Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Idea Hunter's Dictionary: D is for Diverse -- Brad Mehldau

One of the characteristics that mark successful Idea-Hunters is the diversity of their search repertoire: they look in more places; talk to more and more different people; move more easily across idea-domains; than the rest of us. What makes this so easy for them? Some of it is undoubtedly innate; they were born that way, with a wider bandwidth of interests; and some of it has to do with curiosity; but I also suspect that knowing their “gig” is a huge advantage in providing the self-confidence to venture out of their "comfort zones" in the pursuit of a new & better idea (and, of course, it also helps fuel curiosity as well).

Recently, jazz pianist Brad Mehldau shared his listening tastes with reporter Nate Chinen, in the New York Times. What was so amazing about this was the diversity of the influences that Mr. Mehldau allowed into his "idea space:" the Heavy metal band Cancer Bats, Rachmaninoff, "a Joni Mitchell-type" singer, and another pianist with whom he will duet on How Can I Live in Your World of Ideas? What a wide-range of influences to take advantage of! How can he not improve his chances of coming-up with something completely new?

Examples of such wide-ranging portfolios of musical influences among some of our leading musicians are not usual; perhaps that's a key to their accomplishments? The great classical pianist (and son-in-law of conductor Arturo Toscanini) Vladimir Horowitz was known to be an admirer of jazz pianist Art Tatum, even bringing him home one night so that he could observe his playing more closely. And, jazz iconoclast Miles Davis has spoken about the influences of such classical composers as Ravel, Khachaturian, Bartok, and Stravinsky, on his own music [1986 interview with Ben Sidran].

Hunting for ideas outside of familiar idea-neighborhoods gives you a chance of finding a great new idea that no one else in your industry would ever think of. But, to do this also means being diverse in your hunting choices.

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