Archive for February 17, 2013

evansI listened to a rebroadcast of Marian McPartland’s 1979 interview of Jazz Great Bill Evans. I am so happy to have found the link to the interview because there are some comments made by Mr. Evans that are absolutely priceless and incredibly insightful. I am listening to it as I type.  My readers who are jazz musicians will appreciate some of the funny comments made in the interview too.

Marian was surprised to learn that Bill played wedding gigs. He said, “Of course!” somewhat surprised that someone would think he was not out there doing the same things the rest of us do. And in all fairness, I think most of us forget that the top jazz stars were at one time the great unknowns. :)

“Intuition has to lead knowledge but it can’t be out there on its own.”

Bill’s comments resonate with me at this time because I am one month into a four month commitment to take jazz lessons from former University of North Texas Professor Dan Hearle. His bio is at the link.  During his career he has taught untold numbers of jazz students. The fact that I am taking lessons from him should in no way elevate my reputation, anyone can take lessons – you just need to pay the tuition. But Bill Evans’ comments about jazz struck a chord with me, (a b9b13 is you must know!) :)

Bill spoke about the importance of knowing the fundamentals of a piece. How often have I jumped right into a piece and started soloing on the changes, never giving the tune a good fundamental examination. Dan Hearle is right in line with Evans’ comment. There is a melody. There is a chord. There is a scale. “Oh, you mean I am supposed to pay attention to that?” I think.  Bill says that after you have those fundamentals down, you can “move around”, and then he plays a few examples – and of course, I have no idea what he is doing, but even I can grasp the notion of being firmly rooted in the fundamentals of a piece. And I am encouraged, because even an intermediate player can – and seemingly must – learn the fundamentals of the piece.

Bill’s comment finds its way home when he adds that “Intuition without knowledge is out there by itself.” I am listening to the program again so I can get the exact quote. (See below). It was priceless. Improvisation, so says Bill, is 90% knowledge and 10% intuition. If you don’t have the knowledge, the intuition isn’t going to be enough. And Bill really got to know a piece. Marian reminded him that he once said, “I would rather play one song for 24 hours than play 24 tunes in an hour.” Bill laughed in agreement.

“Have a complete picture of the basic structure” before you work from there. Structure is the “abstract, theoretical thing” in a piece. He plays C to its dominant G7, and he is thinking about a pedal point so he can set up the “thing” — and then he plays a bit — “Now again [music plays] now we are going to modulate to E major, now we have to get back to C through its dominant” and so on….

And it is just awesome to sit here listening to Bill explain how he plays. I am LOVING this.

bill-evansI have heard that Bill Evans was  a microscopic player. He knew every nuance of the piece. That is what his music reveals, but it is the PROCESS of moving from the fundamentals to a base of knowledge, then contemplation of the abstractions, and then “moving around”.  The product grows.

Marian said that a lot of musicians really don’t know the pieces they are playing, and Bill agreed and nailed the point with:  “Intuition has to lead knowledge but it can’t be out there on its own.” (That’s the exact quote. I was close!).  “If it’s on its own, you’re going to flounder sooner or later.” Students need to know that, Bill says. “Knowing the problem is 90% of solving it.”

“The problem is to be clear and get down to basic structure.”

Of course, when we listen to one of the jazz greats there isn’t much to prompt us to remember that what we are hearing is based on a strong awareness of the basic structure, the “problem”, and the additive process the artist went through to develop the tune. Sure, I might practice one tune for 24 hours, but Bill Evans – with his level of talent –  is going to get more out of that practice session than I would. But that isn’t really the point, is it? The point is that I will get more out of my music if I follow the same ritual. it might not sound as good as Bill Evans (guaranteed!) but it will sound a whole heck of a lot better than what I doing when I just opened the Real Book and started jamming.

“Get back to the basics.” How many times have we heard that in all types of situations. We get so far down the road – lost, muddled in despair – and someone reminds us, “Get back to the basics. Review the fundamentals.” Sure enough, intuition was out there by itself, and the syncopated rhythms, long miserable lines, the poor voicings are the sounds of floundering, not jazz.

If you’re a jazz pianist, you are already listening to the show. If you’re not, let me tempt you one more time.  It’s a window into the music of Bill Evans – a voice from the past, with good advise for your future. And for a little inspiration from our time, listen to Dan Hearle’s live performance of his new CD, with some insights from other musicians.

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People want to read something real. I sense this from the responses I get to this blog. I should write about pianos of course, but after writing a hundred blogs on that subject (and listing the index to each on my website), I feel at ease to write about what I really want to write about.

Something real.

As a people, we are the benefactors of much consideration. When the media reports the daily events, the editors first consider how readers are likely to respond. The news is tempered. Crowd control editing, I call it. The masses cannot be trusted.  Government leaders speak in generalities because specific details invite specific disagreement.  I’ll sleep eight, work eight, eat two, and waste six.  If I’m lucky, I get an hour of real.

April of this year will mark thirty years since I met my wife. That is real. We remain inseparable.  In May, my daughter will graduate from college, probably summa cum laude.  That’s real. I’m going to rip the action out of my grand piano and find out why the touch is not exactly the way I want it.

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Every photo of piano maintenance should be labeled with a warning: “Do not try this at home.” This is hands on. This is hours and hours of hands on. Yes, this is real. If you want to see more torture, visit the link on that photo.  Lots of “real” going on in that shop.

I bought a book on philosophy at the used book store. When I got home and thumbed the pages, a student’s notes fell out. I have no idea where the book is. The notes were real. I still have them.  The notes have more import to me than anything written in the book. The words on the note pages were written by a real person, someone who was engaged in learning what was written in the book. Sure, the book was written by a person too, but the notes seemed more intimate. I bought the book. The notes were a gift.

Real is intimate. Real is getting your hands on the work. Real is putting your hand into your wife’s hand. Real is giving your daughter a helping hand, or a round of applause. Real is reading what another hand has written.

There is a lot of real out there. Go get you some.