Friday, February 24, 2017

Bill Evans: Time Remembered

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

Time Remembered is an original composition by pianist Bill Evans, but in the context of the title of this feature it has an old and new connotation to it.

First the “old” which has three primary meanings for me: [1] I remember spending many nights listening to pianist Bill Evans while he was in residence at Shelly Manne Hole in Hollywood, CA for most of May, 1963; [2] I remember listening to my drum teacher Larry Bunker work his first night as a member of Bill’s trio along with bassist Chuck Israels during Evans’ stint at Shelly’s; [3] I remember Bill’s original Time Remember being performed for the first time while this version of Bill’s trio played the May, 1963 engagement.

In Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings [Yale University Press] Peter Pettinger’s seminal biography of Bill, he describes the context for the evolution of Bill’s original Time Remembered this way:

“During the late 1940’s, when pianist Bill Evans was a student in Louisiana, many young English jazz musicians worked the ocean liners to and from New York, drawn like moths to the beacon of bebop. One such musician was a tenor saxophonist named Ronnie Scott, who, bowled over by the proliferation of New York clubs, determined to start up one of his own in London. It took a while, but in 1959 Ronnie Scott's, destined to become one of the great jazz clubs of the world, began life humbly in a Soho basement. During the first year, West Coast drummer Shelly Manne dropped in, and Scott maintained that Manne opened his own club in Hollywood soon after as a direct response to the atmosphere at "Ronnie's."

That club was Shelly's Manne Hole, and Bill Evans spent all of May 1963 there, beginning in a duo with his old bass-playing friend Red Mitchell. Chuck Israels was on tour with "The Midgets of Jazz"  — [drummer] Ben Riley's name for the Paul Winter group —  but was able to wind it up in Denver and replace Mitchell for the last two weeks at the Manne Hole. Shelly Manne himself sat in from time to time — after all, it was his club. Israels said:

‘After a few nights I got to talking with many of the Hollywood musicians who were corning in to hear us and I paid particular attention to the pianist, Clare Fischer, who kept insisting that the dapper, elegantly bearded man, whom I had seen listening intently 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 that first experience of playing with Larry Bunker was a revelation would only be half the story.... I smiled and Bill grinned broadly and dug in to play all the more and Larry was hired on the spot to finish out the job with us. The following week, Wally Heider came in to record the group for Riverside.’

Thus was fulfilled the one remaining project on the Evans-Riverside books. Both the pianist and his producer of almost seven years, Orrin Keepnews, wanted their final collaboration to be a live recording with the working trio, a logical follow-up to the 1961 Village Vanguard dates with LaFaro and Motian. But when the time came, Keepnews was disbanding his ailing company in New York and was unable to get out to Hollywood. The sessions, issued as Bill Evans Trio at Shelly's Manne Hole and Time Remembered, were supervised by Los Angeles-based Richard Bock.

We have Israels's word for it that the events of those two evenings are accurately represented on the records. ‘You can hear Larry's hands through the wires on the brushes," he said, "feel the exact weight of his foot on the Bass drum and identify the timbre of each cymbal and tom-tom. The sound of the bass, too, is faithfully preserved. That was just before jazz bassists almost universally switched over to the metal strings most symphony players had used for years.’

The empathy between Israels and Evans was evident in these fine performances. Together with Larry Bunker they reveled in creative interplay and were obviously at home in the congenial surroundings of this intimate club, to date the pianist's second-favorite to the Village Vanguard. Israels was more relaxed than on the studio sessions of a year ago, swinging notably on his own Blues in F, and Bunker was clearly relishing a break from his habitual studio round, contributing a continuous web of sympathy and propulsion. There was the feeling that the trio was among friends, unpressurized to strive against any odds — for the odds were, indeed, stacked in their favor. Evans had at his disposal a baby grand, which, though thin and wiry on top, was capable in his hands of a pellucid middle-range tone.

Evans had brought new material, and his colleagues were thrown in at the deep end and left to surface as best they might, always to be the pianist's way of working. Another surprise was his harmonic rethinking of Lover Man, the middle eight of which was reconstructed outright. The pianist's motivation was sound, the usual chords being vapid at ballad tempo. He felt a need for a more densely changing (and deeper) key exploration by way of central contrast. His solution satisfied in a formal sense, as well as providing a firmer, yet more variegated foundation for fantasy.

