The older I get, the less I value creativity. Maybe what I really mean is “creation”, the constant generating of new material. It’s good when it flows, but new things are not always the answer. If you spend a long time in a particular musical world, you will probably end up…going deeper, working with less, and the music will open up. Freedom through limitation.
There are, after all, infinite ways to reorder and reorganise the ideas we already use. Using a well known melody in a solo stretches across boundaries of taste, time and popularity. A simple and familiar melody can momentarily open up a music that often appears elitist. Of course, most things that take time and concentration appear elitist these days.
Quotation can be cheesy though, a proper blue vein stink, “Colonel Bogie” will cut through a Gershwin song like a turd plopped on a Roman fresco, or break the flow of a solo like an unprompted name drop in a conversation.
But it can also be inspired, it can make you aware of how all music is related somehow, somewhere, through some distant branch, a twig, of a family tree. It releases something familiar from what seemed like an iron clad context, and places it in another, builds a bridge between the known and the new. It might win you, for that brief moment, some more fans.
But it’s a high risk pursuit, no question about it. The value of your investment may go up or down, and there’s a terrifying lean to the latter. Some music just won’t stand for it, demanding something more rigorous or consistent.
Choose wisely, not out of desperation or a need to please. Pick tunes that are well known and distinctive, that can slide into view unannounced. Aim for surprise at the familiar, like an English tourist finding a Starbuck’s in a strange town.
Don’t do it too much. It wears thin, like summer trousers. Like similies.