! Chapter One: “Success, smack, and swing” Biographer Peter Pettinger has his own, rather influential perspective
on pianist Bill Evans, as author of the still-definitive biography of Evans (Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, 1998), a New York Times Notable Book, and in a sparse field of Evans scholarship, a source for much of the first information one will find about Evans on the internet. Therefore, his take on Evans's pivotal time in the Miles Davis Sextet (1958) is
idiosyncratic, but hardly obscure. Pettinger writes the following of Davis's motivation for hiring Evans. Davis, the master of understatement, was also looking for a pianist who would compliment his feeling for space. [Red] Garland tended to drop his chords in at regular intervals and sometimes insistently, admitting space in a general way. Evans, in contrast, did so specifically, his carefully judged silences integral to a structure which acted like a scaffolding of immense but rarified strength.1 Pettinger quotes Davis a few pages later: "Bill played underneath the rhythm and I liked that, the way he played scales with the band. Red's playing had carried the rhythm but Bill underplayed it and for what I was doing now with the modal thing, I liked what Bill was doing better."2 From which Pettinger draws his own conclusion: Garland was a hard act to follow, but what Evans had to offer was something completely different. It has been said that when Evans and Cobb joined, the energy went out of the Davis band, but what Evans contributed in its place was of deeper value and farther-reaching consequence. It was recognized as such by Davis, and indeed by the history of jazz.3
Peter Pettinger, Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998; reprint, New Haven: Yale Nota Bene, 2002), 52.
ibid., 52. It should be said here that when drummer Jimmy Cobb joined, Evans felt some of the energy had gone out of the band. See Appendix B, (p.)55, for his comments about the departure of Philly Joe Jones, his all-time favorite drummer.!
#! There are many things wrong with this assertion. Evans did leave more space than
Garland as an accompanist, sometimes sustaining chords regardless of the tempo, where Garland tended to comp with characteristically clipped hits. Despite this distinction, Pettinger’s suggestion of haphazardness overlooks Garland’s fine connection with drummer Philly Joe Jones, and sets up a false dichotomy in favor of Evans, who in accord with Pettinger's thesis, is inevitably portrayed as the more thoughtful, rigorous musician. This in turn contradicts Davis’s words, which explain that his choice of Evans was not a simple matter of preference for Evans over Garland, but for Evans as the conduit for the new modal direction he was pursuing. The “farther-reaching consequence” of Evans's contributions, moreover, owes itself largely to his appearance on the platinum-selling Kind of Blue, the success of which has as much to do with the vagaries of Davis's reception as it does with Evans. To be clear, none of these observations is intended to obscure the undeniable impact of Evans's playing, in the way he interacted with the band and in the influence of his voicings, touch, and sense of space on other pianists (and accordingly, other bands). But Pettinger’s enthusiasm amounts to revisionist history, expressed again when he writes of the little-known studio session Jazz Track, “No one could have anticipated the outcome of this session, which produced playing of such intensity, spirituality, and Olympian beauty that it ranked as one of those crucial moments in the history of art after which things were never quite the same again.”4 Finally, he bears out the implications of these and all his contentions: !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
The takes from Jazz Track (“On Green Dolphin Street,” “Fran Dance,” “Stella by Starlight” and “Love for Sale”) are now available on the Sony compact disc, ’58 Miles: Featuring Stella by Starlight.
! It is said that music is an international language, and certainly many a fine performance has resulted from multinational or mixed-race ensembles. But what was happening in the Miles Davis sextet, due to the presence of Bill Evans, was an amalgamation on a creative level of disparate cultures. The white pianist's offering, dripping with the history of the European classics, brought the band members up short with astonishment. They had never heard anything like it; jazz had never heard anything like it, and the whole world was unprepared for its marriage to contemporary black American music. Better than third-stream, the miracle was worked not from the head, but from the heart.5 Similar commentary can be found in an interview with pianist James Drew, published in Letter from Evans (LFE), a member-supported series of Bill Evans-related newsletters that circulated by mail and is now available in its entirety on the web.6 Drew proclaims, to LFE editor Win Hinkle,
Listen to the Miles that came up before that collaboration; it didn't have anything to do with the freer flow of Bill Evans. And then listen to him after Bill Evans. Bill Evans made Miles. Miles needed breathing room ... So I always attribute that to the Evans brothers [meaning Bill and arranger-composer Gil, no biological relation]. Win Hinkle: I like to listen to the Miles’s [sic] recordings of the tune “All of You” and Bill Evans’s recordings of “All of You.” And the concept is very similar. James Drew: Sure. I mean he worked with Miles briefly until the racist attitude had him ejected. I'm sure that's not going to be popular today. But, it happened. Win Hinkle: Yeah, I always suspected that ... And then, you talked to Bill on the phone [once] … James Drew: Yeah. That was about 1959 ... and he was kind of always bemoaning the fact ... there wasn't enough of the right work ... In other words, it's very difficult ... to try to play lyrical things for people when they really want to be popping their fingers all the time ... Hard bebop would, and still does for that matter, seem to be the biggest draw ... But what Bill Evans was doing was a much more thoughtful kind of playing. It was much more involved with lyrical detail.7
http://www.scribd.com/search?query=letter%2Bfrom%2Bevans, available through http://billevanswebpages.com, a comparably useful resource lacking in objectivity.
Win Hinkle, “Interview with James Drew,” Letter from Evans Vol. 3 No. 3 (January/February 1992): 9.!
%! These are a collection of statements so extreme they almost do not merit response.
Nonetheless, their place in Letter from Evans – the single-largest, web-archived source on Evans – speaks to the problematic discourse that surrounds the pianist.8 On the one hand, Evans genuinely struggled to find a place for his playing (see below). There remains, besides, an attitude in some jazz and jazz education circles that positions Evans not as the musical nonconformist he naturally was, but as a failure in their conception of what a jazz pianist "should" be.9 On the other hand, since the early days of Evans's struggles, there has been amply generous recognition of his greatness. Furthermore, comments like Drew's, Hinkle’s, and Pettinger’s suggest a blinkered understanding of jazz that confuses muscular, conventionally swinging playing with thoughtlessness, and even manages to cast a disparaging light on Miles Davis, to whom Evans and jazz as a whole owes an enormous debt for his ability to see through preconceptions of many stripes. Though Pettinger mostly recognizes this quality in Davis, he falls into similar dialogical traps as above in accounting for Evans's resignation from the sextet and his subsequent heroin addiction. If Charlie Parker could be an addict and a genius, it had to be worth a try ... In his army days Evans had tried marijuana and had continued to smoke it ... Contrary to most ... medical evidence, he believed that marijuana led to heroin – and as if to !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Editor Hinkle not only misses his chance to refute Drew, but appears to be unaware that Davis recorded “All of You” before Evans, who must have based his version on Davis’s. David Morgan’s unpublished manuscript “Superimposition in the Improvisations of Herbie Hancock” details the Davis alterations to Cole Porter’s “All of You” that have become ubiquitous among jazz musicians. And among the repertoire of the first Evans trio, with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, was “All of You,” “I Loves You Porgy,” “Milestones,” “Nardis,” and “Solar,” all songs closely associated with or composed by Davis.
This relates to the discussion, starting on p. 9, about Evans and swinging. A wonderfully openminded essay in the same vein can be found at this link from pianist Ethan Iverson’s blog, Do the Math. http://dothemath.typepad.com/dtm/1-young-lion-jazz-of-the-1980s.html!!
&! prove his point, he tried that, too. Not until he played with Miles, though, was his heroin use more than experimental.10
This is confirmed by Evans's first serious contraction of hepatitis in the fall of 1958.11 Pettinger continues, "[Evans] was determined not to isolate himself from the druggrounded fellowship of that band. In fact, not content with being a mere addict, he was determined to be the worst junkie in the band."12 In this case, Pettinger’s phrase "druggrounded fellowship" could not be more misleading, Davis having quit heroin in 1954, and Coltrane in 1957. More convincing is the analysis that Evans "received enticement from colleagues already hooked. Philly Joe Jones was probably most to blame ... Bill and Philly Joe became great junkie-buddies over the years.”13 Regardless, Pettinger's source for Evans's "determin[ation] to be the "worst junkie in the band" must be Gene Lees's chapter on Evans ("The Poet") in his book Meet Me at Jim and Andy's. Lees, a close friend of Evans, recalls Evans sending him one of the most remarkable examples of self-analysis by an artist I have ever encountered ... explaining why he had become a heroin addict ... [In this letter, he wrote] that the acclaim he was receiving by the time he was with the Miles Davis !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Pettinger claims that Evans suffered from hepatitis his whole life. It is certain that he took time off at the end of 1958 to recover from a bout induced by heroin injection. Evans’s girlfriend at the time, Peri Cousins, describes the situation well (if not with the utmost chronological certainty) in her interview in Letter from Evans Vol. 4 No. 3 (Spring 1993), 9-11.
ibid., 62. Jones and Evans were running buddies, but Laurie Verchomin, Evans’s girlfriend at the time of his death, has revealed on p. 129 of her memoir (The Big Love: Life and Death with Bill Evans, 2010) that it was actually Earl Zindars with whom Evans first tried heroin. “Earl and Bill … [got] together as budding composers back in the early days in Manhattan, when Bill was studying at the Mannes School of Music [three postgraduate semesters 1955-1956]. They spent a lot of time doing experimental stuff like recording the sounds of dripping water faucets. Bill recorded a number of Earl’s tunes … ironically it was Earl that turned Bill on to heroin.” This revelation contrasts with Pettinger’s bucolic stories about Evans visiting Zindars’s white, middleclass home.!
! group ... made him acutely uneasy. He didn't feel he deserved it. I remember the next line of that letter verbatim: 'If people wouldn't believe I was a bum, I was determined to prove it.'14
The common use of the word "determined" suggests the origin of Pettinger's claim in this Lees quotation. Yet if we are to believe Lees, Pettinger turns the story completely on its head, making Evans the victim of external circumstances on every count. Why? At this moment, it is worth remembering first that Evans did suffer from serious doubts about his self-worth; and second, that this is a crucial, complex juncture in Evans's career about which both Evans and Davis had the opportunity to express their opinions. Regarding the first matter, while it is the mistake of Pettinger to blame others for Evans's problems, it is not unreasonable to conclude that the pressures of being in the sextet were a cause for the acceleration of Evans's heroin habit. If Evans was hurt by the “silent treatment … and occasionally overt demonstrations of antagonism”15 he received from black audiences, at this point in his life, he was equally unsure of his place among fellow musicians. Evans's girlfriend in the late 1950s, Peri Cousins, received letters from him inquiring if she thought he deserved his success.16 Even twenty-one years after joining Davis, Evans admitted to interviewer Ross Porter, "I don't know why Miles picked me, a white man especially.”17 In short, Evans's habitual self-effacement, his reputation as a
14 15 16 17
Gene Lees, Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 173. Appendix B, “Bill Evans: Interview with Ross Porter,” 54. See also Helen Merrill’s story, Pettinger, 47; and Art Farmer’s, Pettinger, 66. Appendix B, 54.!
! kind man,18 and his exquisite, sometimes delicate music all could make it easier for Pettinger to portray Evans as the victim of a heartless world. Scholar David Ake perceptively points to this as an example of white writers depicting the drug addictions of white musicians as "personal problems," where the introspective, "litera[te] qualities of black musicians like Charlie Parker and Charles Mingus” are overshadowed by “tales of drug-induced excesses and bizarre behavior.”19
But Ake is also wrong to invoke Robert Walser's concept of "interiority" as a "strategy of engagement" on the part of Evans.20 Evans was not out to create an identity of his vulnerability. For one, his fairly constant state of highness or illness made it impossible to do so consciously, but besides, I do not believe the music could otherwise speak to the people as it does. The sensitivity is palpable. The victim status, on the contrary, is undeserved. On the second count of Evans's career trajectory, it is far too easy to forget that in 1958, Evans was not yet known as one of the quintessential exponents of the piano trio. Evans made it clear he had not forgotten, though, in the aforementioned interview with Ross Porter. "I ... couldn't command enough drawing power in the audience-at-large to get a trio off the ground ... I think the fact that Miles had recognized me ... turned the jazz public's ears toward me, at least once ... which is all you can ask.”21 In other words, Evans's tenure with Davis marked the apotheosis of his arrival on the international jazz !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Lees, 157-58. Lees remembers Evans surprising friends the world over with money (borrowed for heroin) he owed them from years prior.
19 20 21
David Ake, Jazz Cultures (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), 98. ibid., 99. Appendix B, 54.!
! scene. "I gave myself, provisionally, 'til I was 30. I came here when I was 25. I said, 'I'm
gonna ... completely dedicate myself for five years, and if I haven't made a decent dent … then I'll have to make another choice.’”22 Thanks to the opportunity to play with what Evans called "the greatest jazz band that ever was,”23 just three years after moving to New York City, Evans had been guaranteed an existence as a professional jazz pianist for literally the rest of his life. He was free to have a trio, which was his "basic ambition" since his early twenties.24 If Evans rarely appeared as a sideman of note after Oliver Nelson's The Blues and the Abstract Truth (1961), that did not appear to bother him, either. Primarily, I'm more in control of the music [with the trio]. I can shape the music and I state the theme, I keep the flow going – and the way we work, for instance, there's no talking, it's all done musically, indications. And it becomes a totally musical experience for the group and also the audience.25 What is more, "see, I was coming from a little different direction than ... the most popular jazz at that time  was sort of a hard bop thing, which I recorded with people like that occasionally, but it wasn't where I was coming from personally as much."26 The musical and the personal are intertwined, but no one can ever claim to know why Evans played as he did, or why he started heroin. Without a doubt, the experience !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
22 23 24
Appendix B, 59. ibid., 54.
“In fact, I have probably precisely fulfilled what I had in mind, which was to attain a position in jazz which would allow me to play what I liked, and to have a trio, and to record without any pressure, to have the freedom to play the music I wanted to play.” Homecoming (Milestone 0025218929127, 1999, compact disc, track 13).
Robert L. Doerschuk, liner notes to Bill Evans, Consecration, Milestone 8MCD-4436-2, 2002, compact disc.
Appendix B, 54.!
! with Davis conferred many more benefits than scars. Thus Pettinger plays ineffectual armchair psychologist again when he concludes that the primary boon of working with Davis was a boost to Evans's confidence. Obviously, the ego had not been assuaged
enough to show Evans (or Pettinger) that heroin does not constitute a reasonable response to hardship. Because of this misunderstanding, Pettinger misinterprets, too, Davis's less flattering remarks about Evans. When Davis later observed that Evans never hired black musicians, he was speaking beyond the personal debt Evans owed him, to critics like Pettinger who prove Davis's point again and again by diminishing the larger truth that a black musician had "made" a white musician’s career.27 Davis could be cruel, as Pettinger says, but in a narrative of victimhood like his, so could the world be cruel to Davis. This discussion of Evans and Davis has one more dimension that must be addressed, and that is Evans’s relationship to swinging. Critic-producer Bob Blumenthal takes up the subject by way of a comparison of Evans to John Coltrane. The similarities he sees between Evans and Coltrane begin with the shock their deaths registered among jazz musicians, at a "vibrant" period of "new discoveries.” Blumenthal cites as further points of overlap their time with Miles Davis in 1958, their "influential approach to improvising ... on scales and modes rather than chord changes," and their famous live albums at the Village Vanguard in 1961, followed by lesser-known recordings there again before their deaths. Other than that, !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
“It’s a strange thing about a lot of white players – not all, just most – that after they make it in a black group they always go and play with all white guys no matter how good the black guys treated them. Bill did that, and I’m not saying he could have gotten any black guys any better than Scott [LaFaro] and Paul [Motian], I’m just telling what I’ve seen happen over and over again” (Miles Davis and Quincy Troupe, Miles: The Autobiography (New York: Touchstone, 1989), 232). This is not the first or last time Davis said this about a musician. Or this: “I don’t think [Bill] ever sounded as good … as when he played with me.”
"+! We don't often think of Coltrane and Evans together, for obvious reasons. Coltrane's approach was expansive, often cataclysmic, overtly spiritual and, in the view of some, specifically Afrocentric. Evans was introverted, musically softspoken, wedded to popular song, and white. This last fact led to some ludicrous claims regarding Evans' authenticity. I once heard a young pianist, who also happens to be white, insist that "...everyone knows Bill Evans only swung when he played with Miles." ("Then how come," a friend of mine retorted, "Philly Joe Jones grasped every opportunity to play with Evans?") The extent to which Evans was accepted by his black contemporaries, and his marked influence on younger pianists of all races, should have put the racial canard to rest long ago. His sound was neither black nor white; he sounded like Bill Evans, which is the way it's supposed to be in a music of self-expression.28
To begin, Coltrane had more in common with Evans than historical circumstance and influence. Both Coltrane and Evans seldom spoke with their audience, rehearsed with their band, or shared with anyone the deeper inspiration for their music (Coltrane's explicitly spiritual or "Afrocentric" references were rarer than they were common). Coltrane shared Evans's love of American standards, lamenting in 1963 that "they don't write any great melodies anymore. Not like Rodgers and Hart – that was great music.”29 And like Evans, part of Coltrane's influence lies in his band's unique time conception that challenged conventional notions of swinging. This could just as easily be Evans speaking as it is Coltrane. It is necessary to have a firm beat going, but it's not necessary to have everyone playing 4/4, I mean rigidly. Between the ... rhythm section, there should be enough interplay to give you at every point of the song the same solidarity that you get in 4/4, but it will be implied sometimes instead of actually played.”30 !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Bob Blumenthal, liner notes to Bill Evans, Turn out the Stars: The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980, Nonesuch 518043-2, 1996, compact disc.
John Coltrane, Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews, ed. Chris DeVito (Chicago, A Cappella, 2010), 206.
Lewis Porter, John Coltrane: His Life and Music (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press), 213.!
Worst by far, in capitulating to clichés that reduce jazz to an egoistic "selfexpression," Blumenthal obscures the very value of individuality: namely, context. A listener appreciates Evans's playing more when he or she has heard the echoes of Bud Powell and Horace Silver on his first trio album New Jazz Conceptions (1956), or the Ahmad Jamal traces (Legendary Okeh & Epic Recordings, "Love for Sale," 1:23-32) on Evans’s second trio outing Everybody Digs Bill Evans ("Tenderly," 2:12-2:23). To insist Evans swung like them is not only to state a fallacy. It is to reinforce that narrow attachment to swing – and the limiting, rather than enriching conceptions of race – that compelled Blumenthal to defend Evans’s authenticity in the first place. Bill Evans did not swing like Garland, Jamal, Silver, Powell, or his replacement in the Davis sextet, Wynton Kelly.31 That is why all of them are great.
