At one point during our conversation, I asked him a vaguely technical music question.
‘I’m the wrong person to ask,’ he said. ‘What I know about music theory could be written on the back of a very small postage stamp.’
This surprised me. I had heard him play – and play very well. I also knew that he did quite a bit of composing and arranging.
‘So what’s your approach?’ I asked.
He thought for a moment or two, and then he said: ‘I suppose I just listen – you know, carefully and well. And then I just do what works.’
The pianist’s approach reminded me of something Joan Didion once said about grammar. ‘[It’s] a piano I play by ear. All I know about grammar is its power.’
If you want to write clear, attractive prose, there’s a lot to be said for listening carefully, listening well, and then just doing what works.