What Bill Evans taught me about being a better maker


You know, sometimes this making, this creating, this learning to create - it's just frustrating. It can be a slog, right? You start learning a new skill or technique and sometimes you get some quick results that are pretty good. But then the STEEEEEEP learning curve starts. And you struggle. And work. And get a tiny bit better. And then plateau again. Not just for a while, for a long while. Gah...

Photography has been a bit like that but I've been MORE patient with the learning process because of my experience with piano. Jazz piano, that is.

I've been a huge fan of jazz for years. And I play jazz piano as an amateur. I love it so much that in another life, THIS would have been my career. I joke about regretting not living in NYC but my only REAL regret is not studying jazz piano full-time. 

Jazz is hard. It's incredible but it is hard. To play that is. 

Since I've been back in Vancouver I haven't had the opportunity to hear as much live jazz as I would like - it's not a big jazz town. Last Sunday night was an exception. I was thrilled to hear

Charlie Hunter (guitar) play with Scott Amendola (drums) in a small club in town. And as I sat there FILLED with the music, I remembered a video of a television show from 1966 where jazz pianist Bill Evans talked about his creative process.

It was his creative process that taught me EVERYTHING that I know about learning a new skill. A new craft. A new technique. You know, when you REALLY want to know it. When you REALLY want to be able to do it. When you REALLY want to master it.

Now you don't have to like jazz to learn from Bill Evans. You don't have to "get" jazz. Trust me. His thoughts about the creative process are what keep ME going when I get frustrated. When I feel like giving up. When it feels like I'll NEVER get it. Or get better. When it just seems too hard and I seem stalled and stuck.

First a teeny bit of background. Evans is one of THE best jazz pianists ever. Ever. His style of playing, how he revolutionized the jazz trio (creative collaboration at its finest) in the 1960's changed jazz forever. 

In 1966 his brother (a professor in Lousiana) interviewed Evans. (If you do watch the entire interview, you'll see some interesting sibling rivalry going on. Bill became what his brother could only dream of. I also love the cigarettes hanging out of their mouths as they talk. Oh the '60's!).

But let's get to the quotes. 

The person who succeeds in anything has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning in knowing that the problem is large and that he has to take it a step at a time and he has to enjoy this step by step learning procedure.

Be patient as it takes a long time to perfect your craft.

It’s better to do something simple that is real. It’s something you can build on because you know what you’re doing. Whereas, if you try to approximate something very advanced and don’t know what you’re doing, you can’t build on it.

Keep it simple. Don't get ahead of yourself. Only create what you are able to actually do today.

Most people just don’t realize the immensity of the problem and either, because they can’t conquer it immediately, think they don’t have the ability; or they’re so impatient to conquer it that they never do see it through.

Just because you can't do it NOW doesn't mean you won't be able to do it at some point. 

I don’t consider myself as talented as many people, but in some way that was an advantage. I didn’t have a great facility immediately. I had to be more analytical. It forced me to build something.

You don't have to be the most talented maker to be successful. Just because it doesn't come to you quickly, doesn't mean that you will never master it.

It's a long interview - 44 minutes or so. But if you do have the time, watch it - it's a classic. I'm curious - what do you do when you hit a steep learning curve?