Sunday, February 15, 2009
Enrico Pieranunzi, Part - 2 "Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist"
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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.”
Two 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
Posted by Jazz Profiles at 2:43 PM