you guys call The Rainmaker that is about…

S. Cardon: It might be my favorite story for sure…

Meredith: What's that?

S. Cardon: It might be my favorite story for sure. It's just the most unusual and interesting.

Meredith: Well, Doug, tell us the story of The Rainmaker.

D. Cardon: OK. Well, in this case, we have a sewing machine salesman by the name of C.M. Hatfield who was a…for a salesman, a very quiet person, but he had a unique still. Besides selling sewing machines, in his spare time, he made rain. [Laughs] And you can imagine that in periods of drought where, especially when our country was more agricultural, that the absence of rain would be something that would be a serious handicap and liability. Well, San Diego was experiencing a drought at the same time it was having a worldwide exposition and the city fathers were concerned that no one would come and if they did come that there wouldn't be a way to properly take care of them because the reservoirs that fed the towns water system had almost dried up. And so, they offered at $10,000 prize to anyone who could come in and create enough rain to fill up their main reservoir, and C.M. Hatfield was quickly at their service. And he traveled out there, and his theory fed on an idea that had been around since the age of Plutarch where there…historians had taken note that after great battles, oftentimes there were very heavy storms, and the theory developed that there was something that went up from the battlefield that fed the skies. And old C.M. Hatfield was asked, “Can you create rain?” And he said, “Of course I can't create rain, but I can create clouds, and if I can create enough of those, then I can create rain.” And he built towers in the woods to the north and to the west of San Diego, he had concocted these formulations of chemicals and liquids that would…he could light on fire and the smoke and vapors would rise into the skies, and no sooner had he begun doing this than the rain began to fall. And it fell and it fell and, if I'm not mistaken, it rained…in one week, it rained 30 inches in San Diego. [All laugh] I don't know if it has ever done that since.

Wyatt: Wow, that's a lot of rain. 30 inches deep? Or 30 inches wide? [All laugh]

D. Cardon: Yeah.

Wyatt: Did they tell him to knock it off?

D. Cardon: They did.

Wyatt: Did they say, “Stop, stop, stop!”

D. Cardon: Well, at first they were overjoyed.

Meredith: Right.

D. Cardon: And then one dam broke, and then another, and before it was all said and done, I believe there were even people that lost their lives. And they asked him to shut off his vapors and he said, “I won't do it until I've fulfilled the terms of my contract.” Turns out he didn't…he had neglected to actually sign this agreement and when he went to collect, the town council met and told him that he would only get paid if he would take responsibility for all of the damage. But it nearly washed San Diego off the map. [All laugh] And they refused to pay him because he refused to cover the damages, which of course, would have been probably in the millions of dollars even in those days, and he rolled out of town. But it was such great advertising, he had a lifelong career as a successful rainmaker. [All laugh] I don't necessarily mean creating rain but getting paid for trying.

Meredith: I don't think you'd have had the same success in this day of instantaneous communication and social media. I suspect the folks in San Diego would not have given him a great reference.

Wyatt: Well, people still do this.

Meredith: Yeah. Oh, yeah.

Wyatt: I mean, we're constantly…

Meredith: Seed clouds, yep. Well that…so, Sam, the fact that it was kind of old west and having to do with rain, that had to be a nice cinematic opportunity for you.

S. Cardon: Irresistible. Everything about it just…it's got such comedy value to it, it's so Americana in every way. How do you get more Americana than that story? But you know, we tried to capture…this guy must have been incredibly clever. He was an original, a true original. Homespun, self-taught, self-made man, all of those things. So, it's just kind of a good-earth, American story and it was so much fun to work on it and…I don't know. I think it's…that story still fascinates me to this day. I can't believe it.

Meredith: So, for our listeners, this is “The Rainmaker” from Innovators.

[Plays audio of “The Rainmaker”]

Meredith: This has been a pleasure re-living this. I know that it's a little bit of a vanity project for me to invite you guys to come on to celebrate the 25th anniversary of this project, but it's also part of my nudging to people who are in my line of work, people who are in the creative fields. It's very, very easy for us who are in higher education and very, very easy for us in really any line of endeavor to get in our own bubble and to not imagine that there are different ways to do what we do that might increase our reach, might increase the impact that we can make, and I've always thought that Innovators was a great example of that. It was an example of a high-tech company wanting to do something that was out of their comfort zone. It was probably, Sam, for you and Kurt and the other musicians something that was a little out of your comfort zone because now you're writing to stories. And Doug, it was probably something out of your comfort zone. You probably had never written a script of this type and I just always think that when people leave the comfort of their own bubble, very often, great, creative things happen.