It seems where Evans aims to ecstatically deliver the logic of his lines, Kelly does the same while concurrently subverting patterns the listener expects to emerge. This kaleidoscopic unpredictability, in combination with articulation and touch, is a dimension of swinging not often enough discussed. Evans understood this well himself. E.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zYpKNM1Yi5o (See also Chapter Three, p. 28). The impact of his rhythmic understanding, unfortunately, could be blunted by an insistence on proving a motivic point. The result being that many of his post-LaFaro solos (especially post1965) contain an alarming quantity of interchangeable licks with little of the melodic character or attentiveness to bass and drums that had made that first trio iconic. E.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C84KmJwtPeI With his last trio, Evans sounds as though he is trying to break free of these motivically driven patterns, at the same time he is able to convey them from a place of more compelling urgency. E.g., http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4onNYBcZooc
! Chapter Two: “Double Life”
Since most music critics' backgrounds lie either in western classical music, or the liberal arts (usually English literature), writing about jazz from its inception has been laden with analyses, depictions, and judgments ill-suited to its métier. To offer one notorious example, in a chapter from Jazz: Its Evolution and Essence, noted critic Andre Hodeir attempts to divide jazz into periods analogous to those in classical music, equating Baroque polyphony with New Orleans jazz, the Classical period with 1930s Swing Era jazz, and so forth. This disaster of cultural grafting has no justification other than Hodeir’s preconceptions. It may not be a surprising gaffe from a white man trained at the Paris Conservatoire, but then neither should white men like Hodeir have been the most prominent arbiters of jazz.1 Even today, the "best instrumentalist" polls in Down Beat, for instance, reflect a philosophy that seems inappropriate to the genre. At its core, jazz does not seek to crown geniuses the way classical music does, and when jazz does make its claims for greatness, it is using the classical rhetoric of Homerian epics, not of classic down-home blues. Ingrid Monson examines some of the complexities of this relationship between jazz and classical music – and American/African-American vs. Euro-American – in her book Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa. The common care for harmonic detail in jazz and classical music constitutes what Monson dubs a "bridge
There have been and still are many excellent white jazz writers. Their writing should speak for itself. The almost too-obvious point being made here is that black writers have been underrepresented among the wider (whiter) public, without much question about the implications of their absence from the national dialogue about jazz (rock, American cultural history, etc.).
discourse"2 of real significance, and the acknowledgement of jazz-classical connections, she observes, helped to rescue African American musicians from myths of the "untutored ... 'noble savage'"3 posited by Hodeir and others of his generation. Jazz musicians' interest in classical music also brought a broader sonic palette into jazz, and study of classical composition and performance "came to be expected of jazz musicians ... and celebrated [by] the late 1940s.”4 Yet for all the positive associations of merit, the "bridge" Monson describes is somewhat unsurprising, considering the polyglot society that built it. At the height of the hi-fi LP era in the 1950s, jazz, classical, and so-called adult music were marketed in much the same way, to a sophisticated listening audience (with classical records alone accounting for an astonishing twenty percent of record sales). Debates over the definition of jazz as far back as 1920 signaled the porous nature of the boundaries between jazz and other music, whether classical, popular, religious, ethnic, or whatever combination thereof. Additionally, historian Amiri Baraka points to Americans' inherent understanding of "aesthetic modernism" and multiple cultural heritages, saying, "We are, all of us, moderns, whether we like it or not.”5 Monson takes this train of thought further. "The idea of the modern artist [in jazz] was a double-edged sword. If it enabled African American musicians to ... break out of a race-based, second-class citizenship by appealing to merit and genius, it also provided a !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Ingrid Monson, Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 88.
3 4 5
Monson, 86. ibid., 88. ibid., 72.
! rhetoric through which white musicians could insist that the music be understood as colorblind and dismiss those who emphasized its black heritage as reverse racists.”6 Damningly, "rather than view white ability to play jazz as a blackening of mainstream
musical style, colorblind discourse ... preferred to claim that the ability to swing and play the blues could be divorced from any necessary connection to blackness and African Americans.”7 Both of these strains are in evidence in Pettinger's account of the Davis sextet, in James Drew’s interpretation of hard bop, and in Blumenthal’s discussion of Evans and swinging. Evans himself was more nuanced and oblique. A 1966 video interview entitled The Universal Mind of Bill Evans8 stands as one of the more in-depth portrayals of Evans as he had a chance to present himself. With his recording of the Spartacus love theme playing in the background, he asserts at the outset his belief that, All people are in possession of what might be called a 'universal musical mind.' All true music speaks with this universal mind ... [and] the understanding that results will vary only insofar as people have or have not been conditioned to the various styles of music in which the universal mind speaks.9 Later in the discussion, Evans specifically articulates his view of jazz, which he traces back to eighteenth-century Europe as a "revival" of the improvisatory ability that composers like J.S. Bach and Mozart were said to have possessed. Evans acknowledges !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
6 7 8
Monson, 70. ibid., 80.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nsnh21ae6YI Evans’s brother Harry proves a most effective interviewer, as someone close to Bill and as a music educator in his own right. Though dated in obvious ways, this video is still overflowing with insight for the general public and musicians alike. Bill’s clarity is stunning, and moving.
The Universal Mind of Bill Evans: Jazz Pianist on Creative Process and Self-Teaching, directed by Louis Carvell, 45 minutes, Rhapsody Films DVD BOOO2472, 1966.!
! the notion that jazz "came up the Mississippi,"10 but in one of the strongest artistic
statements of his lifetime, proclaims, "In an absolute sense, jazz is not so much a style as it is a process of making music. It's the process of making one minute's music in one minute's time.”11 Though this is an honest, intelligent perspective, Evans must not have realized the collective implication of his words. By linking jazz to classical music in this manner, he was opening the door to a perception of jazz that was incredibly safe to white Americans on the right side of cultural hierarchies and the wrong side of socio-cultural awareness. But Evans's words ring with inclusivity because he was an American vitally in touch with multiple cultural heritages, artistic and social, which is the main attribute common to great jazz musicians, and lacking in most jazz writers. Evans's most beloved non-musical heroes ranged from Thomas Hardy to Jiddu Krishnamurti to Richard Pryor to Woody Allen. Musically, Evans could speak of Lee Konitz, Lennie Tristano, and Warne Marsh with the same enthusiasm he had for Nat King Cole (his second-favorite pianist only to Bud Powell). Of Konitz and Tristano’s Subconscious-Lee (1949), Evans said, "I heard the fellows in the group building their lines with a design and general structure that was different from anything I'd heard in jazz."12 Of Cole’s 1944 “Body and Soul”13: "I'll always remember … the improvisation of his first chorus … [It] was put !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Evans did not have the advantage of resources like this: http://www.wbgo.org/blog/introducingyou-dont-know-jazz-dr-lewis-porter
See Appendix C1 for an interview that overlaps with The Universal Mind.
Peter Pettinger, Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998; reprint New Haven: Yale Nota Bene, 2002), 35.
With guitarist Oscar Moore and bassist Johnny Miller.
together, the ideas following one another, unlike any jazz that I'd ever heard ... Because he used one idea throughout the whole chorus, in sequence, shifting around and everything.”14 Of absorbing powerful influences like Cole, Evans said: "I wouldn't listen to a recording ... and try to play along with it, to imitate. Rather, I'd listen to the record and try to absorb the essence of it and apply it to something else."15 And of Powell himself: His was the most comprehensive composition talent of any jazz player I have ever heard presented on the jazz scene ... He expanded much in a legitimate, organic way. Because of his history, he never got to use that potential that much, though he did plenty. His insight and talent were unmatched in hardcore, true jazz. There are some feelings which don't make you emotional ... They don't make you cry, they don't make you laugh, they don't make you feel anything but profound, and that's the feeling I got from Bud. It's like the feeling you get from Beethoven, maybe.16 These comments demonstrate the eclectic nature of Evans's training. Evans began classical piano lessons around age six-and-a-half. He briefly took violin lessons around the same time, and in high school, studied flute and piccolo. Evans gained some proficiency on these instruments, continuing to play flute in the concert band at Southeastern Louisiana College (now University), where he matriculated on scholarship in 1946. In 1950, he received Bachelor's degrees from Southeastern in piano performance and music education. He also received a glowing recommendation from the head of the music department Ralph Pottle, who in a letter to a California bandleader friend, noted not only the unusual talent that afforded Evans the opportunity to play Beethoven's Third !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
14 15 16
Appendix C4, 79.! Pettinger, 15.
Keith Shadwick, Bill Evans: Everything Happens to Me – a Musical Biography (London: Backbeat, 2002), 134.
Piano Concerto with the school orchestra, but his "intent [interest in] the modern idioms in piano playing, [making him] perhaps the finest all around dance pianist I have heard in the profession.”17 This "double life ... of student and night owl"18 had begun at age twelve when Evans sat in with the school rehearsal band. By the time high school ended, Evans was playing several gigs a week throughout his home state of New Jersey (b. Philadelphia, PA, August 16, 1929; raised in Plainfield and North Plainfield, NJ). In practicing, meanwhile, Evans had a proclivity to sight-read rather than repeat exercises or scales, thus allowing him to play a vast range of music without strain. "It's just that I've played such a quantity of piano ... Three hours a day in childhood, about six hours a day in college ... With that, I could afford to develop slowly. Everything I've learned, I've learned with feeling being the generating force.”19 He learned the rest on the job, through records, or at clubs. He recalled requesting a recording of Stravinsky's Petrushka as a Christmas present at age thirteen, as well as buying all the [jazz] records....anybody from Coleman Hawkins to Bud Powell and Dexter Gordon ... I first heard Bud on those Dexter Gordon sides on Savoy. I heard Earl Hines very early and, of course, the King Cole Trio. Nat ... I still do think he is probably the most underrated pianist in the history of jazz. I'd play hookey from school and hear all the bands at the Paramount in New York ... Or we'd try to sneak in the clubs on 52nd Street with phony draft cards.20
He found his first post-graduate professional gig through a chance meeting during his final week of college, with guitarist and fellow Southeastern alumnus Mundell Lowe. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
17 18 19 20
Pettinger, 19. Pettinger’s sketch of Evans’s early life is very good. ibid., 34.! Gene Lees, Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990), 150. Pettinger, 13.!
From there, Evans joined clarinetist Herbie Fields in what is usually described as an early R&B band with no shortage of work around the States. Evans was "sopping up" life on the road until the Korean War "brought him to … a halt"21 and forced him to enlist in the Special Services section of the army in 1951. He played piccolo in the army band stationed at Fort Sheridan, IL, just outside of Chicago, and spent a good deal of time in Chicago both observing the scene and playing piano. He met several lifelong friends, especially fellow enlistees Bill Scott (the bassist and Evans were "best man" at each other's weddings) and Earl Zindars (percussionist, and composer of Evans favorites "Elsa," “How My Heart Sings,” and "Mother of Earl”). Jack Reilly, another armed services musician and a current author of theory texts on Evans, describes Evans's playing then as "a mixture of Bud Powell, George Shearing, and Teddy Wilson. But more than that I was completely taken aback by the sheer joy and above all the 'swing' element in his right-hand lines and his ability to coordinate both hands as he improvised; that is, the left hand was never a mere accompaniment, but always rhythmically integrated in and around the right-hand 'figures.’”22 Whatever the state of his playing when Reilly heard him, Evans became disillusioned quickly. "I was very happy and secure until … the army. Then I started to feel there was something I should know that I didn't ... I was attacked by some guys for what I believed, and by musicians who claimed I should play like this pianist or that. Pretty soon ... I began to think everything I did was wrong.”23 This was not aided by !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
21 22 23
See Appendix B, “Bill Evans: Interview with Ross Porter,” 56. Pettinger, 21-22. ibid., 23.
"*! staying up all night smoking Mexican reefer and playing the local Chicago jazz clubs ... He claims he never slept during this time ... After a while, with the combination of lack of sleep and constant reefer smoking, he played poorly when he wasn't high, and even worse when he was. At some point (after his release) ... he gave up this early drug use to focus more clearly on his music.24
This period of intense focus took place at Evans's parents' house in North Plainfield, NJ, where he stayed upon his discharge in January 1954. "I stopped off for rehabilitation and woodshedding and getting it together ... and built a little studio room in the house, and got a grand piano and a hi-fi set, and started to woodshed.”25 Presumably, with a record player nearby, Evans was listening to a lot of music, possibly working on voicings, scales, and tunes, in addition to practicing technique and classical repertoire. All of this provided the foundation for the incredible variety of music-making that followed. It has been mentioned already that Evans determined to settle in New York City, to "make or break [in jazz].”26 After moving to the City in July of 1955, he played thousands of gigs in the five boroughs, and by 1956-1957, he had become known well enough that he could work in jazz almost exclusively. Significant associations included clarinetist/multi-instrumentalist Tony Scott (The Modern Art of Jazz, 1956); trombonist/multi-instrumentalist Don Elliott (a live recording at the 1957 Newport Jazz Festival survives); bassist-composer Charles Mingus (East Coasting, 1957); and composer-arranger George Russell (Jazz Workshop, 1956). Russell wrote "Concerto for
Laurie Verchomin, The Big Love: Life and Death with Bill Evans, Pre-Edition Printing, 2010, 48.!
Appendix B, 56. ibid., 55.
Billy the Kid" for Evans, who played on the most famous third stream event of all time,27 and according to Davis, it was Russell who recommended Evans to Miles. By the end of 1958, Evans had of course worked with the Davis sextet, but he also had won the Down Beat critics' poll and made his second trio album (Everybody Digs Bill Evans, with Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones. The cover features plaudits from Davis, Jamal, George Shearing, and Cannonball Adderley). Evans’s subsequent trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian (1959-1961) was one of the most significant groups in jazz until that time. LaFaro's death in a car accident after the famous June 1961 Village Vanguard sessions has few parallels in jazz other than Clifford Brown's death, preceded as it was by no substance abuse or illness. Its impact can be properly assessed if one imagines the death of Charlie Haden two years after meeting Ornette Coleman, or to name sidemen on different instruments, the loss suffered if Herbie Hancock or Elvin Jones had been killed in the early stages of their touring with Miles Davis and John Coltrane, respectively. The unrealized potential would have been tremendous. There is no doubt it was so when LaFaro died, and Evans was left to bear the brunt of the tragedy. He would find few bassists whose technique was as flowing, or whose playing was as compatible with his sense of harmony, dynamics, and phrasing.28 In a candid Letter from Evans interview years later, LaFaro's replacement Chuck Israels spoke about the issues Evans faced. "Bill was lazy ... socially and afraid to make !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Russell and Gunther Schuller’s Modern Jazz Concert, recorded at Brandeis University in 1957. Wikipedia actually has a fine entry about third stream. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Third_stream!
Evans’s great respect for LaFaro can be heard on rehearsal tapes that conclude the LaFaro collection Pieces of Jade (Resonance Records, 2008). LaFaro’s input becomes the basis for one of Evans’s signatures, “My Foolish Heart.”
! changes in personnel ... Where is his emotional life? Drowning in a blanket of heroin, wrapped in a blanket of heroin, and protected from those things.”29 Professional
complications with personnel indeed plagued Evans for most of the rest of his career. The promising presence of bassist Gary Peacock in 1963-64 ended with Peacock's quitting of bass and Israels's "lame duck" return. Sympathetic drummer Arnie Wise was Evans's choice following a noteworthy recording at New York City's Town Hall in 1966, but when Wise was unwilling to travel to Europe, Evans was without a permanent drummer for parts of 1965-67. Philly Joe Jones joined for a good stretch of playing (documented on the posthumously released 1967 date California Here I Come), but just the same, his presence felt like a fallback on an old friend. A call from another old friend, Miles Davis, cut short Jack DeJohnette's positive impact in Evans's drum chair in 1968. Later on, in 1972, Evans was eager to hire British drummer Tony Oxley, but Oxley's unavailability led to drummer Marty Morell staying with Evans two more years (1969-1974). And when bassist Eddie Gomez submitted his resignation in 1977 after eleven years in the Evans trio, the concomitant resignation of drummer Eliot Zigmund (1975-77) found Evans calling Chuck Israels and Philly Joe Jones again.30 Given these circular dealings, it was a mixture of necessity and coincidence, as well as personal growth, that provided the impetus for Evans's exceptional final trio with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbera (see Chapter Three). Before then, there were other problems unknown to the public. Despite starting his Verve Records !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Win Hinkle, “Interview with Chuck Israels,” Letter from Evans Vol. 1 No. 1 (September/October 1989): 8.!
Israels was a temporary sub, but Jones was with Evans for most of 1978. This must have been another factor in the change in Evans’s playing.
! tenure with the Grammy award-winning multi-track solo recording Conversations with
Myself (1963), Evans presented many difficulties for his record company. He was in the deepest throes of the heroin addiction that continually jeopardized the stability of his life and career. More galling, perhaps, he participated from 1964-1965 in three aborted sessions (including one with star tenor saxophonist of the day Stan Getz) that Evans's manager Helen Keane had to struggle to convince producer Creed Taylor to keep in the vaults.31 The records Evans did release, at the same time, were marred either by interference from Taylor, or by a growing reliance on the same repertoire. Down Beat writer Don Nelsen tries in vain to spin this latter trend convincingly in the liner to Trio '65. "And one thing Evans does with his favorite tunes is to keep playing them. They don't get stale. If they did, Evans would be just another pianist playing the same songs in the same way. No, with Evans they grow because he is continually growing.”32 Following what must have been tense negotiations, Evans re-signed with Verve in 1965, agreeing to revive a failed project that would have been his first recording for the company: a large-ensemble collaboration with arranger-composer Gil Evans. This plan fell through a second time, and Evans was paired with Claus Ogerman instead. Verve tried to milk the resulting Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra (1965) for all it was worth, declaring, "With This Album Jazz Moves Ahead a Giant Step. Brilliant interpretations of piano works by Bach, Chopin, Scriabin, Granados, Faure, and Evans." The front cover lists these composers' names above a pointillist pastel portrait of Evans, eyes closed, head in hands. Things were not always so pretty behind the scenes. !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
A debt is owed to Keith Shadwick’s biography for this portion of the paper. Chapters Nine and Ten of his book are eye-opening.
Don Nelsen, liner notes to Bill Evans, Trio ’65, Verve 314-519-808-2, compact disc.
#$! For many reasons, then, the subject of change was a sore point for Evans. When
Israels approached him in the early 1970s to gently share his belief that Evans was not fulfilling his potential, he told Israels it was "all he could do to hold his life together.”33 Admittedly, his approach worked a lot of the time, thanks to his commitment to improvisatory communication within the trio. But Evans's insistence on carefully worked-out head arrangements sometimes thwarted a freer expression of his brilliance.34 Nor were vistas opened by his unwillingness to accommodate certain styles, in contradiction to his eloquent opening narration in the Universal Mind film. Evans's comments about the jazz avant-garde, in particular, offer clues into the roots of his repetitive musical output. In an October 1964 Down Beat interview with Dan Morgenstern, Evans noted, If you are a composer or are trying to improvise, and you make a form that is atonal, or some plan which has atonality as a base, you present a lot of problems of coherence. Most people who listen to music do listen tonally, and the things that give certain elements meaning are their larger relationships to a tonality ... So if you don't have that kind of reference for a listener, you have to have some other kind of plan or syntax for coherent musical thinking. What many people mean when they say 'atonal,' I think, is more a weird kind of dissonance or strange intervals and things like that. I don't know....I don't feel it. I can listen to master musicians like Bartok or Berg when they do things that people would consider atonal – though they're often not – and ... enjoy it, but here's someone just making an approximation of this music.35
Hinkle-Israels interview, 9.
The comparison to Evans is overdone, but it is worth listening to Keith Jarrett in this regard. Jarrett allows his contrapuntal and rhythmic invention to take him new places with each melodic statement, where Evans was sometimes more restricted. His contrapuntal and rhythmic invention is never in question. It is restricted by his arrangements.
Dan Morgenstern, Living with Jazz: A Reader, ed. Sheldon Meyer (New York: Pantheon, 2004), 238.
