Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Revisting The Complete Enrico Pieranunzi on Bill Evans: "Ritratto d'Artista Con Pianoforte/The Pianist As An Artist"

© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“In 1958, my friend brought along Miles Davis’ latest – something called Jazz Track [Columbia CL 1268]. The piano on this stunning record was being played by an unknown musician with an ordinary name: Bill Evans. But the way he was shading his tone was anything but ordinary; he sounded like a classical pianist, and yet he was playing jazz. I was captured there and then – the archetypal pivotal moment.

The concept of the ‘Bill Evans sound,’ instantly enshrined and distilled what I had always hoped to hear.

It was the plaintive harmony, the lyrical tone, and the fresh texture that captivated so; it was the very idea that one style of music could be played with the skills and finesse normally only brought to the other; it was a timeless quality, a feeling that the music has always been there; and above all, it was a yearning behind the notes, a quiet passion that you could almost reach out an touch.”
 Peter Pettinger, Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, Preface p. ix; paragraphing modified].

Over the years, many Jazz fans of my generation have built up a fairly large collection of recorded forms of the music.

Some of these collections have no doubt reached a library-like scale in an effort to catalogue the chronological expanse and diversity of styles associated with Jazz’s evolution.

But if you’re like me, there are certain records by artists whose music you return to more often than other recordings in your collection.

For example, because my interest in Jazz was first ignited after unearthing [almost literally] my father’s collection of swing era big band 78 rpm’s from the blanket of dust it was gathering in the cellar of our New England flat, I periodically find myself returning to the “Let’s Dance” refrains of the Benny Goodman Orchestra.

And, as described in an earlier piece, my later discovery of the music of Dave Brubeck Quartet’s helped me to “see out a bit” [pianist Barry Harris’ phrase] by helping me gain an appreciation of the more modern forms of Jazz, so it’s easy to understand why the DBQ is on my most-frequently-revisited-list.

Along these lines, but for other reasons, I closely identify with the music of Stan Kenton, Count Basie and many of the groups that recorded on the West Coast in the 1950s, so it’s not surprising that I often return to these albums. For me, they represent the musical equivalent of “comfort food.”

Many current artists such as Joey De Francesco, Bill Charlap, Conrad Herwig also fall into a similar category of repeated listening.

One musician whose music has been of paramount important in my life is Bill Evans. His way of playing Jazz touches me deeply. It seems that I return to it especially if I’m in a reflective and/or introspective mood. Listening to the music of Bill Evans is one of Life’s greatest pleasures. It’s beauty and taste are particularly pleasing when I also wish to experience the more aesthetic side of Jazz.

A general question that has always intrigued me is how does a particular style of playing Jazz evolve, and as a more specific corollary, how did Bill’s singular style of Jazz come to be?

Or, if this question about the evolution and distinctiveness of Bill’s style is asked from another perspective, what are the factors that make it distinctive as seen from the eyes of another pianist?

Frankly, I hadn’t had much luck in deriving any answers to how Bill’s method of playing Jazz came into being and what it’s major ingredients might consist of until I stumbled across a book by pianist Enrico Pieranunzi, who was for many years categorized as the “Italian Bill Evans.”

[It has been said that all drummers are frustrated pianists and I think that this generalization may apply to me – thus the interest in the answer to this question.]

Very early [for the cognoscenti, no pun intended; for everyone else, see below] in this blog’s history [if something that is two years old can be said to have one], I featured an excerpt from Enrico Pieranunzi’s loving tribute to Bill Evans, a man who unquestionably, was his greatest influence. It is entitled Bill Evans: Ritratto d’artista con pianoforte/Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist.This book, using a side-by-side Italian/English format was published in Rome in 1999 by Stampa Alternativa with Darragh Henegan providing the English translation. Each edition of the book included a CD entitled Evans Remembered featuring Pieranunzi in solo piano settings including a track displaying 6 variations of Bill’s composition Very Early. Also included are four, sextet tracks in which Enrico plays his or Bill's original compositions or tunes closely associated with Bill in a group made up of a number of prominent Italian Jazz musicians.

The first selection from Pieranunzi’s book appeared in the columnar or left-hand side of the blog and offered Enrico’s unique and insightful reviews of Bill’s Interplay [Riverside (9)445] and Loose Bloose/Blues [Milestone 9200-2].

As I explained during the initial posting: “These albums were also issued in combination as The Interplay Sessions [Milestone 47066] and are noteworthy because they mark one of Bill’s very few departures early in his career from his preferred trio format for expressing his music.”

To date, this Pieranunzi-on-Evans posting has received more favorable comments than any other entry that has appeared on Jazz Profiles. And while it has since been deleted from the columnar section to make room for other articles, reviews and graphics, the editorial staff of Jazz Profiles continues to receive requests for more excerpts from the book to appear on the blog.
Since it is very difficult to find a copy of this book [and not inexpensive when you do], what follows is an acknowledgement of these requests through the posting of more segments of the book on Jazz Profiles.

The editorial staff decided to change the sequence of the chapters in order to first provide the reader with the “how’s” and “why’s” of Pieranunzi’s decision to write the book and then follow with the chapters in which Enrico explores the inter-relationship of Bill’s life with his music.

As the book moves along from its opening chapters, Pieranunzi analyzes almost every aspect of Bill’s life from his earliest influences in the home, to his musical associations over the last 25 years of his life and also includes a detailed description of Bill’s pianism, or those techniques of playing the instrument that made his body of work such a significant, artistic creation. The central purpose of his writing always remains - what made Bill play the way he did?

In his Introduction to this work, Ira Gitler observed:

"Within the articulate individuality of his own playing Enrico Pieranunzi has well demonstrated his understanding of Bill Evans’ music. Now Pieranunzi has written the story of Bill Evans’ life in a way that combines Evans’ persona and music, and how they intertwine. He discusses his playing, writing and the nature of his various groups without becoming so technical as to lose the interest of the lay listener. Such a book, coming from Pieranunzi, a highly accomplished pianist and an astute, sensitive observer, is a significant contribution and singularly valuable addition, standing strongly on its own, to previous studies of Evans."

From time-to-time, I have taken the liberty of translating the Italian into slightly different phrases or altering the grammar and/or syntax for which I hope its translator, Mr. Darragh Henegan, will indulge me.


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Let’s begin with the Interview of Enrico Pieranunzi by Gianfranco Salvatore and Vincenzo Martorella as to what his purpose was in writing this book and how he went about it.“What did it mean for you, as a jazz pianist, to write a book on Bill Evans?
I was very hesitant about doing it. In the early 1990s I had only recently succeeded in convincing both audiences and critics that playing jazz piano and having a trio did not automatically mean being a clone of Bill Evans. I had found my own, original way to make music, and Evans' legacy was part of the past. So writing a book on him could have seemed a sort of step backwards. When I finally accepted I realized that maybe the real reason for my writing the book had not as much to do with music as it did with something else that concerned the creativity/self-destruction combination. I wanted to explore that aspect, to understand why, in order to be creative, in music and in other art forms, one should have to pay a price as high as the one Evans paid. I wanted to denounce that tragic, absurd cliché that identifies being an artist with illness, or even madness.

Was it difficult for you, not being a professional writer, to undertake a task like this?

It was fascinating and tortuous at the same time. Writing words and composing music have something intangible in common: shaping a sentence is not so far from tracing the outline of a melody. It has to have song-quality, musicality and feeling. In a melody as in a story, the choice of a word or a note, their placement or movement have enormous impact and consequences.

Melody and story: are not perhaps these the most significant elements in the legacy of Bill Evans, as well as his relevance?
A melody has powerful narrative potential. One of the great mysteries of music is the possibility of breathing life into a story without needing to use words. It's as if the melody had its own silent words that turn it into a song. But in order to get there you have to completely abandon yourself to it, and in this Bill Evans was clearly a master. It is no easy thing to make the piano sing the way he was able to.

How do you mean?
Bringing out the expressiveness of which the human voice, or some wind instruments like the trumpet, are capable poses thorny problems for the pianist. Evans resolved them by making use of devices which originated partly in classical piano music, and in this way truly brought about a silent revolution. Phenomena like Jarrett or Mehldau would be unimaginable without Evans' enormous achievements in the face of the technical/expressive problems of the piano.
What was your first contact with Evans?

Sometime between '66 and '68 I bought a weekly music magazine at a newsstand that cost more or less the equivalent of one dollar at the time. It had a record insert with three pieces played by Evans: Tenderly, Blues in F and Peri-Scope. I was deeply struck by Blues in F, and especially by his left hand work. At that time my playing was much in the style of Bud Powell, and even a little bit ala Erroll Garner, so when I heard Evans play a blues like that I wondered what on earth he was doing. It took me a long time to de-code the way he set up the left hand chords, and to figure out that famous voicing that nowadays is so much the norm for all young people learning to play jazz. I also think that the trio with Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker was one of the best and most underestimated that Evans ever had. Israels had grown up a lot since 1962 when he replaced LaFaro. He was much more sure of himself and interacted magnificently with Evans. What's more, he had a very profound and relaxed walk. As for Bunker, among other things, he had an extremely important gift: he knew how to play soft - not over but under the acoustic level of the piano.
You mean to say that others of Evans' drummers weren't able to do that?

Yes! The drummer is always a problem for the pianist, and the reason for this is simple: if he doesn't listen to you, if he decides not to listen to you, he will inevitably play much louder than you, and so as the pianist you're forced to change something touch, expression, phrasing. Evans was perfectly aware of this, to the extent that, according to him, the truly ideal trio was a piano/bass duet! even though at the same time, he was crazy about some drummers, first among whom was Philly Joe Jones.
You have played with three drummers, Motian, Zigmund and LaBarbera, who played at one time or another in Evans' trio. How did it make you feel?
Very excited - my emotions ranged from the impact I felt when Motian told me that the cymbal he had used while we were playing together was the same one that he had used on Spring Is Here, with Evans and LaFaro, to some others more difficult to put into words. In reality, although I tried not to get labeled, a series of rather paradoxical coincidences very often led me into Evans' orbit, through the musicians like those you have just mentioned. From the point of view of my own identity I knew perfectly well that I was running a big risk, but I think I have met the challenge.
On the other hand, you have established a collaborative artistic relationship with Marc Johnson that has lasted for sixteen years now!

My musical relationship with him is based on an instinctive and deep mutual understanding which, I believe, goes beyond any form of "Evansism"; we have recorded a lot of CDs together and done lots of concerts.

We have, also, made several recordings and tours with Motian, so when people hear us play together, it's almost inevitable that the ghost of Bill Evans, to some extent, is evoked. But in reality our music is completely original and goes its own way.
What is Evans relevance?

It's two-fold. On the one hand, there is that marvelous piano "vocabulary' that, before Evans, had never been heard in jazz, and which is destined to remain the fundamental nucleus of any study of this language form. The other, more specifically artistic one lies in the beauty of his music, a shadowy beauty concealing an obscure, gnawing anxiety - that death-wish which played a decisive role in the attraction that drew people to Evans' music. No wonder Gene Lees defined it as “Love-letters written to the world from some prison of the heart.” His is, briefly, the relevance of a Caravaggio or a Van Gogh, or of all great artists who succeed in giving us a glimpse into corners of human reality that are usually invisible, but who deny us, perhaps, the hope that the beauty of their art would seem to promise.

If I were to ask you to write another book on the subject of jazz, would you accept?

If it were a book that gathered many of my personal memories in true narrative form: in other words, a story made up of stories. I would prefer this to a monograph on this or that jazz personality since that assonance between writing and composing music which I mentioned earlier could grow even stronger. Despite the incredible transformations in communications that we are currently witnessing, I still believe very much in the power, and in the necessity, of telling a story either in words or in song.”
In a further effort to “set the stage” for this treatment of Bill Evans’ work, let’s turn to the last bassist to work with Bill’s trio - Marc Johnson – who provides this Afterword or Postfazione to Pieranunzi’s book:
“’Every man’s life is a story,’” Bill once said. For the willing listener Bill Evans' story can be heard through the magic of his sound. It is a story of haunting beauty, of balance, and control of a marvelous technique. Bill left us a large body of documented work from which we can discover and rediscover this sound. My personal favorites are the Riverside recordings with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian - especially the "Village Vanguard Sessions" -, "Alone", which appeared on Verve and features an exquisite rendition of Never Let Me Go, "Intuition", a duet recording with Eddie Gomez on Fantasy and "The Paris Concert" from 1979 on Elektra/Musician of which Joe LaBarbera and I were a part.
Bill worked hard at the mechanics of music. His musical language was clear and direct. His lyricism and sense of melody flowed as if he were speaking words, sentences and whole paragraphs. He worked within very well-defined limitations by utilizing the popular song form and drew on material ranging from Broadway show tunes to songs from tin-pan alley to movie themes. He wasn't lured to the avant-garde, (although he had the skills to explore that musical world as well), nor was he tempted to follow any trends in the music business with regard to being more commercially viable. Consequently we can listen to Bill from the start of his career as a leader to the end with a sense of continuity; one can clearly hear his development as he grew to a fuller expression of his art. [emphasis, mine].

When Bill emerged on the jazz "scene", his sense of harmony was something new. Informed by his study of classical repertoire and especially the French impressionists, Bill's music was rich with color and warmth. So strong was his conception that the way Bill treated a song became the definitive version of it.

Another important contribution was the relationship between piano and bass that Bill and Scott LaFaro developed. The bass took on a more prominent role in the trio, functioning not only as a time keeper but as a time shaper, an independent melodic voice in dialogue with the piano and drums which became a new school of interactive playing.
Certainly, Bill will forever be remembered for his ballad playing. Perhaps that is why he is referred to as "the poet". The "poet" also had in his vocabulary very strong bebop roots as evidenced in the many medium and up-tempo groove tunes performed on his recordings. And if you want a totally different insight into Bill's sense of rhythm and harmony, research the various versions of Nardis spanning Bill's career. It's a mind-blower!

I don’t think it's too subjective to say that there is a melancholia around Bill's music; as Toots Thielemans is fond of saying, “Somewhere between a tear and a smile.” Bill's depth and sensitivity come through his art. That he was able to transmute his life experience so clearly through his craft is a testament to his genius and artistry.

To illustrate this point I'll have to leave you with one anecdote from my travels with Bill. We were playing in Chicago at Rick’s Cafe American, which was actually a club inside the Holiday Inn Hotel. Naturally a certain segment of the audience was comprised of hotel guests; conventioneers and businessmen looking for a convenient evenings' entertainment.
Many of these were uneducated to the idiosyncrasies of jazz or inexperienced listeners to music of any complexity whatsoever. Yet, the audience was usually respectful and remained quiet and attentive for the performances. After a set one night, I was sitting at the bar sipping a coca-cola and this balding, middle-aged man in a suit and tie approached me and told me he was a farmer, that he was in town doing some banking business and this was the first time he had ever heard jazz.

The man was obviously very simple in his tastes, the quintessential mid-western farmer who, judging from the looks of his ruddy complexion and rough hands, spent long days working in the fields. I was about to disregard him owing to his lack of knowledge on the subject of jazz and creative music in general. But something about his attitude and demeanor was very humble, honest and sincere. He was trying to understand what he had just witnessed, trying to put into words something he could not comprehend. I'll never forget the look of wonder and amazement on his face, nor the chill I got when he said: “That was like some kind of religious experience.”

For myself I feel privileged and honored to have been in his musical company - Bill changed me as I am sure he changed countless other musicians and people who, when encountering his music, discover something deep inside themselves. Such is the spirit of Bill Evans.” - Marc Johnson

Very Early

And now, to begin at the beginning and close this first part of Pieranunzi-on-Evans, let's turn to the book's first chapter Very Early, entitled after Bill’s original composition, which in this case, I think Enrico was thinking – pun intended.
"In those days the Evans family lived in Plainfield, New Jersey. We visited them on weekends. Lots of families did their visiting on weekends. We'd go to Plainfield, and of course, we had to listen to Harry play his early pieces on the piano ... they had no thought of giving Bill piano lessons. He was too young ... we didn't know why, but Bill used to crouch over in the corner and listen, and when they walked out, he'd go over and have picked up the information and would sit down and play what he had heard."

Earl Epps remembers his precocious first cousin Bill Evans, adding that even without taking lessons he was a quicker study than his older brother Harry, who had a teacher and practiced constantly. Epps' father was a good classical musician who, years earlier, had had to give up a promising career as a concert pianist, and to whom Bill's parents naturally turned when deciding whether to have him take piano lessons as well.

Although neither one was a musician, both were great music lovers and had decided to have both their sons study a second monodic [“having a single vocal part”] instrument in addition to the piano. Bill chose the violin (which he abandoned at the age of twelve for the flute), and Harry the trumpet.

This entrance to the magical world of sound delighted the younger of the two boys. He immersed himself completely in this unknown land, exploring it with intense pleasure. His mother bought him loads of sheet music, polkas, marches, late-19th century sentimental tunes, etc., which Bill studied avidly. He spent at least three hours a day at the piano and the time flew. He enjoyed reading that music and never got frustrated; if he ran into some difficulty, a piece that wasn't working out, he would just move on, secure in the knowledge that he would eventually get it right. There was nothing of the showman in him; doing scales and arpeggios wasn't really his thing. He wasn't attracted to the piano per se, the instrument simply provided the doorway to a musical universe.
But it wasn't long before dark clouds began rolling in to disturb this peaceful picture. In a photo of Bill taken at the age of eight or nine - one of the rare images in which he appears holding his violin - we begin to note a kind of bewildered melancholy in his eyes, the serious, painful awareness of someone who has lost something very precious and irretrievable. This longing, this questioning, destined to remain unanswered, which we very often hear in Evans' adult music, was already there. Perhaps what psychoanalyst Alice Miller has called "the tragedy of the gifted child" had already begun for the young Bill.

Although Bill's childhood is usually described as a happy one there is room for doubt. The peaceful family ménage was often upset by the problems stemming from their father's alcoholism. Harry Sr., a rather mild-mannered man of Welsh origins, was in the printing business, but was constantly in search of a better-paid job. At the end of the 1920's he and his brother-in-law took over the management of a pool and billiard hall and bowling alley and later, after the birth of his two sons (the second, William "Bill" John, was born on August 16, 1929) he got the chance to take on the management of a golf driving range. But Harry's entrepreneurial activities were subject to frequent interruptions due to his propensity for the bottle which, above all, had negative repercussions on the family finances, and raised complaints from his wife Mary.
Born Soroka, the daughter of Russian immigrants, Mary's childhood had been hard. Her family was extremely poor and she was sent to live in a convent run by a Russian Orthodox order. It was there that she developed her love for those evocative hymns of the ancient liturgy, a fascination which she later transmitted to her sons. Those solemn and mystical chants left a lasting impression on Bill, hints of which their modality more than anything else would show up many years later in his music.

Evans had an "alternate" Russian name which he never used in public, but he always maintained a very strong link with his roots, as is confirmed in the many psychological, expressive and technical aspects that his piano approach shared with that of Russian composers such as Tchaikovsky, Scriabin and Rachmaninov. That sense of solitude, which his parents' frequent fighting could not have helped but encourage, soon brought Bill to consider his brother Harry his main point of reference. Playmate, a paradigm to equal or outdo in music as well as in sport (both were already excellent golfers at a young age), Harry was to remain very important in Bill's life. Theirs was such a close and deep union that, when Harry tragically chose to end his own life, Bill too decided, deep within himself, that life no longer had any meaning. Not even music, at that point, was enough - that music which, since childhood, along with the love he had received and had felt for Harry, had been the most secure refuge from the aggressive and fearful reality of the world outside. Bill's psychological relationship with his mother, a woman with a very strong character who had a soft spot for him, very probably contributed to the early and gradual formation of his special "sense of the world." A need to defend himself, the fragility that comes from not feeling truly loved, always permeated Evans' life and his art.

As had already happened with the piano, it was also through brother Harry that Bill discovered the jazz world. Having recently taken up the trumpet, Harry had joined the school band and had begun to become interested in jazz. One day the band's pianist had the measles and Bill was called in to substitute. At the time he was about twelve years old and had developed a remarkable technical ability which, along with his innate musical talent, had enabled him to read and perform quite complex classical pieces. Nevertheless he was completely at a loss when it came to improvising or to playing anything that wasn't written as a score in front of him. So he played the arrangement that he found on the music stand exactly as it was written, not a note more, not a note less. In any case, he got the job - but one evening something very unusual happened: "We were playing Tuxedo Junction, and for some reason I got inspired and put in a little blues thing .... It was such a thrill! The idea of doing something in music that somebody hadn't thought of opened up a whole new world to me.”

From that first student band Bill went on to another made up of older students. Bassist George Platt (who “had the patience of job”) took it upon himself to give Bill his first, accurate notions on harmony, teaching him how to properly put one chord after another. Thanks to him Evans began to “understand how the music was put together.” That band was, as opposed to the first, more jazz than dance music-oriented, which gave Evans the opportunity to try his hand at some real soloing.


