© -Steven Cerra, copyright protected; all rights reserved.
“... beauty still affects people, … they know they are custodians of it. We still need to believe in the beautiful. ...all of us are more loyal to the idea of beauty than we mean to be or know we are.”
- Liz Lev, art historian and author as told to Peggy Noonan, WSJ [paraphrased]
“One of Evans's favorite tour stops in Europe was Ronnie Scott's, the London jazz club launched and managed by two British saxophonists—Ronnie Scott and Pete King. According to drummer Marty Morell, a member of the Bill Evans Trio from 1968 to 1974. Evans loved the club's impeccably tuned piano and the city's old-school jazz fans ….”
- Marc Myers, insert notes to Bill Evans: Evans in England
“In March 1965, [Ronnie Scott’s] club was able to announce proudly the arrival of the first all-American group to play on its premises. Bill Evans was indeed something to be proud of. He was that rare breed: a jazz performer with a strongly European bias toward reflection rather than explicit emotion who could still convey all of the orthodox jazz virtues of swing, profound understanding of the blues and a strong sense of spontaneity….
It was the perfectionist quality of Evans's approach and the subtlety of his thinking that made Ronnie Scott and Pete King realise that they would have to improve the facilities a little. The club's piano was a battered old upright that had been in use there since the establishment opened, its eccentricities by now instinctively grasped by Tracey [house pianist Stan Tracey], who knew every treacherous habit it had. But they could not expect Evans to play on it. So the two club proprietors performed the long-postponed ritual of selling the piano the weekend before Evans was due to arrive. They then set about hiring a grand piano. …
Eventually a friend and sympathiser with the club's objectives, the jazz pianist and composer Alan Clare, was able to arrange the loan of a grand piano for Evans's opening show. It came at the eleventh hour.
When Evans began to play … he had distinct mannerisms in performance, [and] Evans seemed to express his apparent desire to escape more and more comprehensively into a fascinating landscape inside his own head. A thin intense-looking figure, he sat at the instrument with his head bowed over it, his nose at times virtually touching the keyboard, hands floating ethereally through a mixture of evaporating arpeggios, crisp, sinewy single-line figures that would erupt and vanish in an instant, and an ever-present rhythmic urgency that continually prodded at the otherwise speculative and otherworldly quality of his work.
Unlike many of the bebop pianists, Evans did not merely concentrate on chorus after chorus of melodic variations on the harmony - the latter usually expressed in bald, percussive chords designed to emphasise the beat -but sought to develop a solo as a complete entity with a fundamental logic and shape, his left hand developing and enriching the harmony. … Bill Evans - as the New York Village Voice writer Gary Giddins remarked - exhibited the white jazz players' gift of 'swinging with melancholy'. Evans became another regular visitor to Ronnie Scott's Club over the years, with a variety of high-class and empathetic accompanists.”
- John Fordham, Jazz Man The Amazing Story of Ronnie Scott and His Club
“For many decades the transatlantic traffic of jazz musicians suffered at the hands of politicians. Not until 1965, after a history of restrictions and exchange agreements, was the gate fully opened for ail-American hands to play in Britain. In March of that year the Bill Evans Trio became the first such group to play at Ronnie Scott's jazz club, and for the pianist's British followers it was a momentous visit. ...
The critics for Melody Maker had just voted Evans into first place in their jazz piano poll. Such critical reaction was based on his recordings, but there is nothing like hearing the real thing. Today it is easy to forget the impact of this new voice whenever he went to a new place. The pianist John Horler recalls his first experience of the Evans sound; ‘I remember being at the bar at Ronnie Scott's with my back to the bandstand when I heard these chords being played very quietly on the piano. The impact was as great as if you'd suddenly heard the Count Basie band in full cry! I turned around, and Bill Evans was sitting at the piano ready to start his first set."
- Peter Pettinger, Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings
With the exception of Pops, Duke, and Miles and Coltrane, more words have been written about Bill Evans than any other Jazz musician of the 20th century.
But while the narratives about Armstrong, Ellington, Davis and ‘Trane are mostly celebratory, that is to say, works of praise and respect regarding their achievements, the writings about Evans tend to be analytical; more focused on his style and discerning the elements that made it so unique.
[Coltrane may be an exception in that he fits into both categories].
Thus we read reams about Bill’s approach to harmonic analysis, thematic analysis, modal analysis, intervallic analysis, reharmonization and advanced reharmonization techniques, rhythmic displacement, upper structures, slash chords, polychords, Drop 2 voicing and cluster chords.
All of this about a musician who told Brian Case in one of his last interviews before his death in September, 1980:
“The fact that music is polytonal, atonal, polyrhythmic, or whatever doesn’t bother me - but it must say something.
I work with very simple means because I'm a simple person, and I came from a simple tradition out of dance music and jobbing, and though I've sorta studied a lot of other music, I feel that I know my limitations and I try to work within them. Really, there's no limit to the expression I could make within the idiom if I had the inner need to say something.
This is where I find the problem. More an emotional, a creative - emotional problem.'”
[The Quiet Innovator, Melody Maker, 9.27.1980. Emphasis mine].
