One of the great documents of creative process is the set of liner notes that pianist Bill Evans wrote for Miles Davis's landmark album, Kind of Blue:
There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.
The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation.
This conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflections, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician.
Group improvisation is a further challenge. Aside from the weighty technical problem of collective coherent thinking, there is the very human, even social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common result. This most difficult problem, I think, is beautifully met and solved on this recording.
As the painter needs his framework of parchment, the improvising musical group needs its framework in time. Miles Davis presents here frameworks which are exquisite in their simplicity and yet contain all that is necessary to stimulate performance with sure reference to the primary conception.
Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to pure spontaneity in these performances. The group had never played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without exception the first complete performance of each was a "take."
--- Bill Evans
Note the emphasis on completed gesture, the idea that one must stay in the moment, never ‘lifting one’s brush from the paper.’ Though artists often isolate moments of difficulty, get inside them, and learn how to release effort, fewer of them also practice the completion of a gesture—completing a painting, the writing of a scene, a song, a dance solo. I once heard Quincy Jones remark that songs are best written from beginning to end, an idea echoed by others, including John Lennon. It requires a letting go of one priority—the perfection of little moments—in order to grab onto another—tuning into the larger ideas and broader expressions that we carry within us.
Completing the gesture forces the question of mindful presence in the moment of discovery. One must let go and learn to channel one’s intuition “in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.”
Thank you for reading.