Discovering jazz completely usurped Bill's adolescence, and his school work was suffering dangerously as a result of the many evenings "gigging around". Insatiably curious, he began to obsessively collect records by Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, Dexter Gordon and Nat "King" Cole. This latter, along with Powell, was the pianist who struck him the most: "Nat, I thought was one of the greatest... he is probably the most under-rated jazz pianist in the history of jazz." It is not difficult to find in Evans' early piano style the vivid echo of Cole's elegant and relaxed sonority and harmonic approach.

A real fever had taken him. He made frequent trips from New Jersey to New York City where he could listen to the best bands on the scene. Sometimes he tried to "sneak in the clubs on 52nd Street with phony draft cards." where Parker, Gillespie and Monk were feeding the revolutionary; earth-shaking "Bebop era." With an unbelievable amount of patience and analytical skill, Evans devoted himself to de-coding and learning the Bebop language for which he had, by now, an uncontainable passion.
The process was long and complex: "I had to build my whole musical style. I'd abstract musical principles from people I dug, and I'd take their feeling or technique and apply it to things the way that I'd built them."

So, we see that Evans was not into inventing, but he demonstrated an extraordinary aptitude for creative re-cycling of existing materials. "Bad artists borrow, real ones steal," Stravinsky once said. Evans "stole" based on his feelings, intuiting where the most valid content was to be found. Then, through an extremely personal re-organization of the materials, he gave birth to new forms that obeyed exclusively his individual taste. This kind of approach was far from being merely imitative. Evans let himself be "selectively influenced" and this, combined with his rigorous tenacity in following only his own emotional and aesthetic criteria, made of the piano player from Plainfield an artist of great originality who always swam upstream.
Tall and good-looking, Evans was left-handed - a feature that he ingeniously took advantage of in resolving various mechanical/musical problems of jazz piano. Those who were close to him tell us that he was a very sweet, reserved and intelligent man with a subtle, witty sense of humor. He was surely shy but, in any case, not passive, if we are to believe the story that in all the time he spent at Southeastern Louisiana College none of his teachers was able to make him do scales, arpeggios or the like that study of "technique" in other words that none of his fellow students was able to escape.

"Excellent improviser, with a particular flair for the smoothest modulations from key to key" (as the head of the Department of Music would write about him in a letter of recommendation upon his graduation), Bill was to dedicate his four years there to the study of classical piano and music education. As complement to his piano major, Evans took a minor in flute, an instrument to which he had already dedicated himself for some years by that time and one which he would come to master with great skill. In addition to the study of these two instruments there were courses in music theory and other, non-music related subjects. Bill practiced piano an average of six hours a day, covering all the standard literature of the instrument from Bach to the 20th century. They were eight semesters of hard work, during which his studies took up almost all of his time. His only chance for diversion was the odd football game between the teams of the various departments (Bill held his own perfectly as a full back), or playing at evening dances with the student band, the Casuals. Thus, college life was his first important experience on his own, far away from his family. Many years later, on the occasion of a concert at Southeastern with his last trio, Evans would recall his final two years there as the happiest of his life.
His first composition, Very Early, dates back to those years. It was already marked with Evans' unmistakable style, both for its formal aspects - the sort of dialogue between the various sections - as well as for its push/pull mood, which perfectly fit in with the harmonic movement. The piece is in waltz tempo and is based on a lyrical, interrogative thematic cell which takes on a new meaning each time it reappears in a different key. Very Early is a piece well before its time - the first, juicy fruit of a profound and highly personal compositional talent.

Classical pianist Peter Pettinger who as of this date has written what must be considered the definitive treatment on Bill Evans in his autobiography entitled Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings had this to say about the piece:

“It is a highly disciplined piece of writing, its melody comprising a two-bar falling, and then rising, germ; it can withstand the most rigorous structural analysis. It exemplifies a fundamental lifelong characteristic: the application of logic to the creative musical process. That approach was the backbone of the form and content of Evans’ art. And yet, when we listen to the music, we are conscious not of the compositional process but only of the resultant poetry.

Played ‘straight’ from the page, ‘Very Early’ is a lyrical gem, but it also provides its composer with a fruitful sequence for improvisation, the earliest of many compositions that sustained him around the globe for three decades.”
 [p. 17].

As the final performance of his school years, Evans gave a senior recital on April 24, 1950. The program included pieces by Bach, Brahms, Chopin and Beethoven (all in minor keys), in addition to four preludes by Russian composer Dmitri Kabalevsky. His rendition was termed "outstanding" and "very mature" by two members of the jury. It is Interesting to note that, on the occasion of his board exam, some of his teachers confirmed his talent but could not resist criticizing the "rejection of technique" which Evans had maintained steadfastly throughout all his four years. He graduated with high honors and was given numerous letters of recommendation from the Head of the Department of Music. And so an intense formative period ended in the best of ways. During this period, aside from working on his classical repertoire, Evans had proceeded in his meticulous and accurate penetration of the jazz language, which had recently expanded to include the new jazz of Lennie Tristano and Lee Konitz.

to be continued ...



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The December 8, 1960 edition of Down Beat magazine, carried an article written by Don Nelson entitled: Bill Evans: Intellect, Emotion and Communication. [pp. 16-19].

In it, Bill Evans described his tour of duty from 1951-1954 in the United States Fifth Army Band posted at Fort Sheridan just north of Chicago in the following terms:
“I was very happy and secure until I went into the army. The 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 lost the confidence I had as a kid. I began to think that everything I did was wrong.”
Bill’s insecurity about what it would take to succeed in the world after discharge was to continue in these reflections which appeared in Brian Hennessey, Bill Evans: A Person I Knew, that appeared in the Jazz Journal International, March, 1985, pp 8-11:

“After the army, I went home to my parents and took a year off. I set up a little studio, acquired a grand piano and devoted a year to work on my playing. It did not come easy. I did not have the natural fluidity, and was not the type of person who just looks at the scene and through some intuitive process, immediately produces a finished product. I had to build my music very consciously, from the bottom up. My message to musicians who feel the same way is that they should keep at it, building block by block. The ultimate reward might be greater in the end, even if they have to work longer and harder in the process.”

Enrico Pieranunzi picks up the thread of Bill’s calamitous 3-years of Army life, provides his own insightful commentary into the consequences of it on Bill’s psyche and musical development and goes forward with Bill’s first forays into the Jazz Life in his next chapter –
Waltz for Debby.

“Evans' first engagement, freshly graduated from Southeastern Louisiana College, was not very encouraging. He had joined clarinet player Herbie Fields' band, whose music he found quite corny and not particularly inspiring. But that 'on the road' experience was one of the first occasions of real freedom after his years of secondary school and college and that, in itself, was enough. Unfortunately, that autonomy so joyfully inhaled over the six months he spent with Fields was rudely interrupted by an Army draft notice. This was certainly no reason for joy, given the political climate of early 1950s America with The United States on the front line in Korea as well until 1953.



Evans was stationed for three long years with the Fifth Army at Fort Sheridan, near Chicago. He was profoundly at odds with army life and the occasional evening spent in some little club in or around Chicago did nothing to alleviate this, nor did the time he spent as flutist in the Army band. What would be described many years later as his - "destructive side" - began to develop in Bill's sensitive psyche. Life at Fort Sheridan confirmed the hostility of the outside world that he had, by other means, perceived since childhood. His need to defend himself from an intolerable loneliness and bewilderment opened a void, a gap in him that he was never to bridge. Years later (was it by accident?) Evans was to include in his repertoire the main theme song from the soundtrack of Robert Altman's hit movie M*A`S*H*, which was subtitled Suicide Is Painless - a choice that carried his bleak memories of the army, and that was a chilling prediction of Bill's last years of life.
Discharged early in 1954, he spent that whole year in New Jersey at the home of his parents. Only occasionally did he go into New York City, and the infrequency of these visits were not enough to make himself better known on that jazz scene. "It's not the kind of place that immediately opens its heart to you. It can eat you alive, crush you, break you. It can do anything to you." Evans would later say, describing that metropolis. In 1963 he dedicated N.Y.C.'s No Lark [Conversations With Myself, Verve V-8526; CD 821 984-2] one of his most desolate compositions, to the city's darkest, most anguishing and hopeless side. The piece, a kind of disturbing dirge-like chant alluded, in reality, to the premature death as a result of drug addiction of pianist Sonny Clark, a musician whom Evans had deeply admired (Clark's name is encrypted in the song's anagram title). This tragedy put Evans in mind of his own "internal death". Those bitter and strained thoughts about the Big Apple were surely related to the "personal problems" which were plaguing Evans in the early 1960s. He lived practically his whole life with them but, due to his reserved nature, he was never led into the kind of shocking scandals which jazz musicians have long been famous for. This very sad experience, which tragically marked his life and music, was something that he kept under wraps.

In July of 1955 Bill moved to New York. The desire to get to work was there. He began to take courses in composition at the Mannes School of Music and recorded with some minor musicians. At the beginning of the following year the opportunity to make himself known to a wider range of musicians presented itself. He was invited by George Russell to play in a session with his Jazz Small-tet to be recorded on RCA. Russell, born thirty-three years earlier in Cincinnati, and originally a drummer (he had had to turn down a gig with Charlie Parker for reasons of poor health), had been formulating an innovative theory over the preceding years on the relationship between melody and harmony in jazz.

This new approach was based on a concept of pantonality - which he distinguished from atonality - and had been summarized in a text entitled The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization. The idea of fusing the most specifically "black' aspects of Afro-American music with elements from the European musical tradition intrigued not a few musicians in those years of the mid-1950s. But Russell, thanks to an insightful musical intelligence and a healthy dose of creativity, succeeded in avoiding the traps inherent in this kind of intermingling. In fact, as many examples of the so-called Third Stream (the movement that claimed to fuse jazz with contemporary classical music) had demonstrated, this cross-pollination could easily generate monsters.
The personnel that Russell had planned for that first session on March 31st included Art Farmer, trumpet; Hal McKusick, alto saxophone; Barry Galbraith, guitar; Milt Hinton, double bass; and Joe Harris, drums - which meant for the 27-year-old Evans a much more prestigious company than he had been accustomed to. The session also represented an immense leap in quality with respect to Russell's compositions which, even today at a distance of more than forty years, retain a noteworthy complexity. They recorded four selections that day. Evans felt comfortable. He showed that he was in possession of exactly the background required to confidently follow the path traced by Russell in his composition; this means an extensive preparation in and exposure to classical music and, in addition, that sort of perseverance which, over the years, had helped him to absorb the Bop language, and later that of the so-called cool jazz (Tristano, Konitz).

He was more than ready to face the alternation of written parts with improvisations on pre-planned chord changes. He was allowed space for some solos and it seemed that he expected nothing less, exuding energy and even happiness in his playing. It is clear that he is "full" of jazz and that he was just waiting for the right opportunity to express himself. His solo in Ezz-thetic [based on the chord changes to Love for Sale] is rich in rhythmic vitality. The phrasing of the right hand recalls Horace Silver, of whom Evans was a passionate follower at the time, and he even quotes a couple of his typical phrases at the opening of the solo. But there is already a precise stylistic identity in this solo. We can recognize it, for example, in the masterful way with which he manages the relationship between left and right hand sounds.


In Ye Hypocrite, Ye Beelzebub Evans does an uproarious solo; the long, snakey lines of the right hand trace an unpredictable path of great harmonic imagination in the middle-low register of the keyboard. In this solo he completely quits using the left hand, which allows him to function like a horn with no need to be subject to the harmonically conditioning tyranny of the left hand. Here his style is reminiscent of Lennie Tristano, a musician whose skill in structuring the music and tracing lines had always charmed Evans; but the fluidity, the souplesse, the full and yet delicate tone are already, unmistakably, Evans'. About six months later the same combo, with Paul Motian replacing Harris, recorded another four selections. Among these that Concerto for Billy the Kid where Evans played a solo that shook jazz-listeners and musicians alike.

His phrasing in this celebrated studio performance is dense and compelling. Here and there we note the influence of Stan Getz, a saxophone player whom Evans greatly admired. But, once again, it is the rhythmic thrust that is amazing. After the rapid and demanding initial two-handed octave passages in the upper register of the keyboard that reveal the brilliant, sure technique of the not-yet-27-year-old pianist, Evans literally explodes into a gripping improvisation on the chord changes of I'll Remember April [i.e.: the chord changes for Concerto for Billy the Kid]. Evans proves here that he can really swing hard, and this enormous skill is soon to earn him notable credibility even among black circles, notoriously critical from this point of view.
The same cockiness, joy and rhythmic exuberance, together with a complete mastery of phrasing (a special mixture of bop and cool) can be found in their entirety in New Jazz Conceptions [Riverside 223(M); OJCCD 025.2], the first album that Evans recorded under his own name. It was recorded a few weeks before his solo in Concerto for Billy The Kid, and, who knows, maybe something of the great satisfaction he felt for having realized the first completely self-generated product of his musical life, ended up in the overwhelming spirit of that famous solo. It is true that, regardless of the increased faith in his skills gained with the recording of New Jazz Conceptions, it did not come about without doubts and insecurities. Orrin Keepnews, owner of the then newborn Riverside label, remembers that “it took a lot to convince him that he was ready to record, which is the opposite of what usually happens.” (It had been guitarist Mundell Love, occasional partner of the pianist during their college years in Louisiana and very much impressed by him, who had got Keepnews to listen to a tape of Evans over the phone). So, where did all these doubts come from? Evans seemed to be insecure about whether he had anything to say or not, and in need of someone to acknowledge his talent - something which probably went back to his childhood - but at the same time his playing expressed a deep strength, an unconscious impulse to reveal his inner self in sound.

Here and there in some of the selections on this album there are hints of a sort of childlike wonder at his own skill. In fact, the very Tristano-like atmosphere and harmonic meandering of Tadd Dameron’s Our Delight shimmers with the joy of someone who has discovered with satisfaction “how this improvisation toy works.” 
On Speak Low Evans' touch is trumpet-like. The notes sound rounded and staccato and he seems to be playing as a sort of challenge with himself. He even repeats some phrases almost as if to reconfirm to himself that it was really him who had been improvising them.
We find on New Jazz Conceptions all the emotion of the first-timer called upon to show what he's made of Even the three very short piano solos on this LP echo this both tense and enthusiastic atmosphere. The Ellington-esque I Got It Bad is expounded with wide-ranging chords in open harmony, making of the piano a veritable big band and recalling the broad concert style of Art Tatum. The tender Waltz For Debby, written a couple of years earlier for the daughter of his beloved brother Harry, also has a somewhat bitter sound, a far cry from that dancing softness that, over the years, would make of this piece a sort of manifesto of Evans' poetics. A great vehemence, tempered as always with elegance, permeates this first Bill Evans album, thanks also to the generous contributions of Teddy Kotick and Paul Motian. This encounter with this drummer who was to play such an important role in Evans' artistic future was not actually the first one. About one year earlier, in fact, the two had happened to work together. “I first met Bill Evans at an audition in New York”, Motian recalls, “It was for a tour with Jerry Wald, a clarinet player who had had some success with a big band and was now organizing a sextet for a small East Coast tour. Even before Bill sat down at the piano, I knew he could play. I overheard someone say, 'That's Bill Evans from Plainfield, New Jersey. He's supposed to be real good.”

On close inspection, New Jazz Conceptions offers only a few of those innovative elements that, two or three years later, would make Evans one of musicians' and critics' most listened-to pianists, to the point of considering him among the most significant representatives of a certain white, intellectual, artistically engagee avant-garde.

Why then did the clever and careful Keepnews venture such a demanding title for the first trio album of this “shy and studious looking young pianist?” In reality, the jazz market of 1956 was still dominated by the reverberations of the so- called "West Coast jazz.” The echoes of Chet Baker and Gerry Mulligan, or those of Dave Brubeck who, a couple of years before had driven young American students wild, were still being felt. So Evans' music, with his language deeply rooted in bop and in its subsequent development cool jazz, sounded paradoxically new for its time. His originality had not yet been extended to the concept of the trio. In fact, on this first album of his we find no trace of that 'interplay', of that equal partnership of the trio members that would appear some years later in his celebrated collaboration with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. Actually, he seemed to be more concerned with the widening and updating of the trio pianist's lexicon.The technique of harmonizing (see his Displacement or a standard like My Romance) sounds totally innovative. In the first of these two, Evans seems to think like an arranger voicing a given melody for several sections, taking care to avoid the so-called "doublings" (the same note played by more than one instrument) that impoverish the general resonance of the orchestra.

On My Romance Evans embellishes the harmony with the left hand playing a kind of "contrapuntal melody” - a procedure he owed to his assiduous exposure to classical European tradition, in particular to Romantic and late-Romantic piano music. In addition to these perceptible aspects, "New Jazz Conceptions" bears the decided trademark of an artist who had already made of jazz and improvisation a “how,” a manner of expression, instead of a “what,” or series of formulas.

“If it were a 'what' it would be static, never growing,” he would later observe insightfully. Keepnews, therefore, had been right, when he pointed out in the album’s liner notes which he himself wrote, that Evans was not just a promising artist. He, in fact, as opposed to many young musicians of the time content to simply imitate the greats by helping themselves to their vocabularies, already had “his own, distinctive voice,” and so he had no need to rely on someone else's vocabulary. Evans, in reality, was saying something new simply because he was trying to tell 'his self', winding up a sort of unwitting innovator.”

DisplacementTwo of Evans' compositions on New Jazz Conceptions, the aforementioned Displacement and Five, foretell an important aspect of his piano approach: cross-rhythms - a feature of his piano style not to be underestimated. In Displacement the whole first part of the theme uses rhythmic accents which do not coincide with the beats. The regular rhythmic flux, crossed by another "oblique" rhythmical line, creates such tension that, at a certain point, it leads to an unavoidable tempo change (from 4/4 to 3/4). This alternating of even/odd tempos was to be a rather frequent aspect in Evans' music, both in his original compositions (Peri-Scope) and in his re-workings of old standards (Someday My Prince Will Come). Five is so-named because its melody presents a characteristic counterpoint of five notes per bar contrasting with the usual 4-beat tempo. This "5 against 4" creates a curious "limping" effect that, in the middle section of the piece, turns into a sort of giddy, circular dance. This piece would later become, especially during the 1960s, the signature tune at the end of many performances by the Evans trios.
Nineteen-fifty-six came to an end for Evans with two further studio experiences: a big band session under the direction of clarinetist and arranger Tony Scott (Bill contributed with an arrangement of Davis' Walkin' that gave proof of his audacious harmonic ideas), and the recording of four more pieces to complete the work begun with George Russell in March. Scott, struck by Evans' talent, took great pains in that period to introduce the young pianist to the New York City jazz scene. The esteem of musicians like Scott and the faith of a courageous producer like Keepnews were not long in bearing fruit.
In fact, through the entire following year and the beginning of 1958 Evans was more and more sought after as a sideman in recording studios. His ability to give a touch of class to any musical situation, and his speed and precision in sight-reading, quickly helped to increase his work opportunities. He recorded with Don Elliott (a trumpet player and vibraphonist Evans had played with in his high school band), Eddie Costa, Joe Puma, Jimmy Knepper and Helen Merrill. Two recordings in particular drew the attention of the public, the critics and his fellow-musicians: the piece All About Rosie (first performed on a TV program, and later recorded in the studio), and his work on "East Coasting", an album by bassist Charlie Mingus.



All About Rosie belonged to a group of pieces commissioned from six composers who were able to write in the "mixed" language of the Third Stream, which many musicians were studying and experimenting with in those years. The six compositions were to be performed at the Brandeis jazz Festival in the summer of 1957 by an orchestra co-conducted by Günter Schuller and George Russell. Evans' overwhelmingly swinging performance in All About Rosie struck both journalists and musicians. Critic Nat Hentoff commented that "aside from proving himself professionally-speaking, Evans has some very original and meaningful things to say."
It was, perhaps, exactly that solo which gave Mingus the impetus to call him in on his sextet project "East Coasting", recorded in August of the same year. The great bassist deeply admired Evans' ability to consider soloing on the piano a construction formally connected with themes initially set up by the horns, and not merely an exhibition of technical virtuosity for its own purposes. The respect that Evans had earned in the jazz environment had reached a high level by then. His essential, richly shaded and profound style had not escaped the attention of musicians used to keeping their acute ears to the ground in search of new and exciting things.
Early in 1958, Miles Davis called and invited him to spend a weekend in Philadelphia - this was the beginning of one of the most intense periods in Evans' artistic career. Playing with Miles Davis meant nothing less than being part of the best-loved jazz group in the world at the moment; but it also meant, understandably, considerable physical and emotional stress. Life 'on-the-road' proved to be quite demanding, and then we mustn’t forget the hard-hitting musical excellence of the group itself ("I had the feeling I was playing with a bunch of supermen," Evans reported, referring to John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, Jimmy Cobb, not to mention Davis himself). Moreover, Davis and his group were idols for black Americans, and the idea that Miles had called a white guy in to take Red Garland's place didn't exactly make them jump for joy. (Evans later complained about the "silent treatment" he had received.) Regardless of all this, psychologically and artistically-speaking these were very valuable months for Evans, because that period helped him overcome his uncertainty and lack of faith, to the point where it could even be said that it was him that exerted a subtle but strong influence on the group's music.