! These statements go beyond personal aesthetic preference into philosophical territory in which Evans appears atypically confused. Whether or not avant-garde jazz musicians cared to invoke formal coherence or atonality, clearly their music does not
have much to do with definitions of form or atonality as they relate to Bartok and Berg. The atonal music of those composers exists in a centuries-old, specifically European historical framework that most avant-garde jazz musicians were rejecting not only with their rhetoric about aesthetics and politics, but with their rhetorical approach to music, based almost entirely in improvisation, and involving improvisatory concerns for timbre, space, and rhythm that could not apply to Bartok, Berg, or any other composer. In the unprecedented liner notes to Kind of Blue (Appendix D1) and Conversations with Myself (Appendix D2), Evans had shown the world his great understanding of the musical and cultural differences between jazz and classical music. In panning the avantgarde, though, he mistakenly invoked aesthetics to express what was merely personal distaste. His argument against the new music was not enhanced by an againuncharacteristic invocation of hyperbole whenever the subject arose.36 Of his own "free" improvisations with Paul Bley on the George Russell record Music in the Space Age, Evans said, "To do something hadn't been rehearsed successfully, just like that, almost shows the lack of challenge involved in that type of freedom.”37 Moreover, The emotional content [in other avant-garde music]... is all one way. Naturally, frustration has a place in music at times, especially in dramatic music, but I think !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Perhaps because it often accompanied questions about changes in his own music?
Morgenstern, 236. This quotation best demonstrates the illogic of Evans’s views. Evans truly seemed to miss that avant-garde or “free” jazz makes use of a lifetime of preparation in another way. The “challenges” are not lesser, but different. Evans’s sometimes too-classical outlook is mirrored in other language that presents music as “problem[s]” to be solved by “severe discipline,” as in the liner notes to Kind of Blue, Appendix D1.
! that other feelings are more important and that there is a ... responsibility ... to present feelings which are my best feelings ... I have no desire to hear the bathroom noises of the artist.38 He would make some similar comments in 1970 and in 1972 when asked about the future of jazz in an interview for Crescendo magazine.39 In this latter instance, however, he added,
I think you still have to have a musical basis for what's happening. I like to feel that somehow there's that indefinable harmonious thing that directs music. A 16th-century French composer said that all music has to come from harmony, or harmonic feeling. I agree with that, even if it's pointed in a horizontal direction.40 Here, Evans is clear. Harmony provides the direction for his music. Likewise, Evans should not be chastised for admitting, "the only way I can work is to have some kind of restraint ... the challenge of a certain craft or form ... and then to find the freedom in that, which is one hell of a job.”41 He is also entitled to his view that improvising over a tonal form "doesn't lessen the freedom. It increases it. That's the thing that everybody seems to miss. By giving ourselves a solid base on which to work ... if we have the skill, we can just about do anything. Then we are really free.”42 In this sense, Evans stood for many older musicians who found themselves dogged by simplistic correlations between musical freedom and the lack of formal structure. In the 1960s, the conversation was louder, and windier, and lacking the hindsight possible today. For example, John Wilson's scathing review of Trio '65 went !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
38 39 40 41 42
ibid., 240.! http://www.jazzprofessional.com/Main/archives.htm See Appendix C5, 84. Morgenstern, 236. ibid., 239.
! further than critiquing the lukewarm music on the record, with Wilson musing aloud, "The more I hear of Evans ... the more I become convinced that the propagation of the Evans mystique must be one of the major con jobs of recent years."43 Cecil Taylor, in response to Evans's interview with Morgenstern, said, "I know at least ten pianists –
without even thinking about it – who better deserve the amount of page space he gets. I can't take what he says too seriously because what I hear when he plays is so uninteresting, so predictable, and so lacking in vitality. He's a competent cat. That's all."44 Archie Shepp agreed. "Bill is in many ways one of the most overrated pianists in the country. I like him on ballad material ... Satie, Debussy, everyone knows ... Bill can do those things. But there's nothing particularly original about that, as far as I'm concerned.”45 Little objectivity entered Evans’s discussion of his colleagues in the avant-garde. Equally little was accorded him. This has been another obstacle to assessing Evans’s legacy more objectively.
43 44 45
Shadwick, 119.! ibid., 119. ibid., 119.!
$"! Sean Gough: Did you rehearse, or discuss the signposts of the tunes (for instance, the way the "Theme from M*A*S*H*" had a similar but flexible structure from night to night)? I read something about working out BE's new tunes at soundchecks, but wasn't sure quite what that meant (since M*A*S*H* was one of several "old" tunes revisited), or how often (since there were two new tunes for We Will Meet Again in August '79, "Letter for Evan" in September '79, and the four new tunes for the Turn out the Stars June '80 Vanguard sessions). Joe LaBarbera: We never actually talked about the music, but Bill was SO CLEAR about where he was going that it was easy to follow his lead. For example, the dynamic curve on "M.A.S.H." was a natural evolution. When he had a new tune, we would play it down at sound check so he could hear it and occasionally we would play them during a set on a slow night at the Vanguard. SG: On a similar note, either you or Johnson said that before the Vanguard sessions, you had never played tunes like "Autumn Leaves." But they're the same arrangements from trios prior (i.e., "Autumn Leaves" from Portrait in Jazz). Did you pick them up just from knowing the recordings? JLB: Bill ... consistently ... format[ted] an arrangement starting with the choice of tune, key, any reharmonizing, tempo, and hits if there were any. So, for example, the arrangement on "Autumn Leaves" was exactly the same from the original recording throughout his career. His logic on this was that if you have the arrangement set in advance, then you can concentrate fully on the important part...the blowing! You can safely assume that anyone interested in the gig with Bill would know these from memory long before they got to the audition … One thing Bill was particular about was any harmonic bass motion in the arrangements and would occasionally play them in his left hand if he wasn't hearing them from the bass just as a gentle reminder. There was no drum book, just bass parts with changes, any needed lines and hits … When I discovered how closely Bill was listening to me, I became aware of the powerful input that each of us had in the trio. SG: You and Johnson definitely brought some serious energy to the band. That said, BE himself commented on feeling more ready to lead the trio, and the shift in some of his playing is pretty noticeable for anyone who's heard his records. Is there anything else you might attribute it to? JLB: I think a certain lethargy had set in with Bill by having the same trio for so long in the 70s. This is not a slam on anyone because it could have easily happened with Marc and I had that trio kept on. So, there was a certain freshness and energy that comes with new sidemen and the fact that we just hit it off musically and personally. I always perceived Bill as having strong bebop roots and wanting to tap into that aspect of his playing a little more. Not the walkingbass, 4/4 swing of the late 50's, but something that would complement the open rhythmic feel that Bill had developed years before. A very nice bonus to this was that the ballads were achieving a very high emotional peak as a result; kind of like we were channeling all that energy into a delicate thread. SG: As for the open rhythmic feel, I've been reading different descriptions of this. It's not typical bop – but it's certainly not anti-4/4 walking swing either. And the way some people (not you) draw the contrast, it's as though jazz before Bill
$#! Evans were nothing but a straightjacket. Yet what he did *was* different. Hard to articulate! Like, take Ahmad Jamal. Marvelously understated, "implied" playing in the 50s. Also, Israel Crosby playing some very individual bass. If you had to point to the difference....besides touch, would you say it's Bill Evans's longer, more legato lines, and LaFaro's virtuosity? JLB: I think that technically that is correct, but as Bill always pointed out, he always approached music from a perspective of feeling. Maybe he and Scott could both "hear" this concept and experimented with it to the point of discovery. When you listen to Bill with Miles, you hear that he is leaving a lot of space, space that is being filled in by Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb. When you add La Faro and Motian to this, they edit out portions of their roles to help create the "open" time feel. Kenny Dennis was the first drummer in Bill's trio along with Jimmy Garrison for a gig at Basin Street East opposite Benny Goodman. Kenny told me that Bill asked him to play "against" him on the first night so obviously, Bill was already looking for a different feel before Scott ... One other aspect of Bill's articulation is worth noting. Most bop players emphasize the downbeat when phrasing, but Bill does not. I feel that this helped in identifying his sound as much as his language did. Bill never felt restricted by hard bop, but realized he needed to find his own identity. Otherwise he would have been relegated to a long list of similar-sounding piano trios in jazz at the time.13
ROBERT DOERSCHUK: Much of what he plays ... belies our image of Evans today: the bespectacled introvert, his jacket tweedy, his quizzical posture at the keyboard a metaphor for the circular ambiguities of his music. He was actually a lover of dramatic gestures: the roaring crescendo, the rumbling, ten-fingered tremolo, the dizzying key change.14 HERB WONG: That day was very emotional for both me and him. He had his eyes closed most of the time when he was speaking with me ... He had been eating ... nothing but junk food ... But he seemed to be saying, 'It doesn't matter what state I'm in,’ and obviously it didn't matter. He had been offered medical assistance before he began the first evening and he turned it down. He was ... very determined, as he put it to me, 'to have the ultimate joy of playing with Joe and Marc.’ … I had been very moved by our conversation and I had a hard time leaving him and I think he had a hard time separating from me. I remember going up and finding a seat on stage – right before the public had arrived, and I just sat there and waited to see what was going to happen. I knew, by both feeling and cognitively, that Bill relished doing this ... come hell or high water ... He was not going into the hospital, and he was not going to seek advice from someone who would tell him that he can't do this !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Joe LaBarbera, interview by the author, 21 April 2011, email conversation.
Robert L. Doerschuk, Liner notes to Bill Evans, Consecration, Milestone 8MCD-4436-2, 2002, compact disc.
$$! and can't do that. It seemed to me that Bill was feeling that he had this ultimate last chance to play over his head. He wasn't just going up to be play and be satisfied with whatever happened. And when he played the set, the music was so charged, it was transcendental.15
HAROLD DANKO: I must admit that it was Joe's prompting rather than my expecting anything really new from Bill Evans that drew me down that narrow stairwell ... I had even confided to a few friends that upon hearing Evans live in recent years, I felt that he sounded like he was reading his own solos, stylizing himself into a proverbial corner rather than forging ahead … Something that really caught my attention ... was the way Bill intensely watched and listened to Marc and Joe during their solos. Evans struck me as a sideman in his own group, thoroughly enjoying the proceedings of the moment and eager to add his part to the magical mix. When the trio lit into its ensemble passages, the impact was not unlike that of a roaring big band. This exuberant, extroverted, and joyful approach extended to most of the material played, with Bill seeming, at times, to be its most youthful member … He sat much straighter on this gig, especially during the more demanding tempi, and there was a wonderful athletic sense to his performances … Bill's varied sense of rhythmic articulation was capped by his between-the-hands syncopations – adapted from drumming – both on the theme statements ... and in his reactions to Joe and Marc ... I'm convinced that Bill's rhythmic sense is the impulse that set the course for the trio's excursions … The result was that every note he played was "Bill Evans"; he had achieved a fully expressive and rhythmic idea from all the varied elements he had studied. Evans had always set himself apart from his imitators by his touch and pianism alone ... On these Vanguard nights ... he became a musical gambler ... The extremes of these risks ranged from the rarified space ... on ballads, to the lightning-fast runs he articulated with either hand at any tempo … Bill's advanced, yet constantly evolving pianism seems here to be totally freed. He is bursting with ideas ... When, once in a while, his notes are less than perfectly executed, we know that he is honestly on the edge … I was with Lee Konitz the day Bill died, and Lee spoke about the pressures Bill had endured, just by being in the spotlight for almost half of his life. Lee expressed gratitude that his own career had been much lower in profile, and that this had given him the freedom to explore an incredible variety of playing situations without the magnifying glass of fame – this poignant insight, from a master who had himself been a mentor to Bill Evans.16 ! !!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Derk Richardson, Liner notes to Bill Evans, The Last Waltz, Milestone 8MCD-4430-2, 2000, compact disc.!
Harold Danko, liner notes to Bill Evans, Turn out the Stars: The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980, Nonesuch 518043-2, 1996.
APPENDIX B. Bill Evans Interview with Ross Porter, transcribed from Jazz.FM91 http://www.jazz.fm/player/ondemand/index.htm Transcript derived from audio archived at the above link. BE = Bill Evans RP = Ross Porter. * Note : " ... " indicates words removed, whereas "...." or any other number of continuous periods represents a pause in conversation. (Audio of a later Evans "Re: Person I Knew" plays throughout.) RP: Hi. I'm Ross Porter, and this is “Conversations: An Interview with Bill Evans.” On May the 21st, 1979, I had the opportunity to talk with Bill Evans, Grammy awardwinning pianist, and hands down, one of the most influential of all time. I contacted his manager and producer Helen Keane earlier to arrange the interview. But on my arrival in New York City, the date was beginning to appear less than concrete. Bill was undergoing treatment at Rockefeller University Hospital in Manhattan for a liver ailment, and had an appointment the very same day. I was invited to chat with Bill at his ninth-floor apartment in Fort Lee, NJ, and then continue the interview remotely, in his car, en route to his appointment. This turned out to be one of the last interviews before his death the following year. I invite you to join me as I visit with the dichotomy that was Bill Evans : a beautiful genius, whose prolific career and groundbreaking style continues to influence artists today; and the sweet, humble man with large, thick glasses, hunched over the piano, with demons on his shoulder, ending his career and life only too soon. Bill started taking classical piano lessons in the late 30s when he was just six years old. He was a natural, and by the time he was in his twenties, he was playing in New York City as a professional musician. His resume boasted work with Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, and Art Farmer, but it was in 1958 that his career took on a new direction, when he accepted one of the most sought-after gigs in jazz, working with the Miles Davis Quintet. And through this, Bill appeared on the best-selling jazz record of all time: Miles Davis's Kind of Blue. By the way, parts of this interview were recorded in his car; some in his apartment. We were on the George Washington Bridge at this point, when I asked Bill how his meeting with Miles Davis came to be. ("Re: Person" stops.)