After reading Bill’s emphasis on the role emotion plays his approach, it is the height of irony to read so much analysis on “the Bill Evans sound” which stresses the intellectual!
Any new recording by Bill is important because it becomes a link in the thread of his improvisational logic. Bill’s work was not about replaying licks and phrases, it was about applying a constantly evolving approach to Jazz piano, seeing what resulted and extending this knowledge to the next stylistic enhancement and embellishment.
Peter Pettinger in his seminal Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, puts this point another way:
“Each time he took the stage, he entered that world he had created for himself and for which he lived, plugging into a continuous stream of consciousness on another plane, gathering up the reins of an ongoing creation.”
And Pettinger adds to this assertion in the following statement:
“The trio played Keystone Korner [San Francisco, CA] for eight nights, starting on Sunday, August 31, 1980. All eight performances were recorded by the club owner, Todd Barkan, and issued in 1989, ..., on an eight-CD set by Alfa Records of Tokyo called Consecration: The Last Complete Collection. ….
On the first night, a rendering of "My Foolish Heart" was conjured to compare with the classic 1961 performance from the Vanguard. Now, with continuity of feeling (and key, A major) over the intervening years, a more adventurous statement was being made, farther flung on the keyboard and freer rhythmically. The original conception had developed in complexity but not deepened in spirit: simply, its essence had remained intact, affirming the initial worth.” [Emphasis mine]
And even when, as pianist Andy LaVerne [in an interview with Wim Hinkle in “Letter from Evans,” 5/2] explains -
“What he was doing was playing ahead of the changes. His right-hand line would be ahead of where the changes were happening in the harmonic rhythm. That way he could create tension and release; when the changes caught up to his line, obviously that would be a release." - this displacement of phrases came absolutely naturally to Evans, developed through feeling, not intellect. He was not trying to throw his listeners but to say more within the form of jazz.
Recordings from the mid to late 1960’s are particularly important in the Evans oeuvre because -
“Evans had by this juncture created an entirely individual harmonic language as estimable in its thoroughness of working as those of, say, Gershwin, Messiaen, or the neoclassical Stravinsky. It was based on the tonal system of the popular song and had evolved at its own painstakingly slow pace, its creator never in a hurry to leap ahead, always content to add voicings and intensify harmony step by step, consolidating all the way.
It was a craft of distinction; because he selected the notes of a chord with extra care he could heighten expressiveness by playing fewer of them,
his thoroughly grounded knowledge enabling him to make quite original substitutions. As each new element of his vocabulary became assimilated into general use, so the ground was laid for the next, and thus his own successive brands of piquancy came alive. This essentially harmonic world was enhanced by inner and outer moving parts, comments and colorings: a note that began life as a chromatic passing note might be transferred into the chord itself, which then emerged as a fresh voicing. The evolution spanned his whole life and was continuing to develop at his death.” [Pettinger; Emphasis mine]
In parallel with the choice of notes was the rhythmic variety into which they were cast, an acuity which had been sharpened early on, during his first excursions with George Russell. In trying to describe some of his rhythmic approaches in the trio, Evans likened the placement of his chords to shadow lettering, in which the shadows rather than the letters are drawn, yet the observer is always conscious only of the letters themselves. He was fascinated by disguise, surprise, and asymmetry; asymmetry, in fact—in the form of displacement—almost developed into an occupational hazard.
Phrases fell according to their content rather than the position of the bar line. Evans referred to an "internalized" beat or pulse, around which the trio played, avoiding the obvious and the explicit. As for cross-rhythms, he had always been at home in two meters at once, leaning fearlessly into the one he was engaged upon. A further subtle dimension in his playing, extra to written time-divisions, is all but beyond description: an impulsive motion that can only be likened to the timing of a great actor or comedian. In ballads especially, this sense was indispensable to their strength.”
In essence Bill lived the following precept in his music:
“It ends up where the Jazz player, ultimately, if he’s going to be a serious Jazz player, teaches himself. ...
You cannot progress on top of vagueness and confusion, he declared. He was living proof of his own classic maxim: "It is true of any subject that the person that succeeds ... has the realistic viewpoint at the beginning, knowing that the problem is large, and that he has to take it a step at a time, and he has to enjoy this step-by-step learning procedure." [Louis Carvell, “The Universal Mind of Bill Evans,” Rhapsody Films, 1966.]
Pianist Chick Corea once said in paying homage to his accomplishment: “Bill’s value can’t be measured in any kind of terms. He’s one of the great, great artists of the 20th century.”
This being the case, the discovery, preparation and production of more of Bill’s recorded music by George Klabin, Zev Feldman and the team at Resonance Records is to be lauded for having uncovered an extremely valuable new work “by one of the great artists of the 20th century.”
Here’s their media release about their brilliant, new find:
RESONANCE RECORDS' NEW BILL EVANS DISCOVERY EVANS IN ENGLAND
BOWS AS A LIMITED-EDITION 2LP RECORD STORE DAY EXCLUSIVE
ON APRIL 13 AND 2CD/DIGITAL RELEASE ON APRIL 19
Previously Unreleased 1969 Recordings with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell at Ronnie Scott's Jazz Club in London, England is the Fourth Official Collaboration with the Evans Estate.