The meeting between the two is narrated by Davis himself in his autobiography: "I needed a piano player who was into the modal thing and Bill Evans was. I met Bill through George Russell, whom Bill had studied with. ( ... ) As I was getting deeper into the modal thing, I asked George if he knew a piano player who could play the kinds of things I wanted, and he recommended Bill."



That "modal thing" that Davis was talking about was the leaving behind of bop, a natural progression that had reached its time by the end of the 1950s. Bop had led jazz harmony to its maximum complexity. The unpredictable or even programmed substitutions with which new chords were added to the basic harmony of a song (even a simple blues tune) crammed the pieces like a highway at rush-hour. Improvisation had become an obstacle course in which the winner was the one who multiplied the obstacles in order to then be able to say that he had overcome them. Jazz musicians were feeling, therefore, a great need to simplify, to bring jazz back to a higher degree of melodic essentialness. Miles, as always, had perceived this need before the others.

Milestones had been the first of his compositions to go in this new direction. This simplification process was not unlike that which occurred with European music after the orgy of modulations and widenings of the harmonic spectrum which culminated with Richard Wagner and his disciples. In contrast to the dynamic harmony of the Wagnerians, implying a strong sense of movement and development, the static, colorist, evocative music of Debussy had appeared. The "territory' in which melodic invention could be expressed needed to be shrunk down to a simple 'mode", meaning a predetermined succession of a few sounds which, being only a few, forced a soloist to create true melodies; in other words, to compose and not simply to vary in some more or less repetitive way.
Evans' classical background was crucial to this process. Davis, again in his autobiography, remembers that "Bill brought a great knowledge of classical music, people like Rachmaninov and Ravel," and moreover he recalls that "besides Ravel and a whole lot of others, Bill Evans had turned me on to Aram Khachaturian, a Russian-Armenian composer. I had been listening to him and what intrigued me about him were all those different scales he used." Evans played with Davis regularly from February to November of 1958, a period of which only a few, important recordings are left to testify. Three of these, recorded in May, are especially interesting. In each of these selections (On Green Dolphin Street, Fran-Dance and Stella By Starlight) Evans does some solos that we could call premodal. He simply creates peaceful, wide melodic lines harmonized with two hands, and completely abandons the long hornlike sequences typical of the bop approach. Evans lays down his chords calmly and unhurriedly and leaves them resounding for a long time. Those sonorous silences create a sense of waiting for something that is never going to happen. His choice of notes forming the chords (what is commonly called voicing) is made dissonant by the frequent use of major second intervals, something which has more to do with achieving luminosity than with making the chords harsh.
Evans improvises and admirably harmonizes melodic "micronuclei" that follow a distant trace of the original melody and sound like its echo. Here we have an inner song, a sort of resounding and response to the given melody, sung by no one but seeming as if someone were singing it (hadn't Davis maybe done this shortly before?). So those micronuclei float like water-lilies on Chambers and Cobb's relaxed, swinging ‘walk.’

No one in the history of jazz had ever used the piano in this way before [emphasis, mine]. We could say that in these almost questioning solos he reaches that “expressive inexpressive” that the Franco-Russian philosopher Vladimir Jankelevitch placed among the most enigmatic and seductive aspects of the ineffable in music. A total of about ten recordings remain of that period with Davis. You can hear, especially in the medium tempo tunes, and in the selections where Miles used the mute, that he wanted to adapt the band's sound to Bill's style. You can also hear that Davis absorbed a lot of that calm, that “expressive inexpressive” that Evans was able to infuse his music with - that “quiet fire” that Miles would fall so much in love with.

Evans was one of those pianists that “when they play a chord, play a sound more than a chord” the trumpet player would say, adding “I learned a whole lot of things from Bill Evans. He plays the piano the way it should be played ...” Evans' collaboration with Davis built his reputation. Even though by then he had made only one album under his own name, thanks to his work with Miles Davis he was nominated as Best New Star by the Down Beat magazine critics' poll in 1958 and 1959.

Over the course of 1958 various other recordings as sideman were added to the already prestigious recording career of this not yet thirty-year-old musician. He recorded four selections on an album by French composer Michel Legrand, whose melancholy music would hold great interest for Evans toward the end of his artistic activity. He was called in by Cannonball Adderley (the alto sax player with whom he had played in those months in Miles Davis' band, and who greatly admired Evans), to record with a quintet whose personnel included Blue Mitchell on trumpet, Sam Jones on double-bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums.
He also played with George Russell on his New York, N.Y. [Decca /GRP MVCR 20051] album, one of the most successful experiments conceived by that untiring, avant-garde composer who assembled, over the course of those three recording sessions, no less than John Coltrane, Art Farmer, Bob Brookmeyer, Max Roach, Jon Hendricks and others.

In September of that same intense year Evans recorded, with Art Farmer himself, the album Modern Art, which was further proof of how completely he had mastered the art of comping. It could be said that this whole period was the beginning of Evans' important work on silence. His interaction with Davis, the depth of the musical contents that Miles and the other members of the group expressed, had accelerated in him the ripening of an expressiveness in which pauses, the waiting and the tacit, questioning resonance seem more important than sound.

He never took his relationship with sound for granted; even when the situation called for his professional mastery only, when the musical project was not his own (as on the beautiful album with Art Farmer, in fact), he succeeded in speaking a language in which the more reserved his contribution seemed the more penetrating his playing became. A few bars played under one of the horns soloing, or a few more in his own solo, were enough to profoundly change the atmosphere, filling it with a both delicate and irresistible magnetism that sounded almost mysterious. Evans was there, tuned-in to the soloist, "speaking" with him, participating with him, but at the same time he was far away in a place all his own where there was no one else but him [emphasis, mine].

Young and Foolish.

This place of solitude and of the unanswered question found searchingly beautiful expression in Young And Foolish, a very slow ballad that Evans recorded in trio on December 15, 1958, and which appears on the second album in his name Everybody Digs Bill Evans [RLP 1129; OJCCD 068]. The tenacious Orrin Keepnews had waited patiently for more than two years for this album, some 27 months having passed since the recording of New Jazz Conceptions. Evans had not wanted to record in those two years, not only because he had been very busy with Miles Davis but because "he didn't have anything particularly different to say." Only after interrupting his collaboration with Davis was he able to go back into the studio, for the second time as leader of his own trio, and with his own project. The partners he chose for the date were bass player Sam Jones and drummer Philly Joe Jones, for whom Evans had always stood in awe. As he was to say some years later: “He and Paul Chambers are two of the most underrated musicians in the history of jazz and much greater influences than they're given credit for.”
Young And Foolish was, in all probability, a piece that Evans chose not only for its attractive melody, but for its title and lyrics as well. The titles of many tunes that Evans played and recorded in his career seem, in fact, to reflect a sort of commentary or an opinion he had of himself. Other times they seem to ask questions or appear to have some relationship to the more intimate details of his life. Evans, the shy young pianist who always blamed himself for not being good enough - as Keepnews had observed - probably identified with the "young and foolish" of which the song spoke.

Evans the Artist was beginning to emerge in the round. His preference for a story-telling style in music found, in Young And Foolish, a first and important realization. Thanks to richly shaded dynamics, to a voicing of rare beauty and pertinence, and to a sense of "breath" closely linked with his voice-like "enunciations", Evans (re)composes the piece, turning it into a true song without words.

The piece becomes a sequence of scenes drawn together by a feeling of something that is going away, to be lost forever. His modulations not only give variety to the piece but underline the unfolding of the story itself. An essentially ordinary song becomes, in Evans hands, an event to remind us that, as once again the philosopher Jankelevitch maintained: “music is situated in the very depth of the life lived.”

Despite some bop pieces (Minority, Night And Day, Oleo) we still find on "Everybody Digs", the new and artistically important element here, when we compare it to "New Jazz Conceptions", is exactly that "discovery of silence". Two things converged on "Everybody Digs": Evans' now mature style, to the point where he was able to control, impose and live his expressive identity in a more valid way and with greater abandon; and his re-working of sounds and silences absorbed over the months he had spent with Miles Davis.
The three piano solos on the album seem to connect back to the three on the earlier "New Jazz Conceptions", but here everything sounds much more relaxed, evolved and original. Lucky To Be Me is treated with rare harmonic skill and, once again, is a piece Evans has chosen perhaps for its title and for its “story,” apart from the melody itself. On this number, interpretation and narration prevail over improvisation, and Evans also displays a range of harmonic solutions worthy of a top composer/arranger. The voicing appears more and more personal, linked not so much to jazz piano tradition as to the harmonic approach of classical 20th century European composers.

Peace Piece, on the other hand, is a case in itself whose well-known story is worth recalling. Evans was looking for an appropriate introduction to Leonard Bernstein's Some Other Time, when he decided to use the see-sawing swing of its two opening chords as a harmonic base for a series of variations. What is catching here is the fact that those two chords are closely related to those used by Chopin in his Berceuse. In truth, we can really sense the spirit of the great Polish composer hovering in Peace Piece, even though, as Gunther Schuller notes in his essay Jazz and Classical Music (included in Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz), Evans doesn’t sacrifice “the vitality of his improvisational approach” to that spirit.

Schuller, it should be remembered, was a champion of the so-called "Third Stream", a new music that would hopefully emerge from the fusion of the two dominant languages in music, jazz and classical. From this point of view, Evans did not fulfill what Schuller believed was his promise. Nonetheless, viewed in a broader sense, that fusion is there in Evans' production. It may not be in pieces that follow, more or less openly, the classical repertoire, as happens in Peace Piece. This fusion is actually found in Evans' music at the level of expression, not of "materials" used. In this respect the celebrated Peace Piece (in the final part of which Evans ventures into some very interesting polytonal fragments) seems artistically a bit less successful, for example, than some of his numerous improvisations on Nardis in his last years, in which he seems to summarize his entire musical experience - from jazz to Bach’s contrapuntal rigor, to Bartok’s sense of "logical" dissonance. Here he truly gives birth to a new music that goes beyond any genre distinction.

Epilogue is the third, very short piano solo on "Everybody Digs". A hymn built on a pentatonic sequence of notes, which closely recalls Mussorgsky's Promenade in Pictures At An Exhibition. Who knows, maybe this is an emerging of distant sound recollections from a time before Evans felt "young and foolish". Some years later, at the end of a concert at Town Hall in 1966 shortly after the death of his father, he would repeat this piece, which foreshadowed many works by Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. He seemed to be following some unconscious itinerary - invisible to most in his performance and dedication to his father's memory of this unmistakably Russian-flavored hymn, which was not unlike many that he had listened to as a child.
Evans' music, therefore, conceals autobiographical content which is always advanced with extreme reserve. It often recounts stories or intimate impressions steeped in a profound "death wish", revealing a secret world encoded, perhaps, in a title, a play on words or in the text of songs interpreted through the filter of the pianist's intense approach. For instance, at a certain point, the words of Young And Foolish ask “Why is it wrong to be young and foolish? We haven't so long to be. Soon enough the carefree days, the sun-lit days go by.” Or even in Spring Is Here - which Evans was soon to record with LaFaro and Motian, soaring to one of those peaks in his art - the lyrics respond, alongside a slow, yearning and irresistibly questioning string of ascending notes, “maybe it's because nobody needs me;” and then further on, at a parallel point in the piece, “maybe it's because nobody loves me.” Was it because of this sense of abandonment, of futility, this feeling of being unloved, that the Spring was unable to "make his heart dance"?

This song of solitude and desperation (“all my singing is in my playing,” he said) stretches across all his artistic and interpersonal vicissitudes. It may seem almost incredible that a man as refined and intellectually gifted as Evans could have ended up a slave to narcotics from his early youth right up until his death. The profound causes, the psychological disturbances that determined this suicidal choice, his desperate refusal to have "normal", healthy, vital, humanly creative relations, gradually and increasingly seeped into his music. He was a good-looking, sharp-witted man, well over six feet tall, lean and athletic in build, and an excellent swimmer and golfer. But he never accepted himself, and this refusal of his own human reality runs through many of his most intense interpretations. His self-destruction, his human failure, were the price that he felt he had to pay for his artistic fulfillment."

… To be continued in Part 3

[C] - Steven A. Cerra, Introduction, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Over the years, much has been made of the album Kind of Blue by the Miles Davis Sextet, and deservedly so. From any number of perspectives, it is a landmark recording, one that changed the course of Jazz. By employing a series of modes or scales as the basis for the improvisations on the album’s tunes [instead of the usual chord changes] stylistically, the music on this recording created another manner or approach in which Jazz could be played.

By the late 1950’s, “running the changes” [chords] had created an improvisational log jam for some musicians with the result that they began looking for a way of adding space to help restore some breathing room in the pace of improvisation.
With his live recordings for Argo at the Pershing Room [Lounge] in Chicago, IL and the Spotlite Club in Washington, D.C., one musician who employed a style that avoided the hectic and frenetic pace of bebop and its hard bop counterpart was pianist Ahmad Jamal.
Dismissed at the time by many of the reigning Jazz critics as little more than "cocktail music" or, perish the thought, "commercial" recordings, the immensely entertaining music on these recordings displays an individual virtuosity and group cohesiveness that is easy to respect but difficult to emulate.

Careful consideration is given to the arrangement of each tune and Ahmad Jamal's orchestral approach to the piano is beautifully complemented and underscored by the sensitive, yet always swinging bass work of Israel Crosby and the rock soild drumming of Vernell Fournier [with a name like that would you be surprised to learn that he was from New Orleans?].
Speaking of "surprise," to use Whitney Balliett’s famous term, "the sound of surprise" is everywhere apparent on these recordings as Jamal allows the time to flow while darting in and out with improvised statements instead of running the changes with bebop lines played with the right hand in the style of Bud Powell. Vernell Fournier's use of a tympani mallets and open high-hat cymbals played in the manner of finger cymbals on the tune Poinciana created, according to Jeff Hamilton what drummers would thereafter referred to as "the Poinciana beat."
These recordings had a far-reaching effect on many Jazz musicians during this period especially with their introduction of new uses of space and time and what could be called the sound of silence [ the soloist "laying out" and just letting the bass and drums "cook"].

One musician who was very much taken by the openness and airiness of Jamal’s music was Miles Davis and he began looking for a way to incorporate it into what he was doing.

In walked Bill.

While Jamal’s approach created space in the music, Ahmad was still playing tunes that were based on traditional chord changes which he essentially interrupted or interjected with intervals of space, rhythmic vamps and/or sporadic improvisations to alter the pace of things.

Through his own studies and deliberations, as well as, his work with composer George Russell who employed the Greek Lydian mode as the foundation for many of his orchestration and voicing techniques, Bill Evans was able to provide Miles with an alternative basis for improvisation – The Greek Modes.

Strictly speaking, the Greek word for these would have been tonoi which, for our purposes, can best be translated as tonal center. “Modes” comes from the Latin modus which means “measure, standard, manner or way.”In music, a scale refers to an ordered series of intervals which, along with the key or tonic, defines the pitches.

However, when a mode is used in music to mean a scale, it applies only to specific diatonic scales and gives these a different tonal center.

The Greeks used seven [7] modes. On piano, one can find their diatonic scales by using the white keys only with the result that the seven note scale starting on C is an Ionian [mode] scale; starting on D gives a Dorian [mode] scale; starting on E a Phrygian [mode] scale; starting on F a Lydian [mode] scale]; starting on G a Mixolydian [mode]scale; starting on A an Aeolian [mode] scale; starting on B a Locrian [mode]scale.

Ionian, Lydian and Mixolydian are major and the other four are minor.

Jamal’s use of space along Bill Evans’ application of modal tonal centers provided Miles with the basis for opening up the music and gave to it the “lightness of being” that he had been searching for, all of which was to ultimately manifest itself on the landmark Kind of Blue album.

It is also important to keep in mind that in Jazz, the modes correspond to and are played on particular chords.

The composer can create conventions or rules for the way in which the modes or scales and their related chords are used. For example, when improvising, the soloist can stay [improvise] as long as he/she wants on the modal note and related chord before releasing and going on to improvise on the next one.

Or the improvisation may be set up to oscillate back and forth between two modes and scales with no specific bar requirement as to when this happens; the soloist just cues the change when he/she is ready.

The net effect of the use of modes by the Miles Davis sextet on Kind of Blue was to unlock the music and to give it an airiness and buoyancy by helping to free the soloists from the didactic rigors of bebop and hard bop chord progressions.

To his credit, Miles had throughout his career looked for new and different ways of playing and interpreting Jazz. This can be seen dating back to his involvement with the “cool” Jazz of the Birth of the Cool band in the late 1940s to his innovative use of electronic instruments in his 1960’s Jazz-Rock fusion groups.

However, I am of the firm opinion that while Miles may have been the catalyst for the music that became the Kind of Blue recording, the music itself would not have happened without the involvement of Bill Evans.
And no one understands this better than Enrico Pieranunzi as is explained in his chapter from Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist entitled:

Blue in Green
"Everybody Digs Bill Evans was well-received by the critics. “Some of the most private and emotionally naked music that I ever heard,” as described by critic Martin Williams.

Gene Lees, then-director of the magazine Down Beat, remembers being so struck by that album that he listened to it over and over for hours, completely enchanted by the emotional content of the music. Lees was so moved that he wrote Evans a simple fan letter, in which he called his music “Love letters written to the world from some prison of the heart. Such an artistic sensitivity so clearly manifest in music could only belong to a someone whose life “must be extraordinarily painful.” The work and faith that Keepnews had invested began to bear fruit. Lees decided to dedicate the cover of his influential magazine to Evans, along with an article and interview with the artist.

Notwithstanding Evans' reluctance to accept himself, his name began to spread and people began to recognize and appreciate his talent. He recorded with Chet Baker at the end of 1958, and at the beginning of the following year he recorded a few trio pieces with Philly Joe Jones and Paul Chambers. He wasn’t happy with these pieces though, and made Keepnews promise that they would not be published. A promise that they decided not to keep after listening to them again years later since the music didn’t sound so bad after all. This constant severity with himself would follow Bill throughout his musical career.

After recording an album with Bill Potts' orchestra, on which Evans first met a piece that became one of his favorites, I Loves You Porgy (the album offers an overview of the most memorable hits from the musical "Porgy And Bess"), it was in March of 1959 that he arrived at another key moment in his artistic life.
Even though he was no longer part of the group, Miles Davis called him to record an album, that very quickly would prove to be one of the all-time masterpieces of jazz. Destined to become a cult album for the most informed of jazz fans, it was, and still is, also able to attract an audience usually drawn to other forms of music. Kind Of Blue [CL1355; CK64935] was recorded in two sessions, one on March 2nd and the other on April 22nd [1959]. Evans played on four selections, two per session: So What and Blue in Green for the first, and Flamenco Sketches and All Blues for the second. It was Evans who wrote the album’s liner notes, and it is very interesting to read with what penetrating clarity he analyzes the process of improvisation.

Taking Japanese painting as a model, he observes that

“these artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.” Further on he adds: “this conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflection, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique discipline of the jazz or improvising musician.”
'Discipline' is a term to which Evans would often refer in order to clear up the common understanding of improvisation as a sort of game where "anything goes". He consistently repeated that the opposite was true, that freedom in music only makes sense when there is a solid foundation; otherwise you get lost in arbitrary disorder and reduce the aesthetic value of a piece.

For the most part extraneous to any type of avant-garde movement, Evans was sometimes involved in spite of himself - one could say "forced" in some cases - in performances in which there was no pre-planned referential structure (in particular with George Russell). He was never convinced of the validity of free forms: “l really believe in the language of the popular idiom, the song... I'd rather deal with that than play anything merely arbitrary such as playing without chords, bar lines or form.”

That avant-garde music that had found in Ornette Coleman its most audacious and innovative champion (his Something Else!!!! had been released the previous year) was not enough to satisfy Evans' need for “something that offers a wider scope emotionally to express myself in.” In contrast with Evans' credo, the ingenious saxophonist believed that “playing popular tunes has got to hold you back, because you are not playing all your own music.”