BE: One day, the phone rang, and Miles was on the phone, asking me to make a weekend in Philadelphia. So, I was thrilled by that, and when I made the weekend in Philadelphia, he asked me to stay with the band, and that's how that developed. I mean, I was a tremendous fan of the band, I thought it was the greatest band I ever heard, and perhaps the greatest jazz band that ever was as an organized group, a steady group. And I don't know why Miles.....picked me, a white man especially, you know, which, was a situation that I felt, uh, more frequently than not, for awhile, you know, with the audience, and so on, not with the band...........Anyhow, that was that, and that was a nice opportunity, because I felt it gave me a springboard to launch my trio, which up to that time, I hadn't been able to do. I'd won new star polls and Jazzman of the Year, and uh, Metronome, and I'd been doing a lot of recording, and this and that, but I still couldn't command enough drawing power in the audience-at-large to get a trio off the ground, which was my basic ambition. Now Miles came out for me in print, he hired me, I recorded with him, and um, I think -- see, I was coming from a little different direction than, than, than the most popular jazz at that time was sort of a hard bop thing, which I recorded with people like that occasionally, but it wasn't where I was coming from personally as much, and I think the fact that Miles had recognized me, had gotten in back of me, et cetera, turned the jazz public's ears toward me, at least once, you know, which is all you can ask. RP: Bill Evans's time with the Miles Davis Quintet was brief, less than a year in fact. But it let him expand and explore the introspective and melodic nature of his playing. Miles himself credited Bill as being an influence. High praise indeed. From the seminal album Kind of Blue, this is "Blue in Green." ("Blue in Green" plays.) RP: "Blue in Green," from the best-selling jazz album of all time, Kind of Blue. Originally attributed to Miles Davis, but as time went on, the true songwriting credit was Bill Evans's. The inclusion of Bill, the only white member in the band, was not a conventional one. This was America in the 1950s, and racism was only too prominent. I asked Bill if he ever felt or experienced any discrimination in Miles Davis's band. BE: The black community took great pride in the all-black Miles Davis band, and Miles himself would almost say, "I'm a racist," and you know, "whitey" ... in other words, he talks sort of like a racist. Yet when it comes down to the music and the nitty-gritty, he makes his choices on another level. It was a challenge to deal with the situation, in that there was a lot of silent treatment from the audience almost throughout the time I was with Miles. And there were overt, occasionally overt, demonstrations of antagonism and hostility and so on. But....for one reason or another I was able to handle all of that. RP: While we driving around, I noticed Bill Evans's sedan was cluttered with cassettes. I
counted about fifteen of them scattered around, but all of them were important to him. I was lucky enough to be treated to a private listening of a rare bootleg recording of the Miles Davis Quintet that was given to Bill recently by a friend. BE: I listened to very little of my music. I would make records and I would only hear them when I did a disc jockey show or something, I'd hear a few tracks. I got this cassette setup in the car and perhaps my life had just come around to a point where I wanted to review and look into my work a little more. And being in the car, and I drive alone a lot, is a very good place to do that. You're in motion, it's some kind of different perspective. So I've been listening to a lot of my things, and if you looked at the tapes, some of them go back to the very beginning. I have my very first trio album on tape in here; the Vanguard albums; some broadcasts that I did Miles that are not out on records; some broadcasts I did with my first trio that are not on record; and it all gives me a perspective. Now for instance, there are some solos on this live date with Miles, (putting tape in deck) which was done when Philly Joe was still with Miles. Now when I was with Miles, about halfway through my term with Miles, the drum chair changed to Jimmy Cobb, and the only things are record are with Jimmy Cobb, that would be the Jazz Track album and the Kind of Blue album – which, you know, were wonderful things. But when I went back, and somebody gave me this last year, these live dates from the Bohemia, it's with Miles, and Coltrane, Paul Chambers, Philly Joe, and myself: the original quintet except I'm in place of Red Garland. Let me put this on for a second. And it was a quite surprise to me to find the groove I was getting into with Philly Joe and Paul during the piano solos. Let me just see if I can find.....I'll find the solo. There's only "Bye Bye Blackbird" and a fast walking tune. This is a broadcast from the Bohemia, 1958. I guess it's this side. Let's see. It was surprising to me to go back, (hurriedly) now this is why I'm doing this listening, this is what this all started out about. This is the kind of playing that I can't find myself playing like this, in this groove, with this kind of structure and feeling, anyplace else in my recorded jazz scene, and I've made, you know, close to a hundred albums between my own and other people. There's no groove just like this. And obviously, if Joe, Philly Joe, had stayed with Miles, we would've and I would've developed something else. You'll, you'll be able to hear that there's been quite a bit accomplished along those lines. Paul, and Joe, and I really get a nice thing going. (Music plays.) Now this is "Bye Bye Blackbird," this is Coltrane's solo on "Bye Bye Blackbird." I'm sure everybody would like to hear the whole thing, but it would take too much time right now, sorry. I just wanna give you the example. OK, here comes the piano solo. ("Bye Bye Blackbird" piano solo in foreground for a few minutes, cut off in the middle.) That's it. RP: Striving to always find new phrasings on the piano, while at the same time respecting tradition, Bill Evans could transform a standard in ways never heard before. As well as reinventing a song, he was building confidence in writing his own compositions. Perhaps the best-known of his catalogue is the tender "Waltz for Debby," written during a developmental period. BE: Well, Waltz for Debby actually was written in '54, before I came to New York City to sort of make or break. I had gotten out of the army, and my brother had his first child
was a girl named Debby, and she was about three at the time, and I wrote that tune while I was in limbo between the army and New York, in New Jersey, at my parents', and put that together. RP: Recorded by so many since, here is the original, as performed by Bill Evans himself. The wonderful "Waltz for Debby." ("Waltz for Debby," from New Jazz Conceptions (solo track on trio album), plays.) RP: You're listening to “Conversations: An Interview with Bill Evans,” on Jazz.FM91. Talent, though a large part, was not the only reason for Bill Evans's success. He spent time after the army with his parents living in New Jersey, focusing on further improving his skill and learning about modal jazz. I was surprised by how candid Bill was about this time of growth, and the relationship he had with his family. BE: I had gotten out of college, gone on the road immediately with Herbie Fields, and the draft was after me, Korea was on. So there was an interruption of three years while I was in the army. I was stationed near Chicago, and I used Chicago a great deal, but still I felt like my life had been brought to somewhat of a halt. RP: Artistically? BE: Well, yeah. I mean, I was woodshedding and using Chicago and everything, but I couldn't move, you know, career-wise, the way I wanted to. And when I had first gone on the road it was like my first freedom. It was the first time I was free from school, college, and I was really sopping it up, and the army was kind of an interruption. So when I got out of the army, my idea was to go to New York to try to establish myself and I stopped off for rehabilitation and woodshedding and getting it together at my folks' in New Jersey, which is only twenty-seven miles from New York – and built a little studio room in the house, and got a grand piano and a hi-fi set, and started to woodshed. In about a year, a year-and-a-half later, in July of '55 – I had gotten out of the army in January of '54 – I moved to New York, and that was it. It was just sort of a, pffh, I went to New Jersey to prepare myself for the move to New York, and when I felt it was time, I made the move. I didn't have a lot of finances or anything, I think had about 150 bucks, or something like that. But I knew I'd be able to work one way or the other. (Window rolls down.) Oop, here we go up to the drive-in window, try to get a little money out of this place. (Waits.) So that was it, really, and I just happened to....was doing a lot of woodshedding, bought a grand piano, and I just happened to write "Waltz for Debby" during that time. I wrote a couple of other things, "Displacement," which was on my very first album, I wrote then. And, uh, I guess that was about it really. I wasn't thinking about writing so much then as getting my "pianist's" thing together. And that's about it. RP: Did your parents understand what was happening, artistically, for you? BE: Well, yes and no, I mean, they never really....of course, parents never do see the
world that their children are in, uh, but they did to the extent that I had the freedom to do it. And they believed that I knew, kinda, what I was doing, although my father wasn't too sure, I think. But uh, up to that time, I had maintained a rather independent attitude as a son, I mean, from the time I was thirteen, I made all my spending money, and bought all my own clothes ... and that moved on until I worked my way through college with very little help ... so by this time they just figured, "He's on his way." I mean, I was 25 by the time I came to New York, so it was time. The only other member of that family was my brother, who was two years older than I, and he died just about three weeks ago. Bank teller's voice through speaker: "Larger than a twenty?" BE: Huh? Teller: "Anything larger than a twenty?" BE: How much am I, yeah, give me about five hundred in large bills. RP: I'm sorry to hear about your brother. (unintelligible) BE: Yeah, it was very, very....the end of a long, kind of tragic decline, from overwork, and a not-completely-happy marriage, but he left a lot of good work behind him. He built the public school music system in Baton Rouge, LA, in 160 schools, he made it what it should have been, instead of just a drum-and-bugle corps ... He really, the people really appreciated it and loved him in Baton Rouge ... but he had been having a series of breakdowns, (window rolls up) and finally had to take early retirement, and really was very sick. (Subdued) Completely schizo. RP: Undeniably, Bill saw his fair share of tragedy in life, losing his parents, his brother's death, and in later years, his first wife's suicide, when she threw herself in front of a subway train. But the creative foundation in his life remained secure. In the fall of 1959, he started working with two other musicians, Scott LaFaro on bass, and Paul Motian (pronounced “mo-tee-un” here) on drums, forming what would become regarded as the definitive Bill Evans trio. But it was a bit of a journey to get there. BE: Well, when I left Miles, you know, I says, I want to get a trio goin', and he talked to Willard Alexander about getting me some bookings, and I asked Kenny Dennis, the drummer, and Jimmy Garrison, if they wanted to make some gigs with me, you know, and that was like, the original trio. Well, the first job that came up was three weeks at Basin Street East, opposite Benny Goodman. He came in with a big band, and he had been off the scene for a few years, quite a few years, and this was like his triumphal return. There were sheiks and chauffeured limousines and the business was just incredible, and it was always packed. But were treated really rotten, in that while they were giving Benny and his band champagne and steak dinners in the back, we couldn't
get a Coke without (pronounced "widout" – you can hear his New Jersey/New York accent well in this interview) getting it ourselves and paying two dollars for it. Worse than that, when we came off the stand, we'd find the mics had been turned off on us. Anyhow, the guys couldn't take it. I went through in three weeks, I went through I think it was four drummers and seven bass players. In a way, it was a blessing, because what it finally really did.....Scott LaFaro was working around the corner with Bobby Scott. Paul Motian had been busy at the beginning of the job, and by the last week, both of them were free and the job ended up with Scott and Paul, who really, I felt it was destiny that caused this whole thing to happen. And we hit it off so well and developed a kind of a commitment to the idea of the trio, and decided we would put everything else aside for trio work if I got it. And we could record, because of my record contract, and that's how the original trio got established. So we made four records with that trio, one was after about the first five weeks' work, which we worked at a little club down in the Village, and already some of the concepts that we were aiming for are in evidence. The next one was Explorations, which was maybe six, eight months later, after some more work, and I think it's a little bit more refined on there. But finally, the two albums came out of the Village Vanguard, which represented all the music we played the final night that the trio played together before Scott was killed in an automobile accident. There's much more of a realization of the concepts that we had laid out as goals for ourselves with the trio, and I am everlastingly grateful that we did record that final night, because Scott, for the first time in his life, Gloria told me – his old lady – that he said, "I'm happy with something I've done." RP: That's pretty rewarding. BE: Yeah. And it just would have been a tragedy if that trio had not been recorded with the progress we had made. Now those records seem to have made quite an impact, the ones at the Village Vanguard, among musicians especially. From the classic Sunday at the Village Vanguard, this is the Bill Evans Trio in "All of You." ("All of You," take two from the day’s complete recordings.) The Bill Evans Trio, as recorded at the Village Vanguard in New York City in 1961, a now-legendary performance, considered to be the ultimate live jazz recording. Tragically, only ten days after this session, bassist Scott LaFaro was killed in an automobile crash. This devastated Bill, and he withdrew for several months, but came back to record several award-winning albums. It was this commitment to his work, that'd he had since his twenties, which became the template for Bill's professional attitude. Despite adversity in his personal life, creativity always seemed to triumph. Bill shared his philosophy about this. BE: I gave myself, provisionally, 'til I was 30. I came here when I was 25. I said, 'I'm
gonna just, you know (chuckles) completely dedicate myself for five years and if I haven't made a decent dent, if I don't get the kind of response in five years that shows me that, what I think I can do, the world thinks I can do also, then I'll have to make another choice, become somebody's musical director, or go into the studios, whatever, you know. So, I did that, and it opened up really nicely, and I think a lot of being successful at what you want to do has to do with keeping your focus, not being detoured, and ... hanging in there. RP: Bill Evans certainly knew what it meant to be successful. Sadly, he also knew what it was like to be plagued by addiction. He was reluctant to go into detail on the subject, but there's no question that it was his dependency on heroin, and in later years, cocaine, that would eventually contribute to his demise. BE: Whatever problems I had there, came along long after I was established, I mean, I was already with Miles Davis, and gone and won polls and awards. In other words, that didn't have anything really to do with my career whatsoever. It just was a personal problem. RP: Bill chose to live humbly, in an apartment in Fort Lee, New Jersey, a decision based on its proximity to Manhattan. I asked Bill how he felt about the New York jazz scene. BE: When you want to establish yourself in jazz, New York is the place. It's extremely competitive, but it's extremely honest, and you feel like if you make it here, you gain a lot of confidence. Of course, you can do anything you want in New York, you can be anything you would like to be. But I used the City, and always have, for the strength that it has and that it can give me, and the fact that it's a focal point for the world, and certainly for jazz. So it's a good testing ground in every way. RP: Sadly, Bill Evans died just over a year after this interview. He's remembered as a giant in the world of jazz, and his legacy continues to inspire new artists, and surely always will. Now, several decades later, I still have the image, burned in my memory, of Bill's hands on the car steering wheel, and I remember being astonished at their size, swollen, and discolored. As I subsequently found out, this was because he was injecting speedballs, a combination of heroin and cocaine, into his hands. It brings no joy to realize that he was systematically destroying the tools – his gift – that helped him create such beautiful art. But there is comfort to be taken in knowing that he left behind a breathtaking legacy of stunning performances and original compositions. This is one of the most beautiful. Here's Bill Evans, and this is "Peace Piece." ("Peace Piece" plays.) RP: "Peace Piece," from the 1958 album Everybody Digs Bill Evans.
! I asked Bill if he could describe, in his own words, what he strives to achieve with his playing.
BE: What I'm trying to do is not to throw people, not to try to be difficult to understand, but to try to say more within the strict context of traditional forms in jazz. So that in a way is encouraging as well as discouraging. I don't want to lose people, but I know that what I have developed is a real thing, and therefore, it must be saying something which is maybe a little bit......more. RP: Was there anything else you wanted to talk about? BE: Well (humorously), let's see. Support your local jazz musician. Let's put it that way, because, nobody ever values the local talent. RP: How old are you now? BE: I'm gonna be fifty this year. RP: I'm Ross Porter, and this has been “Conversations: An Interview with Bill Evans.” An exclusive presentation of Jazz.FM91. I leave you now with the 1966 recording from Bill Evans at Town Hall. This is "My Foolish Heart." ("My Foolish Heart" plays.) BE: The thing is that my destructive side took its toll more in kind of an exterior way. You know, physically, or some bad habits or whatever, you know. But I think a lot of people might appear to live a constructive exterior life, and they're just decaying and festering on the inside. Inside, I feel like I've maintained a rather constructive, clean, you know, uncorrupted kind of character, or whatever. I was encouraged in that respect when I was in Japan recently, and instead of the Gideon Bible they have the Buddha text in the hotels, and there's an English translation on the opposite page. And Buddha seemed to emphasize not to worry about the flesh so much, but to worry about the spirit. And in that sense, I feel that I've lived a constructive life.
APPENDIX C. Crescendo Interviews, 1965-1976 C1. 1965 Tomkins: A question to start things off— why would you say the trio formula of piano, bass and drums has been used so consistently in jazz? Evans: Well I would say as a pianist that it offers a perfect musical combination of percussion and timbre and bass, plus the piano, which is a sort of lead voice with a harmony or colouristic function. So that you have all the basic musical functions fulfilled and there are no extra voices Therefore, for myself, I feel the freedom to shape something and feel that the fewer people that are responsible for the musical product, the more pure that product can be. That's about where I'm with it, I think. Israels: I have nothing to add to that, except to say that the answer to that question is: because it sounds good. Evans: I know that as soon as we've had horn players sit it, it's been fun, depending on who it was— but immediately we change our whole approach it becomes more or less a typical lead-voice-and- rhythm-section-thing. And to get out of that would be kind of difficult. There are so many technical musical things that have to be left behind before you can just relax and play, And like I say, the fewer people responsible for staying together in reference to this thing the freer you can be. Israels: I thought of a way of doing that. In order to really mix the horn player in, he would have to learn essential second lines, in the same way that I learn an essential bass line, for each of the pieces that we play. And he could become an accompanying voice in that way. On top of that, he would have to be as flexible as we can be with each other. Evans: I think it could be done. But of course, when I started the idea of trying to get a group together that could have a more free interplay with each other, the problem was such that I thought it would be a lot easier to solve with the trio. Maybe now, if we have a more solid concept of what we're doing, a sympathetic horn player could be added. Bunker: I don't know if your question meant why piano, bass and drums, as opposed to piano, guitar and clarinet or some other group of instruments. I think, from my viewpoint, that the jazz idiom being what it is, has resolved itself down to piano, bass and drums being what is called the rhythm section. With those three you have a variety and combination of sounds that you can't necessarily achieve with other instruments. I've heard trios without drums and with guitar, which to me seemed to lack something. Of course, maybe I want to hear the drums in that context. But there would always be harmonic considerations and concessions that would have to be made on the part of both the guitar player and the pianist, in staying out of each other's way— a kind of sameness of sound. It wouldn't seem to be capable of quite the kind of driving, strong kind of swing that you might want sometimes You certainly have to have a bass. And piano, bass and horn somehow seems lacking to me, so I imagine that it's pretty well resolved down to those three instruments. I think it offers each partner the greatest amount of freedom in
what he's doing. Because there's enough difference in the sound of the instruments that, if some kind of conflict does happen, it's not that apparent. Whereas, if you have a guitar and a pianist, if they don't play exactly the same notes, it will sound discordant to your ear. Evans: In other words they function too much the same. Israels: Another trio instrumentation that I used to like very much was Jimmy Guiffre's original trio, with guitar, bass and clarinet. That seemed to have an equally successful balance of functions in it It was even satisfying to me when he used the trombone instead of the base—but not quite so satisfying as before. Bunker: There again it's a matter of what the lead voice will be, in the case of his groups. It was his voice. He was dictating pretty much the musical policy that would be followed by the group. Granted each player has freedom within the framework, but he decided the framework in which they would play. And that always has to be done in any trio, whatever the instrumentation. There is one dominant voice. In the case of our group, it's Bill, of course. I know drummers who have bands—the two I can think of right offhand in America are Shelly Manne and Chico Hamilton—who don't have that much to do with what actually goes down. Israels: They ask somebody else to do it. Bunker: Either the piano player determines some part of the thing, as far as an arrangement is concerned, or they'll hire arrangers to write material. In the case of Shelly's quintet it’s sometimes necessary, and good—like the pieces that were commissioned from Bill Holman and various other people. But how much can the drummer say—unless he knows an awful lot about music aside from the drums—which most drummers do not. Evans: And then they would have to do it as a verbal thing. They couldn't do it musically. Which is to me a basic, important thing about our group— that everything has been done through the music. And that’s so important to me, because, as soon as you get outside of it and say "Now the second chorus we're going to play forte for eight measures and then we're going to phrase this, and then we'll go into triplets" and so on— it just has to end up as a pretty false thing, I think. Bunker: And there would be no exchange of ideas. Evans: The whole thing here is that everything has developed— and certainly not just through me— because the tunes that we play develop according to how everybody plays. And, on certain occasions, something different will happen, without anyone nodding assent to it. And it becomes part of the performance thereafter. Not m a strict way, but in some general way. We still like to leave everything pretty loose. Like, one time in Stockholm I know on "Round About Midnight'' Chuck played such a strong chorus and ended up playing the melody at the end. It seemed superfluous to go back to another
melody chorus. So we've been playing it that way ever since where Chuck takes it out, as far as the final melody statement is concerned. And we never mentioned it before this. Bunker: People are always asking me: "Do you rehearse often?" And we've never had one. It's very difficult to explain to them how it comes about. "How do you know what's going to happen?" You just know. If you play with somebody long enough. Evans: You're already a musician. And you have a certain experience. We naturally have a sympathy for a similar philosophy in music, I think. We sort of want the same things. Therefore things can happen— the potential is there, And it's not a mysterious thing where you're reaching and groping for something which you know nothing about and diving into an ocean of possibilities. They're real, musical possibilities based on firm musical facts. And there the freedom comes with this group, I think. Tomkins: And this is the kind of thing you're all striving towards— the result of this feeling for one another? Evans: I think so. We try to listen as much as possible, and it’s an ultimate musical result— a qualitative thing. We want a better musical result and nothing specific. We all have a feeling for, and respect music fundamentally first. With that responsibility in mind, I think we sort of strive naturally for something which is in a similar direction. Tomkins: All of you have been involved to some extent or other, with classical music. What bearing has this had on what you're doing in jazz? Evans: It would be difficult for me to say specifically, except that I've played a lot of classical music and love it, as I love jazz. And any music that you experienced influences you to varying degrees— negatively, positively or whatever. But the amount of time I've spent with classical music I must have learned a lot. Because music is music— the language employed is the same, regardless. Why one thought follows another is the same throughout all music which is valid. Therefore you can learn things which apply to jazz from classical music, which might have no stylistic relationship. They're fundamental, general principles. I know I've been influenced that way— and gladly. Israels: I think we've all been influenced by the extent of the varieties of musical experience which are available outside of jazz. And I think we've all looked for this kind of variety in our jazz playing. There aren't many other areas in jazz in which you can find the variety that you can outside. It’s been a very strong influence for me, anyway, and I think for Bill and Larry, too. Evans: The idea is, we're trying to be complete musicians, and jazz is the tool, or whatever, stylistically. Israels: Jazz is our style really. Evans: Yes, and you can put all of your musical experience into it, if you approach it
right. Bunker: So many times I hate the term `classical'. Then people say: "Well then, not classical, but `serious' music." And I can't imagine being any more serious about music than we are about ours! I haven't been that involved with classical music, but I've played a lot of contemporary orchestral music, particularly written for motion pictures or television, be it good or bad. I've learned an awful lot about music from it that I would not have learned in jazz. Yet a lot of the appreciation for what goes on here can be applied to jazz Just By having done that, I find myself hungrier to play jazz. It means more to me. And I can bring something beside 'tink- a- ting tink- a- ting, tink- a- ting' four- to- the- bar to the music. Evans: This is a thing that I've been thinking about for a couple of years: jazz to me is a certain process of making music. It doesn't matter about the style. Instead jazz means a style to people But whether it was written by Stravinsky or Neal Hefti— if it’s written, it’s not jazz to me. It might be an approximation of what has been a jazz performance. But jazz is a 'how' to me. It s performing without any really set basis for the lines and the content as such emotionally or, specifically, musically. And if you sit down and contemplate what you're going to do, and take five hours to write five minutes of music, then it's composed music. Therefore I would put it in the classical or serious, whatever you want to call it, written- music category. So there's composed music and there's jazz. And to me anybody that makes music using the process that we are used to using m jazz, is playing jazz. Chopin or Mozart, or anybody that made music that way at any time was playing jazz as far as I'm concerned. Tomkins: Instant composition, you might call it. Evans: Yes and according to the era they lived in, they had their materials and their feelings for music within their culture. But the process involved was the same. It’s to feel within an idiom that you've mastered to a certain extent, so that you can make music happen on the spur of the moment. And a lot of composers, however successful they might be, don't have that facility today. And yet, up to a certain period— I'd say probably the late 1800s— no composer that was worth anything wouldn't be able to do this. They all had an improvising ability, and most of their composing came out of it. But now that's getting to be a lost art. Bunker: It’s an art, just like a person in literature who may be a great writer is not necessarily an extemporaneous speaker who can get up and propose those same ideas, construct sentences and use syntax and the whole vocabulary of his craft and language, to express it spontaneously. He has to sit and work on it, which to me is the same as a composer of music. Whereas we are extemporaneous performers. We utilise a vocabulary, and an extensive one that we've acquired. Israels: As I listen to us discuss this, I'm struck by the lack of discussion of the framework that we work in. And, as I discuss our music with for instance orchestral musicians or with people who are very interested in music, but not technically aware of this process that we use— they sometimes get an idea that we don't have any framework.
