Friday, March 6, 2009

Enrico Pieranunzi, Part - 5 "Bill Evans The Pianist as an Artist"

[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.

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

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.