There was no preview of the scores for the musicians involved in the recording of Kind Of Blue. Miles “demanded a lot of spontaneity in this work from them,” as he explains in his autobiography, immediately afterwards getting a little peeved if anyone insinuated that Evans had somehow collaborated on the composition of the music on "Kind Of Blue" [emphasis mine]. In any case, the Evans stamp is unquestionably there, and Davis had to admit that “Bill was the kind of player that when you played with him, if he started something ... he would take it a little bit farther.”
This album represents a unique moment of convergence in the artistic paths of these two artists - a bit like one of those intersecting of orbits, that kind of extraordinary astronomic event that happens only once every several hundred years. Evans' piano work had by now achieved the maximum in evocative refinement, the tone of his chords had all but dematerialized; it seemed to speak of far-off abstract things while, nevertheless, maintaining a kind of subterranean tension and a sense of restless expectation.

Music historian Wilfrid Mellers picked up on a Debussy-like character in the introduction to So What and throughout the album, noting with insight that, notwithstanding its minimal preparation, one has the impression “of an extremely organized composition, partly because the fundamental material - the melodic phrasing, the chord changes - is very simple,” (the compositional character of this famous fascinating introduction, is also proved by the fact that Gil Evans transcribed it for an arrangement of his own).

However, it is Miles himself who provides the most stimulating key to the nocturnal, dreamy atmosphere of this masterpiece when he recalls that “seeing as how we had liked Ravel very much, especially his Concerto For The Left Hand and Rachmaninov's Concerto no. 4, there was some of that stuff somewhere in what we played.” Kind Of Blue, in fact, represented a meeting point between jazz improvisation and some significant harmonic and colorist aspects reflecting the typical French flavor of Impressionist and post-Impressionistic music. The mix was surely not pre-planned, but Evans seems to have acted as a catalyst, capable of "drawing" the whole group towards mysterious places of silence. It could be said that "Kind Of Blue" is, in a certain sense, an album of pauses, of suspensions, where the most beautiful pauses are inevitably "played" by the pianist himself [emphasis mine].

Jazz critic Art Lange observed that Evans' time with Davis - little more than one year, counting Kind Of Blue recorded outside the concert phase, was a decisive moment of passage. His rapport with the audience served him well and, at the same time, he revealed to Miles the possibility of new musical directions. [emphasis mine].
Evans' use of open, harmonically multifaceted chords contributed enormously to making "Kind Of Blue" an album that blazed a new trail for jazz [emphasis mine]. His work with Davis also gave Evans much more visibility. At the beginning of the 1960s we find him ranked third (after Thelonious Monk and Oscar Peterson!) in the critics poll of Down Beat magazine. It was time for the thirty-year-old pianist to put together his own stable group. He called in drummer Kenny Dennis and bass player Jimmy Garrison for a few evening club dates.

They played a three-week gig together at Basin Street East in New York, opposite Benny Goodman’s big band, who was making a come-back. All the attention was on that band, and the trio were treated badly (“when we came on the stand we'd find that the mikes had been turned off on us”). Over those three weeks Evans was forced to change bassists four times, and drummers seven. The first to leave was Dennis, replaced by Philly Joe Jones, and at that point Evans was beginning to feel good about his trio. Garrison and Jones interacted well and the trio began to enjoy some success, receiving a warm response from the audience. But Philly Joe's talent was stealing the show from Goodman's big band, who complained to the management that the other group was too good. So Evans was forced to change again, This time fate was on their side. He called in bass player Scott LaFaro (who had just finished a gig with Tony Scott in a club very close to Basin Street East) and, for the last week of that tormented gig, drummer Paul Motian. Evans had already worked with Motian on three different occasions over the previous three or four years in various groups, including those of George Russell and Tony Scott. The three were immediately aware of a certain ease in playing together - the music just "happened", so they decided to cancel all other gigs and to play exclusively as a trio. Evans was finally happy and, knowing that he could count on Orrin Keepnews' support, he was sure that he would be able to make some terrific recordings with this trio.

Spring is Here
A few months to set things up and the trio was ready for its first recording session. Evans had met LaFaro at an audition for Chet Baker a couple of years earlier. He had not been very favorably impressed at the time by LaFaro's rather effusive, show-offish nature. Born in Newark, New Jersey in 1936, he was, after all, still young. But when the two began to work together with Motian, Evans' respect for the 23-year-old bass player grew rapidly. “He and Paul and I agreed without speaking a word about the type of freedom and responsibility we wanted to bring to bear upon the music, to get the development we wanted without putting repressive restrictions upon ourselves,” Evans himself reported.

It is worth noting that the tendency towards a freer approach to trio playing, his idea of a sort of collective "three-way improvisation", came to Evans, at least in part, from his reflections on classical music; (remember that at that time the bass and drums usually had a pretty static role as simple support to the piano). In fact, as Evans noted,
“in a classical composition you don’t hear a part remain stagnant until it becomes a solo. There are transitional development passages. A voice begins to be heard more and more and finally breaks into prominence;” and, as if to prevent a possibly too sharp break with tradition, he added: “Especially, I want my work - and the trio's if possible to sing. I want to play what I like to hear. I am not going to be strange or new just to be strange or new. If what I do grows that way naturally, that'll be OK. But it must have that wonderful feeling of singing.”
Singing is a way of being still, we are reminded by Vladimir Jankelevitch, and the silence is itself a constitutive element in audible music. These profound truths are made real in the work of the Evans/LaFaro/Motian trio which, aside from Davis, Lester Young and maybe some coolsters like Lee Konitz, had few precedents in jazz. This music had always been extroverted, communicative and open to the world outside, but in the late 50s it seemed to be expressing a need to withdraw into the artist's most ineffable and interior world. Bill Evans, his music, and even his characteristic physical posture became a visual symbol of this trend: all curled up over the piano he looked like one trying to grasp the intimate nature of the instrument and his own as well.

After Kind Of Blue, Evans recorded with Lee Konitz and Jimmy Giuffre, took part in the recording of John Lewis' sound track for Robert Wise's film Odds Against Tomorrow, and recorded many times with Tony Scott. After one more recording with Lee Konitz’s tentette in October, Bill finally got into the recording studio with LaFaro and Motian on December 28th 1959. Evans, at slightly more than thirty years old, was about to begin surely the most important musical adventure of his entire artistic career.
Portrait In Jazz [Riverside RLP-1161; OJCCD 088-2] was the first of four albums that the trio were to make - a limited production but of the highest artistic quality, which was to influence whole generations of jazz musicians all over the world. The trio's innovative intentions were only partially carried out in Portrait In Jazz. Evans was aware, as were his partners, that “nobody at that time was 'opening up music like they were, letting the music originate from a beat that was more implied than explicit.” He had a gift for shaping music and a capacity to make every part of the improvisation spring consequentially from the previous one: an approach that the pianist asked his partners to extend to the total form of the piece. When it worked, when the three of them played like one single individual entity, the result was breathtaking. Autumn Leaves (second version) is an example of that success, as is What Is This Thing Called Love. Here the trio offers a glimpse into some completely new mechanisms: like when Motian ventures into audacious multi-rhythmical initiatives, with LaFaro strongly and profoundly accenting the pulse; or when, in the same piece, they experiment with the dynamic contrast between duet (Evans and LaFaro dialoguing while Motian stays silent) and fully active trio.

Portrait In Jazz contains some interpretive peaks that highlight Evans' more meditative and lyrical side and the profundity of what he had to say: Spring Is Here, above all. According to Wilfrid Mellers this piece retains the sound mood of Miles Davis. Hc observes that Evans' ability “to make melodic lines ‘speak’ is of extraordinary subtlety... and always the sensuousness leads not to passivity but to growth,” adding that on the album’s fast pieces “the rhythm zest provokes the song.” On Spring Is Here Evans’ piano breathes, and his emotion makes the instrument vibrate with a gentle, resonant sonority - as always, the consequence of the nature of the musical narration that he is improvising and never mere decoration or narcissism. Through a simple song, Evans talks about a part of himself, and the piano is his voice.
The performances on Portrait In Jazz are uneven from the point of view of the "simultaneous improvisation" approach, which had not yet developed at the time. The artistic rendition also doesn't always maintain the same level. Evans would later say, for instance, that the version of When Fall In Love on this album was one of the most incoherent and disconnected that he had ever recorded; and, in effect, upon careful listening, one discovers here and there some empty, somewhat ingenuous areas in the construction of the solo. Evans was notoriously demanding with himself and here he recognized some gaps in the logic of the solo that couldn't help but bother him.

The opposite was true for Peri’s Scope (in one of the plays on words which he loved to indulge himself in, Evans dedicated the song to Peri Cousins, his girlfriend at the time). The tune is a little masterpiece in improvisational compactness. There is no trace of evident interplay between the musicians, at least in the sense of a contrapuntal or melodic dialogue, but there is certainly a lot of swing and a great elegance here. Evans converses with himself; his solo an admirable example of that logical structuring and consequentiality, both main features and his principle objective in music. LaFaro, and Motian accompany Evans in the usual 4/4 time, but with such energy and joy, along with enormous precision, that a kind of precious carpet is woven upon which Evans' rhythmic inner feeling comfortably reclines. Evans displays a very innovative use of the left hand, which seems to move in perfect tandem with that of Motian playing the snare drum. This creates an imaginative, cheerful rhythmical counterpoint to the phrases of his right hand. So, in a little more than three minutes Peri’s Scope leaves an impression of vitality and pleasure in making music not frequently matched in Evans' musical production. In this luminous gem he seems to get back a little of that pleasure of carefree play rarely perceptible in his performances - the piece almost smiles.
Finally, in terms of Evans' trio work, Blue In Green should not be forgotten. This is the piece for which Evans had claimed paternity and which, for incomprehensible reasons, was and continues to be attributed to Davis. [emphasis mine]. Actually, Miles, before the Kind Of Blue session, had only given Evans the first two chords, from which the pianist spun the entire composition. In any case, in this trio version of the tune, he doubles the time twice, allowing LaFaro to move completely autonomously, both melodically and rhythmically. Apart from this number, however, the general atmosphere of the album does not sound as revolutionary as the trio's live performances a year and a half later at the Village Vanguard would. More than a year were to pass between the trio's first and second recordings.
Explorations [RLP-351; OJCCD 037-2] was recorded on February 2, 1961. The demanding, critical Evans was in no rush to record, something which made Keepnews very anxious. The Riverside label was going through an expansion and image-building phase in which Evans played no small part. Between Portrait in Jazz and Explorations the trio went on the road, playing a few nights at Birdland in the spring of 1960, but Evans carried on with his activity as sideman. By now he was a deluxe contributor to contexts very distant from him, like J.J. Johnson and Kai Winding's quintet, with whom he recorded in the Fall of that same year, or the four-trombone septet led by Winding himself with whom he recorded that December. He was in dire need of funds. He had to do studio work with various groups other than his trio to support his narcotics habit, a problem that over the years was becoming increasingly serious, and which created a constant need for money. His producer's loans were not always enough to get him out of the disastrous situation that his self-destructive side had landed him in. As if in a sort of double-exposure, Bill pursued his musical objectives with great honesty and intellectual lucidity while his private life was deeply marred. The heroin weakened his perception of an outside world that seemed all too tough to him. It was his refuge, but a punishment as well – the price of such a gift.
How Deep is the Ocean

Shy and introverted, “ I've always been basically introspective,” Evans managed his dependency with that same discretion that we find in his music. Nonetheless, it naturally created enormous problems for him in his personal, and especially intimate, relationships. Music became more and more his ivory tower, where he barricaded himself in an attempt to deny internal crisis. He was moving towards a kind of abstracted intellectual vision, rich in religious sentiment, that barely hid his progressive dissociation and internal bewilderment. (“My creed for art in general is that it should enrich the soul”). Perhaps in this scenario we can find a plausible explanation for Evans' aversion to any sort of musical transgression, even that in which he revealed himself so great a protagonist.

His work of 1960 offers a two pertinent examples on this point: the first was the recording of Jazz In The Space Age with George Russell, who had always believed in and encouraged, more than the pianist himself, Evans' innovative talent. The second one was the recording of Jazz Abstractions, two Third-Stream sets of variations by Günter Schuller (one on a theme by Thelonious Monk and one on a theme by John Lewis). A point of interest in the latter recording was that Ornette Coleman and Eric Dolphy were part of the group. These two musicians were hatching the total renovation of the formal models that had characterized jazz up to then, but Evans was evidently not particularly moved. He was going his own way, profoundly rooted in the traditional jazz idiom.

While extremely well-versed in 20th century European classical music, and even very knowledgeable about advanced compositional techniques (such as serialism), he was not drawn to experimentation. In Chromatic Universe Part III Russell left room for a two-piano free improvisation: Evans and Paul Bley (a Canadian pianist already part of the avant-garde scene) engaged in a duet with no pre-established layout, threading themselves through the asymmetrical rhythmic background traced by Don Lamond and Milt Hinton. On the surface the occasion could be said to have been a historic one, but in reality the only one who seemed to really believe in it was Bley. Evans showed some uneasiness and struggled to let himself go. A missed opportunity, perhaps, even though the duet offered some very valuable moments.

Evans' expressive world, in any case, was decidedly another, the proof of which would be seen a short time later when he went into the studio to record Explorations (February 1961), his fourth personal album and second recorded with LaFaro and Motian. The album was a further step towards that "trialogue", that three-way colloquy they were looking for. Nardis and Sweet And Lovely, in particular, are remarkable results for these three on their way to emancipation from that worn-out pattern of a pianist in the foreground with bass and drums just comping.
The roles are inverted for a while in Nardis. The theme stated, LaFaro soars into a magnificent solo (maybe this amazing performance had something to do with the fact that just two days earlier he had recorded the Atlantic album Ornette! with Ornette Coleman, Don Cherry and Ed Blackwell); Evans backs him with a simple but engagingly voiced melody, its tone permeated with that French Impressionist aura he loved. He is extremely sensitive in adapting to LaFaro's improvisational line, accurately choosing the height of the sounds and alternating open or close harmony to modulate the color of his voicing. When Bill's turn comes up his very colloquial solo proves how maximum results can be achieved with minimum means. His right hand, in fact, plays a few sparing notes loaded with an emotionally dense "specific weight", giving us a clear example of his ability to make the piano “a complete expressive musical medium.” LaFaro then takes up his own individual path, playing in counterpoint to the new melody that Evans is extemporaneously composing and interpreting on the piece's chord changes. Finally, in its coda, Nardis offers us a fleeting memory of the celebrated Prelude in C Sharp Minor, by Rachmaninov, whose marked Russian-ness he had always been very fond of.Beyond everything already said above, and the fact that the version that we are talking about was the first that Evans recorded in trio, Nardis deserves a special digression, which is a little story in itself. As any jazz student or professional jazz player knows, in every jazz tune collection Nardis is generally credited to Miles Davis even though, surprisingly, its composer never recorded it. According to a personal recollection of Evans', referring to a 1958 session with Cannonball Adderley, “Miles came along to the studio with it, and you could see that the guys were struggling with it. Miles wasn't happy with it either but after the date he said that I was the only one to play it in the way that he wanted. I must have helped his royalties over the years, because I have never stopped playing it. It has gone on evolving with every trio I have had!”

Despite this recollection, and also thanks to the information kindly passed along to this writer by the well-known jazz critic Ira Gitler concerning the numerous, dexterous, and sometimes even bold-faced "misappropriations" that Miles was known for (e.g.: Solar), it is highly improbable that Davis really wrote the tune. It is very probable, however, that it was really written by guitarist Chuck Wayne, whose ancestry was Slavic - which would finally clear up the mystery surrounding a piece written in E minor, a very comfortable key for the guitar but a decidedly awkward and unnatural one for the trumpet. Its composer's Slavic roots would also explain the Oriental over tones of a piece that, most likely for this precise reason, had such a compelling impact on Evans in his final period.

To get back to ExplorationsIsrael and Beautiful Love are, in terms of group work, two important examples of the trio's progress in their desired direction, that of an ever deepening and complex work of "simultaneous improvisation" for three equal partners. In the first of the two selections, as also noted previously with Sweet and Lovely, and perhaps influenced in mood by the ingenious rendition some time earlier by Thelonious Monk, whom it is known that Evans deeply admired, the trio breathes like a living organism. When one of the three starts driving or increasing the sound intensity by means of a stronger musical energy, the other two juxtapose themselves to the new situation. The way Evans does it is to enrich and broaden his voicing, making the piano resound like a full orchestra in which the whole range of frequencies is activated at the same time to flank and enhance LaFaro's energetic outburst.

Aside from this group progress, Explorations offers good examples in another area where Evans was having important artistic results: that of ballad interpreting. The "romantic" aspect of jazz (a term that the pianist wasn't crazy about, at least in its superficial and obvious sense) had been, before Evans, the almost exclusive domain of singers or horn players (Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, Davis himself, Chet Baker, Helen Merrill). Never, in the history of jazz, had the piano been used as a vehicle to "sing" stories from the heart [emphasis mine]- or their sad endings either - like a trumpet, sax or human voice had been. Evans was a true revolutionary in this. He changed a solidly established tradition, expanding it to include the piano which, before then, had been thought of either as a percussion instrument or as an "imitator" of the trumpet or sax, the most visible jazz instruments.

Through some of the slow pieces on Explorations, Evans throws open a door to re-embrace the very ancient popular song tradition, making his songs heirs to the 19th century European Lieder. Just as jazz, in the early 60s, was speaking out in a louder voice to a wider audience (John Coltrane's famous quartet was born, in fact, in 1961), Evans was choosing to go in the opposite direction and speak softly, and the conversation was with himself. If anything, he would invite a few, discreet friends to listen. While Coltrane would steep his music in theological query, and come up with a positive and sure response, in How Deep Is The Ocean or in I Wish I Knew, Evans' seems to wonder, without ever getting to a satisfying answer, about Man, about the meaning of existence, about the "unbearable lightness of being".
His musical processes are, of course, technically analyzable. In the first of the two selections, for instance, he never plays the original melody, landing there only at the very end of a sort of (re) compositional journey founded on completely new melodic lines. Warren Bernhardt, pianist and Evans' personal friend, states that despite the fact that he never plays the original melody here, he brings out its “quintessence.” The something that makes How Deep Is The Ocean (as it did Spring Is Here) an extremely significant musical event is to be found, in reality, in silence, in the unspoken - but for this reason spoken in a more penetrating way – “communication by implication.”

His music evokes a profound and unconscious reality where the resonant vibration of the instrument, the relationship between one sound and another, between one melodic fragment and the next, become 'psychic images' - a minimum of sounds containing a maximum in human content.



“The emotional content of his work was unique in his generation. He could take a standard show tune, originally attractive, yet sullied by the accretion over the years of countless trivial associations, and give it a reading which seemed not merely to restore its pristine appeal but simultaneously to embody a truly personal vision, in comparison with which the basic tune seemed but a desultory thought. His (re) compositions - for no other description will suffice - of such material were carried through with immense discretion, as though the component notes of each and every chord had been subjected to prolonged consideration, as though the rhythmic imaginativeness and flexibility involved in the task, the minute gradations of touch and subtle shifts of emphasis, had been evolved with that one interpretation in mind.” (Michael James in the liner notes of the two 1961 Village Vanguard albums).
My Foolish Heart

Three weeks after Explorations, Evans recorded as sideman on Oliver Nelson's great Blues And The Abstract Truth. The group included, among others, Eric Dolphy, a saxophonist from Los Angeles, whose very dissonant and extremely innovative phrasing went well beyond hard bop clichés. Dolphy was soon to be recognized, for his work with Coltrane and Mingus, as one of the most original heralds of the jazz avant-garde, contributing richly to the deconstruction and transformation of the current rhythmic/harmonic parameters of post-bop jazz. Once again the meeting seems not to have produced much of a reaction in Evans. He kept his own pace along that personal path which, in the space of a few months, would lead his trio to astonishing musical and artistic peaks. Perhaps in a less sensational way than Dolphy or Coltrane and some others, these would profoundly, and forever, change the concept of a piano/bass/drum trio, the “ethics" within group improvisation, and the interactive approach of a bass player or drummer in any type of group.

Evans' influence on other pianists and instrumentalists, already glimpsed by that time, was destined to gradually equal that of Bud Powell. However, his went much further as a result of the greater number of jazz piano aspects involved, such as voicing, melodic approach, the logic in shaping a solo, tone of the instrument in relation to expressive aims; not to leave out some aesthetic/historical aspects like the rediscovery of the "singing" potential of the piano, no small feature of the late-Romantic and Impressionist European tradition with which Evans generously enriched the jazz language.
In the spring of 1961, since the trio was going strong, they decided to risk a live album, notwithstanding all the technical problems associated with this type of recording, which was not so common a practice at that time. The planned date was Sunday, June 25th, the last day of a two-week gig at the Village Vanguard. The trio played five sets that day, two in the afternoon between 4.30 and 6.30, and three in the evening, starting at 9.30. A total of thirteen pieces were recorded, five of which only once, others twice, and only a couple (Gloria's Step and All Of You) three times. Some selections had never been recorded by the trio before; another (LaFaro's Jade Visions), turned into a sort of "public rehearsal". Finally, My Romance and Waltz For Debby, which Evans had recorded unaccompanied on his debut album, were re-packaged for the trio setting.