Evans: Huh that’s funny. Israels: And I think we kind of owe it to this discussion to make some mention of the fact that we don't entirely improvise. Evans: Oh, absolutely. It’s impossible, as far as I'm concerned. Israels: It might be some idea you could get if you would imagine a wire framework for a sculpture, just a wire figure, and three sculptors with a similar point of view, and with a great deal of understanding for each other, all working at the same time in putting clay around this wire form to make a completed sculpture. Bunker: The skeleton is there and we have a rough idea of what its general form will take, but not down to a fine detail. Because suddenly something will happen in the midst of it, as it’s growing, as it s coming together. We'll say: "No, that should go over here. Take the nose from here and put it around there," or whatever. Evans: It’s easy for me to separate what is our reference, and what is our extemporaneous performance, because our reference is entirely a theoretical thing practically. And we have a facility within that theoretical framework. Now everything else that happens is loose. Even if it happens the same way for four times, the fifth time it might change. And this is only really, perhaps on opening and closing statements that things get rather you know, similar or the same. But still I want to leave the leeway in my mind entirely to change anything specific that happens in the framework. And the framework that we play on is a very rigid and specific thing and we have to know it just as thoroughly as possible However, it has nothing to do with detail or line or emotion. Really, it lacks any emotion. It’s strictly a technical formula. Then you put your feelings into it and it becomes an alive thing through the spontaneity of it. I think if a listener isn't aware of the reference and doesn't know how we are relating to it, they're missing the fibre and the strength of the music, whatever it might be And it's a shame I know sophisticated and really outstanding people that can't follow the blues, and don't know where they're at in it, or if somebody's improvising in a much less or maybe a more complex popular song or something that’s a freer vehicle that we might use. That is a shame, because really our freedom is gained from the playing off of it and, say shifting a whole phrase just a beat off of the strict framework gives that idea a particular strength of rhythmic tension, that has everything to do with the music. And if a person isn't aware of these things, he's going to miss a lot of it. Bunker: Or if it doesn't sound like it’s related to anything or it sounds like they made a mistake and' they got out of it gracefully, which isn't the case. Evans: It’s not the cloudy, abstract thing that people want to make jazz. So many legit composers that come into screen writing or something when they approximate jazz always make it a fantasy bluesy kind of thing, which is just a phrase after phrase of unrelated jazz sounds, and all that. Which to me is really complete hogwash. Because in
order to find this type of freedom against a strict Framework that everybody is familiar with requires a hell of a lot of digging, because it’s such a simple thing. It’s such an obvious thing. It's much easier to go out into abstraction that relates to nothing, and it’ll sound, in a way, more fascinating at first. But it really hasn't got any meat to it Israels: At certain points, I've had certain kinds of musical pressures on me (not in this group by the way— I'm talking about some other musical experiences) to play music which didn't relate to any framework. And I'm told by .others that I do it very well, in their terms. But I haven't ever had any musical experience in that area that can come within one per cent of giving me the pleasure and satisfaction and emotional involvement— the sense of being really in the music— that I have when I work within the disciplines that we have kind of chosen as our language. Evans: Same here. I've had a few of those experiences, too, and they've been very successful for what they were. Bunker: There is a fringe element— the 'new thing' and a lot of, to me, nonsense going on in New York with no discipline, with complete anarchy, insofar as adherence to any rules and the kind of basic, theoretical functions that Bill mentioned. That may comprise five per cent of the jazz that’s going on. But all the other 95 per cent adheres to those principles in some way or the other. However well they may do it is another point, but that’s what they’re doing. Tomkins: And there is, in fact, as far as you're concerned, more freedom by sticking to the rules. Israels: Absolutely. Evans: There's absolutely a deeper satisfaction and conviction, because after all, we can do whatever we want in music. We have a choice to do another thing and Larry, Chuck and I don't choose to do it. I mean, I'm willing to change in the next minute, if that’s the thing to do. But my experience so far has been that it hasn't given me the satisfaction, even to work in it. There's no way to approach working in a completely abstract art. Bunker: To me it’s like trying to be an architect, and saying: "All right, I'm going to build a building"— with no cognisance whatsoever of what it’s supposed to be for, where it's going to be built, what the materials are that it's to be built of, what its function will be whether it’s going to have people inside of it doing something or not. It’s like: "Here's the building." Well that’s pointless. To me there's no reason for it to exist— unless all of those things are taken into account. And if it's done well, then it will be beautiful. It will be related to where it is. I think something like that applies in the jazz also. Israels: There may be a reason for it to exist for the person who builds it in his mind. But the point is, in terms of our musical experience, as much as we are not immediately concerned with the reaction of the audience while playing, we are all concerned with speaking a musical language which we have learned and which the world has learned
through history, in order to be understood. None of us is trying to be misunderstood. Evans: And it’s an indulgence otherwise. If you go into this philosophy deep enough you get back to: the most perfect artist is the infant in the cradle that’s crying and going through any other natural functions. He's expressing himself with the least prejudice. And this is the thing that these people aim for. They want to get away from civilisation and they don't want to be influenced by anything. This is absolutely impossible And why anyhow? You're saying: "I'm doing this for myself only." I admit I play music for myself first, but it’s still with a dedication to music— not with dedication to myself. And it’s a different thing. As Chuck says I have more respect for a culture that's produced by two thousand years and billions and billions of people than a culture that only spans my own lifetime and experience. I try to get into that and learn from it, and I've found that it’s been a revelation, continually to find more and more in it. Israels: These total improvising musicians claim to be reaching for human expression. But, in fact, if you look at it from the point of view that we're discussing, what they are achieving by going in this direction is a less than complete human expression. And what we are looking. for is the most complete human expression that we can find, by trying to span as much human experience as we can. Which means that we do not throw away all the things that we, as human beings, have learned about musical communication in the last three or four centuries. Evans: We try to gather as much of it in essence as possible and apply it to as pure an expression as possible. Israels: I don't think we're conscious of it in any immediate way. I don't want to give the impression we're thinking about this while we re playing. But it does direct our musical point of view. Bunker: It underlies what we do. Evans: Let’s put it this way: I was already well on my way to being a professional musician and was a successful one already before I even began to think or talk about subjects like this And, even now, our conversation about this, I think probably has no direct relationship to our own musical accomplishments or functions It’s only that we're getting outside of ourselves and trying to describe something about our own history and beliefs. But these beliefs are more fundamental than our conversation. Israels: They have happened to the three of us in a very spontaneous way. This is just naturally the way we feel about music. Evans: So whatever ambitions you have, or whatever strivings you make, or energy in the direction of accomplishment it comes from something other than a philosophy of music. It's something that we don t know anything about If anybody comes up to us and says: "Should I play jazz?" —this is a funny question, because you couldn't say yes or no because you'd be condemning them to what would be a miserable life, if they're not compelled to do it. Being compelled to it, it’s a sheer pleasure, regardless, because, if it
isn't, you go in another direction. But otherwise you couldn't make a decision like that. Bunker: People have asked me that and I've ended up saying: "If you don't have to— don't. Only do it if there's nothing else for you to do." Because I'm sure it’s been that way with all of us Tomkins: It’s a kind of instinct that you can't put your finger on. Israels: Well, I think we do put our finger on it very well when we get involved in discussing it in an intellectual way like this. But we put our finger on it historically, not on the impulse that creates it. Evans: You couldn't direct your life that way. You'd go batty very quickly I think— if you tried to direct your life intellectually. At least, that’s what I've found. Copyright © 1965, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved C2. 1966 Do you think that a jazz club is the ideal environment for stimulation in playing? EVANS: Well, there's different answers come into my head. It seems to me we have to perform in clubs a certain amount of the time. There's a volume of playing involved there, which is important to our development as a group, since we don't rehearse and everything comes from the music. However, ideal performance conditions are concert conditions. The closer a club can get to concert conditions, the closer it is to being ideal. Sometimes we find ourselves in difficult situations— the piano may be below standard, we may be crowded on the stand, or the acoustics may not be the greatest. And, however marvellous an audience is, these other factors have to be considered. But we do have the discipline to adjust to whatever situation we're in, and try to get the most out of it. Certain clubs are much better than others. There's a club in Tulsa that the fellow built like an auditorium, and went into all kinds of acoustical research to build the bandstand. And it has a fine piano. Most places we go to now do have good instruments, and we find the right kind of working conditions. However, I feel, and we all agree, that we don't want to perform perhaps more than six months a year, because we all have other musical projects and interests. And we'd like to divide that up into, say, a two- month European tour of concerts and some club work, and perhaps two months of concerts and two months of club work in the States— something like that. That way we feel we'll have enough of each, and develop. To my mind, both are essential— at least, where we're at now. ISRAELS: We've done all our developing in clubs, I must say. And most of it in the Village Vanguard in New York, It's simply that we must play so much time every night, so many nights a week. BUNKER: And you get that in a club, where you don't on a concert. You do a concert performance of 45- 50 minute an hour at the most— and you're done with it. And to me there is a certain quality of relating to an audience, that I find hard to do in a large auditorium sometimes. We're playing, first of all, for each other. We hope the music is liked, and accepted, and understood— that’s one of the reasons for it. And I've played long enough where I prefer now to play for people. I don't particularly like to sit up in a
roam or in somebody's house and just play for the enjoyment of the three of us. Or in other situations, the jam session— that's fine when you're 16 years old and you're learning your instrument and your craft. But I get more of the intimacy and the feeling of something really happening between the people and us in a club, rather than a concert hall— that's if the conditions are optimum and everything is right. Occasionally it happens and, when it does there's nothing quite like it in the world. EVANS: I think you set yourself emotionally for a concert performance more and I would say the percentage of chances that it would be a peak performance would be greater in a concert for that reason. You're directing your emotional energy towards just one thing. But then, actually, in clubs it'll come anyhow, with the volume. And you'll suddenly get these peak sets, and you don't know why, or anything. And, as I say, that seems to set a new standard. BUNKER: Then you keep striving to reach that level. ISRAELS: Same of those peaks, I think, come from striving to fight the boredom! EVANS Well, that's all part of it. You're being a responsible musician, and if you make a challenge out of anything, the progress will happen as a result. You have to really develop a disciplined attitude, because it's easy to become stagnant—for instance, playing basically the same repertoire every night, as we do. But I definitely accept that as a challenge— as I always have, really, from the beginning. Any good vehicle offers the same challenge as any other. The very fact that you've played it a million times doesn't make any difference— you can still find more in it. That's why I've stuck with pretty much the same framework today that I used when I started, which is the popular song, fundamentally, and a few other basic forms. But you have to have that kind of discipline. That's just being an adult, I think. It's obvious that a large ingredient of the music you play is the feeling you have for one another. What do you regard as the most important qualities in the other two? ISRAELS: Ah, that's an interesting question. I'll start with Larry. I regard his complete general knowledge of all the musical techniques that we use as one of his most important qualities. Secondly, his sensitivity to our musical feelings. Third, his inventiveness within our framework, and his ability to came up with a fresh idea which will make me feel renewed about the music. Bill's qualities are many, many for me. In some sense they embody the very qualities which I look for in all my musical experiences. If I had to find one word to describe it, it would have to be a balance of every different aspect of things. Let me say this: the important qualities for me in Bill are the same as those that are there for me in Mozart, Bach, Debussy, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and many other fine composers whose music I love very much. Plus the addition of a certain rhythmical experience in the music, which is, to any mind, his particular contribution to musical history. I think it would be possible to find examples of almost any given combination of notes in Bill's music in some other written music. But it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to find those notes in anything like the rhythms that Bill plays. These are things that I find valuable and important to me in Larry and Bill. BUNKER: This is a tough one. With Chuck— I'll take him first— probably the most outstanding thing that I appreciate in Chuck's playing is a certain kind a fluidity that he seems to get with the bass, that very few bass players up to now have achieved. In a
different way, Scott La Faro, who worked with Bill, of course, before, had that quality. Since him, other bass players have suddenly found that it is possible to play the instrument in this fashion. But Chuck gets a kind of a very sonorous, soaring sound— a kind of a melodic sense. Well, sometimes he does sound very Jewish! But there's a very beautiful Jewishness to his solos that I like very, very much. He has the ability to play with the time, to interpolate figures, to get inside the time and then strike off on tangents. Things will be almost like swimming, and then coming back suddenly, and here's ONE— and off we go. I like his bass, too— he's got a good instrument. And the gentleman on my left— I don't know, it's all superlatives— it’d get embarrassing. People have asked me: "Who's your favourite musician?" I say: "Bill is." "Why's that?" As I tell them, it’s because I hear just about everything that I want to hear in jazz in his playing. I can't find any shortcomings. I can't say: "Well, God, he'd really be superb if he only did this, or didn't do that." And so many times, if you're a professional jazz musician, you find yourself doing that with most players. After a certain point, when you've been involved in music that long, you do get a little picky— you pick things apart. I do— I tend to be that way; that's my nature. But there's nothing to pick apart in his playing. Like Chuck said, I've never heard that kind of rhythmic inventiveness from anybody on any instrument. There's a harmonic sense, a sense of logic and rightness in whatever he does that borders on the inhuman sometimes. EVANS: I mean, what can I say after all that? I think it's a very interesting question that you asked, and it's difficult— and personal. And, of course, we wouldn't be together if we didn't have a lot of personal feelings about each other. But I'll try to keep pretty much within what I feel in the music. And to put both Larry and Chuck together, I think the thing that moves me most is that I can feel that things have been on a level for a long time, and just for a moment I might find something within myself that's a little bit different. And they're so ready all the time. This would be after such a long period of time that you figure they couldn't be ready to respond so quickly. Their being so ready makes me feel such a responsibility to come up with these things— and I feel that I don't do enough. But that is the miraculous thing to me. As far as their musicianship, I find that superb and their interests musically Larry is a complete musician, as Chuck said— as many drummers are not. A1though many drummers, that don't know as much about music as Larry does, have a musical ear. Larry has a trained musical ear, as well as the taste and discretion that go with it. And, specifically, he's a master drummer, as far as I'm concerned, and percussionist. One thing that I particularly like about Chuck's playing is his basic conception. You talk about a musician's conception, and it's always a mysterious thing that you can't develop. Of course, I find this in Larry, too. But there's a thing in bass players which I've always looked for, and if it isn't there, it just isn't there. And Chuck really has it. Another person that has it for me is Percy Heath. It’s a particular kind of thing that gives me a lot of support, and a lot of pleasure, too. So I won't get too personal. I'll leave it go at that, except to say that neither one of them would be here if I didn't feel that they were the ones that I want to be here. I'm glad that they want to be here, but certainly it's my choice as well. Copyright © 1966, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved
C3. 1968 This trio is virtually a new one. Jack did three TV spots in New York with us, then three weeks at the Top Of The Gate. Right after that. we went to the Montreux Jazz Festival, where we recorded live our appearance there. I think we were very fortunate to get Jack. Plus we were also fortunate to have that three weeks in New York, in a rather relaxed club atmosphere to break in the new group before we had to record. It took about a week–and–ahalf or so before we started to feel that things were going to really get together in a brand new way. And by the end of the job I felt completely confident about the group and our appearances here in Europe. Jack has brought something to the group that we’ve never had: a sort of creativity on the drums that is different from any of the other drummers. They were creative, too, but Jack seems to find his own things to put in the same places. Consequently, because of his fresh conception, you might say, I think that our general repertoire and possibly the style of the group will go through not, maybe major changes . . . but it’ll be noticeable. Oh, yes, he has had a little bit of an effect on my ,playing. He’s stimulating; you can always feel his creative energy. Therefore he moves me to find things, perhaps, that I wouldn’t find otherwise. Just the last few nights I’ve felt that his influence has been getting to me. In other words, I feel myself being disturbed from my, let’s say, solid role, the way that I would think if he weren’t there. I haven’t gotten to what I would get to yet; maybe I won’t. Maybe we’ll settle in a different way, or something. But yes, I do feel that he’s a very healthy kind of influence in that way. I think it’s true that I’m playing harder now, compared to my appearance at Ronnie’s old club three years ago. But it didn’t happen in conjunction with Jack’s joining the group so much. It’s been a gradual thing. In fact, I don’t know–1 feel I’ve always played about the same. Maybe it’s because of the fact that Jack might play a little harder, and Eddie is a very vigorous bass player, that this gives the dimension to my playing that, though it might not be different, it makes the listener feel that I’m playing stronger. I know that Philly Joe Jones was with the trio in America last year for about four months and during that time I did play physically much stronger, because the strong things that we played were that much more robust. And Philly certainly fitted into the group; the ballads and all were gorgeous. He’s just a tremendously strong drummer, and it wasn’t that it was too loud or anything like that. It’s just that it got going, and I acquired the habit of playing that way then. So it may be somewhat of a carryover from that. As I’ve mentioned before, the Trio has never rehearsed. Before the Montreux Festival, we had to do some new material that night that we’d never done; so that afternoon we played over each selection while the engineers were getting their sound balance and so on. That’s the closest we’ve ever, come to a rehearsal. Other than that, everything has happened in performance. As I said, the break–in period for Jack was at the Top Of The Gate. When Eddie joined the group, it was at the same time as Joe Hunt; we broke in at the London House in Chicago. It usually takes at least a couple of weeks before the new people feel a bit comfortable, and aren’t just going through terrible panics. Because it’s an awful lot to try to start grabbing all at once. Then
the thing starts to get into a real group sound. Of course, it’s presentable, but it doesn’t have the polish that it has later, or the togetherness, or the possibility for creative peaks. We have to get a basic repertoire together that we can use in clubs and concerts. It seems as if personalities are this way in music–probably the same way in life–if you don’t get together emotionally and sympathetically in a very short time, chances are you’re never going to get together. And once you are together on that level, from then on it’s a matter of refinement. We might develop a deeper ability to grasp intuitively what the other person is going to do, and so on, beyond that first stage. Then it gets to how we each stimulate each other, and in what directions we push each other, in order to end up with a new product, in a way. Even though we do the same things fundamentally the same way, there’s a lot of difference. Someone said last night : “Gee, I’ve heard you play so–and–so and so–and–so with three different groups, and each time it’s been entirely different.” Well, that’s the way he felt; I don’t feel it’s entirely different, but there’s an essential change which is the result of the personalities involved. As for developing a set style–I don’t believe I ever have, really. It seems to me that I’ve always more or less played myself, although I’ve gone through a lot of different influences. I think probably when I had the trio with Scott and Paul, that was the first time that I was striving for something with a group. The reason being that it was only the first time I had a group, and the chance to do it. What we were striving for was that each member of the group would have more independence, more freedom, and there would be more interplay between the instruments. That was all, and from then on we just played. I suppose it was more a result of just the experience of working with a trio that maybe I consolidated a sort of a style, I guess. JACK de JOHNETTE: I’m really having a ball with the trio; it’s almost two months now, and it feels great. I had left Charles Lloyd and was freelancing around New York. Eddie Gomez and the man who manages Miles recommended me to Bill. He had never heard me play before, although he knew me by reputation. I came right in, and things just started happening; I seemed to fit in right away. I’d been familiar with Bill’s music for a long time, anyway; he was already one of my favourites. The fact that I play piano myself really gives me an appreciation of what he’s doing. It’s worked out well—as you can hear for yourself. I think it’s one of the best trios Bill’s had. Of course, Eddie is a powerful bass player; so it’s a good combination. Bill’s playing is certainly changing. We’ve got an album coming out that we recorded at Montreux: it’ll be like a milestone for everybody. I consider it’s the first record where I come into my own as an original player. I just love to play music, and when I do, I like for it to happen. That’s just something that’s naturally in me. When I’m with people who can play, whatever is in them comes out. Keeping it subdued some of the time is no problem. Well, I’ve worked with singers, such as Betty Carter. Working with Charles was very good for dynamics, because the music was up and down; you had to listen very closely.
