I was watching a little league baseball game this morning when a neighborhood friend walked by. I saw was pulling a hand truck with 4 boxes stacked on it so I joked, “Selling something?” He played along and answered, “Yeah, what do you want to buy?” I made a further comment and he went on his way. As soon as he left, I remembered my final comment and thought, “Hey! That’s a great idea for a children’s book!” I turned to the guy standing on my right and asked him what he thought of the idea. He loved it and made a further suggestion for the book’s plot. Ten minutes later I called my friend Greg, who as a playwright has turned many famous children’s books into musical theater scripts. I asked Greg if he would be interested in co-writing this book with me. Since he loves to write but doesn’t enjoy the business side of things, I promised him that I’d find an illustrator and contact another friend who’s a biggie at one of the major publishing companies to get advice on how to get the book published. Greg and I tend to work quickly together so I’m pretty sure we’ll have the book written by the end of next week.
Looking back at this, I can retrace the steps. But as it was happening, I had no idea where these ideas were coming from or where it was going at first. All I knew was that I was “open to possibility.”
I like that phrase; “Open to possibility.” That’s where ideas come from. Not necessarily from sitting around and thinking, “Boy. I wish I had a great idea for a children’s book!” Sure, that can happen too, but it happens much more when we’re open to the world around us and interested in seeing where things lead to.
It’s the same with piano improv.
Let’s say you sit down at the piano and have fun playing your favorite pop song. Maybe it’s by Taylor Swift. Then you decide to practice your jazz soloing. You spend an hour working on the chord changes to “All The Things You Are,” diligently practicing motivic development, approach tones, and improvising with block chords. Then you remember that Taylor Swift song. You really like the song’s fun beat and think, “What if I played “All The Things You Are” with the beat from the Taylor Swift Song? You try it a few times and find that it works well, but you wish the melody was a little busier so you could syncopate it to fit the contemporary rhythm more. So you discard the original melody completely and write a new one. Violá! You now have an original song!
This is how it actually works. You’re “open to possibility.” (In fact, my former piano teacher, the great jazz pianist Billy Taylor, once wrote a song exactly like I described above. In his case, the original song was by Gershwin and his new song had a gospel-style beat to it.)
Be “open to possibility.” This is how ideas are born.
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