The trio reached an apex here that they had been working towards for a couple of years. In one of those coincidences not infrequent in the history of jazz, all three seem to be arriving simultaneously at a ripening of their respective and different talents. Their individual creativity and musicality has peaked, the desire and capacity of each to enter the musical spirit of the other, giving birth to a musical miracle.
Although the concert takes place before an audience, the three seem to interact exclusively among themselves and relate only to the music. This contributes to the almost palpable, breath-taking density of these recordings where the musicians follow their itinerary of pure, almost merciless honesty. In the background you hear the chatter and laughter of the audience, but the trio pays no heed. Each of them is totally concentrated on his own sound while carefully listening to that of the others: the inner mechanism of the trio has been carried to its perfect balance. Each of the three completes a little revolution, My Foolish Heart (which Evans records for the first time here) being an excellent example. Here only the melody is played, but the calm sense of humble and participant singing with which Evans interprets Young's song is exalted by the parsimonious interventions of LaFaro, whose profound and resonant notes seem to anxiously await the melody in astonishment, and to dialogue with it. This performance is permeated with the sense of the yet-to-be-discovered, an unknown dimension in which Motian’s role is decisive; in fact, he plays with the melody, making of the delicate contact between his brushes and cymbals emotionally meaningful interjections that closely follow the "little story in music" that Evans is telling.

LaFaro's true creative stature begins to come out on My Romance. In December of the previous year the 25-year-old bass player had played on Ornette Coleman's Free Jazz. It was probably that contact to finally assuage his uncertainties about trying out harmonic and rhythmic paths more unconventional than those of recent trends. He literally explodes in Solar, which is, from every point of view, the most innovative result of this historic occasion, After an opening where LaFaro follows in the steps of the melody Evans is playing, the latter begins to improvise an octave-doubled single line. Echoes of Tristano reemerge, but what is most remarkable is that beneath him LaFaro, picks up the theme and gradually exploits some of its chromatic fragments. The bass seems to go off on its own, ignoring the piano and drums, as he hazards some sharp intervals, clambering up harmonies far away from the basic one, with each of the three keeping an eye on the structure of the piece while doing his own thing. Evans contributes to making Davis' piece dramatic by his insistent drilling of its motivic cell, which he extrapolates and makes into the germinating cell of another, extemporaneously composed line. The number ends in a very open and completely unconventional way for the time, after a 12-bar Motian/Evans "trade" in which the pianist boosts the volume of his chord voicing to deal with the increasing sound impact of the drums. This ending seems to pose a question: What comes next? or even What has just happened? It seems to say: "these were only a few of the possibilities that we could have explored; and we'll surely go looking for others next time ….”

Two of the selections played on that very special Sunday at the Village Vanguard [3RCD-4443-2]were LaFaro's contributions, both deviating from the prevailing compositional habits: Jade Visions, which alternates 4/4 and 5/4 meters, and Gloria’s Step, a theme whose first section unfolds over 5 bars. Here he ventures into a very audacious solo, letting the phrasing of his bass "fly' into a vigorous monologue bursting with the desire to go beyond. His instrumental skills are astonishing, he pushes them to the edge, not for mere virtuosity's sake, but in order to have available the widest possible range of sound and tone contrasts (low notes of the instrument responding to high ones, for instance).
LaFaro is the real co-protagonist of this historical recording. His relationship with Evans is telepathic. He inserts himself naturally among the piano's silences and breaths, almost always stubbornly refusing to ‘walk’ as the majority of his colleagues did in those days. Even in All Of You, where he could do it, he breaks up the tempo, thus creating a contrast with Motian. Observing these performances a bit more closely, it is clear that some of the material has to do with Miles Davis, both because they use two of his compositions (Solar and Milestones) and because of some important performances of his (All Of You and Gershwin's My Man’s Gone Now and I Loves You Porgy). All of which is understandable given Evans’ recent association with the trumpeter.

Evans plays My Foolish Heart in A major, a key generally considered “awkward" (it is very probable that LaFaro was no stranger to the choice of this key as a way to exploit the open strings of the bass); and My Man’s Gone Now, which the pianist "sings" with deep nostalgic participation, is played in E minor, the same key as his favorite Nardis - both of which keys Evans would claim to love playing in. Their awkwardness, in reality, could help avoid “mechanical" improvisation, since a less common key forces the ear into the highest concentration. On the other hand a piece played in an easier or more common key could encourage a sort of repetitive automatism that counts on what the hands “already know". We find an illustration of this in Alice In Wonderland where LaFaro seems to be suffering for the rather banal and obvious character of the piece.

.... to be continued in Part 4
[C] - Steven A. Cerra, introduction, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

“When you have evolved a concept of playing which depends on the specific personalities of outstanding players, how do you start again when they are gone?” [Brian Hennessey, ‘Bill Evans: A Person I Knew,” Jazz Journal International, March, 1985, pp. 8-11].

“Scott was just an incredible guy about knowing where your next thought was going to be. I wondered, ‘How did he know I was going there?’” [Conrad Silvert’s 1976 insert notes to Spring Leaves Milestones M-47034]

“Ever since his early lyricism Evans had tended toward his natural introspection, and even when projecting strongly he seemed self-absorbed. His first thought was to play music that would satisfy himself, hoping meanwhile that his audience would meet him halfway. Whitney Balliett saw this as Evans’ personal dilemma, “a contest between his intense wish to practice a wholly private, inner-ear music and an equally intense wish to express his jubilation at having found such a music within himself.” [As quoted in Peter Pettinger, Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, New Haven: Yale University Press, 1998, p. 116].
In terms of how to sequence the presentation of material from Enrico’s book on Bill Evans, the Jazz Profiles editorial staff debated as to placing this next chapter as the close of Part 3, thus concluding that section with Scotty’s death and the end of the “First Trio.”

Instead, it was decided to open the 4th part of the piece with the "Gloria’s Step” chapter so as to allow for a smoother continuance between the parts and also to provide a segue into what came next for Bill, both personally and musically, after the loss of Scotty.

However saddened we were by the tragic loss of Scott LaFaro at the absurdly young age of 25, all of us who love the music of this version of Bill’s trio can take some comfort in the legacy of the two and a half hours of Scott’s genius that was left with us as encapsulated in the Sunday/Village Vanguard Sessions.

“Delving into the riches recorded … [that Sunday in July, 1961 at the Village Vanguard], we witness a certain apogee in the development of the jazz piano trio, the medium pursued by Evans for his lifetime achievement. For depth of feeling, in-group affinity, and beauty of conception with a pliant touch, these records will be forever peerless.” [Pettinger, p. 113].

And yet, as Pieranunzi points out in what follows, the loss of Scotty brought forward bassist Chuck Israel and the “birth” of the Second Trio, initially with Paul Motian, but ultimately with Larry Bunker on drums when Paul had had enough of the road and decided to leave the group.
Initially with Red Mitchell on bass and then for the last two weeks with Chuck Israels, Bill played the month of May at Shelly Manne’s Manne-Hole in Hollywood, CA essentially as a duo [with Shelly sitting in on occasion]. In looking for a permanent drummer for the group, Chuck Israels recounts the following story in his liner notes to Bill Evans Trio at Shelly’s Manne Hole [Riverside 487; OJCCD 263]:

“After a few nights, I got to talking with many of the Hollywood musicians who were coming in to hear us and I paid particular attention to the pianist, Claire Fischer, who kept insisting that the dapper, elegantly bearded man, who I had seen intently listening to Bill’s piano playing, was the most sensitive possible drummer for us to have and that I should persuade Bill to invite him to sit in. To say that the first experience of playing with Larry Bunker was revelation would only be half the story …. I smiled and Bill grinned broadly and Bill dug into play all the more and Larry was hired on the spot to finish the job with us. …" [Quoted in Pettinger, p. 147].
As his friend and my mentor, I am privileged to have a number of personal recollections that Larry Bunker shared with me about his time as a member of Bill’s trio, but before recounting these, let’s pick up the story of Bill and Scotty’s relationship and what was to come following Scotty’s death with this next chapter from Enrico Pieranunzi, Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist entitled:

Gloria’s Step
“Regarding the interpersonal and artistic relationship between Evans and LaFaro at the time, the pianist appeared even a bit irritated by the bass player's fiery nature. His desire to stay 'clean', and not mess around with dangerous experiments in drugs seemed almost to make Evans jealous: “Scott was in life right up to the hilt, he was intense in experiencing anything but bullshit, not wanting to waste time. He was discriminating about where quality might lie.” Concerning LaFaro's relationship with music, however, Evans added: “He didn't overlook traditional playing, realizing it could contribute a great deal to his ultimate product.”

Paul Motian recalled that the bass player “was practicing and playing all the time. ( ... ) His rate of improvement was so fast.” The great avant-garde pianist Paul Bley was later to observe that -"he was the only bassist in the world at that time who could play the melody to the complex charts.”

Evans himself found it amazing that LaFaro was so capable of intuiting where he was going, where his next thought was going to be. He wondered, “How did he know that I was going there.” LaFaro's explosive combination of talent, health and exuberant, almost defiant, vitality threw Evans off, putting him face to face with his own personal tragedy - his own human failure.

Evans admired the young man but, perhaps, envied a bit that self-confident unhesitating, doubt-free energy that LaFaro expressed both in his life-style and in his music.
The Village Vanguard Sessions well-illustrates the contrast between the iconoclast LaFaro and the introverted, subtly conservative Evans. The young bass player who lived life to the fullest “and tasted it down to the last drop wanted more than anything to take risks” (“I don’t like to look back because the whole point in jazz is doing it now.”) This he does with extraordinary results in All Of You, lingering a long time on a very dissonant minor second, that he "walks" confidently along the piece, refusing to stay consonant with the chord flow; or in Milestones, where LaFaro even succeeds in dragging Evans along on a couple of very daring excursions, from which the pianist withdraws immediately to go back to chiseling out his bewitching neo-Impressionistic harmonies. Also in this piece, the bass player seems deliberately to refuse to "walk" in 4/4 in the footsteps of Motian’s orthodox comping, preferring to depart with a solo line of his own that counterpoints what Evans' is doing with his piano. At the end of the tune, LaFaro fools around rather provocatively with some notes, to the laughter of the crowd, while Evans stays locked himself inside his dark, doubt-filled world.

“I never listen to the words of songs, I am rarely aware of them,” he told Len Lyons in a 1976 interview. Yet it seems somewhat more than a coincidence that the text of Detour Ahead contains expressions like “You fool, you've set off in the wrong direction,” “turn back while there's still time,” and “don’t you see the danger signs.” Detour Ahead, along with My Foolish HeartMy Man’s Gone Now and Porgy, is one of the ballads that Evans chose to play that evening. It is hard to imagine that this was a purely arbitrary choice. In fact, his interpretation of the song is a truly touching interaction with a tune which he had surely heard Billie Holiday sing, lyrics not excluded.
Other roads, with their hidden perils, were waiting to seal Scott LaFaro's tragic fate. At the end of those historic sets, as the three were leaving the Village Vanguard, he had spontaneously expressed with great joy to Motian and Evans, “these two weeks have been exceptional, I've finally made an album I'm happy with!” On the night of July 5 1961, ten days after that magical evening, while going home after a visit to a friend, and having ignored the urgings of pianist-composer Gap Mangione to stay over and leave the next day, he lost control of his Chrysler and went off the road into a tree. Both he and the friend riding with him were killed instantly.

This very gifted and unfortunate musician had, in a very short time, caused a complete revolution in conceptual/technical approach to bass playing. He blazed a new trail for the role of his instrument in small groups, expanding its solo possibilities through the exploitation of its upper register, the production of harmonics, the use of double and triple stops, and so on. Scott LaFaro's tragic death was a shock for Evans. A gray veil of sadness shrouded his already over-complicated existence, that “for several months went in a direction not at all constructive... musically everything seemed to stop. I didn't even play at home.”

Many years later, in 1984, the ever-zealous and thoughtful Orrin Keepnews published other takes from those extraordinary evenings. We find in these the same extremely high artistic level as those performances which even the exacting Evans had considered worthy of publication. These seven rediscovered performances are interesting for several aspects such as, in particular, a greater self-confidence as compared with those on the classic albums originally published from this concert. Perhaps this quality is related to the fact that Detour AheadWaltz For DebbyJade Visions and Alice In Wonderland were revived in their first takes, all of them providing fresher interpretations than the previously published versions. It is as if, in approaching them, the three had experienced that higher intensity of emotion and concentration that almost always happens when you meet up with something that you have not handled for a long time finding it, therefore, somehow "new".

In other cases the opposite happens - as in All Of You, for example. The third take of this tune works better, more vigorous and appealing than the "classic" one, which was the second take played on that day. Here LaFaro's playing is more imaginative, provocative and audacious than ever, and Evans sounds more determined and energetic than usual. While the above-mentioned pieces betray a vague sense of boredom after all, repeating a piece after a very short time can, understandably, create a sense of deja vu causing a lowering of interest and a proportional increase in routine - surprisingly, in All Of You the reverse is true.

A key element in explaining this may be the presence in the audience of some fellow-musicians at the evening concert, who tacitly stimulated the three to perform at their best. In any case, these seven rediscovered pieces take nothing away and, if anything, only add to the magic of that special evening, highlighting, among other things, the enormous amount of propulsive energy that Motian was able to produce. He swings hard, chancing a more articulated multi-rhythmic approach than in the thirteen "classic" pieces. We feel, almost palpably, how that trio was a living organism: “a three-person voice as one voice,” Motian would say.

But now LaFaro was no longer there. That widening of musical horizons that the three had believed they could carry out together those concerts representing a first important leg of the journey - had been rudely interrupted.

The Second Trio
A musical dimension had now been added to Evans' existential disorientation. Almost like a delayed-action bomb, the effect of LaFaro's death brought Evans down not immediately but gradually, leaving him devastated and more and more isolated. It was the young bass player Chuck Israels, a contemporary and friend of LaFaro's, who would interrupt this process. Israels learned of Scott's death while in Italy playing in the "pit" at the Spoleto festival in an orchestra for a ballet by Jerome Robbins. Although deeply grieved by this loss, Israels felt that he was good enough to fill the position that LaFaro had left vacant. The young, enterprising bass player knew there weren’t many alternatives around for Evans and, besides, this was something that he had always desired.

There were, in reality, two other bass players with a solo style that had absorbed the LaFaro approach who were moving in a direction which could have made them appealing to Evans; but it wasn't easy to get to them. One was Albert Stinson, very young at the time, who was to emerge shortly in a group with Chico Hamilton and who, by an incredible twist of fate, would pass away in 1969 at the same age as LaFaro; the other was Steve Swallow who, in 1961, had been the bass player on George Russell's Ezz-thetics.

But Israels got the job and, in early '62, Bill Evans' "second trio" was born. He had more than a few doubts. With LaFaro the trio had reached such musical heights, in concept and performance, that going any further was almost impossible to imagine. Still Evans and Israels began to meet and play together, entering into a less than easy relationship that, nonetheless, slowly brought the pianist's musical life back into focus. In the autumn of that fateful 1961 he had recorded as sideman with singer Mark Murphy and vibes player Dave Pike. In December he took part, with Israels and Motian, on an album by flutist Herbie Mann. But he didn't feel ready yet to record with a trio. It wasn’t until May of 1962, with the gracious but firm insistence of Orrin Keepnews, that he agreed to enter the studio to record for the seventh time under his own name.
Israels, as compared with LaFaro, was another thing altogether. Although less spectacular (besides, who could ever have equaled that genius?) he proved, in his four-year collaboration with Evans, a remarkable musical intelligence, a highly developed capacity to deeply feel and interact with the expressive moods of his leader, and a solid, dynamic swing as well. These qualities contributed greatly to his overcoming Evans' doubts and put him back on the road to developing his trio. The group would never reach the peaks that it had with LaFaro, but often was to offer some very valid examples of a "modern" trio. The experimental approach of the period 1959-61 having already been tested and approved, Israels managed to place himself as one of the three voices of a group where interplay was by now common procedure. In spite of a lower degree of authority and rhythmic/harmonic audacity than LaFaro, Israels was capable of not limiting himself to the standard role of accompanist, and to not passively seconding what the pianist was doing.

Some even saw in the arrival of Israels the possibility for Evans to finally take the situation in hand and show the determination of a true leader; a strength that had previously seemed to emerge only in some of his performances as sideman (Russell's celebrated All About Rosie is a good example), and which LaFaro's fiery, irrepressible energy may somehow have impeded. Yet others believe, to this day, that Israels' parsimonious and ponderous style worked better for Evans than that of LaFaro, and that, beyond any doubt, the new collaboration with Israels produced superior artistic results. Both theories contain a grain of truth (even though, naturally, it would cast some shadow over the previous "happy marriage" with LaFaro).
Israels' playing, in fact, was essential, and never went out-of-bounds as LaFaro's could sometimes seem to go. He pushed Evans to tell his musical stories "completely', without interfering with them, and did not force the pianist in directions where, perhaps, he did not want to go at that particular moment. Precisely for this reason perhaps some of Evans' albums with Israels and Motian, or with Larry Bunker on the drums, reach artistic peaks just as high as those of his period with LaFaro. Of course, after LaFaro's death, the innovative impetus in which he had involved the reluctant Evans came to an abrupt halt. No link, not even an indirect one, existed between Israels and the most experimental expressions of the time (Coleman, Dolphy, etc.) The new bass player did not oppose Evans' conservative tendencies, on the contrary he adapted himself.

Bill preferred working with "structured" materials where, despite the formal limitations, there was also a feeling of safety. He was capable of identifying with a song as if it were part of himself, expressing through it his existential burden: an almost religious approach to music, as he would say to journalist Ralph J. Gleason in an interview: “Jazz represents the whole person, not just some particular part and there is a spiritual side and a practical side ... Maybe I do everything for music. I live my life for music, in a way.”

On the occasion of an inquiry by Down Beat into the state of the evolution, or involution, of jazz piano in the mid-70s, a rather irritated Evans said: “I get a little bit angry at people who worry about perpetual progress. The criterion for which a thing has to absolutely be "avant-garde" seems to have become almost a sickness... Who is the most modern?... I would like people instead to ask: who is saying the best thing? who is making the most beautiful music?”

We have already said that the avant-garde never attracted Evans, who may have been who knows? - less ill-at-ease with Israels than with a musician like Scott LaFaro with his overwhelming and somewhat inconvenient personality. The new trio, however, surely displayed reduced internal “tension.” According to Orrin Keepnews, “Israels probably had the type of personality that Evans needed next to him at that time. Chuck shook Evans up and lit a spark under him.” With LaFaro the trio had evolved “from almost zero to a complete idea, to a real trio 'concept’” which would never have been possible without him. “I didn't know what to do. Coming out of Scott's death was very hard. I hardly played any more, and I didn’t realize how far away I was getting from my music.”
But the twofold pressure of Israels and the state of his finances brought him back to music. He had no choice - he needed money - and his main point of reference was none other than Keepnews himself. He was constantly asking for advances and usually the producer gave in, but not without some compensation - and this meant recordings. The risk, of course, was a sort of unplanned, mass-production which neither of them, for different reasons, wanted, but the situation offered few alternatives. So 1962 ended as one of Evans' most intensely active years in the recording studio with him working hard to repay Keepnews' generosity. He heavily increased his compositional activity, to the extent that he would carry his music notebook with him at all times, where ideas and themes could be tossed down on the road or during breaks in club performances. Show-Type Tune was practically completed on a New York subway train.

On the albums that mark Evans' return to trio work (How My Heart Sings RLP-9473; OJCCD 369-2) and Moonbeams RLP-9428; OJCCD-434-2) three of his original compositions appear for the first time on a recording: Walkin' Up, a fast piece with harmonies not unlike those which John Coltrane had been exploring for some years; 34 Skidoo, in which, with a vaguely French dance-mood, three-time sections animated by a searching restlessness, alternate with others more static in four-time that seem to arrest that sense of cyclical loss", that dizziness, that certain waltzes have; and finally, Re: Person I Knew, a piece among the most representative of all Evans' production. Here, against a bass pedal that remains throughout the piece, Evans lets loose a series of scales that respond to one another in a question-answer/tension-rest dialectic.
This sequence of "modes" recalls some musical atmospheres of Miles Davis' Kind of Blue (So What or Blue In Green), even though Evans is moving away from that "objective" and distant approach, going towards a narrative, autobiographical and tense framework. This song is part of that group of Evans' compositions (for example, Peace Piece) in which the harmony commands the melody, pieces that we could call "themes with variations". They lend themselves to a type of treatment that is closer to that used by Bach in his well-known Ciaccona, or by Chopin in his Berceuse, than to a (re)compositional process possible on the harmonic changes of a song. The harmonic sequences of this type of piece create a sort of hypnotic circularity which, because of its reiteration, is less subject to wide emotional leaps. In 1962, along with this intensification of his compositional and studio work, Evans' drug habit started to get really heavy. Gene Lees, his personal friend and supporter, tells of sordid scenes of his need for a fix, of the cynicism of the loan-sharks and dealers (one of whom was nicknamed "Bebop"), of the electricity being cut off for non-payment of bills. Ellaine, Evans' sweet girlfriend - strung out herself - made a desperate, fruitless, attempt to get Bill off dope by quitting first herself, going as far as to write up a pledge that she tried to convince Bill to sign. Evans lived through all this hell with an extraordinarily shocking lucidity; he knew perfectly well that this nightmarish experience was “like death and transfiguration.” “Every day you wake in pain like death and then you go out and score, and that is transfiguration” he would say: “each day becomes all of life in a microcosm.”

