I found myself this evening dodging Chicago traffic on the way home and listening to an Eddie South recording from the late 1920s of By The Shores Of Lake Minnetonka, a popular tune from the era with Native American derivation. Chicago-based bandleader and violinist Eddie South was a child prodigy of classical violin who switched to performing jazz and popular music in the 1920s when racism foreclosed career options for him either with a major orchestra or on the solo circuit. South became arguably the strongest jazz violinist who has ever lived. In an era when it was not uncommon for violinists to front dance bands, South’s technique sparkles, outshining early jazz age violin contemporaries George Morrison, Erskine Tate, and Carroll Dickerson, and even second generation luminaries Joe Venuti and Stephane Grappelli.
While driving and listening, I was struck with the elegance of Eddie South’s performance on the recording. While South adorns the tune gracefully, the underlying musical idea is very simple.
It is a wonderful thing when a performer is able to reduce all possible complexity to its simple essence.
And not just great musicians, but all great artists, great thinkers, and great athletes possess this ability. They are able to take a wealth of experience and distill from it something very basic.
It is important it is to pay close attention to the seemingly simple, especially when offered by those with great experience.
A second example that came to mind as I was driving was composer JS Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, which contemporary jazz musician Jon Batiste recently pointed out in an interview were written for children. While hardly easy to play, they present a musical idea known as counterpoint in its most basic form. The big idea of counterpoint is that a single piece of music can be composed of two simultaneous voices that are mutually interdependent, without one being subordinate to the other. Simple — like a good human relationship.
Another image that flashed to mind was Einstein at the chalkboard, indicating his little formula E=MC2
In music, the simple ideas are often worth noting.