On Concision: An Anecdote

A theme of the past three weeks has been the value of concision in writing arrangements and compositions for improvisers—providing sufficient space for musicians to create something personal and unique to its moment of creation. Here's an anecdote I heard from Ab Baars, the great Dutch saxophonist, clarinetist, and shakuhachi-ist (sic?):

A musician in Count Basie's band wanted to contribute an arrangement to the band book, so he spent a couple weeks preparing an arrangement. When he finished, he brought the score to the Count, who looked it over for a while and then tore it in half. 

"It's good, but you can do better."

The musician went back to writing and re-did the arrangement, then brought it back to the Count. The same thing happened as before, and this process happened several times. Finally, the musician went to the Count and asked, "What am I doing wrong?"

The Count replied, "A good arrangement should fit on the back of a napkin." 

***Interestingly, when Vijay Iyer was explaining his composition "Ghost Time," he mentioned that the whole thing could also fit on the back of a napkin.