However, in the midst of all this darkness, a meeting was to take place in that year that would change his career. Lees had asked his girlfriend, Helen Keane, to consider becoming Evans' manager. At the time she was working on behalf of the singer Mark Murphy, and had had a part in launching the careers of artists such as Marlon Brando and Harry Belafonte. Lees invited Helen to hear Evans play and she was so deeply moved by what she heard -“Oh no,” she said, “this is the one that could break my heart” - that she immediately agreed to be his manager, becoming over the years one of the most decisive people in Evans' artistic career.
Interplay
“[In 1962] Circumstances were forcing Bill to widen his sphere of musical activity. The trio was no longer the only group requiring his attention. In addition to his increased compositional activity, in July/August of 1962 Evans recorded two splendid quintet albums which were originally issued as a single LP called Interplay [Riverside LP 9445] and subsequently as a double LP entitled The Interplay Sessions, [Milestone 47055] and that later became the CDs Interplay [OJCCD-308-2] and Loose Bloose [Milestone 9200].

Bill chose which instruments there would be in each band using trumpet, guitar, and piano-bass-drums on Interplay and saxophone, guitar and the same rhythm section on Loose Bloose.
‘Who’ was playing on these dates is something that Bill kept closely in his focus as he was developing the music for these dates. The musicians common to both recordings, drummer Philly Joe Jones and guitarist Jim Hall, were Evans’ preferred performers on their instruments.The trumpet player on the first recording was the then emerging Freddie Hubbard, while on the second LP it was Zoot Sims who had risen to prominence as one of Woody Herman’s ‘Four Brothers’ at the end of the 1940’s.
The most relevant factor of these two albums lay precisely in Evans’ ability to match the material to the color and tone of the instruments that he had chosen for these sessions. Both albums highlight his talent as an arranger, one who is able to treat a small group like a big band. In some selections, the theme is presented by the trumpet and guitar using the latter as a sort of second horn; in others, the guitar is phrased with the other string instrument, the bass.

The order of the solos is sensitively conceived to avoid monotony. And, with this in mind, the instrument that states the theme at the beginning does not play it again at the end of the piece, thus maintaining a lively variety in tone color within each number.

From the point of view of Evans’ piano language, these albums marked a successful attempt at regaining that vitality and performing energy that seemed to be missing with his second trio [based on the preceding chapter, Pieranunzi seems to be referring to the trio in which Chuck Israels replaced Scott LaFaro with Paul Motian remaining as the trio’s drummer until her left Bill in Hollywood in 1963].Working out of Philly Joe Jones’ generous rhythmic pulse, he recaptures in some solos that hard bopper verve demonstrated in New Jazz Conceptions and Everybody Digs Bill Evans. In particular, Wrap Your Troubles in Dreams – a title which is perfectly appropriate to the difficult period in which Evans perhaps yearned to shed his problems and dreamed of a better life – there is an almost joyful simplicity in the phrasing. It is as if Evans was searching back in time for his personal ‘golden age’ when, as a teenager, he had discovered and learned to love Jazz.

The melodies of the album on which Hubbard plays are all from the late 1930s, and perhaps this is no accident. Evans up-dates them, inventing delightful, unpredictable and unconventional codas for each one – to the point that the ending of You Go To My Head sounds harmonically unresolved and erratic.

All things considered, Interplay is a very hopeful album. Furthermore, this being an occasion to lead a group larger than a trio, Evans does something really intriguing which is reflected in the two title-tracks, Interplay and Loose Bloose. In both numbers, the minor blues form is combined with an approach the pianist owed to his exposure to the music of Bach.
These two tunes are, in fact, very close in their construction to some of the great composer’s works: a sequence of tenths as played by the guitar and bass forms a calm and almost solemn harmonic framework while the melody unfolds in counterpoint to it.

Loose Bloose, written in the unusual key of E-Flat minor, also offers a demonstration of melodic daring uncommon to Evans. Here he makes use of often dissonant intervals which trace a flickering, zigzagging line by frequently zooming-out in wide leaps.

Less successful was his attempt at fusing classical procedures with an exclusively jazz context. Fudgesicle Built for Four [another of Evans’ pun titles obviously playing off the title of the song Bicycle Built for Two] is a real “fugato” where each of the four voices enters one after the other, according to the most rigorous imitative style.

The result is a very Dave Brubeck-like jazz, with a slightly pompous, tuxedoed “Modern Jazz Quartet” flavor, but unfortunately, the harmonic structure laid out by Evans for improvisation on the tune seems to inhibit the soloists.

Essentially, the Interplay album with Freddie Hubbard can be considered a hard bop release with Evans even dusting off a few Horace Silver type passages.
On the other hand, the Loose Bloose with the sensual and splendidly relaxed tenor sax of Zoot Sims evokes a decidedly “cool,” vaguely Tristano, atmosphere, especially when Evans assigns some lines to the sax/guitar combination creating a sound very close to the Konitz/Marsh/Bauer ensemble of Tristano’s best known recordings.

It is precisely Sims’ seductive instrumental tone that marks the expressive character of Time Remembered, a piece which Evans recorded for the first time in an August, 1962 session and which would always remain one of his most well-known and well-loved pieces.

Time Remembered introduced into Evans’ compositional work another important facet of his classical background: the subtle evocative/narrative flavor of post-Impressionism. In this uniquely lyrical composition it is the song, the melody that seems to push the harmony creating, especially in the third section, chord relationships highly unusual for the average jazz composition.

Thanks to the refined use of enharmonic links or what Bill Evans himself called ‘diminished relationships,’ tonalities far removed from each other find unexpected connections, creating in the listener a sense of surprise and discovery that, despite the slow tempo and softness of the piece, makes for an effect that is anything but static.

The narration unfolds in a vibrant and yet delicate atmosphere, reaching an artistic territory where division into musical genres no longer means anything – a silent, distant horizon that, in fact, is the ineffable psychic reality of “time remembered.”
Conversations with MyselfIn February 1963 Evans' extreme withdrawal into himself produced an album that was a hit with the critics. Conversations With Myself (which won the Grammy Award for best instrumental jazz performance of 1963; Verve V6-8526; CD 821-984-2) was made by over-dubbing three recordings of himself, thereby creating a sort of "three-pianist trio.”

This over-dubbing technique was not entirely new to jazz: Lennie Tristano, in fact, had done the same thing in the 1950s, causing no small stir among the critics at the time, The peculiarity of the thing spurred Evans, however, to clarify his intentions in the album's liner notes, in which he said that he considered that strange "trio" a ”group"; for all intents and purposes it was a collective improvisation. Naturally the album demonstrates Evans' great capacity to carefully balance the three piano parts, even though the impression of artifice and of "personal challenge" prevail throughout its artistic content which, once again, seems necessarily to come to the foreground in relation to the pianist's "dark side".

N.Y.C.’s No Lark is conceived as a sort of dirge-like song in memory of the young pianist Sonny Clark who, tragically, had recently died as a result of drugs. The agonizing atmosphere of the piece, constructed as a kind of heavy funeral march in which Evans, using Debussy-like harmonies, refers to the more hidden, destructive aspects of a city like New York which (and for Evans himself it was, unfortunately, the same story) could easily become a painful and oppressive place. However, beyond the virtuosity Evans showed in handling a decidedly complex musical situation and his ability to "orchestrate", it seems rather to represent a curiosity along his musical path than a significant point of arrival.
Three months later, in May of 1963, going along with Creed Taylor's often disputable taste, Evans recorded an album for MGM on which his performance consisted simply of playing famous Hollywood themes according to the most banal and simplistic parameters of elevator music. Despite the slick presentation in the liner notes (“Evans can explore a pop tune and give it a dignity and meaning it never received before”), the album collapses into a completely conventional, commercialized product, whose total disengagement was in deep contrast with the constant appeal to beauty that Evans was always making in his statements. Evans restricts himself to playing the melody of the pieces in the most pedestrian way imaginable, succeeding in coming dangerously close, if not in fact crossing over, into the style of sequined ballroom entertainers. Evans, aware of this self-annihilation and, disturbed by the whole thing, thought at first of hiding behind his Russian name, but after releasing the album he rationalized that “if this record could have done something for widening my audience, getting better distribution for my other records, I'm all for it. Because it's a cold, hard business.” His hopes of making money, however, didn't pan out but somehow, perhaps in spite himself, he managed to avoid ruining his artistic image forever. The brilliant arranger Claus Ogerman had been brought in for the occasion, and would go on to work with Evans on various other recording projects, the most successful among which the album Symbiosis in 1974.

At the end of May, 1963 Evans gave a concert at the newly-opened club Shelly's Marine Hole [Riverside RLP-9487; OJCCD 263-2] in Los Angeles. On this occasion the pianist agreed to try out Larry Bunker, a Californian drummer - but also a very good vibes player - who before then had done both studio work as well as jazz activity of a very high level, playing with greats such as Art Pepper, Gerry Mulligan and Peggy Lee. Bunker was an able drummer in his use of the brushes and quite sensitive in listening to his two partners. His swing was incisive and his cymbal work combined both precision and imagination. Evans was impressed and hired him for his trio.
The live album shows an Israels clearly evolved, compared with the shy bass player of "Moonbeams" and "How My Heart Sings" of the previous year. The trio seemed to have found a new equilibrium, with Israels and Bunker maybe not exactly "flying", but deep enough to give Evans the solid, calm, supportive tranquility he needed. His repertoire in those years remained more or less static. He composed very little, performing, at least up until 1966, his compositions previous to 1962, along with standards and pop songs, every now and then adding on a new one. Only occasionally did he take on the blues (the splendid Blues in F and Swedish Pastry on the live album at Shelly's Manne Hole, for example), reinforcing his image as the introverted, romantic and solitary musician.
Something noteworthy was happening in those early 60s: Evans music was settling down into something less audacious than what he had done with Miles Davis or Scott LaFaro while, at the same time, his fame was growing, almost as a delayed reaction. As clear proof of this fact, in 1964, deposing the perennial Oscar Peterson, he was voted best pianist in the Down Beat critics' poll. Unfortunately, in the same year his long-lived collaboration with Paul Motian came to an end.

As a kind of farewell, the drummer left a last taste of his enormous personality and creativity on the album Trio '64, which included the extraordinary, barely more than 30-year-old, Gary Peacock on bass. Motian felt that the trio's music had become static, “tired", no longer innovative, even retrogressive (put more drastically, “cocktail lounge music),” and this album proves he was right. Evans' interest in interplay, in the breaking down of the rhythmic/harmonic confines in jazz language, seems here to have completely vanished.
However, Peacock is revealed as the real possible successor to LaFaro. His solos are daring excursions, in which the given harmony of the theme does not serve for "agreement" but for opposition. His irrepressible energy seems, as had happened with LaFaro, to make Evans uncomfortable, who goes off into a corner to listen to his partner's exuberant soloing, almost incredulous at so much iconoclastic vitality.

On Trio '64 [Verve CD 815-057-2] Evans seems to refuse any compliance with Peacock as well as with the ingenious, unconventional initiatives of Motian. He keeps himself shut away in his reassuring world of sound and does not risk encounter with what his two partners are saying, Even Evans' proposal of a lighter, even playful, repertoire (Little Lulu and Santa Claus Is Coming To Town), a sort of way to musically translate his penetrating and sedate humor, and an attempt to give a witty and joyful image to his music, is unable to make the session an artistically successful one. And so, this album turns out to be a missed opportunity, one which would never be repeated. That kind of dialogue, which had been arrested back on June 25th 1961, would never be fully embraced by Evans again. Motian went on to dispense his genius among the likes of Paul Bley and Keith Jarrett, to then expand his musical quest both as composer and as band leader in the mid-1980s and through the 90s.
Peacock, after his brief stint with Evans, joined Albert Ayler and Don Cherry, two of the most outrageous representatives of the jazz scene of the mid-1960s. By the mid-60s Evans was beginning to be more visible on the European scene. In 1964, along with Israels and Bunker, he made a successful tour of Scandinavia, where over the years he was gaining increasing fame and popularity among jazz fans. The following year he went to France, where he would return many times and where his art has continued to be highly appreciated. The assistance of Helen Keane, by now his artistic "counselor" in addition to being his manager, was starting to bear fruit. Thanks to her Evans was able to win himself an affectionate audience at a time when the prevailing trends in jazz were going in a completely different direction, and in which the dominant and most influential figure on the scene was still that of John Coltrane.

The recordings he was making with Israels and Bunker in those years were of uneven quality. The performance modules of the three had crystallized into a tension-free approach which was naturally affected by Evans' aesthetics and choice of repertoire. "Trio '65 [Verve CD 314 519 808-2]" is by far the most representative product of this period. Here Evans recorded, for the first time, a song that he had recently discovered, Who Can I Turn To?, which he seems to mold into a composition of his own. One of the album's peaks is his interpretation of Monks 'Round Midnight, which he "Evansizes", entering with authority and delicacy into a world he had always deeply admired.
Much less successful, however, from an artistic point of view, was the album of Evans' trio with the symphony orchestra directed by Claus Ogerman. The bright idea of having a jazz trio perform selections from the European classical repertoire, rearranged for the occasion, was touted with triumphant promotional declarations by its author Creed Taylor. It seemed that the impossible had been done and the jazz/classical opposition had been overcome. In reality, the experiment, in this instance, was an unhappy one. Paradoxically, it was not in the explicit blend of the two musical languages where Evans produced his best, but rather when his classical background unconsciously melded with his capacity to improvise and with his acute sensibility for shaping music. [emphasis mine]. Therefore, this performance, once again designed for commercial purposes, ends up sounding like an example of late Third Stream with all the limits of authenticity that afflicted its worst works. The orchestral treatment, and especially Ogerman's formal concept, was without depth or imagination, and even Evans' exquisite My Bells suffered considerable damage.”
... to be continued in Part 5.

[C] - Steven A. Cerra, Introduction, copyright protected;all rights reserved.


When in the 1960s the music-for-the-masses and Free Jazz movements were inadvertently conspiring to reduce the public appeal of Jazz, Bill Evans was becoming a world-wide ambassador for the more serious, artistic aspects of the music. And as can be seen from the following quotations from Peter Pettinger’s book about Bill and his music, Evans soon became equally at home at concert halls in Paris and Tokyo, Ronnie’s Scott’s club in London and the Montreux Jazz Festival in Switzerland as he was at The Village Vanguard in Greenwich Village, New York.
“The French capital was to become one of the pianist’s favorite places to play, and over the next fifteen years he nurtured a special rapport with his audience there. His refined art, alert with detailed nuance, appealed to Parisians’ sophisticated taste.” [Pettinger, How My Heart Sings, p. 161].
“To British jazz fans, used to a wilder aspect, the physical appearance of the three trio members was arresting. Studious and sober, neatly dressed in suits and sporting cropped Ivy League hairstyles, they took the stand exuding a quiet confidence and self control; such qualities permeated their music-making, defining but not stifling their inner passion and lyricism. They brought for the first time into an English jazz club a sophistication, an aura of gentility that, without being precious, elevated jazz onto a more rarified plane. With immense care their shaped their phrases, molded their corporate sound. Audiences were captured by their dedication, concentration, and hushed intensity, the trio’s own sense of wonderment at the beauty they had discovered communicating tangibly to those who would receive it.” [Pettinger, p. 164].
The Tokyo Concert 1973 album was nominated for a Grammy Award. Whereas in the past Evans’s need to communicate musically had been real enough, the outward signs of such contact on the podium had been notably lacking. The music on this tour, though, was presented in bolder more appealing strokes, while being at the same time more relaxed. This was matched by a new awareness of public image. For over a year now, Evans had sported long hair and a moustache, and the choice for the trio of black tuxedos with pink frilly shirts was all part of the new character.
Here was a musician who had risen painstakingly to an enviable position in the jazz world by dint of dedicated application of his musical ideals and dogged hard work. Appreciated by his public, young as well as old, the private man had the confidence to place himself boldly on stage as never before.”
 [Pettinger, pp. 218-219].
In the following chapters of his book, Enrico not only details Bill’s travels abroad, but especially in the chapter entitled “Ttt,” he goes to great lengths to offer further explanations in very basic terms about what made Bill’s piano stylings both so singular and significant in Jazz history.

Turn Out the Stars
"The second half of the 1960s started out with very painful news: the death in early 1966 of Bill's father, Harry Evans Sr. The pianist was scheduled to give an important concert a few days later at Town Hall in New York City [Bill Evans at Town Hall, Verve 831-271-2]. It was to be his debut at this prestigious venue and he was undecided as to whether he should cancel the engagement or not. In the end he decided to perform, and composed a touching four section suite in memory of his father. A neo-Impressionistic Prologue, where echoes of Chopin's Berceuse mingle weightlessly with a Debussy-like pentatonic approach, was followed by Story Line, practically a remake of the modal Re: A Person I Knew, then came the very moving Turn Out The Stars (he owed the title to his friend and songwriter Gene Lees), and, finally, Epilogue which Evans had recorded seven years before on Everybody Digs.
The circumstances as well as the solemn setting of the concert hall surely combined to make this one of his most intense performances of that entire decade. The pain brought on by this sad event triggered memories that sent him plummeting back in time. He played pieces that he hadn't played since the days of the trio with LaFaro, like Spring Is Here and My Foolish Heart. He sang his pain with extreme reserve but with a depth of expression that he had seemed to have lost. The titles of the pieces he chose alluded, as always, to his state of mind; I Should Care and Who Can I Turn To? (When Nobody Needs Me?) subtly suggest his loneliness, his "loss" - that destiny to be faced all alone, with darkness the single inescapable destination.

The critics pointed out, and not incorrectly, that this medley of original selections represented Evans' highest achievement as a composer, especially in terms of his ability to transform Broadway show tunes and worn-out standards into real "compositions", rich in content. Evans, in fact, revealed the best of his infinite harmonic vocabulary in that concert and, perhaps influenced by the setting of the hall itself, exhibited a variety in touch and sound quality worthy of a true classical concert musician. The impressive way he was able to merge and become one with his instrument did the rest, and the resulting enthusiasm of the critics and the audience was justified.

That memorable concert was also the last occasion in which Evans availed himself of the collaboration of Chuck Israels. A series of personality conflicts had finally succeeded in breaking down their four-year-plus working relationship. This musician, who had stood by Bill through a difficult time, despite a not exactly flexible nature of his own and a not overwhelming artistic personality, had had the courage to shoulder the weighty legacy of Scott LaFaro.
Within a few months Israels' place was taken by 21-year-old Puerto Rican bass player Eddie Gomez. He was playing with the Gerry Mulligan group opposite Evans' trio at the Village Vanguard when he caught Bill's eye. Enormously gifted technically - an authentic virtuoso on his instrument - Gomez would stay with Evans for eleven years proving himself, in many ways, an ideal partner and the first real heir to Scott LaFaro. Gomez, in fact, continued and extended LaFaro's insights and contributed to making the bass an instrument "equal" to other melodic instruments in its expressive potential.

In October of 1966 they made their first studio recording, A Simple Matter of Conviction. The drummer on that occasion was the great Shelly Manne who, four years earlier, had recorded Empathy alongside Evans [both LPs have been combined on one disc as Verve 837 757 2]. This encounter would not be repeated, as witnessed by Evans' difficulty filling in the deep void left by Motian. So for yet another couple of years a variety of musicians were to take the drummer's seat - Philly Joe Jones, Arnold Wise and Jack DeJohnette - until at the end of 1968 Marry Morell would become the third permanent member of the trio.
In reality, the problem of a drummer that was not easy to resolve for a pianist like him. He was perfectly aware of the volume problems that a drummer, discreet as he may be, could pose to his music. His ideal "group" was a duet with the bass, but he knew that to achieve a certain effect a drummer was necessary. As would come out in an interview he did in 1972 for the French magazine Jazz Hot, his biggest problem with drummers was their difficulty in lowering the tension and volume of their drumming once they had intensified it - a defect which, as Evans pointed out, robbed the performance of its "breath" and weighed it down unnecessarily.