So the trio is helping me to develop a sound and touch. Which is one of the things I’m striving for. Like Roy Haynes; he has a very, very special sound he gets with the drums, that no one else gets. I don’t want it to sound like his, but I want a sound of my own that’s as special as that. I try to be as musical, as rhythmic as I can. It’s an accumulation of my experiences in life–on the bandstand and off. You give up a part of yourself in order to obtain a group affinity. It’s three people doing individual things, but coming off as one. That requires some discipline, but not too much, if you enjoy making it come out right, knowing that it does so because of you being with it. Certainly, it’s a great change for me. A lot of people marvel at it, after my having worked with Charles, with Miles, with Joe Henderson and other horns, where drums are used more forcefully. But I really welcome the change, because it means I can play in any kind of context. It’s good to be able to do all types of playing–with the trio, with horns, with a big band or whatever. The thing is, I like to be happy, even though the world could be in a much better state of happiness than it is. Happiness is something that an individual has to create. It’s easy to moan about the world’s problems. As I see it, we’re all in this life together, all the same. Some of us realise that; some of us don’t. I just live my philosophy, practising what I preach. I try to do good in all possible ways, with no negative vibrations set up. This trio is an extension, more or less, of the Scott La Fare/Paul Motian type of interplay. Bill grows logically. He doesn’t jump into anything blind: he looks at it. When he plays, he doesn’t waste any notes. And that’s important. The art is to make use of everything. There are guys who can play fantastic like, ‘Trane could play anything fast or he could play a simple melody. That’s what makes Miles and Sonny Rollins so great. I’m from Chicago. At the age of four I started studying classical piano with a graduate teacher from the American Conservatory of Music. I continued my studies on up to my teens. When I got into high school, I played bass before switching to drums. We had high school combos; I had a little rock ‘n’ roll group, and the drummer used to leave his drums down in my basement. Having them there in my house got me interested in them. I used to practise rudiments while watching television. As with other young drummers, I was influenced by Max Roach, Philly Joe, Roy Haynes. Roy has been so ahead; what the young guys are playing now, he was playing 20 years ago. It’s just that they’re doing it a different way, but it’s basically the same thing. Every time I hear him, it’s like a lesson. And as a person, too, he’s beautiful; no attitudes or anything, very happy, he loves life. He’s created a very good image for me; if I were to mould myself after someone, it would be him. I’ve learned from watching and being inspired by Roy and other drummers. I never studied with anyone. For me, I think it’s the best way. It’s helped me to develop an original style. The grip you use depends on what you’re going to play. It’s a personal thing, really. Different drummers hold the sticks tight or loose, but what matters is the sound you get when you play. The beautiful thing about the drums is that, unlike piano, saxophone, trumpet, no one person dominates the field. Because you can express yourself so many ways. And every era somebody has contributed to the growth of it. No one can ever be crowned the greatest ever on drums; every drummer has something great to say.
Especially the drummers today. I like Rashied Ali, particularly; he and I worked together with John Coltrane, and we really dig each other. He’s taken the drums another way. He knows what he’s doing; he plays flute, understands melody and harmony, and can read very well. People have knocked him because he didn’t swing. But he’s an innovator; the way he plays, the soloist can swing or he can play free. Rashied has what you can call a drone: it’s like African drums. The Western style is okay, but the drums–polyrhythms and things like thai—actually come from Africa. Elvin plays that sort of African–type: it’s not technical, it’s more spiritual. This is what Rashied has going on. The guys that are really doing some creative things on drums don’t get the exposure they should. There’s Beaver Harris, Milford Graves—right now he and Don Pullen have a co– operative duo; they have their own record label. More people should listen to Milford; he plays African rhythms only. There’s so much music happening today; you have to keep years ears open. As for what Buddy Rich once said—that drummers nowadays tend to specialise too much: Buddy is a drum freak: he plays incredible things, but he specialises in something himself, whether he knows it or not. He specialises in being a great technician and a big– band drummer. He can really push a big band, and I prefer him in that context than with a small group. Whereas, I would sound better in a small group context, I think. When you play in a big band, you can’t play as free: the drummer has the responsibility of holding the band together. Musicians as a whole are too critical of each other. You have to be, I guess, but you can get something from everybody, if you listen. That’s how I feel. Buddy’s knocked me a couple of times. Drummers seem to think that because you’re not playing a strict time, you don’t know what you’re doing. But, I mean, time only exists on a relative level. Time is something that man creates, as a means to get from one place to another. On the other hand, there is no time—only space. You deal with rhythm, sound, harmony, melody— that’s my conception. You have to specialise in something, to make a living. You must have something special—a sound, a technique, or whatever—that makes you Buddy Rich, or Eddie Gomez, or Bill Evans. People want to hear that: that’s what makes an artist. Buddy’s got his thing; he has to accept the fact that everyone else has their special thing. Even though you might not dig it for yourself, there are going to be people who believe it and will accept it. You’re bound to get to somebody: there’s people all over the world vibrating different things. There are so many ways that you can make people vibrate. Sure, playing piano and bass as well as drums has been a fantastic asset. It’s opened my head wide. It’s helped me as a percussionist, because I don’t sit down and practise drums. I like to be purely spontaneous, so that whatever I play, it’s always different. Everyone should know a little bit, at least, about the piano. You should learn as much as you ,can about music—and about life. Because if you don’t experience life, you won’t put out any music. I’ve been using the melodica about four or five years. I always wanted to play the saxophone, but I never got around to getting one. I do have one now, which I plan to take up eventually and study seriously; I’ll get to that in my own time. But I started on the melodica to be free of having to put down chords in the left hand, so. I really investigate playing harmonically and melodically. It’s a cold–sounding instrument which can turn
you off, and at certain times I’ve felt like putting it down. Now I seem to be finding more things on it; so I think 1’;; continue with it. There’s something about it which I like. This is the soprano, I guess. They’re all great players that I’ve been doing the first set with every night—Dave Holland, John Marshal, Pat Smythe. And especially the guitarist, John McLaughlin—he’s fantastic. I hope I get the chance to work with Miles again some time. I was more or less filling in for Tony Williams; it was quite an experience. Miles gives you lots of freedom. He makes suggestions and things to you that really don’t sound great at the time he mentions them. The future of jazz lies with the younger players, and there’s going to be a lot of good groups now. It won’t be just the Miles Davis Quintet or the Charles Lloyd Quartet. A lot of fine players are coming up; the music horizon is going to be full and varied. The ultimate thing is to be able to weave in and out of all types of playing—freedom and all of it. Like these first sets I’ve been participating in here. It all happens naturally; it’s not intentional. We don’t say: “Let’s play freedom.” I mean, what is freedom? It’s being able to do whatever you can get to. EDDIE GOMEZ: It’s been over two years now that I’ve played the bass with the Bill Evans Trio. A very rewarding experience. The rapport between Bill and me has gotten more intense, on a much broader level in the last year, I’d say. It’s just a growth development, especially for me. There’s a sort of a development that goes along with the whole trio, and it can vary, depending on the members of the band. Since Jack joined us, it’s been an added boost. The growth has really been very clear. Jack has brought in more fire in general. The way he provides a rhythmic counter– balance–I guess he conceives the cracks to fill, against what we’re playing. Bill and I play certain things, and Jack kind of plays off those. He’s very musical; he’s able to go up and down with the music, just what is demanded of the percussion section. There are so many facets of Bill’s playing, but I guess it all comes down to the way he goes about making music. It’s a very clear, straight, honest way of going at it; there’s nothing that’s contrived. He can play very sensuously: everything is directly concerned with music. He’s a great lesson in himself. My relationship with the bass began when I was eleven years old. I was born in Puerto Rico 23 years ago; as a baby I came to New York with my parents. We lived among mainly Spanish–speaking people on the edge of Harlem. Which is a very good mixed–up sort of environment to grow up in—all kinds of different influences. Actually, I didn’t single that instrument out. It was given to me. Before that, I didn’t know one from the other really. Most kids have an idea they want to play saxophone, flute or something. Perhaps I wouldn’t have minded playing the violin. I liked singing, and I used to sing in the assembly sometimes. I love the guitar, but it’s not an instrument that I can really play. I’ve fooled around on the ‘cello. and I love that, too. But, anyway, I got the bass, and I was glad I did. Once I got familiar with it, I fell in love with it. It was when I got into junior high school that there were some kids listening to blues and
some jazz. I started getting some jazz records, and I really dug it. Especially the bass, and the function it played. What bothered me was that it seemed to be just snubbed and looked down upon by everybody. Then I was in the Newport Youth Band at about 14 years old while at high school. I was very lucky. So I surrounded myself with music, and kind of threw myself towards my particular goals. I started doing a lot of playing around New York. I just wanted to try and think of the bass a little differently. What people like Paul Chambers, Ray Brown and Mingus were doing always excited me. But there weren’t enough great bass players contributing. In a solo way, I felt that all the good, interesting things were coming from the horn players. That’s all changed now. A lot of bass players are making a musical contribution, and kind of challenging the other instruments. When I say I’ve been influenced a lot by horns, I refer to the freedom with which they seem to express themselves. That’s all I want to do. I really don’t want to sound like a saxophone, a guitar or any instrument othe than .the bass. It would be taking away from the bass to try and imitate a horn. The bass just has to be free to play anything that music will suggest. Scott La Faro, more than anybody, freed the bass role and function, so that you didn’t have to be so strict. Especially in the relationship he had with Bill. Mingus was doing that before; so was Richard Davis a little bit, I guess. But with Bill, it was very clear thinking by Scott as to what he wanted to do on the bass. He was a great, great player. His death was a tremendous loss, because imagine what he would be playing like now! He played quite incredibly then. To my mind, no one after him has come near that kind of playing. Including myself— very definitely. It’s a monster of an instrument, one that you really have to love and dedicate yourself to. Otherwise, there’s no sense in playing it. I’m still nowhere near where I want to play. There’s so much more you can challenge yourself to do. It has nothing to do with technique, necessarily, or virtuosity. It isn’t just scales, being able to play certain studies, or anything like that. A whole musical growth takes place, with the scope widening and widening. Ideally, it’s a growth that should never stop. Although it does—with most humans. Whatever I play—if it’s just one note—my intention is to make a nice, pretty sound, that has a good feeling about it. I never thought so much about whisking about; up and down the bass. Of course, I had to work somewhat, and be aware of the kind of sound that I wanted. I think a teacher has something to do with that. Fortunately, I had a very great teacher, the late Fred Zimmerman. He had a beautiful sound, particularly with the bow. But it doesn’t always have to be beautiful. Sometimes there is a need for making a sort of a contrary sound to that. Not really ugly: just another way of playing, expressing a different emotion. I like using the bow, but I don’t with Bill, because that would just add another entire dimension to it, that I would have to explore fully. I’d have to try and use that to the fullest. And that I’m not ready for; I just don’t want to do that, since I’m trying to develop the pizzicato. I practise with the bow, but not a lot. I really practise playing tunes more than with the
bow now. No special practice routine; only when I feel like playing. Which is a lot, but very unroutined. I have a lot of books that I practise from, but there’s nothing in particular that I set myself to do every day. Sure, I’ve heard the Francois Rabbath record (“The Sound Of A Bass”). He’s a very, good bass player. He wasn’t entirely in the jazz thing, but that has nothing to do with it. The performance was great. I’ve tried some of that bowing under the bridge in my own kind of fooling around, and maybe in other music with other people. But with Bill I kind of play a certain way because he requires it. That record was very inspiring, though. The occasional feature spots that Bill lets me do, like “Embraceable You,” constitute an experiment. I pretty much do everything: they accompany me, and let the bass make as much happen as ,possible. The bass certainly can command attention. And it’ll continue doing it. Like anything else, certain nights are tough with the trio. A club has more of a loose atmosphere than a concert. You can stretch it out, and you have two or three sets to play. In a concert there’s an air of this is what’s going to be, and after it’s over, it’s done. So it’s very quick and I guess more tension is involved. I prefer a club, because it gives more opportunity for all of us to just try and relax and not be thinking about being on top of it. Bill’s tunes all afford the same sort of big challenge. But they’re so great, so demanding, that they’re certainly enough to occupy me. Composing is part of what I want to do, but there’s nothing of mine in the trio’s book. I’m kind of very select, and if I ever do it, it’ll have to be very special. My general aim is basically just to keep playing. To try different music, too. Ultimately I want to do a couple of my own albums, trying out the things in my mind. Recent albums I’ve been on include one I did with Mike Mantler and one with Lee Konitz which is coming out, where he played duets with different people. Then the Montreux concert album that I did with Bill is going to be released in September. We were happy when we heard it; it’ll be a nice album. Advice to bass players? It depends on what it is they want. The only thing I’d say is: just familiarise yourself with the instrument, the best that your musical direction implies you have to. Get a good teacher, if that’s how you want to express it on the bass. It’s very challenging to somebody who is really willing to face it truthfully. A monster. Copyright © 1968, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved C4. 1969 Bill Evans: I think that what you would call individualistic in my playing was always there. Because my fundamental thinking never changed, as far as building lines, harmonic ideas or anything goes. It's all been a step- by- step thing. I think perhaps you'd be surprised how well I was playing when I was 18 and 20. It wasn't till I was 29 that I put the trio together; I was 28 when I went with Miles. So that gives you an idea, maybe. I'm only conscious of just trying to play music that sounds the best to me. If that's said to be beautiful, it's a compliment. I wouldn't play something harsh for its own sake; everything has to be first music to me. And to be music it has to have a certain aesthetic value. Within that can take place many feelings of expression, like Stravinsky or Bartok,
Bird or Bud. All played music all the time, but they expressed a great range of feeling. I don't feel the need to express frustration or rage, or anything like that. In fact, the only reason I would is if it were a dramatic piece that required that particular emotion at that time; like an opera or something. But I would never express my own frustration and rage, because I wouldn't impose that on anybody They don't want to hear my problems. When I'm going to experience art, I don't want to hear the artist's problems; I want him to give me something that’s the best part of him. If he's just going to indulge himself— standing up there and letting out all his daily problematic emotions, then he can do it, and some people will probably pay to listen to it. 1 wouldn't want to hear it. The "Conversations With Myself" albums? It was more like fun, but required a great deal of concentration. Fundamentally, it was interesting, let's say that. I think it was more interesting than anything else, because it was something I couldn’t prepare; I didn't have the equipment. It was just an idea that I went in the studio to try to do. So I had to decide on an approach, and do it that way. It was not so much a revelation when I did it. In fact, I felt that I didn't get where I wanted to get with the thing. The revelation came on listening to it in retrospect, a year or so later, when I discovered that there was a lot more overall unity than I had expected. The problem that I found was the texture— keeping it from getting too heavy. So when I made a second "Conversations" album, I only used two pianos for that reason. But still the darn thing bothered me in the same way, in relation to the texture. Many times I'd feel like I was just pasting something on that was unnecessary. I don't know whether I'll ever do another one. I've done the three- piano album, the two- piano album, but I've never done a solo album. Maybe I'll end up doing that. A perfectionist? Well, I don't know what perfect is. I only know what would be an ideal performance for myself, at any moment. And I'm aware of when I fall short of that, or if I miss, or if my thinking isn't smooth— things like that. In that way I'm a perfectionist, I guess. Naturally I'm particular about pianos. After this many years playing any instrument you'd want the best, wouldn't you? And pianists have to go through horrors for years and years. So now that I'm in a position to sometimes get a better instrument if I need it, I'm sure going to do it. It's really a suffering thing to play on a bad instrument. Though the people don't usually know it, I'm suffering terribly and the chances for me to create, the scope of what I can do, are lessened considerably. The other guys in the group are suffering all the time, too; and the musical level of everything we do is lowered I really don't understand why all clubs don't have a permanently good piano. So a lot of the musicians don't respect the instrument enough? That could be taken care of, I'm sure, with a few rules. Like, for instance, Monk is very hard on the piano. But that doesn't change the fact that most of the places he plays in the States have good pianos. All piano jazz interested me initially, I guess. Earl Hines was one of the first to attract my attention; the way he put things together. And Nat Cole was to me one of the greatest jazz pianists there was in the 'Forties; he was just marvellous. But he underplayed it so much
during his life that he never realised how good he was as a jazz pianist, I don't think. He was never recognised that much for his piano playing by the public, or even by critics, it seems. Nat had this terrific lyrical sense, which later gave him the wonderful vocal style that he had. Plus the terrific swing. You know, just a marvellous feeling of time. And taste. His taste was so great; he played so economically, and so beautifully. I'll always remember his record of "Body And Soul" with the trio. The improvisation of his chorus on that was like a little masterpiece. It was put together, the ideas following one another, unlike any jazz that I'd ever heard before. Because he used one idea throughout the whole chorus, in sequence, shifting around and everything. He just was a hell of a jazz pianist. When I got out of college, I went right on the road with Herbie Fields' band. Before my senior year in college, during the summer, I'd worked a little with Mundell Lowe and Red Mitchell in New York. I was looking to get away from home, and to get on with my business of playing. Tony Scott called me in New Jersey from New York, and said something like: "You wouldn't want to go with Herbie Fields, would you?" I said: "Yes". So I did, and that was a seven- piece band that was modelled after Lionel Hampton's big band. He used the same format: the "Flying Home" flag- wavers, all the very hard, loudtype tunes; he was quite successful with it. Not many people are aware of it, but he had many many outstanding musicians go through that band, such as Tiny Kahn; Max Bennett, Doug Mettome, Jimmy Nottingham, Bobby Burgess, Frank Rosolino. He had Stan Getz in his big band at one time. Anyhow, I was on the road with Herbie for about seven months, and was drafted right off the bandstand into the army. However, I enlisted to be sure I got into a band— and had to serve an extra year as a result. I was stationed near Chicago. On my release from the army I went home for about a year, played around Jersey for a while, and sort of got myself together a little bit. I moved to New York the next Spring, to make it or break it in jazz. Copyright © 1969, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved C5. 1972 Bill Evans: It's been nice to work in Ronnie Scott's again. If it isn't my favourite club, it's on a par with maybe one other that I enjoy- Shelly's Manne-Hole, in Los Angeles. But I've always liked this club, and I love London; so it's great to be back. I don't know what the magic is, but almost without exception; every time we've been here we seem to work up to pretty much peak performing level. It's the stimulus of the city, the club, the audiences or whatever, but it all adds up to the fact that we usually end up looking back at any visit here as one of our favourite times. Yes, Eddie Gomez has been on bass with me for a while now—I guess it'll be six years shortly. And Marty Morrell on drums, about three years. So it's very comfortable; naturally, I'm very happy with the group.
