Music underscores Claxton’s Draftfcb writing workshops

John Claxton

The grand piano he happened upon at Newberry Library turned John Claxton’s plans for a writing workshop into something he says “is at least a hybrid, if not fairly unique. It’s still meant to help people write better, but because of the music and content, it tends to do a lot more than that.”

Claxton, Draftfcb EVP/group creative director, enlisted longtime collaborator Jeff Boyle of Catfish Music to compose and direct live music for the event, and Clark Street Bridge was born.

The rotating musical lineup features Poi Dog Pondering electric violinist Susan Voelz, Ramsey Lewis trio cellist Larry Gray, and synthesist Christian Matthew Cullen. Soul singer Otis Clay, the Muscle Shoals Swampers, and Cathy Richardson have all been guests.

“It’s a casual unplugged situation,” Boyle says, “kind of like a good ‘TED’ talk, with fiddles.” Its tenth session in September takes place at Chicago Recording Company’s Studio 4, where Boyle had his first ad music gig in 1990, singing on a McDonald’s “You Know the One” TV spot for Com/Track Music.

Workshop meant to be encouraging, participatory, inspiring

Jeff Boyle of Catfish MusicStarting primarily with Draftfbc’s creative department, Clark Street Bridge grew to include staff from other departments. “Most of the really interesting pieces” written in the workshop “are by people who don’t call themselves writers.”

Claxton says unlike many such workshops, there’s very little criticism of the work at Clark Street Bridge. “You get plenty of that during the day,” he says.

“This is meant to encourage and inspire you. There’s something about being in a room full of diverse people, from art directors to mathematicians, that’s very inspiring. It works on its own.”

Claxton plans to increasingly open Clark Street Bridge to people outside Draftfcb, beginning with a session in October at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism.

“As it opens up it would be about showing the face of the agency: this is who we are and what we believe in. We’re creative folks interested in what’s going on in the real world,” he says.

Claxton describes Clark Street Bridge as “very participatory. Most people find it extremely inspiring. Very few people leave disappointed.”

Intersection of art and science explored

The next Clark Street Bridge in late August explores the intersection of art and science from Galileo to Hedy Lamarr (the Golden Age Hollywood star who co-invented frequency hopping, an ancestor of Wi-Fi technology).

That intersection, Boyle says, “is a big part of what our agency is about. The science we do is about measurement of whether the work we do is effective and sells products. Our writers and photographers and filmmakers are on the art end. We have to make sure those two worlds intersect.”

“When you take writing and photography and art direction seriously, it’s hard to find ways to make those skills work effectively in the marketplace and still do things you’re proud of and you’re happy with,” Claxton says.

“It’s a constant challenge that I still find interesting and I hope to find it interesting for some time to come.”