A Simple Matter Of Conviction introduced two new and exciting original compositions: Only Child and Unless It’s You (Orbit). The latter is built on an extraordinary harmonic progression that seems truly to have no end, to "go into orbit", every once in a while returning hesitantly to itself, to then spin off again. A piece that perfectly incarnates Evans' idea of harmony as an expansion from and return to the tonic. At the end of October '66 Evans made his second tour in Scandinavia, bringing only Eddie Gomez with him. He resolved his doubts concerning a drummer in the person of the young and promising Dane Alex Riel, performing alongside the Swedish singer Monica Zetterlund, with whom he had already recorded a very prestigious album a couple of years earlier.

Evans' influence on the younger generation of pianists was growing, a good example of which being the emerging Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett who, in different ways, both carried the Evans imprint. This especially in the latter's work with saxophonist Charles Lloyd - with whom he was beginning to become very visible - which showed just how decisive that silent revolution in jazz piano harmony and the concept of the solo had been. Evans had introduced a long series of new devices in jazz piano: left hand chords without roots, and "close" harmony with frequent use of minor second intervals so as to increase the circulation of harmonics in the piano and amplify its vibration; substitutions between the basic chords of the piece by spotlighting new "hidden" chords. Other innovations include adaptation of the voicing to the acoustic needs of the various keyboard registers, and treatment of the piano in an orchestral way with the splitting of the six or seven-part harmony between the two hands. Last but not least, Evans made wide use of a touch able to stress the leading voice in a harmonized melodic line in the most refined tradition of the classical piano performance. Thanks to him, all this had penetrated the playing of jazz piano and the most sensitive of the new pianists had made of these devices an indispensable part of their expressive lexicon.

In the meantime, his one-time leader Miles Davis was giving birth to the so-called "electric revolution'. In 1968, in fact, he recorded Filles De Kilimanjaro and Miles In The Sky where he began to include the electric piano as a permanent element in his group. Out of all this arose a furious debate among Miles Davis fans who were divided in two, one part of which would turn their backs on him. But while Davis and other musicians riding his wave were beginning to experiment with inserting Funk and Rock rhythms and sounds in their music, Evans went on his own way undaunted. Trends had never attracted him much and he remained, therefore, deeply bound to his established musical material. Besides, over the course of his career, he would never renew his playing in terms of musical forms, but would change it as a consequence of an inner process, barely visible, yet very real. His ambition was always focused on the freedom implicit within the rules of improvisation - rules perhaps to be revised but not thrown out, his main objective being to delve deep into his own ideas. He was in love with the piano, which he defined in an interview with a French magazine in the early 1970s, as “the crystal that sings and reproduces the impalpable.” He was interested in one single true experimentation - that which would allow him to translate into sound his most profound emotions. While Davis was involved in everything new that was happening around him (“I don’t see anything wrong with electric instruments, as long as good musicians play them very well”), Evans went ahead with a relatively static repertoire and conceptual approach.
He returned periodically to Europe performing pieces recorded maybe some ten years earlier, always looking to extract new expressive content from them, or better, to inject them with a more and more personal feeling. His choices almost always responded to emotional stimuli and personal quest, and were sometimes quite cryptic and surprising. On the live album At The Montreux Jazz Festival of 1968, for which he won another Grammy Award, we find a Gershwin hit, Embraceable You, which Evans had never recorded before and would never do again; and another, The Touch Of Your Lips, which he had never recorded before in a trio, had appeared on Art Farmer's album Modern Art (of 1958). To find a previous recording of Mother Of Earl (a piece by his friend, percussionist and composer Earl Zindars) we have to go all the way back to an obscure recording with guitarist Joe Puma in 1957. In general, additions to the trio's repertoire were few and very sparingly introduced. Towards the end of the 1960s Evans was turning more and more to film tunes, predominantly love themes, clearly preferring the compositions of Johnny Mandel and Michel Legrand.
Ttt

His private life was much calmer now. Helen Keane had managed to notably enhance his artistic image, finding his target audience predominantly in Europe. Despite the great diffusion of rock-jazz, a portion of the public and of other musicians had, in fact, rejected the "electric revolution" and saw in Evans the standard-bearer of important and serious musical values, of an aesthetic that the spreading politicized ideology of music-for-the-masses seemed determined to dismantle, to relegate forever to a forgettable past. Evans' "message" in this aesthetic found numerous and attentive receivers.

Having always been interested in Eastern philosophies, he colored his interviews in the late 60s with considerations on the universal value of art, on the impossibility of a rational approach to music, on its "spiritual" function. His music did not shout, did not need to be played at high volume, did not seek massive audiences - it was profoundly human and went straight for the heart. They began to transcribe his solos and themes, to realize that his formal conception, his chord-voicing was a kind of synthesis, a distillation of the previous twenty years of jazz language and, most of all, that this synthesis was so accessible to so many.

As opposed to the great jazz piano personalities like Monk, for example, the work of "de-coding and re-coding" that Evans carried out on jazz improvisation mechanisms helped enormously to clarify the "creative process" of jazz, which, precisely through his solos and his restructuring and recomposing of the old standards, is today accessible and comprehensible. To say something understandable, while maintaining an increasing higher degree of meaning was, in any case, one of the most pressing requirements that he exacted of his music. The accessibility and special flavor that characterize his harmonic approach really had a lot to do with his classical background. A good example is, for instance, his chord-voicing made up of "stacked", superimposed thirds used frequently in Ravel's modal pieces. By contrast, Evans' style frequently featured the right hand playing three or four sounds in close harmony, recalling the sound of a big band trumpet section. Evans' harmony, actually, seems to be based on the four-part harmony of the traditional Protestant liturgy, onto which he grafts the specific dissonant flavor of jazz. These liturgical origins are probably traceable to his father's Welsh/Celtic roots, but also to his classical exposure, especially to Bach and Brahms.

In analyzing any one of Evans' harmonies it is easy to recognize his accuracy in following the correct, canonical part motion, as recommended in the treatises on harmony and (almost always) put into practice by the great composers of Western music. It is also striking how much care Evans took in moving the so-called inner parts of chords; a detail that reaffirms the substantially "vocal" and contrapuntal character of his approach to harmony, and which, by means of an extremely refined audio and tactile sensibility, gave these inner lines (usually neglected by bop piano players) great personal expressive quality.

At a time when themes were stated predominantly by the horns (sax or trumpet), his passion for the song form and his need to "sing" through the instrument, spurred Evans to take on an apparently banal problem which had been rather ignored by his colleagues of the early 1950s, but one to which he gave a central role: the harmonizing at the piano of a melody. The point was to resolve this problem using the widest harmonic vocabulary possible, including that harmonic lexicon that until then had been the almost exclusive legacy of European piano music, from late-Romanticism throughout the entire Impressionist era.
Part of this lexicon had already penetrated jazz, thanks to some arrangers of the late 1940s (the Gil Evans of Birth Of The Cool, for example, or some scores by Gerry Mulligan and George Russell) but, outside of big-band jazz, there was a sort of lag in appropriating and using that enormous patrimony. Bill Evans filled the gap.

It was a long and tedious process. Applying the principles and harmonic codes of classical music to jazz was a delicate job of blending and took an enormous effort. Evans stated paradoxically that this was due to the fact that his musical ear wasn't good. This was not a joke, but one of his numerous and sincere understated, self-deprecating observations that had to do with his retiring, even self-negating, nature. This was an enterprise that involved the ear, of course, but the brain and heart as well following, above all, an extreme craving for beauty capable of avoiding any artifice and superficial hybridization.

The "glue" in this risky operation was Evans' enormous love for the song form, in which he felt the common language of the people vibrating and transmitting, through a melodic simplicity, human emotions accessible to everyone. This was, therefore, a musically cultivated, but anti-intellectual, operation; an artistic process in which the final goal was not to create something new but something more pleasing and more beautiful. He succeeded completely, to the point of radically, and forever, changing the face and sound of jazz piano. It was ahead of its time too. In fact, when Evans began working, and when he started to see the first results (this happened between '56 and '58 - we can consider Young And Foolish the first example of a successful outcome), impassioned jazz listeners were struck above all by the Powell-like improvisational lines that were the usual way in which the majority of piano players were expressing themselves at that time. It was musicians like Miles Davis who were the first to become aware that something profoundly new, a sound never before heard, had been added to the history of jazz.

It was on a recording in the spring of 1970 that Evans first made use of the electric piano; a cautious approach to the use of an instrument that, thanks to Joe Zawinul, Herbie Hancock and Chick Corea, was beginning to spread even though, contrary to many predictions in those years, would not replace the acoustic piano but would take its place alongside it. One of Evans' most significant "indirect disciples", pianist Keith Jarrett, went into the studio more or less in that period to record his first album with Miles Davis. It is a curious fact that for that recording - Live Evil - Davis had called upon these three pianists - Hancock, Corea and Jarrett - who summarized, although through three distinctly different artistic personalities, much of Evans' influence.

Out of the three, Jarrett was surely the most reminiscent of the “master", not only from the point of view of piano language, but also in terms of the aesthetic concept and philosophic vision of the phenomenon of music. Jarrett shared with Evans, among other things, a certain aversion, or at least a marked skepticism, for electric instruments, to the extent that he made a sharp distinction between electricity and electronics, saying that only the former is to be considered a - still largely unexplored - human factor.
An artist such as Evans, who had placed at the center of his enterprise a feeling for the keyboard that will allow you to transfer any emotional utterance into it, could not be very interested in "prefabricated" sounds which had little possibility to be "molded" according to one's psychic/emotional dynamic.

In an interview for the magazine Contemporary Keyboard of September 1979, Jarrett expressed his ideas on the ineffability of music in much the same terms that Evans had in 1960. The latter had said of jazz that “it's got to be experienced, because it's feeling, not words. Words are the children of reason and, therefore, can't explain it... That's why it bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not, it's feeling.”

The late 1960s and early 1970s found Evans deeply involved with his trio. His return to a stable group after the many changes of the mid-60s, his firm belief in the importance of keeping the same members in a group, his faith in Gomez and Morell (musicians that he had taken on after careful evaluation of their abilities, as he had always done and would continue to do throughout his entire career), all contributed to reviving his prospects for continuous and fruitful growth.

Nevertheless, the artistic results of that period from 1968 to 1974 were not particularly exceptional. Perhaps a certain rigidity in Morell's approach, his preference for relatively high sound volume and his scarce propensity for "dialoguing", along with a certain stressing of the virtuoso aspects of his way of playing in Gomez, contributed to this. Add to all that Evans' tendency to thicken his phrasing, and to use not exactly daring improvisational modules, and what you get is a decidedly more "mainstream" product. The formal itinerary of the pieces becomes more predictable: Morell and Gomez impatiently “push” for an energetic and vigorous "walk,” sharply stress the four beats per bar, unable to calmly let the music itself and Evans' discourse evolve naturally towards their desired rhythmic situation. Allied with this general increase in the trio's volume (due to a large extent to Marty Morell, who used the brushes very little compared with Evans' previous drummers) was the technological revolution in progress, thanks to which Gomez like many other bass players at the time, was beginning to make wider use of the amplifier.
There were two important consequences of all this: the first was that Evans had to literally "shift" his center of action towards the upper register of the keyboard; the other was his growing desire to play duets and leave out the drummer. When interviewed by Francois Postif of Jazz Hot after a concert in February 1972 at the Maison de l’ORTF in Paris, Evans said, -“I like the music that I am playing now, but I don’t seem to be making any progress, and that makes me sad.” His awareness of this stalled phase says a lot about Evans capacity to perceive the more or less evolving nature of his music. The golden years, those full of the tension of searching, seemed far off now. Besides, his physical state was not the best; repeated attempts to quit drugs had failed. Thus the recordings made with Gomez and Morell in the early 1970s could be considered a fairly accurate picture of a rather seriously retrogressive phase for Evans. The Bill Evans Album (1971) opened a brief period with the Columbia label, a major recording company who would not be at all sensitive to the most meaningful aspects of Evans' art (they went as far as to offer him a rock album!).

Here Evans plays a bit of electric piano which perhaps could also be considered a way to try "from outside" to vary and animate an expressive world suffering from a lack of creative vitality. It should, however, be noted that the Columbia producers' attitude was even more commercial than Creed Taylor's had been at Verve. They were trying to invent "gimmicks" to make Evans' music more saleable, and the use of the electric piano was most likely his bowing to this policy, which had, perhaps, to do with this low-ebb period in his art. The album, which is not among his most successful trio recordings contains, however, exclusively original pieces by Evans.

This reawakening of his compositional vein came about, as it had some ten years earlier on the occasion of Interplay Sessions, under force. Evans did not think of himself as a full-time composer but increased his output when recording projects called for it. His preparation in the field was, in reality, broad and deep, dating back to his years at Mannes College in New York (1955), where he had learned the most sophisticated compositional techniques, to which he dedicated himself periodically, even if just as an exercise.
TTT(Twelve Tone Tune) on The Bill Evans Album is a clear demonstration of his technical mastery. As the title itself suggests, this piece uses the principles of serial music which requires the choice of a twelve-note row, none of which can recur until they are all used up: Evan presents his row three times in three sections of four bars each leaving, however, the relative harmonization to follow a tonal logic. Some interesting scribbles of his allow us to follow the gradual developing of his compositional idea and the process by which he arrived at the final score. Evans worked like a patient bricklayer who, after choosing his materials, little by little builds the piece. This procedure is surely much closer to the practice of classical music than to the instinctive immediacy usually associated with a jazz tune. The piece TTTT (Twelve Tone Tune Two) recorded for the first time in early 1973 and included in the live album The Tokyo Concert, was also based on the same compositional technique.

The Two Lonely People

Although master of the most evolved compositional techniques, Evans was at his most sincere in pieces that had an obvious narrative form, like the touching The Two Lonely People, also recorded for the first time on The Bill Evans Album and fruit of that very intense period of work as a composer. Once again the title of the piece seems to conceal an allusion to Bill's private life - probably to the solitude and unhappiness in his relationship with girlfriend Ellaine. He wrote the music to a text given to him by Carol Hall which he found deeply stimulating. As in a sort of private diary The Two Lonely People, which was originally entitled The Man and the Woman, sings of the impossibility for any kind of joy, and recounts the inevitable failure of men and women to hold on to each other ("the two lonely people have turned into statues of stone ... for love that once mattered is old now and battered ... "). A sense of incurable melancholy overtakes the listener. There is here that heavy atmosphere of communication break-down typical of the films by famous Italian director Antonioni made in the early 60s.
The lyrics of the song appear to have been a shocking omen of the future: a few years after its composition, in fact, Ellaine, threw herself in front of a subway train after hearing from Bill that he was leaving her for another woman. Brian Hennessey, an Englishman and mutual friend of the couple, would rightly comment on this tragedy saying "artists who show genius in one field often display ignorance in others." Recognition notwithstanding (he was voted best pianist by Down Beat in 1968, and his 1970 album Montreux II won a Grammy Award), it is difficult to consider this period of Evans' career one of noteworthy artistic evolution.

Still very much under the influence of drugs, having failed to free himself from their grip, he began to develop a denser and denser, at times hysterical, style. Driven by a blind energy, he seemed to have lost his sensitivity for silences, and their use in structuring phrasing, of which he had become such a master. It is hard, for instance, not to notice a disconcerting banality running through the Peri’s Scope of Montreux II, or the Gloria's Step of The Tokyo Concert, as compared with previous renditions. Evans' soloing shows a lack of his typical laid-back approach and also of formal sensibility. It is seemingly charged with a frenzy uncommon to him. As a result his playing seems to be missing that marvelous "breath", that dynamic variety, that sense of logical and meaningful discourse that had made his music so appealing. Gomez and Morell, unfortunately, did not hinder this tendency - on the contrary, they encouraged it. Only some years later Evans would regain, at least in some small part, that serenity in which his music's expressive possibilities were laying dormant. The Village Vanguard Sessions (1961) had been the result of one afternoon and one evening's performances(!), while The Bill Evans Album - exactly ten years later - took six days to record. Even if miracles, by their very nature, never happen twice, this discrepancy is more than a little significant, isn’t it?
Evans got involved in two projects with large orchestra at this time. The first, in 1972, was the controversial Living Time, conceived and worked out with his friend George Russell. It was Evans himself, in an effort to satisfy Columbia Records' urging for more saleable ideas, who had come up with the idea of an album featuring him with a large ensemble. As had already happened other times in the past, Russell again appeared to be trying to force Evans into formally freer situations, acting out his usual role as “stimulator of the new and unknown” which left Evans more than a little uneasy. Russell's score on this occasion was a daring fusion of rock, informal jazz and modal music where Bill seemed a bit like a fish out of water: “Bill played like he was being pushed into some other level, hit over the head, kicked in the behind,” Russell is quoted as saying, adding, paradoxically, “I love and respect Bill's playing so much that I really couldn't resist the challenge.” The album turned out to be difficult for the average listener as well. Even with the presence of musicians like Jimmy Giuffre, Sam Rivers, Joe Henderson and Ron Carter, the outcome was a complex music which had trouble moving ahead as a result of Russell's need more to scratch his experimental itch than to accommodate the natural feeling of the musicians involved.

Things went better for Evans and his trio a couple of years later when the second of these projects, Symbiosis, was recorded. A suite in two movements and five parts composed by Claus Ogerman, it is based on the encounter and contrast between two dialoguing entities (trio and full orchestra) according to a compositional model widely diffused during Romanticism in piano and violin concertos. Ogerman counter-posed the trio with a rather anomalous ensemble, in which six French horns, clarinets, oboes, bassoons and four percussionists are added to the three usual big band sections (trumpets, trombones and saxophones). Perhaps, thanks to a shared musical background, Ogerman was German by birth and musical culture, Evans, for his part, had a deep knowledge of European classical music, the same "linguistic" area beloved by Ogerman - Symbiosis can be considered Evans' artistic peak of those years.
Freed from the onus of arranging the music (as he had had to do with the trio), and finding himself dealing with particularly stimulating harmonic sequences, Evans and his trio, surely spurred by that broad and fascinating overall "sound", gave their best. An important role was also played by Ogerman’s acute capacity to insert Bill's soloing into a well Nineteen-seventy-five was a very important year for Evans. Drummer Eliot Zigmund took his place in the trio, joining Gomez and Evans for an extensive European tour in February of that year.

On September 13th, however, an even more important event took place - Bill's son Evan was born of the union with Nenette, whom he had married in 1973. Evan's birth seemed to give Bill new motivation and determination to live. He had never been able to kick his drug habit, but that depression that had haunted him for years now seemed to begin to lift. His piano language remained in that simplifying phase that had begun more or less in the mid-1960s when he concluded the trio cycle with Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker. Narrative-style pieces, especially film themes, began to fill out his repertoire. Except when performing as an unaccompanied pianist or else when playing some solo pieces during his trio concerts, there was no longer any trace of that Tristano flavor so recognizable in his work during the 1950s. The influence of Powell and Silver had also vanished by now.
It could be said that by the mid-70s Evans' was personalizing his style more in the melodic direction, in terms of themes, while his improvisational vocabulary foregrounds more a harmonic variation process rather than one of recomposing. His signature sound was by now established, even though his occasional use of the electric piano tended to flatten it. In that same year, thanks to an idea of Helen Keane's, Evans was able to fulfill one of his dreams - to record with the singer Tony Bennett. That album confirmed Evans' desire to reconnect with the tradition of the American popular song and, from this point of view, he was carrying on the musical thinking and practice of Gershwin, convinced of the originality of this tradition incarnate in the musical comedy and in forms of high quality "light" music.

Nonetheless, it is hard for this writer to think of this Fantasy recording as a jazz album. Actually, at that point in his career Evans' artistic image was difficult, in any case, to pin down. Surely, of the two, the one who benefited the most from the other was Bennett, who could easily place himself in the hands of a knowing harmonic sensibility like that of Evans. Bennett's vocal style, pleasant but certainly not without a slightly theatrical emphasis, led the pianist into a Hollywood cocktail-party atmosphere, dangerously close to the concept of mere entertainment. The process of this musical shift towards disengagement was surely aided by the subtle commercial inclinations of Evans' managers (Creed Taylor in the 60s and now Keane). But it is also true that, even in a "pure" artist like Evans, there appeared from time to time the temptation to "reach the people" - a temptation the price of which he did not seem to be fully aware."

... to be concluded in Part 6

[C] - Steven A. Cerra, Introduction, copyright protected; all rights reserved.


Perhaps it may be fitting to conclude Enrico Pieranunzi’s retrospective on Bill Evans as an artist and his explanation of what made Bill Evans’s style so unique and so innovative by introducing what Bill Evans’s had to say about how he arrived at his approach and why he thought it distinctive.. Bill’s comments [BE] are from a portion of an interview that he gave to Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin [PR] in 1979, just a year or so before he died:
“PR: We’re surprised to hear that you never strived for identity. Within four bars, your sound is unmistakable!

