Quote of the Day, Feb. 25: Keep It Simple, Stupid

 

“Creativity is more than just being different. Anybody can play weird; that’s easy. What’s hard is to be as simple as Bach. Making the complicated simple, awesomely simple, that’s creativity.” — Charles Mingus

When looking for quotes, I was considering some lofty sentiment from a philosopher or war hero. But I’ve found that musicians offer some of the best quotes I’ve come across. In providing the advice above, Charlie Mingus doesn’t only speak to his fellow jazzbos, but to every writer, professor, architect, and anyone else trying to communicate in any medium.

Born in the border town of Nogales, AZ, Mingus was steeped in church and classical music. Since it was tough for an African American to play a cello in an orchestra, he switched to bass in a swing band.

He toured with Louis Armstrong, played in Lionel Hampton’s band, and was fired from Duke Ellington’s band due to his fearsome temper. He then headed out on his own and played with all the jazz greats of his age, culminating in his masterpiece Mingus Ah Um. Here’s the opening song from that album — and keep it simple, stupid.


This post is part of the Quote of the Day series. You can sign up for a day here.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    As Jon said, this is part of the Quote of the Day Series.  It’s a great way to start a conversation on Ricochet, but you’re going to have to be a member to read most of these conversations, and certainly to be able to participate or join in by posting your own. There are still openings in March, and you can sign up here to start your own quote of the day conversation if you’re a member.

    Thanks for sharing this one, Jon.

    • #1
  2. DocJay Inactive
    DocJay
    @DocJay

    I love slide guitar because of it’s brilliant simplicity.

    • #2
  3. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    I agree with you Jon, both on Mingus “The Angry Man of Jazz” and on musician quotes.

    • #3
  4. J Climacus Member
    J Climacus
    @JClimacus

    Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius – and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. – E.F. Schumacher

    • #4
  5. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    “Making the complicated simple” — a definition of genius.

    • #5
  6. Ralphie Inactive
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    I love the subject of creativity. It is different than intelligence. The creative need to have competency but not genius level.  I veiw it as problem solving.  When I worked at the truss plant, we still designed roof systems by calculator, pencil and paper.  Many of the house plans were poorly drawn where the front, sides and back roof planes didn’t seem to match.  The number of variables in creating a 3d working model from 2d methods are challenging.  We would often consult each other in the office, and when the final solution was designed, it seemed so simple.  Money, the ability of the guys in the field, as well as meeting the design requirements have to be balanced.

    Brain teasers are like that. The solution makes it simple, but the path to the solution can be long and frustrating.

    Creative people also take risks. For the musician or author/artist, the critics’ reviews can be brutal.

    • #6
  7. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Ralphie (View Comment):
    For the musician or author/artist, the critics’ reviews can be brutal.

    It’s not always so easy on the critic, either. ;)

    • #7
  8. RightAngles Member
    RightAngles
    @RightAngles

    I’m not messy, I’m creative.

    • #8
  9. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    The tipoff that so much academic work is nonsense is that it is unintelligible.  Simplicity is not proof of being right: one can be too simply or sometimes simple and wrong.  But if you can’t make yourself understood to a person of average intelligence, you probably don’t know what you are talking about yourself.

    • #9
  10. Percival Thatcher
    Percival
    @Percival

    Go to [Handel] to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means.

    — Ludwig van Beethoven

    • #10
  11. Quinn the Eskimo Member
    Quinn the Eskimo
    @

    Also, there are only a handful of movies that are both really good and really complicated.  In most great movies, a lot of what seems complicated is just ornamentation and elaboration on a basic idea.  Film noir excepted.

    • #11
  12. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Quinn the Eskimo (View Comment):
    The tipoff that so much academic work is nonsense is that it is unintelligible. Simplicity is not proof of being right: one can be too simply or sometimes simple and wrong. But if you can’t make yourself understood to a person of average intelligence, you probably don’t know what you are talking about yourself.

    I once explained dominant and recessive genes using an analogy involving a baseball and baseball glove. The guy was not the smartest in the world, very blue collar, but by using a simple analogy with familiar items, he got it after fifty-plus years of not understanding it. In that case, I understood the subject well enough to put it into his terms.

    • #12
  13. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    I’ve written music for pay for 40 years now. It easier (but perhaps more time consuming) to write a lot of notes for a large ensemble of musicians than a simple melody for a small group. The main reason for that: The  larger group and the sheer number of notes can better hide the composer/arranger’s mistakes.

     

     

    • #13
  14. Clavius Thatcher
    Clavius
    @Clavius

    Ralphie (View Comment):
    Brain teasers are like that. The solution makes it simple, but the path to the solution can be long and frustrating.

    True breakthroughs are often like that.  They require genius and great effort to be found, but once found, seem obvious once fully understood.

