Thursday, October 3, 2019

Bill Evans – The Sesjun Radio Shows

[c] –Steven A. Cerra, Introduction, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

In the early 1960s, not too long after it first opened, pianist Bill Evans was a frequent visit to drummer Shelly Manne’s - The Manne Hole.

After the tragic death of his close musical colleague, bassist Scott LaFaro, in July, 1961, Bill couldn’t bring himself to sit at the piano.

He just stopped playing, some say, for almost a year.

Shelly, who was one of the most sensitive guys on the planet and who was also a great fan of Bill’s music, thought perhaps a change of venue would be good for Bill and brought him out to “The Coast,” as it was then referred to by the cognoscenti, for a solo piano stint at his Hollywood, CA club.

At the time, Bill Evans was not as well-known to the wider Jazz public as he would become later in his career.  As a result, the audience for his last set at Shelly’s was often a musicians-only affair.

Due to reasons of proximity, preference and pleasure, Shelly’s was my hangout as a young, aspiring Jazz musician.

And thanks to Shelly’s generosity in allowing us in the back door sans cover charge, it was a place that I and my cohorts could visit often to fill-up on Coca Cola and plenty of great Jazz.

Bill occasionally joined us at our table, shared information about how he constructed or “voiced” chords, which was very unique at the time, and graciously answered what seems in retrospect to have been an unending stream of questions about “what he heard in the music.”

He was kind and considerate to me and my mates and always very open to requests to play certain tunes.

For some reason, I had become very taken with Tadd Dameron’s, If You Could See Me Now. When I asked him if he would play it, I remembered that he got a very distant look on his face and said: “ I don’t play it much anymore, but if you’ll stick around, I’ll close the last set with it.”

A few years later, Bill was again appearing at Shelly’s, this time with a trio which included Chuck Israels on bass and Larry Bunker on drums, who was my mentor and friend.

When he played, Bill always hunched over the piano, kept his head down and was seemingly oblivious to anyone else in the room.

I had quietly entered the club and was seated so that I could observe Larry’s drumming [no instructional videos in those days, only personal observation].

After the tune they were playing when I walked in had concluded, Bill started in on If You Could See Me Now.

While later talking with Larry as he was putting his cymbals away for the evening, I mentioned the tune and Larry said that in the year-and-a-half that he had been with Bill, this was the first time that Bill had played If You Could See Me Now while he had been with the trio!

Imagine my pleasure then when my copy of Bill’s “The Sesjun Radio Shows” double CD arrived and I found If You Could See Me Now as the opening track on the second disc.

Bill’s treatment of what has since become a Jazz standard is magnificent as are all the tracks on this 2 CD set which will become available for purchase on June 28, 2011.

When “Bill Evans [who] is considered by many to be the most influential Jazz pianist of the last 50 years,” has more of his music released, it is always welcomed news.

According to Michael Bloom Media Relations: “These sessions, recorded live for the highly acclaimed Dutch Radio Show “Tros Sesjun” between 1973 and 1979, showcase Evans’ talent in a small group setting as he appears with such eminent musicians as Eddie Gomez [bassist], Eliot Zigmund [drummer], Marc Johnson [bassist], Joe LaBarbera [drummer] and Toots Thielemans [harmonica player]”

There are nineteen [19] tracks on the two CDs. All of the music is played to Bill’s exacting standards and the recording quality throughout is warm sounding and very distinct.

With high profile artists such as Bill, there is sometimes a tendency for anything and everything which is discovered posthumously by their estates to be issued irrespective of its artistic merit or sound quality.

This is definitely not the case with Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows [Out of the Blue. PRCD 2011005].

I think that Bill would have been very proud to have these performances released as commercial recordings.

The folks at T2 Entertainment, the original producers of these shows, Dick de Winter and Cees Schrama [who also selected and sequenced the music], and Arjan de Rues for his superb editing and mastering deserve a great deal of credit for making this music available.

Special mention should also be made of the work of Machgiel Bakker and Job De Hass of Beeld & Geluid. Based in The Netherlands, Beeld and Geluid is a public facility with sound and vision links to media archives.

In the 1970s, Bill began to feature his original compositions more often during his concerts and club dates and this is no less the case on these recordings on which he performs Laurie, The Two Lonely People, Sugar Plum, Time Remembered and two sterling renditions of his difficult TTT (Twelve Tone Tune and Twelve Tone Tune Two).”

With regard to the latter, the conventional scale is made up of eight tones, but 20th century composer Arnold Schoenberg created music in which no pitch class (or note) is repeated until all other chromatic pitches have been used. Any group of twelve pitches arranged this way is sometimes called a “row.”

It is difficult to compose music using a twelve tone row, let alone to improvise on it without it sounding like some sort of an exercise and a tortuous one at that.

Bill’s artistry is such that he turns the twelve tone row into a musical chase or game of tag between himself and bassist Eddie Gomez that’s easy and fun to follow.

You can always tell when Bill is in the presence of a powerful ballad  – one whose melody tugs at his soul. He doesn’t improvise much off of these, preferring to play around it.

This especially the case with tunes like The Days of Wine and Roses, Some Other Time and If You Could See Me Now.

He may add a note here and there; change the tempo; play the theme in chords; add some transitional riffs to elongate the melody. But he remains focused on the melody itself.

Ballads that Bill has composed - Time Remembered, The Two Lonely People and Sugar Plum - find him more adventurous; more willing to take chances; more inclined to explore the inner possibilities of a tune’s structure.

A melodic ballad in the hands of Bill Evans becomes a pianistic treasure to behold. It’s as though these melodies, the piano and Bill Evans were created to be together. 

One suspects that the Jazz “gods” may have created the symbiotic relationship in Bill’s balladic pianism for their own pleasure.

Mercifully, the production team of Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows has opted to share more of Bill’s introspective and impressionistic treatment of beautiful melodies with the rest of us mere mortals.

Another characteristic of Bill’s Jazz artistry is the strong interplay between the piano and the string bass and these interchanges continue to be on display on Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows with the work of bassist Eddie Gomez on Disc 1 and bassist Marc Johnson on Disc 2.

Both Eddie and Marc play bass with a high level of virtuosity, one that will literally find you holding your breath at times. Their command of the string bass is so great that they are able to take an instrument that is often overlooked and make it compelling to listen to.

Followers of Bill’s trio music have come to expect his concerts to include versions of My Romance and Miles Davis’ Nardis that primarily serve as vehicles for him to showcase the talents of all the members of the trio with special opportunities for the drummer to “stretch out” [play extended solos].

Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows has treatments of both of these signature tunes and each contains generous amounts of Joe LaBabera’s tasteful and musical drumming.

Recorded on three, separate occasions in 1973, 1975 and 1979, the varied program, sparkling sound quality and masterly musicianship of Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows would make an excellent introduction to Bill’s music, if it is new to you, and put a smile on the faces of those who are already familiar with it.  More Bill Evans is like an extra helping of dessert.

Here's a video on Bill Evans: The Sesjun Radio Shows which features Bill’s performance of – what else? – Tadd Dameron’s If You Could See Me Now.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Please leave your comments here. Thank you.