D. Cardon: I think you're exactly right on that. I know that was the case for me to be able to be assigned the task to go out and find stories that would, in some way, lend themselves to musical interpretation but would also feature an innovative character of some sort was a stretch for me. But it was very fulfilling, and I have loved the responses that we've had to that project in all these 25 years.

Meredith: And, Sam, you've written a ton of music—I'll…we'll link to your website for our listeners, you're a very well-known guy—but is…has this been the biggest hit you had? Or at least maybe one of the most impactful things you've had?

S. Cardon: It certainly is a wide…well, I guess I can't say that now because I write music for World of Warcraft and other guys. [Laughs]

Meredith: Well, that's right. Now that you're in the video game business, that…

S. Cardon: So, we're…actually, those guys are amazingly innovative too.

Meredith: Yeah.

S. Cardon: And I have loved my experience with that. But yeah, it certainly, the circulation, WordPerfect sent it out to, I don't know, seven million people and we've had a lot of response over the years from it and I'm very, very grateful to have been given the opportunity. It's the definition of luck when opportunity meets preparation. I feel like we were prepared, I loved collaborating with my brother, Doug, one of my favorite people in the world and especially one of my favorite collaborators. And it was just a wonderful experience.

Wyatt: Well, I think I've helped with the circulation a bit. I think I've probably bought it in every format that it was available. [All laugh]

Meredith: Yeah.

Wyatt: And we were talking about this offline, and Steve, I think you got yours for free. I've purchased a couple.

Meredith: I…well, to be fair, I think I've bought four, including one yesterday.

Wyatt: Oh, OK. [Laughs]

Meredith: Because I couldn't find the other three that I had at home. [All laugh] But, yeah. It's one of those things that when people think more broadly, when they're willing to…you know, we've talked a little bit about in our discussions here for higher education—and Sam has very graciously agreed to serve on various committees for me over the years as we've talked about music education—we talk about the way the world used to be, that it was “I-shaped” people. That people were looking for people with narrow and very deep understanding and knowledge sets, and nowadays, particularly in the workforce, but I think in lots of different places and ways, the people that are more successful are what we call “T-shaped” people. They have a good, strong grounding depth in what they're really good at, but they also reach out well. They extend into other areas that are a little bit outside of what their, perhaps, their primary expertise may be and really add value to that. And this project always reminds me of that. It reminds me that, here are people who are outside of what they do narrowly and deeply very well, but they've…by reaching out to one another, they've shaped a whole new project and really a whole new way of telling stories and sharing music. I just always thought that was very innovative.

S. Cardon: Thanks, Steve.

Wyatt: Well, and I remember when this first came out and it was in fact at a time when music was transforming in some ways.

Meredith: Yeah, that's right.

Wyatt: Compositions were changing…I wouldn't compare it necessarily to when Star Wars came out with animation in movies, but it was certainly a transformative period of time for music. And I have these great memories of my dad who went out and bought a new CD player, put it in the house, and he'd close the doors—he was a very conservative engineer—and then he'd crank up the volume. [All laugh] For new age music.

Meredith: Well, there you go.

Wyatt: This kind of thing and I thought, “Wow, this is really cool dad.” [All laugh] The neighbors would call over, “Is everything OK over there?” “Yeah, it's just dad with his new CD player.”

Meredith: There you go.

Wyatt: With big speakers.

S. Cardon: You know, I miss that time. I don't know that you could even do that today. Honestly. I don't know if there's an appetite or a market or…I'm not sure. There was a lot of that kind of thing in that day and it seems to have run its course and maybe it just aged out. I'm not sure.

Meredith: Well, thanks to both of you for joining us. It's been a great…I think it's probably been a nice introduction for many of our listeners, but for those that were aware of the project in the past, a nice review also. Anyway, thanks so much, you've been very kind to join us. We appreciate it.

S. Cardon: Thank you.

D. Cardon: You're welcome, and thanks for having me.

Meredith: You've been listening to Solutions for Higher Education, a podcast featuring Scott L Wyatt, the president of Southern Utah University in Cedar City, Utah. We've had as our guests today Doug and Sam Cardon, who were instrumental in putting together the very innovative project called Innovators which is celebrating its 25th anniversary right now. And we'll put up links where you can find ways to find that. We're grateful to them for having joined us by phone, and we're grateful to you, our listeners for tuning in. Thanks for tuning in and we look forward to seeing you again soon. Bye bye.