    Take the Copernican helio-centric solar system, Newtonian gravity, and Maxwell’s equations.  Each one elegantly solved complex problems.  Once they were understood (and no longer heretical), they seem obvious.  True breakthroughs.

    Einstein’s General Relativity is in this class, but it’s insight into curved space-time so slightly tweaks Newtonian gravity that we don’t deal with it on a daily basis.  Now if we were traveling close to the speed of light or were near a black hole, then things would be different.

    • #14
  15. thelonious Member
    thelonious
    @thelonious

    What’s ironic about Mingus comment is I’ve always admired his ability to take a simple blues form and make it sound complex.

    • #15
  16. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron Miller
    @AaronMiller

    In the fine arts, ideas and expression of those ideas are distinct but dependent talents. Too much modern art emphasizes expression to the point of neglecting the necessary quality of the idea. It might even be a consequence of materialism in that it loves form without loving the spirit.

    Neither simplicity nor complexity, neither tradition nor innovation, is beautiful or excellent on its own account. A well expressed apathy is a fleeting dalliance. Evils, vices, and barren ruminations can be impressively organized, but offer nothing of worth to the audience regardless.

    As the body of a person exists to serve the soul, so the structure of a song or story should serve worthy ideas.

    • #16
  17. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    Percival (View Comment):

    Go to [Handel] to learn how to achieve great effects, by such simple means.

    — Ludwig van Beethoven

    Or Mozart.

    • #17
  18. Paul Erickson Inactive
    Paul Erickson
    @PaulErickson

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    I’ve written music for pay for 40 years now. It easier (but perhaps more time consuming) to write a lot of notes for a large ensemble of musicians than a simple melody for a small group. The main reason for that: The larger group and the sheer number of notes can better hide the composer/arranger’s mistakes.

    And midi covers a multitude of sins.

    • #18
  19. Songwriter Inactive
    Songwriter
    @user_19450

    Paul Erickson (View Comment):

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    I’ve written music for pay for 40 years now. It easier (but perhaps more time consuming) to write a lot of notes for a large ensemble of musicians than a simple melody for a small group. The main reason for that: The larger group and the sheer number of notes can better hide the composer/arranger’s mistakes.

    And midi covers a multitude of sins.

    Or corrects them for you automatically! (Input quantization :) )

    • #19
  20. Ralphie Inactive
    Ralphie
    @Ralphie

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Ralphie (View Comment):
    For the musician or author/artist, the critics’ reviews can be brutal.

    It’s not always so easy on the critic, either. ?

    Especially when you want the person to be successful and like them.

    • #20
  21. JLock Inactive
    JLock
    @CrazyHorse

    Simple Genius seems a bit of a Catch 22 to me — or so I’ve heard. I wouldn’t know as I don’t read literature that questions the morality of war. Well done El Capitan.

    My favorite by Mingus:

    • #21
  22. mezzrow Member
    mezzrow
    @mezzrow

    Songwriter (View Comment):
    I’ve written music for pay for 40 years now. It easier (but perhaps more time consuming) to write a lot of notes for a large ensemble of musicians than a simple melody for a small group. The main reason for that: The larger group and the sheer number of notes can better hide the composer/arranger’s mistakes.

    So true.

    • #22
  23. barbara lydick Inactive
    barbara lydick
    @barbaralydick

    From Advice to Authors – Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636–1711)

    “…A hundred times consider what you’ve said; polish, repolish, every color lay, and sometimes add, but oftener take away . …”

    Good advice for authors, musicians, artists

    • #23
  24. SParker Member
    SParker
    @SParker

    barbara lydick (View Comment):
    From Advice to Authors – Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux (1636–1711)

    “…A hundred times consider what you’ve said; polish, repolish, every color lay, and sometimes add, but oftener take away . …”

    Good advice for authors, musicians, artists

    True, but it eventually leads to what I dimly remember to be a Curzio Malaparte quote:  The purpose of publishing is to allow an author to stop writing.

    My dad’s favorite expression of the idea was:  A writer’s best tool is the wastebasket.

    • #24
  25. Archie Campbell Member
    Archie Campbell
    @ArchieCampbell

    “I would have written a shorter letter, but I did not have the time.” -Pascal

    • #25
  26. SParker Member
    SParker
    @SParker

    I never got the “stupid” part of KISS.  Certainly not after that first experience with an honest-to-God-you-people-are-getting-paid-for-this?-boy-I-really-get-Twain’s-camel-is-a-horse-designed-by-a-committee-thing-now  crack design team where the enthusiastic initial meeting was hot and heavy with KISS and not reinventing wheels.  This 1987 American Heritage article that fell into my lap recently is interesting on the difficulties of group KISS.  The one on Churchhill in the same issue is also pretty nifty on writer working methods.

    • #26

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