The Junk Factory

Navi's Personal Blog

Fundamentals: The Bill Evans Aproach

A long time ago, I was really into music. I was learning guitar and practicing in my free time as much as I could. I also like jazz. I am not an expert on the style, but I like the freedom and virtuosity of this kind of music, and I listened to some of its exponents. One of them was Bill Evans.

Bill Evans was a genius pianist in the jazz scene, with his authentic and complex style, he could easily partner his reputation with other giant musicians like Miles Davis and John Coltrane, and if you have heard something about this music, you will probably know that the most popular album of all times “Kind of Blue”, Evans was one of the musicians that took part of this masterpiece. Evans’s piano style was considered disciplined to the level where he was an excellent session musician and a brave soloist, making him a guy of respect even among the kings of this music style.

Fortunately, there is on YouTube a very intriguing interview he gave about improvisation, which you can watch (even if you are not a jazz musician, I believe you could enjoy it); one of the things to highlight is his idea that fundamentals are the key, and you should study it properly. This could sound like trivial advice. Still, the reflections he left are interesting because, in his own point of view, your own style will be developed progressively with the advocacy of solid pillars (the theory you dominate). It would be a mistake to focus on learning style.

In music, you can distinguish the style of some musicians who have decided to learn from the style of other musicians. For example, no one could deny that Jimi Hendrix really made a significant impact on the next generations of guitar players, and many of them embraced his style and later developed their own, using Hendrix and other musicians as a framework, but some of them still sounds like those early guitar heroes from the 60s or 70s. That’s why, on the other side, Bill Evans was so unique in his style, he didn’t spend the time to learn how to play like his predecessors, he spent a considerable amount of time trying to learn about the dynamics and the theory behind the music and little by little developed his complex style based on his analytic mindset and experience. I read in an old guitar book a long time ago, that we could find two kinds of musicians: the ones that are heavily based on theory and others heavily based on experienced patterns. Obviously, every musician is a mix of these 2 “paradigms”, but Bill Evans never denied the importance of the first one.

Despite the enormous importance and advantages of learning the fundamentals of every discipline, there is always a trend to avoid the fundamentals, just because it is not fun or because you don’t “need” that in the job. So we decide to become pragmatic, and we want to do the cool things: the people who want to learn a (human) language don’t want to study the grammar rules and decide to learn just by input content, people who want to learn an instrument avoid practicing scales but decided to learn some pieces of songs they liked, programmers who do not understand well how computers work ignore the proper study of data structures and algorithms but just one to build things.

I am not against simplicity or learning in a fun way; I also want to enjoy the learning process and have several times fallen heavily into this approach, let’s call it the shallow approach. This approach gives us the sensation of dynamism that we will not find in books or an academic environment. Conversely, the market always pays attention to the trends, and the shallow content creation has become an essential part of an ambiguous learning industry. If you want to learn the fundamentals of your discipline, maybe you need a few books that cover most of the relevant things you should know, but anyway, we decide to immerse ourselves in shallow content and activities. As you can see, it is relatively easy, but you must learn to study essential things properly.

If we want to become a little bit closer to Bill Evans’s style in the discipline advocated, that’s the price we have to pay.

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