We're doing a few newer things. The new CBS album isn't out here yet, although it's been out in the States for six or seven months. I think they may push it out here quite soon now. And I'm pretty excited about being with CBS. I have at least two more albums to do with them. The next one is scheduled to be a composition of George Russell's for the trio and two other independent groups, performing against each other and simultaneously. He's working on that now; we hope to record it in late April. I'm looking forward to that. I've always thought that George is perhaps the most legitimate, true jazz composer, as opposed to arranger. His composing has absolute jazz roots. And it seemed rather a shame to me that he had to go out of the United States, for a while, to find support for his writing. I hope that this album we're doing together will show him that people do care, back in the States. He's been teaching at the New England Conservatory, but most of his composition and recording has been done in Scandinavia during the past seven years or so. He's not designing the album specifically for me. It's a composition of his—one long piece—which I'll be performing. Its dimensions, the whole idea of the piece . . . I expect it’ll be challenging. Certainly, it’s a challenge for George—it would be for anybody. I can't quite explain it, but it has an emotional scope. In a sense, an emotional story to tell, musically. Of course, it's mostly on his shoulders to write it, and then there'll be a lot of improvisation, But I don't know whether I would call George's composing exactly `free'. Maybe he's gotten out into a sound area that gives that impression. However, he's got a very strict kind of mind. He couldn't just be called a `free' composer; but he's utilising a lot of more advanced theoretical concepts. And perhaps some different concepts about improvisation, off of which creative improvising can spring. I'd like to try these things, anyhow. It may not be typical of the type of album that I usually come out with— I hope it isn't- that’s why I am looking forward to it. So that’s the next thing, to try and get together in April, if we can. After Ronnie's, we're going to do some TV and concerts on the Continent for a couple of weeks; then back to New York. We play clubs as well as concerts. I could cut down the clubs, and emphasise concerts more, which I might be doing to some extent. But I like to keep a certain amount of club work, because I think it's necessary for a steady group to have that volume of playing, in that environment. The concert environment is ideal, but as a completely unrelieved diet it tends to pressure performance. Which, in some cases, is very successful. Overall, though, you need the relief of the relaxed circumstances in a club. What is it about Eddie's playing that I'm so happy with? Well, I think you only have to listen to him for about ten seconds to discover that. And, even though he does so much with my group, his playing has an even wider scope. I've heard him in other contexts, from Israeli folk music to, let's say, more avant garde jazz, or with hard- blowing jazz— and he can do just about anything. The marvellous thing about him is that he's a complete virtuoso on bass, but the virtuosity is always motivated by a musical thought.
He's come together more and more. What's remarkable to me, working with him every night—and the casual listener would not perceive it—is that he comes up continually with new, resourceful ideas, on the same repertoire. Not just superficial variations- new fundamental things. And this is really being creative, as far as I'm concerned. It's a real mental challenge, to be constantly delving deeper. Eddie does that. Even on a bad night, he's tremendous; on his really outstanding times, I've never heard anything that approaches it. As for Marty, he's quite unique, in that he never lacks fire. No matter how light his touch becomes, the thing always moves. It never stops moving. And he has a very great forward impetus in his time. He's entered really strongly into the music, and his playing has come into its own in the last year especially. So we have everything to look forward to. If I can just come up with ideas, I know the guys are ready any time. I suppose it is true to say that my style has stayed pure. I try to be flexible, but somehow I am myself. I do want to always progress, and I would like to change every day, if I had the resourcefulness to do it. But I just have to follow my own path step by step. I don't think I'll be going into any really revolutionary changes. However, I would look forward to taking even a year off to research and dig into myself. More or less, just live with music away from performance. But I can't see that being possible for a couple of years yet. I'm trying to get heavier into writing; I'd like to do more of that, too. Until then, we'll be playing. And I believe we go through certain subtle changes, that will be evident to people who get involved in our music. Jazz piano today? No, I wouldn't say it's been at all overshadowed by the electric piano or the organ. Certainly, the public does love the electronic sound- possibly because, just as a sound, it's fresh. It may have to do with the electronic age or something. But any musician knows that the scope, the depth and the ability of the electronic instruments to express music is very limited in comparison with the acoustic piano. Likewise, the same goes for the acoustic bass versus the electric bass. It’s always a matter of the man behind the instrument. I mean, a great musician behind an electronic instrument is somehow going to make great music. He would have a better chance to do so, though, on an acoustic instrument. I think, so far, these newer sounds still have a long way to go in development before they can compete on a really pure musical level with the acoustic instruments. Personally, my interest is not drawn to a variety of sounds. The problem with me is basically an emotional one of getting to a feeling and expressing it through some adequate musical medium. And the piano as an instrument is adequate for me for the rest of my life, I'm sure. In fact, they're abstract problems, not related to timbre or anything instrumental. And trying to get to a feeling concerns me increasingly, nowadays. Because if you get to a deeper feeling, then the expressivity takes care of itself. It actually drives your music forward, or into other kinds of music.
So I don't think too much about the electronic thing, except that it's kind of fun to have it as an alternate voice. Like, I've used the Fender- Rhodes piano on a couple of records. I don't really look on it as a piano— merely an alternate keyboard instrument, that offers a certain kind of sound that’s appropriate sometimes. But if it's not around, I don't miss it at all. Is a major voice likely to emerge on electric piano? I don't think so. I mean, I couldn't see why, really. Any of the good pianists I know, even the younger ones like Chick Corea and Herbie Hancock - they obviously look upon the acoustic piano as their fundamental instrument, and as a much greater instrument. The only reason I can visualise is that of seizing an opportunity or something, because the public likes the sound. But any really great musician isn't going to limit himself for the sake of that. Maybe one record like that might bring him to the public's attention; then I think he would return to the acoustic piano. I know Chick Corea is playing his acoustic piano as much as possible, and I imagine Herbie Hancock does, too. Where is my style rooted? I'd say it's just about out of the whole scene, and out of my own history of working dance band jobs in America and listening to jazz. It comes from all sorts of directions. Every kind of music that I've gotten into—classical music, blues, loud jazz, soft jazz, society bands or whatever—it all kinda comes together. The roots, I suppose, are more in the music that I grew up in, as far as the specific influences are concerned. Other than that, it's just the abstract challenge— playing according to a sort of an improvising process, or whatever you want to call it, that you learn to play by. You have to sort of adapt a style to this process- and it's not like composing. If I were to compose, at any time, I might write in an altogether different area of music to that in which I play. But in order to improvise, you gather a certain melodic feeling, a certain harmonic feeling, etcetera, which all unify themselves into something which you can think with ih an improvising way. And, as I say, that just comes through your own history, I guess. Which is sort of why I can't really jump out into what might be called the avant garde or the free jazz, or whatever. Not that I couldn't play effectively in it, I think, after doing it for a while, because I've touched on it here and there for a short time. It's just that, the way my playing has been unified, the next fundamental step for me isn't there. I could arrive there, possibly, but it's certainly not the next thing. And to just jump into it, to me, feels like an affectation when I'm doing it. I don't know exactly how to put it, but I feel as if I'm approximating something, not really doing it. In formulating my style, I was very analytical. For every note I play, I have a very precise principle and theoretical reason. But, of course, that doesn't direct the musical thinking; it only clarifies it, so that I know which buttons to push when I want to do a certain thing. I have been very specific, and conscious of taking everything apart, in order to understand it as completely and as clearly as I can. Then, as it has developed very gradually from being more plodding and obvious, it has probably gotten more sophisticated and subtle in its own way, within that area.
When I play, usually it's all guided by a basic structural thought. There's some kind of structure, whether it be song form, or blues form, or perhaps just an outline over which to play. And that’s the thing that dominates and unifies everything now. I learned to play off of that and get into it deeply enough, so that it could maybe sound like you're doing more than one or two structural things at a time. But it's still all coming out of one inner unified structural thought. As for the melodic quality in my playing—yes, I do love good romantic music. But to me all music is romantic; that's its basic quality. Bach is so romantic that it's ridiculous. So I don't think of it strictly that way, as drawing from any one particular element. That might be my more identifiable characteristic; people seem to emphasise my so- called lyrical or romantic side. But, in fact, we play a variety of material. I think of my jazz playing as mainly based on rhythmical impetus, and this gives motivation to the melodic lines and all of that. Basically, I'd say music is some sort of a spiritual feeling, and that can be called romantic. All the music I like to listen to has this. I love any great classical music; in particular, contemporary composers such as Bartok. You know, it's a yea or nay thing. I listen to a little bit of everything; some things I really get a strong positive response to, some things I don't. As I said earlier, when the time comes, I intend to concentrate on reevaluating, myself in relationship to other music as well as my own. I don't believe jazz has reached its creative peak at all. Firstly, it attracts so much talent, through its magnetic nature. It draws in a lot of committed, dedicated people; among them there are always the wise talents, who will keep the aesthetic quality of it high. So it's always in a healthy state. There are times when a great proportion of jazz will be affected in an extreme way; then it comes back to a more central road, and so on. This is the, path of all art, I suppose. There are the innovators and there are the co- ordinators or organisers, whatever you want to call them. I have no doubts that jazz will remain and continue and progress. I look for a return to. . . not a healthier aesthetic, but perhaps not so much of a reflection of frustration and protest—you know, that element in jazz. I think that if any artist examines his art in relation to his desires, he'll eventually come to the conclusion that he can accomplish more by being an example of the things he wants, rather than just a mirror of his frustrations about the things he doesn't have. Consequently, the aesthetic should have a little more to do with beauty. Although that's indefinable, I suppose. For some people, beauty is what other people consider to be cacophony; for others it's schmaltz; for others it's a mixture, and so on. A musical standard has to be applied- that's the only answer. Like when you begin to use machinery, clocks, ratchets, sirens—this is all legitimate on dramatic grounds. But on musical grounds, I don't know. I think you still have to have a musical basis for what's happening. I like to feel that somehow there's that indefinable harmonious thing that directs music. A l6th century French composer said that all music has to come from
! harmony, or harmonic feeling. I agree with that—even if it's pointed in a horizontal direction.
You can't consciously simplify your music, though. Any artist first has to speak to himself, and he's his own severest critic. He sorts it out, and it depends on him- what sort of person he is. You know, does he want complexity, and if he does, what are his reasons? Is he trying to hide something? Who's he speaking to, and on what terms? Usually, it should be to himself. I mean, I know I'm a very simple person basically. That is, I don't understand complexity; I don't have that kind of a mind, really, to get to any totally abstract things. Certainly, the deepest communication I've received for music has been in very direct ways. So I try to reach it that way myself, if I can. It would be as impossible for me to fill up some space with a bunch of florid arpeggios as it would be to, say, run on one hand. It is just not in me to think like that. It's true that I play little or no blues. I like to play blues, but somehow I don't; I feel that it’s not specially my forte. I wouldn't mind listening to blues all night; somebody like Milt Jackson, maybe, could play blues for me for ever. I just don't seem to get into it much any more; I might get back to it. But the blues is a feeling, after all. When we say blues now, we're talking about it in terms of a form and a statement. Blues feeling, however, is in a lot of music. I think it's in Chopin; it's a little bit in all of music. I've absorbed blues a lot; it’s just part of me, and it probably speaks to some extent in everything I do. I can identify with a pianist like Ramsey Lewis. I can listen to, and I can certainly enjoy thousands of players that I don't play like. I'm just not compelled to play specifically that way. I've drawn from a million sources. I don't claim any originality; I just put the thing together according to all my experiences and the things that I preferred, in the elementary way in which I can think. However it comes out, it's just a result of that. You know, I was really surprised when people said I was recognisable; then later they said that I was an influence, and all this. And I realise now this is somewhat true, but it was quite surprising to me at the beginning. Still it seems a bit surprising, because I never strived for that. If I had, I think my style would have been more esoteric; I would have tried to get out on the periphery of things, and tried to do something which had identity. In doing so, maybe I would not have had any; I don't know. Because without me having tried for it, apparently there is some there. I know I've been widely copied, but to me it is a peculiar thing to have happened. You see, I was trying, in a way, to be the norm. But in collecting everything and reassembling it, I guess you just can't help but be yourself. That's something nobody can help, really. And for my self-expression, the trio is wholly suitable. People do ask me occasionally if I would add a horn or something, but in adding even one horn it would change the musical thinking of the group. In other words, I wouldn't be able to direct or shape the musical
flow- and this is kind of important to me. So, even though I enjoy playing with horns, and, of course, I did for years and enjoyed it, I always wanted to shape the music myself; I'm happiest when I can do that. The only way is with a trio; I think it's a very pure kind of musical group. As long as I'm able to succeed with it in a practical sense also, I'm going to continue playing that way. I might try a duo some time; that's very enjoyable. Basically, it's the bass- piano relationship, but I like the drums in there, too. Of course, with recording I vary the output quite a bit; trio records might occur once every third or fourth date, or something like that. We try to find a different format. Copyright © 1972, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved C6. 1972 (2) Let's talk about how things started. The first LP, 1 think, that is known in this country is "New Jazz Conceptions", and I suppose listening to it now we hear a different Bill Evans— the influences you had before seem to be more marked. What do you feel about it now? I still think that it was a good record at the time, as good as I could do and I still will listen to it without any misgivings; as you say, the influences were perhaps more marked. There were a lot of influences; some. of the major ones might have been George Shearing, Bud Powell, of course, Nat Cole, Earl Hines and many players you never hear of. I think some of the main influences were the obvious people like Dizzy Gillespie, Miles, Stan Getz and Bird. It's like building an idiomatic language and a musical language, and you kind of take abstract principles, melodic, harmonic and rhythmic influences, and you put them together. . . Do you listen to your own records? Very little; I used to a long time ago. I think I'm getting back to them now, but for— about ten years I barely listened to any of the things I did. Listening to the 'fifties recordings, there is a lot of involvement with technique. Did you find it a particular challenge at the time? Well, not really. . . you know, I started very young, developing a keyboard facility— my problem has more been thinking than producing what I think; in other words, the technical problems have never been that great to me— the problems have been which buttons to push at what time. Did you overcome the technical problems of the piano through classical music? Oh, a lot of it, but, you know, I started playing gigs when I was twelve or thirteen, and the technique came from playing a great deal of jobs in jazz, along with what I had already developed in my earlier years from six to twelve, in classical music. And then I got a degree in piano and following that also when I was in the Army, from twenty on, and then moved to New York when I was twenty-five. For the next three or four years I did some very heavy practising, playing a lot of repertoire, a lot of Bach, Beethoven, Bartok, etc. Do you still practise classical music now? Well, not much, not enough to really count; I would like to, because there's no substitute
for spending a couple of hours with Bach, and I know it’s necessary because it makes your fingers think in ways you would never let them think themselves. I think, personally, that classical music is relevant to your music. Do you agree? A lot of people seem to think that; but there haven't really been direct influences; it's more like just a general love of classical music. Most of my improvisation and jazz playing have developed out of playing jobs, and dedicating myself to jazz exclusively. But maybe my aesthetic sense has been influenced by classical music and it gives me a sort of more disciplined approach. Sometimes a bit of Debussy and Ravel seems to creep into your playing, perhaps? That may be more the type of harmonies I am using, which, anyway, coincides with the way jazz was developing. I mean, I love impressionism, but I don't strive for a cloudy effect; I'm striving for a lot of clarity really. I haven't thought much about this parallel because I'm just trying to reflect what I like to hear . . . it's just me, whatever it is. . though I'd be happy to be associated with Debussy in any way! How important to you was the association with Scott LaFaro? Well, it was fate that brought us together. I think we were both trying to emerge on a jazz scene and I felt that he was a unique and wonderful new talent; so I was very happy that he consented to get together with me and Paul Motian and try and do something. We more or less dedicated ourselves to trying to further a newer concept of trio playing. Did Scott LaFaro develop his incredible solo facility just by playing with you? Hell, no, he had all the seeds of his facility before we met. What he really needed, and I needed, was a sounding board or context in which to contain it and give it conceptual dimensions; this sort of happened as a result of mutual influence. We did agree at the beginning that we didn't want to put all the so- called "hip limitations" on ourselves, like having to play four- in- the- bar, for instance; so from there on, it was just playing together and listening and allowing it to develop. What we really agreed on were the tunes we were going to play and some of the structures we were to use; the rest of it was all interplay. How long were you with Miles Davis before you met Scott LaFaro? I was with Miles for less than a year during 1958, and when I left him I started a trio and the first job I had was with Jimmy Garrison and Kenny Dennis. We were working opposite Benny Goodman at the Basin Street East in New York, and were relegated to obscurity as far as the listeners were concerned; anyhow, the egos of the other two guys couldn't take it so they quit the gig before it was over. Meanwhile, Scott was playing around the corner with someone and he would come over and sit in and it was like I had found my long- lost brother. So that’s when we more or less tried to dedicate ourselves to any work involving the trio. I had a recording contract, which enabled us to make records, and consequently any work offered to the trio was taken and other individual things dropped. And that’s what we did until Scott was killed; in fact, the trio was not really a practical success; we could not have lived on what we made. What about Miles Davis now, looking back on your association? Well, it was a wonderful experience; after all, Miles, Coltrane, Cannonball, Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers were in the band and I was the first replacement for the original player. The "Kind Of Blue" album was actually made four or five months after I had left Miles' band; he had called me in especially to do the date because he had a conception in mind for that record and he felt I understood it. In fact, the kind of sympathy that existed
between Miles and myself may have influenced my music and the way I was playing. I was very happy to be part of the "Kind Of Blue" session; it undoubtedly did me a lot of good. With regard to Miles Davis, can you explain how two people who were so compatible in 1959, can be on such opposite courses in 1974? I can't, really. I feel that maybe Miles isn't actually that different. He has surrounded himself with different people and a different type of music, but I wonder has he really changed that much? He's putting himself in another context; now, whether that makes him completely happy, only Miles can answer. The fact of putting yourself as a musician in a different context is something that can happen to anybody; I mean, some of the records I made with George Russell in '58 or '59, and the record we did a year or so ago— there were some "out’' things on that. So what I'm saying is, that if I suddenly decided I wanted to be totally immersed in that "out" context, I would pretty soon be identified with it, but whether or not that would be the best thing for me, or whether that would make me ultimately happy is something else. Actually, I often wonder, if I were on a desert island and there was nobody there but me and my musical instrument, would I be playing the same kind of music? And I have to wonder: are some people really happy with what they're doing? Was that recent George Russell LP just an experiment? No, not an experiment, because as I said, I did things fifteen years ago that were as "out" as that; it’s just that I admire George, he has great integrity and talent, and was delighted to get together on a project. My fans, many of them, can't get with that record at all, because they only see one side of my musical self, they don’t realise I could really enjoy the challenge of another medium. But whether I would take further steps in that direction or make any big revolutionary changes in my approach is doubtful; I really want to try and find a special kind of beauty that really touches me, and therefore I hope will touch somebody else. How do you choose your repertoire? Would you like to just play your own compositions? I would like to play only my own compositions if I felt they would balance out, but I just play things because I enjoy playing things; I don't make a daily effort to find new material, it’s more or less coincidental what comes into my life. I do carry manuscript with me and a lot of times I jot down things I'm playing, and in that way I do a little writing all the time. What about the trio work in the 'sixties and its changing personnel? After Scott died, Chuck Israels came into the trio and we played together for three years. Paul Motian and Larry Bunker in the drum seat, but during an interval when Chuck wasn't with the trio, Gary Peacock joined, and I considered that he was a rare talent. Unfortunately, his life took him on a detour into "diasthetic spiritualism" and his bass playing went by the wayside. I felt that with Gary we could have developed in new ways, as we did with Scott. There is only one album with Gary, "Trio 60", but it was kind of quickly put together and it didn't really represent what we could have done. But then, of course, finding Eddie Gomez was like a second find of a lifetime. Eddie's been with me a little over eight years and Marty Morell a little over six years; so this trio is by far the longest that I have had together. How do you feel about solo performances? I don't really feel I am a solo pianist; I only play solo on very special occasions. I haven't