Time Remembered, the only Evans original issued from these evenings, received its first trio exposition on disc. The piece's harmonic structure is notable for studiously avoiding the dominant seventh. As a result, a modal feeling permeates the timeless progression of its predominantly minor sevenths. In this performance the floating chords at the end of the piano solo spilled gently and seamlessly over the beginning of the bass solo, the overlapping another feature of the chamber approach, the desire to get away from a "blowing list." That three-way discourse, highly developed in the First Trio, was now operating more naturally, less self-consciously, the result arguably a more convincing vindication of the Evans ‘creed of interplay.’

The traditional night off was Monday, but Shelly asked Bill to take Tuesdays off instead so that the local musicians could hear him. Israels told me: "I saw most every California musician that I had heard of in the club during that engagement, some of them (like [pianist] Terry Trotter and [drummer] Bill Goodwin) almost every night." Goodwin himself recalled Evans's condition: ‘He wasn't in very good shape, physically. That was when I first met him, and he was beautiful — a wonderful guy. It was really incongruous that he could be so messed up and yet be such a normal, regular person.’

Like Dave Jones before him, the engineer Wally Heider captured the trio, and the ambience of the club, to perfection. (Ironically, the club was eventually forced to move, as the sound of the heavier electric bands began spilling through into the echo chamber of Heider's own recording studio next door.) These recordings formed a fitting farewell for Evans and Orrin Keepnews at Riverside, one of the great recording partnerships in jazz. Though they bid adieu professionally, Orrin continued to follow Bill's career avidly, and they remained friends until the end.

Evans later reflected on the value of small record companies at the start of an artist's career; ‘You need those companies; actually jazz needs those companies because, until you establish yourself, [they] offer an entranceway. ...To sign a standard union contract for scale, with Riverside, for two records, was to me the biggest thrill that could happen at that time. ... I never got a royalty statement, not even as by law every three months — never saw one, never expected one— didn't care really, because at that point you want to get your records out there. So it works for both.’

Late in 1963, Bill Grauer, in charge of business at Riverside, died of a heart attack. Evans had had little to do with him but had always found him rather a rough character. The pianist's sense of black humor prompted him to observe: ‘I figure he must have died in self-defense.’  The company had been sliding steadily toward bankruptcy, and finally folded in mid-1964.”

The “new” Time Remembered that prompted this retrospective involves the recent issue of the film Bill Evans: Time Remembered by Bruce Siegel.

For the last 25 years, Bruce Spiegel has been a producer/editor at CBS News/48 Hours. During that time, he’s also produced, edited and directed a number of films and documentaries. In 2002 he co-produced the award winning TV documentary “9-11” which won both an Emmy (2002) and Peabody Award (2003). In 2012, alongside Wynton Marsalis (jazz musician and artistic director at Jazz at Lincoln Center) and Hugh Masakela (South African music legend), Spiegel co-produced a CBS News/48 Hours TV documentary titled “Nelson Mandela: Father of a Nation”. The documentary explored the South African music that was used for Nelson Mandela’s eulogy, and won The National Association of Black Journalists (NABJ) Excellence Award in 2014.

In Bill Evans: Time Remembered Bruce Spiegel has produced a complete documentary giving you insights into Bill Evans; not just the musician, but also the person. The film moves chronologically starting with Bill's childhood in New Jersey and culminating with details about his death.

As Bruce recounts: "The film Bill Evans, Time Remembered took me 8 years to make. Eight years of tracking down anybody who knew Bill and who played with him, to try and find out as much as I could about the elusive and not easy to understand Bill Evans. I feel very honored to have had the chance to interview and get to know good guys that spent a lot of time with Bill: Billy Taylor, Gene Lees, Tony Bennett, Jack DeJohnette, Jon Hendricks, Jim Hall, Bobby Brookmeyer, Chuck Israels, Paul Motian, Gary Peacock, Joe LaBarbera. It was a once in a life time experience talking to these gifted talented guys about their time in jazz music, about their “Time Remembered“ with Bill Evans."

"The film was a bull's eye at capturing as much as one can capture of someone's music, pain, and life story. My family is forever grateful to your outstanding work." - Debby Evans (Waltz for Debby)"

"The film is musically intriguing and sensitively crafted. Not soppy with just the right amount of honesty regarding his personal life." - Nenette Evans

The film is available for preview, rental or purchase at the following website -

If you are a Bill Evans fan, the film is a must view.

Oh, and if you haven’t heard them, you might also want to pick up copies of Bill Evans Trio at Shelly's Manne Hole and Time Remembered which are both available as Original Jazz Classics CDs.

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