Includes an Extensive Book with Rare Photos by Jean-Pierre Leloir; Essays by Acclaimed Author Marc Myers and French Filmmaker Leon Terjanian; Plus Exclusive Interviews with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell
Los Angeles, February 2019 - Resonance Records, the leading outlet for high-quality, unheard archival jazz releases, proudly announces that it will issue Evans in England, a vibrant, previously unreleased set of recordings featuring music by lyrical piano master Bill Evans with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell captured during an engagement at Ronnie Scott's celebrated jazz club in December 1969.
The Evans album continues Resonance's tradition of unveiling a special release on Record Store Day, the annual event promoting independent record retailers. As Variety noted in a 2018 profile of the label, "If Record Store Day had a mascot label, it would be Resonance Records, a small, L.A.-based jazz independent that's become known even outside the genre for producing high-end archival releases tailored especially with the RSD market in mind."
Evans in England, which features 18 electrifying performances by Evans' brilliant trio of 1968-74, will initially be issued on April 13 - Record Store Day 2019 — as a limited edition 180-gram two-LP set, mastered by Bernie Grundman at Bernie Grundman Mastering in Hollywood and pressed at Record Technology, Inc. (RTI); the package will be available only at participating independent record outlets. Two-CD and digital configurations of the set will be available April 19.
The album will include extensive liner notes including essays by producer and Resonance co-president Zev Feldman and jazz writer Marc Meyers; interviews with Gomez, Morell, and filmmaker Leon Terjanian; and rare photos by Chuck Stewart, Jean-Pierre Leloir, and Jan Persson.
Evans in England succeeds a pair of widely acclaimed Evans releases from Los Angeles-based independent Resonance that featured the pianist's short-lived 1968 trio with Gomez and drummer Jack DeJohnette: 2016's collection of lost studio sides Some Other Time and 2017's set of Dutch radio recordings Another Time. The latter release was named one of the year's top historical releases by DownBeat, JazzTimes, the U.K.'s Jazzwise, and the NPR Music Jazz Critics Poll.
In 2012, the label released its first album devoted to unissued music by the pianist, Bill Evans Live at Art D'Lugoff’s Top of the Gate, a set of two never-before-heard 1968 concerts from the Greenwich Village club featuring the trio with Gomez and Morell recorded by Resonance founder and co-president George Klabin.
Producer Feldman says, "It's very exciting for Resonance to be collaborating on our fourth project together with the Evans Estate. These are really extraordinary recordings that represent Bill at his very, very best, and document the great art and chemistry that existed between these three gentlemen — Bill Evans, Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell — captured just a year into what would go on to become Bill's longest-lasting trio."
As has been the case with some of Resonance's other collections of rare and unheard jazz, the music on Evans in England arrived at the label's doorstep via a bolt out of the blue: an unexpected email to Feldman from a man who said he was in possession of some previously unissued Evans recordings.
The gentleman in question was Leon Terjanian, a friend and devoted fan of Evans who had filmed the pianist for his documentary feature Turn Out the Stars, which premiered at the Montreal Jazz Festival in 1981.
Through the late Francis Paudras, the famed biographer of jazz piano titan Bud Powell, Terjanian had made the acquaintance of a French collector who chooses to identify himself only as "Jo." A similarly ardent admirer of Evans' playing, Jo had tracked the keyboardist across Europe and even captured his trio's sets at Ronnie Scott's.
Evans discovered Jo's surreptitious recording activities (which employed a small portable machine), but the musician grew comfortable with his presence, and he allowed his dedicated fan to tape his performances.
In July 2016, Terjanian received a phone call from 84-year-old Jo, who said he wanted to see his Evans recordings issued to the public before his death. That communication prompted contact with Feldman at Resonance. Arrangements were made with the Evans Estate for a legitimately licensed release of the material, with tracks selected by co-presidents George Klabin and Zev Feldman.
Marked by the already empathetic interplay of Evans, Gomez, and Morell, who would perform together for nearly seven years, Evans in England is an exceptional recital that encompasses energetic renderings of such timeless compositions as "Waltz For Debby," "Turn Out the Stars," "Very Early," and "Re: Person I Knew"; extroverted readings of Miles Davis’ "So What" (which Evans originated with the trumpeter sextet on the 1959 classic Kind of Blue) and Thelonious Monk's "'Round Midnight"; and Evans' earliest recordings of "Sugar Plum" and "The Two Lonely People."
Feldman says, "Bill Evans is an artist who continues to inspire us, all these decades later. I still hear new things in his music upon each new listen, and to find an unearthed set of concert recordings such as these is a cause for widespread joy and jubilation to break out among Evans fans and jazz fans everywhere."
Looking back on the experience of playing with Bill Evans, Gomez says, "He wanted us — me — from the very beginning to just go out there and play and make music, and as long as there's a lot of integrating and honesty and devotion to what we're doing, he was fine. He never put any parameters, or kiboshed anything. So it was an invitation from Bill to try stuff and be creative, and I certainly took the bait."
Morell adds, "It was challenging, inspiring, and just kind of brought the best out of me."