BE: Well, if there is a striving for an identity, it’s something that’s so much a part of my individuality or personality that it’s just automatic. I never said, like, “I want to have an identity,’ in so many words. What I said was ‘I want to approach the musical problems as an individual. I want to build my music from the bottom up, piece by piece, and kind of put it together according to my own way of organizing things. Yet I want it to fit in, but I'm not going to take it en toto from any one place,’ which is what I did, really. I just have a reason that I arrived at myself for every note I play Now, I think just as a result of that you probably have an identity-just because you are an individual and you see the problem, and so forth, in your own way. But as far as saying, like, ‘I'm going to project my personality’ or ‘I'm going to project an image onto music’ -a kind of a personality image onto music, which is kind of the way most people think of identity - that was no part of it whatsoever. And I don't think that can be effective.

I think having one's own sound in a sense is the most fundamental kind of identity in music. But it's a very touchy thing how one arrives at that. It has to be something that comes from inside, and it's a long-term process. It's a product of a total personality. Why one person is going to have it and another person isn’t, I don't know why exactly. I think sometimes the people I seem to like most as musical artists are people who have had to-they're like late arrivers. Many of them are late arrivers. They've had to work a lot harder in a sense to get facility, to get fluency, and like that. Whereas you see a lot of young talents that have a great deal of fluidity and fluency and facility, and they never really carry it anyplace. Because in a way they're not aware enough of what they're doing.

There are certain artists - Miles Davis is a late arriver in a sense. I mean, he arrived early, but you couldn't just hear his development until he finally really arrived later. And Tony Bennett is another one that's just always worked and dug and tried to improve, and finally, what he does as a straight singer has a kind of a dimension in it and is able to transport the listener way beyond other singers in his category. Or Thad Jones is another one that I can enjoy listening to play. I enjoy listening to player. that think for themselves, especially. I mean, you could line up a hundred players that all more or less sound alike, and they're all good players, and I can even enjoy listening to them. But if just one of them thinks for himself, he stands out like a neon sign. And it's so refreshing to hear someone who thinks for himself.

Now at the same time, the danger of a person grabbing a concept like this is that they think thinking for themselves is being eccentric or being rebellious or being-especially of being ‘different’ - and that's not it. The idea is to be real and right in the core, right in the middle, but still an individual enough to handle the material your own way.”[Jazz Spoken Here, New York: Da Capo Press, 1994, pp. 139-141].
With these comments from Bill and the following, concluding chapters from Enrico’s book about Bill and his music, we have now come full circle as to what started me on this quest of trying to understand why Bill’s playing evolved the way it did, especially as analyzed from the perspective of another Jazz pianist.

And while we have focused this Jazz Profile on Enrico Pieranunzi’s narration on the career and music of Bill Evans - the single greatest influence on Jazz piano in the 2nd half of the 20th century – the editorial staff is also planning a future profile on Enrico with an in-depth look at the sizeable footprint that he has placed on Jazz in Italy over the past 25 years.
I Will Say GoodbyeEvans believed in "simple" music; but simplicity, of course, not necessarily at the expense of beauty, and it was precisely that which he demonstrated a couple of years later. Beauty has to do with a deeper and somehow mysterious dimension - a something that Bill possessed, and thanks to which he had captured, especially in the 1950s and 60s, the hearts and minds of musicians and jazz lovers all over the world. In May of 1977 Evans recorded his last album for the Fantasy label, I Will Say Goodbye, with Gomez and the sensitive Zigmund on the drums. The album's title track, written by Michel Legrand, as well as Johnny Mandel's tender Seascape, are both film score tunes which, in Evans' hands, become compelling, intimate Mendelssohn-like "songs without words.”
Here Evans revives the classical piano modules of Brahms and Chopin, Debussy and Scriabin, whom he had known and loved in his childhood and later in his college years in Louisiana. He treats these melodic lines, evoking images of separations ("goodbye") and seascapes, with a touch that unearths a rich range of color and nuance that had been lost in his years with Gomez and Morell. Here he greatly refines the classical technique of playing three or four notes with the right hand, making their upper voice "sing".

All this is made possible also by Zigmund's sensibility and capacity to listen to and play with Evans, avoiding the error of other drummer's of playing "with the bass", thus leaving the piano isolated. Zigmund follows the emotional and sound "curve" of the pianist and, in this way, restores to the trio the breath that has long been missing.
Another big film hit tune People, written by Jules Styne and made popular by Barbara Streisand, had been used by Evans a couple of years earlier for his solo album Alone Again. That performance had marked a moment in which Evans seems to have declared his belief more in interpretation than in improvisation as the primary vehicle for his musical communication. The melody of People is played for more than thirteen minutes in various keys and becomes a sort of "theme and variations" in which Evans shows the many possibilities for dealing with a simple song on piano. His use of the left hand playing arpeggio-lines as a kind of "contrapuntal" accompaniment to the right is characteristic here. This device goes beyond just simply confirming or tracing the harmonic path of the piece, and is able to create a second "voice" dialoguing with the right hand and, at times, functioning as protagonist.

Throughout the entire length of the performance, the original melody is never abandoned. John Wasserman, who wrote the liner notes for this album, rightly observes, “one would have to be a fool or a genius to pick such songs, songs that have been played with a repetition past counting. The fool would choose them because they are familiar and one with nothing to say must be satisfied with quoting others. The genius chooses them for the challenge; for the untapped potential lying underneath the facade. It requires supreme confidence and fundamental humility in addition to an innate sense of beauty. His music, complex and simple at the same time, is like stop-action photography - the learning, the understanding, the feelings of a lifetime compressed into three minutes, or five, or seven.”The material that Evans chose for both Alone Again and I Will Say Goodbye, was almost always very easy on the ear, mostly evoking melancholy, nostalgia for something lost, something which had perhaps never existed, or else had always been unattainable. Very often, as has already been said, these were songs from films which spoke of lost, impossible or troubled love, or of the travails of couples and the unending search for happiness. Russian tradition is full of story-telling and fables, and we must not forget that Evans origins were half Russian. It is no surprise, therefore, that he was orienting himself more and more towards musical stories written to accompany picture stories. Improvisation as such seemed no longer to interest him very much. Far from the extreme harmonic quest of a Coltrane, extraneous also to the contemporary jazz/rock revolution with its new rhythms and sound, Evans was heading in a musical direction that no one but he was attracted to in those years.

In August of 1977 Warner Bros made Evans a very generous recording offer, and it was Helen Keane who made the switch to that label possible. You Must Believe In Spring (again with Gomez and Zigmund) continues along the lines of I Will Say Goodbye, but there is much more in it. This album, however, also begins to reveal the traces of a destiny marked by some unsettling clues: the opening piece, B Minor Waltz, is dedicated to Bill's former long-term, unfortunate girlfriend Ellaine (was it just a coincidence that the key of B minor was the same as Tchaikovsky’s tragic, desperate "Pathetic" Symphony?”); the closing piece, Johnny Mandel's theme from Bill's favorite TV series M*A*S*H*, is sub-titled Suicide is Painless. What was happening to Bill?

Why dwell on self-destruction? Maybe because “suicide ... brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it as I please?” Perhaps a successful hit like M*A*S*H*was enough to set off that subconscious image/sound mechanism which always seemed to stimulate him. The story of M*A *S*H* (set, as everyone knows, in the Korean War) denouncing the madness and psychologically devastating violence of war, probably sparked Bill's memory of his psychically wounding experiences at Fort Sheridan in the early 50s, where he had come into contact with the harsh and senseless reality of army life. His slow slide into a self-destructive depression, probably traceable to those distant days, led him some years later into the drug habit (“the longest suicide in history,” as writer and great friend Gene Lees would say of him) which he shared with fragile, vulnerable Ellaine, who could not bear the idea of being separated from him.
Not even the birth of his son Evan the previous year had been able to fulfill that promise of regeneration that he had begun to glimpse, not to mention the fact that his marriage with Nenette was on the rocks. Perhaps all this would be enough to explain the album's mournful tone. Alongside the images of that movie which recalled his own suffering and the pain of another failure, that of his marriage, Bill was “speaking" through his music to Ellaine.

But another element must be factored in to give You Must Believe In Spring [Warner Bros. 3504] a special place in the final stages of Evans' artistic activity. The entire record, in fact, and not only the piece We Will Meet Again, was dedicated to his beloved big brother Harry - although Harry was never to know this. Bill loved movies, as we have already pointed out, but a script that not even the most imaginative screenwriter could ever have conceived had cast him in the leading role. His past (Ellaine) and his present (Harry) were soon to be linked precisely by the suicide. Two years after the recording of You Must Believe In Spring, Harry Evans Jr., he as well suffering from a long depression, took his own life. Since the album had not yet been published Harry never heard it nor did he ever know about that act of affectionate brotherly devotion - a shocking premonition. Starting with the recording of that ill-fated album in August '77, a dark destiny seemed to be rushing towards the artist; but he still had a little more time - time enough to say many more things in music and to "close the circle" of his musical journey.

AffinityNear the end of 1977, at more or less the same time, Zigmund and Gomez - who had been with Evans for eleven years - quit the trio. Evans was left with the job of forming a completely new group. He played for about a year with the trusty Philly Joe Jones on drums, alternating different bass players, until an old college friend called his attention to a young bass player playing at the time with the Woody Herman orchestra, and who he thought had “something special that Bill would like.” Marc Johnson, the 24-year-old son of a pianist, had grown up listening to Bill Evans records. He had studied cello for a while before taking up the bass, and this, along with a truly unique musical sensibility, gave his playing that "vocal" appeal that Evans had always set such high store by in his own music and in that of his partners. The two finally met, after a certain hit-and-miss period of trying to hook up, and their first gig together was at the Village Vanguard. "Before we even finished the first number, I got the feeling immediately that this was the guy."
Evans had recently recorded another solo album New Conversations [Warner Bros. 2-3177] on which he made use of the same over-dubbing technique already employed on two previous albums, this time extending it to the electric piano. This album contains his first recorded version of Reflections in D which is played right through once without any over-dubbing - a piece which was to become one of his standards in this last brief stretch of musical activity. It was an old improvisation by Ellington in one of his rare trio recording sessions in the early 1950s which, in Evans' hands, sheds its somewhat decorative character and is turned into a piano essay of the highest order, both in terms of its formal construction as well as its haunting charm.
In July of 1978 Evans went off on a European tour. The Johnson/Jones combination worked well, regardless of some imbalances between the boisterous drummer and the refined young bass player whose true value and potential began to shine through. Johnson, gifted with an instinctive, genuine capacity for interplay, proved to be tuned in to Evans and also had a lot of his own things to say when soloing. The three performed at various European festivals (among which Umbria Jazz and Montreux), playing at times with guest musicians such as Lee Konitz and Kenny Burrell.

Upon his return to the USA Evans recorded the splendid Affinity [Warner Bros. 3293] where we find him encountering the marvelous lyrical sound of the phenomenal Belgian harmonica player Toots Thielemans. A successful meeting once again made possible with the help of the skillful Helen Keane; Marc Johnson on bass, Eliot Zigmund on drums and the talented young tenor saxophone player Larry Schneider completed the personnel. Proving not to recognize any distinction between genres, nor to care about where a piece came from when something struck him, Evans selected, among some well-known standards, the beautiful Sno'Peas by pianist Phil Markowitz as well as Paul Simon’s I Do It For Your Love - both very likely on the suggestion of Thielemans (“any time that I come across a tune that I really love and get into, I'll use it regardless,” as Bill once said). Evans' performance here is one of extraordinary poetic value: he and Thielemans establish a solid lyrical understanding fed by great depth and communicative authenticity which rigorously avoids the trap of mannerism.
Shortly afterwards, sometime between late 1978 and early 1979, on the strength of another recommendation (this time from guitarist Joe Puma with whom Bill shared a long-time friendship as well as a passion for trotter-racing), Evans decided to hire drummer Joe LaBarbera for his trio, despite worries that he might not have been completely available due to his heavy studio commitments. LaBarbera’s capacity to “do the right thing at the right time” made him a drummer of considerable musical intelligence. Gifted with a strong and relaxed sense of swing a la Elvin Jones he, like Johnson, had a highly developed ability to listen to his partners. The chemistry between these two and Evans gave him reason to expect peaks like those that he had known with LaFaro and Motian and, in fact, that is what happened.

Nevertheless, the first recording featuring LaBarbera and Johnson together - We Will Meet Again [Warner Bros. HS 3411] was a quintet album, the two horns being Tom Harrell's expressive trumpet and again the brilliant tenor sax of Larry Schneider. This album is comprised exclusively of original Bill Evans compositions, among which the inspired Laurie - dedicated to the woman who would be at his side in this last brief leg of his journey - and We Will Meet Again (which Evans had recorded two years earlier, surely never imagining the sad circumstances under which he was to find himself re-recording it). That session of August 1979, in fact, took place shortly after the tragic suicide of Bill's brother Harry, and the solo piano version of We Will Meet Again included here was clearly a despairing musical farewell directed towards this brother whom he had always worshiped.
“It's there for that reason. Also a solo version of For All We Know because that's linked with the title. So, there are those two solo tracks - For All We Know- We May Never Meet Again- and then the song We Will Meet Again.” These words from an interview with Evans' in August of 1980, give us an illuminating glimpse, flashing momentarily on the secret code that often encrypted the connection between his music and his life. With the benefit of hindsight it is not difficult to see that this was precisely the period in which Evans had unconsciously decided to let loose all his self-destructive urges, and in which he began to chant his swan song.

From that August 1979 on, in fact, we see his gradual and complete rediscovery of music, but the energy in that new spurt of growth would be inversely proportional to how much he cared about his own life, which was rapidly slipping into decline. The trio with Johnson and LaBarbera made its European debut in November of that same year. A couple of months earlier, on the occasion of his son Evan's fourth birthday, Bill had composed a tender piece for which he had also written the bitter-sweet words. The affectionate and detached Letter To Evan was performed many times along the tour, one concert of which was recorded and released on the two LPs The Paris Concert, Edition One & Edition Two and received with great enthusiasm by fans new and old. Curiously, Evans was being "rediscovered" in those years by a large number of younger listeners who had begun to tire of rock music and who were beginning to get interested in his music, having heard him perform at various European festivals.

Your StoryThe trio with Johnson and LaBarbera evolved rapidly. Bill was satisfied and proud of the extremely fast progress his two partners were making, and of how in tune they were with his musical world. But he was beginning to have serious problems with his health. For some time now, and probably increasingly so following his brother's tragic death, he had been using cocaine, and this was having repercussions on his way of playing, among which a strong tendency to rush the tempo (something of which he was completely aware, according to what he once said to LaBarbera).

In fact, on his final recordings, his solos were frenetic at times and lingered at the highest register of the keyboard. Regardless of all this, his creative energy was propelled by a new impetus, and he began once again to compose extensively. The structures he used were extremely varied, but the prevailing approach was one that we might call “nuclear", in which the same brief sequence of notes and their rhythmic layout is repeated many times in a harmonically modulating development.

This is the case with the yearning Your Story, a piece in which the music is both a confession and an invocation. Here, thanks to his masterful use of enharmonic modulation, Evans tells a true story of regret and desperation; a vast and hopeless "why?", repeated and then repeated again, knowing that there will never be an answer. He also began to perform Nardis again, repeating it at almost every concert.The version he played in Paris, and which appears on the The Paris Concert Edition Two is a remarkable one. The long piano solo he improvises on the structure of this piece, whose Eastern flavor has always held a special attraction for him, becomes an amazing recapitulation of all the elements that have contributed to his piano style, of everything that he has ever loved in music. Shades of classical music (Khachaturian, Rachmaninoff, his favorite Russian composers), harmonic derivations from Tristano an entire piano tradition ranging from Romanticism to the 20th century and jazz are fused in this Nardis, something which has no antecedents in either jazz or in the classical music tradition.

Without giving up the structure, thereby remaining anchored to a tonal approach, Evans succeeds in escaping from it to create a series of sound forms in which constructive intelligence and pathos, mind and heart are no longer separate. When, after a series of variations, Johnson and LaBarbera join him, the audience understandably explodes in the joyous applause of those who have been led across unknown and beautiful places never before seen. Thus Nardis became a kind of message that Evans was sending out to everyone in each of his final concerts. His whole personal story is here, in this series of inventions and combinations: he seems to be posing the music one more question, whose answer is the certainty of his own creativity. This re-discovered faith shines through in the whole of this last phase.
The collaboration of the highest caliber offered him by Johnson and LaBarbera was never routine and brought him back that tension and passion for the musical quest with which he had peaked twenty years earlier at the time of his unparalleled collaboration with Motian and LaFaro: “This trio is very much connected to the first trio ... I feel that the trio I have now is karmic.” Having previously been heavily involved in Zen, and also due to his Russian Orthodox background which had given him a natural aptitude and sensitivity for the metaphysical and spiritual, he felt that having these two young musicians alongside him was a sign of destiny, of the "circularity' of things and their inexplicable propensity for moving according to a script already written.

Evans was drifting by now, no longer resisting his own karma, in which the key role was being played by his powerful subconscious death-wish. With his adventurous piano solos in Nardis he was confirming what many years before clarinet player Jimmy Giuffre had said of him: “Bill Evans is a greater musician than Charlie Parker;” and to clarify so surprising a statement to his incredulous listeners he added: “There is an area up here where musical categories do not exist. This area isn’t only jazz, or European music, classical or anything else. It's just music, great music which cannot be categorized. That's what Evans plays.”

In reality Evans played his own experience, his thoughts, his wisdom, and lived his music, as like Charlie Parker himself had said a real musician has to do. Or better, he had the power to “express tenderness, love, rage, fear, happiness, despair wonder: in a word, beauty,” as Don Nelsen writes in the liner notes of Trio '65. “A lot of people feel these emotions deeply but haven't the technical means to crystallize and communicate them. Others have the technical ability but seem unable to probe into the depths of emotion. The rare bird has both the insight into the universal and the means to express it.”

The communicative force of Evans' music in that last year was becoming more penetrating than ever. He had gone back to music as his definitive refuge from the world. Despite the fact that his physical condition was rapidly deteriorating, to the point of becoming literally emaciated, amazingly enough he was able to find the energy to make a long and successful European tour in the late summer of 1980. In Great Britain, Belgium, Norway, Italy and Germany his enraptured audiences listened respectfully to this artist who still had the strength to go on telling them his fascinating and touching musical stories. Once back in America, Bill continued to work frenetically. August 31 found him engaged for a week at the Keystone Corner in San Francisco. Right after that, on Tuesday, September 9th, he began a new gig at Fat Tuesdays in New York. The Thursday afternoon of that week he called the club to say that he was not feeling well and was in no condition to play.

Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera convinced him to go to the hospital, and even in this he succeeded in keeping his surreal wittiness and his proverbial composure: on the way there he is quoted, in fact, as having commented: “I must be close to the end, because I'm seeing all these good-looking girls go by and it's not phasing me at all.” His condition rapidly and irreparably deteriorated. A series of massive hemorrhages due to his long-lived, and by now devastating, hepatitis brought the situation past the point of no return. On September 15 1980, at the age of fifty-one, Bill Evans died. The void he left behind was profoundly felt by jazz musicians all over the world, many of whom dedicated compositions to his memory.
As often, unfortunately, happens in cases like this, his passing away sparked renewed interest in the work of this musician who had never, in his lifetime, drawn huge crowds; an anti-hero who, discreetly but with unusual depth, had penetrated the hearts of both jazz fans and ordinary listeners everywhere. In 1981 Evans was inducted into Down Beat magazine's Hall of Fame, taking the "place of glory' reserved for him alongside the greatest and most important names in the history of jazz. Memorial recordings and concerts abounded recalling this reserved poet of the piano able to reveal through music his most intimate self.

In 1982, under the auspices of Helen Keane, fourteen pianists (among whom George Shearing, Teddy Wilson, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner) recorded a moving tribute in which each played one of Bill's pieces or a composition from his repertoire. In England a Bill Evans library was founded that collected all types of audio/visual material regarding the pianist and curated initiatives aimed at keeping the musical heritage of this great artist alive. September of 1989 saw the publication of the first issue of the periodical entitled "Letter from Evans" (which has now gone on the Internet). Here the founders wrote a sort of manifesto explaining their reasons for dedicating this publication precisely to Bill Evans, these were his voicing, his personal sense of rhythm, the new definition of roles within the trio. All this had for a long time been the object of study and loving attention by pianists, both jazz and otherwise, in corners of the world.

This is the "material" part of Bill Evans' legacy, but it is the astonishing artistry of his work that makes of his heritage a pivotal contribution to the history of 20th century music.