really developed what I would call a solo style. Playing on your own, there's a good chance of capturing a personal feeling that's maybe a little more difficult with group playing, and exploring the music a little more freely; so for that reason I like playing alone. That visit to Montreux in 1968 was an undoubted success. What was your reaction? I was very surprised, really. I think that it was quite a good day at the festival, and it was an above average day for playing and feeling, but the response of the audience was really surprising, It's a beautiful thing when you don't work for a lot of applause, and you get it; it means they really want to let you know. As regards this kind of over- enthusiastic reaction, I think that audiences are fundamentally the same everywhere: they may be conditioned a little differently, like in Japan; they are not conditioned to be a vociferous audience, but still the .. appreciation is very deep. So I think the level of response doesn't vary that much. Does the level of crowd noise in a club during a performance annoy you? Well, it can; if there is a group playing opposite us that has brought in a different type of audience, or if we play in a place that doesn't expect us to be there. Now one night (at Ronnie Scott's), I felt that we didn't have a very sympathetic response, but another night we had, I thought, a very good audience. If there are a few couples here and there that talk, I shut it out unless it’s something extremely penetrating. Do you feel that your style of playing today contains a little more aggression in its approach? It's possible; I think it might have I to do with the group personnel. Marty is a drummer who always has fire at whatever level we play. Where to from now? I don't visualise a revolutionary change in style; I would like just to continue right along the path that I have been going along, write some new songs, and continue to play and function in music according to the sense of duty that I have. It's obvious what influence you've had on your contemporaries; I wonder whether those contemporaries, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, etc., have had any feedback on to you? Well, I'm sure there is a lot of room for me to be influenced by them, because they have emerged as the great younger talents of today, but I really haven't approached things as a student that much in the last few years; I'm more or less working with what tools I have. But I believe I should be listening more than I do to these people. Finally, what are your feelings about the sometimes unfortunate association an intimate and intricate pianist can have with being a "cocktail bar" musician and how can one overcome it? Well, I've heard Erroll Garner referred to as a "cocktail pianist’', and if Erroll isn't a jazz pianist I don't suppose anybody is. I don't know, it may be a matter of taste, or people's needs. I think you have a chance to create your own audience over the years, if you have anything going, and I find my audiences are receptive. When the conditions are right, I am really quite happy with the response. I think that people have been more than generous in their reaction. Copyright © 1972, Joe Vandyl. All Rights Reserved
C7. 1976 How did you enjoy your recent engagement at Ronnie Scott's? Very much. Especially after the Bosendorfer arrived; the first couple of nights, the piano wasn't really awful, but it wasn't tops. But the Bosendorfer is the best of the best, a sure pleasure to work on. In fact, because the piano offered so much more, I found myself, as I was playing, suddenly wanting to try new things— and things I'd fallen into doing the same way, I wanted to do differently. It just served to remind me how much the instrument has to do with the development of how you play music, and how you express it, you know. The limitations of many an instrument cause me not to get into as much as I could get into. On so many instruments the action is so badly regulated that you're constantly just being very touchy about trying to make everything sound, if you strike it soft. Not to mention tone— trying to get all the individual tones correct. On a really good piano, you can go from a whisper to a very full sound, and count on whatever you're doing to speak through the instrument. The Bosendorfer is great— I'd love to have one in my home. So— yes, the engagement went very well. We'd been working rather steadily and touring; so the trio was in relatively top form, I think. Of course, Eddie Gomez has been on bass with me going on eleven years now. And our drummer, Elliott Zigmund, who's been with the group a little over a year, is doing a marvellous job. We're getting many remarks about Elliott's fresh and musical contribution to the group. You feel that Eddie's playing is developing all the time, in expressing ideas that are complementary to what you do? Definitely. Eddie is a completely resourceful player, within the context of what we're doing, and constantly disciplines himself to find new ways of doing old things, to explore the idiom in which we play. And I try to take the same approach myself. Although a lot of rhythm section players are influenced by you, your approach is far away from that of the traditional rhythm section, isn't it? Yeah, I think so. However, it's not really so far away basically, because we play with the same basic feel that we would play with in any rhythm section. But it's just that the beat is more internalised, and we play around that; so that would probably be the difference in the concept. I mean, it's not always that way, but we don't make making the beat explicit every four or three times a bar so much a rule as allowing the music just to flow. Allowing it to surround and happen as a result of an internalised pulse— I guess you might put it that way. Recently, it seems you've been doing some varied recording. One album of yours that I've been enjoying very much is "Symbiosis". The writing, playing, sound quality, everything about it is just beautiful. I'm glad you like that. I think it's beautiful, too. Claus Ogerman really wrote a beautiful piece. I thoroughly enjoyed doing that project; I hope it's well- heard, and stays. around for a long time— I think it will. Yeah, we have been doing a variety. There was the duo album I did with Eddie, called `Intuition". Then there's an album I did with Tony Bennett, just piano and him singing. There's a trio album just out now in the States that we did live at the Vanguard about a year- and- a- half ago; Marty Morrell was still in the trio at that time. So there are four albums, each a little different from the other. Also, a solo album is in the can, as well as a live duo album with Eddie, that we did at
Montreux this past summer— they will be coming out. Quite a bit of stuff, I guess. The session with Tony Bennett was something of a departure for you. I presume it came about through mutual respect. Well, I love Tony's singing so much, and it's really an honour and a pleasure to work with someone who's such a tremendous artist, and who, I think, is head and shoulders above the people that are in that area of singing. It was very enjoyable. We did it pretty much off the top of our heads— picked the tunes, went in, found a routine and did them; it turned out nicely— that one- to- one kinda thing. And we're scheduled to do another one for his company, and another one for Fantasy. I think the next one's gonna be all Kurt Weill material. It sounds as if you're getting quite a partnership going there. Yeah— it's not something which will function in a performing way too much. There will be some concerts I think we'll be doing together— Tony with his group, me with my trio, and then we'll join for a few tunes. But I'm still basically a jazz and trio pianist. But there can be a parallel drawn, in that Tony is known as a great interpreter of ballads, and so are you. Could be. Yeah, he sure is. . he just sings the hell out of whatever he does. I just feel, frankly, that there are so many really top accompanists, I'm so happy that he wanted to do the album with me. Because I haven't done accompanying in about twenty years. It was more a thing of just trying to get that one- to- one good feeling. So I just kind of approached it in a very simple way, and didn't try to get too florid, too thick or too complicated with it. So there wouldn't have been any of your normal exploring of the tunes? No more than structurally, you know. And I play some interludes, and things like that. There are a few spots in it where I explore them a little bit. The album with Claus Ogerman was also different for you, wasn't it? Certainly, the second side, I would say, was more in the nature of almost a classical piano concerto type of thing. Would you agree? That's right. Actually, the whole piece is well integrated, and it was quite challenging— especially one or two of the improvised sections. And I love to listen to it; I think it's a piece that says something, emotionally and musically, and it says it in a listenable way. It's a really outstanding effort on Claus's part. I’m really happy that we were able to do it. Fortunately, MPS believed in the project, and were willing to produce it. Which not every company will do— when you consider the size of it. Yes, it was a big undertaking— just the budget of it— because it's not a pop record, it's not even a purely blowing jazz record. So there's no guarantee about how it's gonna sell. But I really feel that a record like this, if they keep it in the library and keep it on the market, will sell through the years. Actually, when we go to Japan and do concerts, they're selling albums in the lobbies of the concert halls dating back to my very first trio album on Riverside— not even stereo. And they're freshly pressed, with freshly printed covers. They keep them alive, and they do keep selling, because people who are interested in an artist— in jazz, at least— don't necessarily have to have the thing that's hottest off the presses, or out of the studio. I think it's a nice idea, if they would do that. Unfortunately, a lot of the bigger companies drop things very quickly from their catalogues— United Artists, Verve, and companies like that. This new collaboration with Claus was, I suppose, a direct result of your earlier Verve
album with him? Right— just because of the respect we have for one another. Actually, Claus was responsible, I think; for presenting and selling the idea to MPS. Yeah, a nice thing. The other extended work that you were involved in, not so recently, was the "Living Time" LP, written by George Russell. And that's another project that I was really happy to be able to do. It is not as easily listenable as "Symbiosis" would be for, say, my fans. Some of my fans tell me: "Don't ever do anything like that again", but what they don't realise is that it’s another side of myself. Of course, this was primarily George's album— it’s his conception and his music. But it's a music which I found challenging, a great enjoyment to take part m, and to feel that fortunately my contract with Columbia made it possible. I'll bet you that that’s probably dropped already out of the catalogue. I wouldn't be surprised; they didn't do any promotion on it— just that same old story. A common factor to both these albums is your use of the Fender Rhodes piano. Have you only used that on recordings? Yeah— really only on recordings; I don't carry one. I find that it’s kind of a refreshing auxiliary to the piano— but I don't need it, you know. I guess it’s for other people to judge how effective it’s been on my records; I enjoyed it, anyway. I don't enjoy spending a lot of time with the electric piano. I mean, if I play it for a period of time, then I quickly tire of it, and I want to get back to the acoustic piano. You haven't done anything in the multi- recording area since the "Conversations" albums, have you? I haven't— no. I might try it again some time, I don't know, I don't have any real desire to do that right now. The original "Conversations With Myself" album was three pianos, and the "Further Conversations" was two. It seemed that each time I felt the texture was a little heavy or thick or something; then I got down to doing a solo album, and that was that. I could conceive, though, of perhaps a more extended kind of a work, where I might employ that approach; you can get a lot of wonderful textures and polyphonic effects and so on, in stereo: It’s really an interesting experience for a pianist, because you can act as an orchestra almost. In general, do you feel that a live context is better for extended improvisation than the possible confines of a recording studio? Maybe extended sometimes. Because sometimes in a club you hit that rare mood where you just feel like staying with it for a while. But I like the recording situation very much; I think it tends to be more ideal. Then, of course, you do have some live performances recorded. Which can be a way of getting the best of both worlds. Except that it’s awful hard to say we're gonna have a record date next month on a certain night at a certain place while you're performing, and hope that that might be one of those special nights, you know. They're generally good, maybe above average, but to catch those really rare nights— it's a very, very touchy thing. How do you feel about the field of jazz piano nowadays? Would you say there are some innovators at work? I think there are some pianists who are very inventive in their approach, in handling music and all that. I mean, I certainly love Keith Jarrett, and a lot of things Chick Corea does; various other younger pianists are quite remarkable. But I'm not really a student
enough or informed enough to make any kind of a survey appraisal. I just don't keep up. I hardly listen to my own music! When you do have opportunities to just relax, what is the nature of your listening? Well, not too much. I don't really do a lot of specialised or research listening. It's more coincidental— what I might hear on the radio, what somebody might play for me, or what I might just run into, dropping into a club or whatever. I would say, between classical music and jazz music, I listen to about fifty- fifty, I guess. You've kept to the trio format, over the years. Presumably, you still say that this is basically the ideal set- up for you to work in? Yeah, I think so— it has the scope. I can play solo, you've got the duo thing, the trio thing; you have a pure kind of a combination, as far as functions go. It offers me just about everything that I need and want, to perform. I don't really miss accompanying horns— as much as the horn sound might be refreshing in the group, once in a while, when somebody'll sit in, we'll do a concert with somebody. But I don't think that's my strong suit now, really; I've just been away from it too long. I haven't developed my group playing ability in that direction. Do you find material to play as easy as ever to come by? It isn't very difficult; I don't do much conscious research, though. If I have an album coming up, sometimes I just go through a lot of things I have at home, that people have given me or whatnot, kinda scramble around and come up with some material that I think might work. I would want to write more, possibly that's one thing. As regards your general working area these days— do you plan a lot of concerts as opposed to clubs, or a bit of both? A bit of both, because I think they're both necessary. We need the club work to stay loose, to keep the group developing and stretching out, and you need the concert work also, because the conditions are usually good, as far as the audience, the pianos, the sound and so forth. Many people think the club work should be looked down upon, but the clubs still are the basic sustenance of jazz groups. They give jazz groups a chance to develop into playing more than they would in concert alone. As for Ronnie’s— I hope they have the Bosendorfer there when I go back. In fact, I thought about sticking it in a sack, throwing it over my shoulder, and taking it back to America! Copyright © 1976, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved
APPENDIX D. Selections from Liner Notes by Bill Evans D1. Kind of Blue There is a Japanese visual art in which the artist is forced to be spontaneous. He must paint on a thin stretched parchment with a special brush and black water paint in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing an idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere. The resulting pictures lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who see well find something captured that escapes explanation. This conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflection, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician. Group improvisation is a further challenge. Aside from the weighty technical problem of collective coherent thinking, there is the very human, even social need for sympathy from all members to bend for the common result. This most difficult problem, I think, is beautifully met and solved on this recording. As the painter needs his framework of parchment, the improvising musical group needs its framework in time. Miles Davis presents here frameworks which are exquisite in their simplicity and yet contain all this necessary to stimulate performance with sure reference to the primary conception. Miles conceived these settings only hours before the recording dates and arrived with sketches which indicated to the group what was to be played. Therefore, you will hear something close to pure spontaneity in these performances. The group had never played these pieces prior to the recordings and I think without exception the first complete performance of each was a "take." D2. Conversations with Myself Until the evolution of jazz group improvisation the history of Western music or music as we know it outside of jazz represents the reflection of one psyche. For the first time in a music of Western origin, jazz group improvisation represents the very provocative revelation of two, three, four, or five minds responding simultaneously to each other in a unified coherent performance ... Another condition to be considered is the fact that I know my musical techniques more thoroughly than any other person, so that, it seems to me, I am equipped to respond to my previous musical statements with the most accuracy and clarity ...
If you are now about to listen, I hope that you will forget any extra-musical questions, though they are often quite entertaining, and allow what I sincerely hope to be an enjoyable and, perhaps, unique musical experience to take place. D3. Monk (CBS 62497, 1964) Thelonious Monk is an example of an exceptionally uncorrupted creative talent. He has accepted the challenges that one must accept to forge a music utilizing the jazz process. Because he lacks, perhaps fortunately, exposure to the Western classical music tradition or, for that matter, comprehensive exposure to any music other than jazz and American popular music, his reflections of formal superficialities and their replacement with fundamental structure has resulted in a unique and astoundingly pure music. Make no mistake. This man knows exactly what he is doing in a theoretical way organized, more than likely, in a personal terminology, but strongly organized nevertheless. We can be further grateful to him for combining aptitude, insight, drive, compassion, fantasy, and whatever else makes the "total" artist, and we should also be grateful for such direct speech in an age of insurmountable conformist pressures. In a recent 'Down Beat' Blindfold Test, I was played a Thelonious Monk track. I might repeat here part of my reaction: Monk approaches the piano and, I should add right now, music as well, from an "angle" that, although unprecedented, is just the right "angle" for him. Perhaps this is the major reason for my feeling the same respect and admiration for his work that I do for Erroll Garner's, though they might seem poles apart to the casual listener. Each seems to me as great as any man can be great if he works true to his talents, neither over nor underestimating them and, most important, functions within his limitations. You will experience an absolutely inimitable performance when you listen to this recording and bless the beauty of the fact that there just ain't no other like it. To exemplify this is a noble accomplishment and testimony to an exceptional, worthwhile life. D4. Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra I have been asked to write a few words for the purpose of expressing my intent in the making of this kind of album. This is difficult or impossible at some levels, but I could say that one motivating factor was an answer to a general desire on my part to present as broad and varied a musical scope in successive recordings as is possible without sacrificing faithfulness to my abilities and beliefs. Another likely reason was to demonstrate my conviction that all good music exists in one category of musical understanding, so a love as well as a technical understanding of it should allow performance a validity from any area of true musical life ...
With deep thanks to the sensitive, wide, and accomplished talents of Claus Ogerman, the pieces proved to be most satisfying vehicles for trio or solo improvisation, and it is my hope that the results will be enjoyable to the listener as well. My sincere appreciation is hereby extended to Creed Taylor, Rudy Van Gelder, all the wonderful musicians, and all others who played a part in the production of this album.
! Bibliography Ake, David. Jazz Cultures. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002. Blumenthal, Bob. Liner notes to Bill Evans, Turn out the Stars: The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980. Nonesuch 518043-2, 1996. Compact disc. Coltrane, John. Coltrane on Coltrane: The John Coltrane Interviews. Edited by Chris DeVito. Chicago: A Cappella, 2010. Davis, Miles, and Quincy Troupe. Miles: The Autobiography. New York: Touchstone, 1989. Danko, Harold. Liner notes to Bill Evans, Turn out the Stars: The Final Village Vanguard Recordings, June 1980. Nonesuch 518043-2, 1996.
Doerschuk, Robert L. Liner notes to Bill Evans, Consecration. Milestone 8MCD-4436-2, 2002. Compact disc. Evans, Bill. Bill Evans Fake Book: Second Edition. Edited by Pascal Wetzel. New York: TRO/Ludlow Music, 2003. Evans, Bill. Homecoming: Live at Southeastern Louisiana University, 1979. Milestone 0025218929127, 1999. Compact disc. Evans, Bill. Liner notes to Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra. Verve BOOOOO46UD, 1990. Compact disc. Evans, Bill. Liner notes to Conversations with Myself, Verve 314-521-409-2, 1997. Compact disc. Evans, Bill. Liner notes to Miles Davis, Kind of Blue. Sony B000002ADT, 1997. Compact disc. Evans, Bill. Liner notes to Thelonious Monk, Monk. CBS 62497, 1964. LP.
! Hinkle, Win. “Interview with Chuck Israels.” Letter from Evans Vol. 1 No. 1 (September/October 1989): 7-9. Hinkle, Win. “Interview with James Drew.” Letter from Evans Vol. 3 No. 3 (January/February 1992): 8-12. Hinkle, Win. “Interview with Peri Cousins Harper.” Letter from Evans Vol. 4 No. 3 (Spring 1993): 9-11.
LaBarbera, Joe. Interview by the author, 21 April 2011, New Jersey. Email conversation. Lees, Gene. Meet Me at Jim and Andy’s. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990. Monson, Ingrid. Freedom Sounds: Civil Rights Call Out to Jazz and Africa. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007. Pettinger, Peter. Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998. Reprint, New Haven: Yale Nota Bene, 2002. Porter, Lewis. John Coltrane: His Life and Music. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1998. Richardson, Derk. Liner notes to Bill Evans, The Last Waltz. Milestone 8MCD-4430-2 2000. Compact disc. Shadwick, Keith. Bill Evans: Everything Happens to Me – a Musical Biography. London: Backbeat, 2002. Schuller, Gunther. Musings: The Musical Worlds of Gunther Schuller. Oxford, England: Oxford University Press, 1986. The Universal Mind of Bill Evans: Jazz Pianist on Creative Process and Self-Teaching, directed by Louis Carvell, 45 minutes, Rhapsody Films DVD BOOO2472, 1966.
! Tomkins, Les. “Interviews with Bill Evans.” Crescendo, 1965-1976. Available from http://www.jazzprofessional.com/interviews/Bill%20Evans_1.htm. Accessed multiple dates.
Verchomin, Laurie. The Big Love: Life and Death with Bill Evans. Pre-Edition Printing, 2010.