Bill Evans: Elaboration and Understanding

By Kate Conklin
April 7, 2015
Bill Evans 10,Copenhagen 1964

“Entirely true, entirely real and entirely accurate.”

Framework and Elaboration

Understanding the underlying structure and context of any art form is essential to making informed, creative and compelling choices. When you truly understand a piece from the inside out, the spectrum of possibilities falls from that piece and how you interact with it as a co-creator. You learn about how it can be stretched, contracted and re-contextualized in a way that is in cooperation with the essence of the work.

The first video in this series has pianist and composer Bill Evans talking about structure and elaboration. He discusses the importance of playing in a manner that is based on the player’s actual and current understanding of the framework, rather than approximating a complex result.

“Trying to approximate the thing in a vague way… [is] building on top of confusion. It’s better to do something simple which is real…If you try to approximate something that is very advanced and you don’t know what you’re doing, then you can’t build on it.”

When we have a vague, incomplete or inaccurate understanding of physiology and functioning, we quickly run into limitations with technical execution and artistic expression. If you have a wrong idea of how breathing works for instance, you will undoubtedly experience friction when you then take on demanding repertoire and extraordinary performance. Your faulty understanding will have you working against your actual design and give you compromised coordination. The more complex your activity, the more precise you need your coordination to be.

When I see performances, I want to see that performer bring their whole self to the job, wherever they truly are in that moment and in their development. When I’m teaching, I help artists develop and organize their skills and craft around their own instincts and intentions. The point of study is to deepen understanding and call up skill in service of artistic intention. Elaboration in congruence with design, structure and artistic impulse is profoundly nourishing. I’ll give Bill the last words.

“The point is: What are you satisfied with?”


Bill Evans The Creative Process and Self-Teaching Part 1