Sunday, December 21, 2014

Homage to Bill Evans - Martin Williams

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


Bill Evans
The Complete Village Vanguard Recordings, 1961
Riverside, $89.99
“Previously released as two now-classic albums in "Waltz for Debby" and "Sunday at the Village Vanguard," this four-LP set from the piano master compiles the now-legendary performances from a trio that would never perform again after the death just days later of 25-year-old bassist Scott LaFaro in a car accident. Released on CD in 2005, this remastered collection draws from existing tapes from both sets on June 25,1961 (including an interrupted run through of "Gloria's Step") with sparse crowd noise intact, offering a warmly revealing simulation of the live moments a small contingent of jazz fans — particularly a sparse afternoon crowd — couldn't imagine their good fortune to witness.”
- Chris Barton

“The fruits of the group's imagination that day continue to reward repeated hearings —and to renew the listener's mental and emotional stamina. Each piece occupies its own crystalline world of magic. As Bill Goodwin, who drummed with the trio briefly in the seventies, put it: "When Bill and Scott and Paul Motian got together, it was as if they already knew what to do. They had instant sound; they had instant rapport.” This legacy has been called Bill Evans's finest hour, and few would disagree. Delving into the riches recorded (amounting to about two and a half hours of music) we witness a certain apogee in the development of the jazz piano trio, the medium pursued by Evans for his lifetime's achievement. For depth of feeling, in-group affinity, and beauty of conception with a pliant touch, these records will be forever peerless.” 
- Peter Pettinger, Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings

Chris Barton’s brief annotation of this new Bill Evans box set that was published in the December 14th edition of The Los Angeles Times as a suggestion of some new compilations that are available for 2014 holiday gift giving reminded me of the original Bill Evans boxed set - The Complete Riverside Recordings of Bill Evans - which was issued in 1987 under the guidance of Orrin Keepnews, the producer of these recordings, and Ralph Kaffel, who represented Fantasy Records, the label that issued them on CD.

The following essay by Martin Williams, the distinguished Jazz author and critic, that accompanies this initial Bill Evans boxed set has always been among my favorite writings about Bill and his music.

Instructive and insightful, only a few non-musicians knew the music as well as Martin Williams or could express such a high level of understanding in a prose that is marked by clarity and economy.

Music is the most important and meaningful thing in my life and music contains more of me than any other thing about my life.
— Bill Evans

““Several times William John Evans spoke publicly of a singular moment when he first discovered the freedom that goes with being a jazz player. And several times he also spoke of the enormous discipline that it requires.

About the freedom. He was the pre-teenage pianist in a dance band in his home state of New Jersey. They were playing "Tuxedo Junction," a piece originally performed in an atmosphere of improvisation by Erskine Hawkins and the other big Swing bands that later adopted it. But by the time the tune had become a dance-band "stock" arrangement, the parts had been simplified, locked in, and intended to be read off the paper.

"For some reason," Evans said, "I got inspired to put in a little blues thing. 'Tuxedo Junction' is in B-flat, and I put in a little D-flat, D, F thing, bing! in the right hand. It was such a thrill. It sounded right and good, and it wasn't written, and I had done it. The idea of doing something in music that somebody hadn't thought of opened a whole new world to me."

As for the discipline that is part of the equipment of any great improviser, he explained that even on the most uninspiring job, when he'd approach the bandstand with no hope of having anything good in him to play, the accumulated discipline of knowing how to make his mind and hands and feet respond would simply take over and allow — even cause — the flow of musical ideas.

Perhaps most tellingly, he once said: "I believe in things that are developed through hard work."

The objective facts of Bill Evans's career are easy enough to relate. He was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, August 18, 1929. He studied piano from the age of six, but the family wanted him to have a second instrument, and he began violin the next year and flute at thirteen. He was no more than twelve when he improvised that minor third on "Tuxedo Junction." Almost as importantly, he had been substituting for his brother Harry in the Buddy Valentino band.

"My older brother Harry played a big part in influencing me throughout my life. He was the first one to take piano lessons and it was my mimicking him that led to my playing. I always sort of worshiped him. In sports, I always tried to keep up with him, even though he was two years older and very athletically inclined. The same way with piano." When Harry Evans died, in the spring of 1979, it was a deeply felt shock to his younger brother.

Having majored in music education, Bill graduated in 1950 from Southeastern Louisiana College, where, it has been said, he could not comfortably play the scales and exercises that were supposed to enable him to play the piano classics, but could play those classics themselves with ease.

Evans had gigged with the likes of Mundell Lowe and Red Mitchell, and played in the band of saxophonist Herbie Fields (from whom, he said, he learned how to accompany) before a 1951-54 Army stint. Afterward, he worked around New York with Jerry Wald and Tony Scott, among others, and began to acquire a reputation among musicians as a comer.


By late 1956, Evans had made his first session as a leader—Disc 1, #1-12 in this collection. Concurrently, he recorded with Bob Brookmeyer, Art Farmer, Bill Potts, Lee Konitz, and Jimmy Giuffre, Eddie Costa, and George Russell. And he had also recorded his first masterpiece improvisation.

That came as a result of a "third stream" concert held at Brandeis University in 1957 (before the term was even coined), with extended pieces by Russell, Giuffre, Harold Shapiro, Charlie Mingus, Milton Babbitt, and Gunther Schuller, some of which, in "third stream" fashion, combined written classical forms and jazz improvisations. Bill played exceptionally on a variety of works, and on George Russell's remarkable 'All About Rosie" he offered a solo which, to put it bluntly, announced all by itself the arrival of a truly major talent. It was an announcement confirmed by Bills subsequent recordings, the work of his groups, and his own continuing musical growth.

The next major event, however, was the several months Evans spent with the Miles Davis Sextet in 1958, of which we will have more to say below Then in the following year, there came the permanent formation of a Bill Evans Trio, heard here beginning with Disc 2, #11-14.

The trio's original drummer, Paul Motian, had worked with Evans in Tony Scott's and Don Elliott's groups. And Bill had auditioned with Scott La Faro for a Chet Baker group in about 1956. ["He was a marvelous bass player and talent, but it was bubbling out almost like a gusher . . . like a bucking horse." But by the time he joined the trio, La Faro "had a firmer control over that creative gusher.")

When the trio was being formed, Evans had said that he hoped it would "grow in the direction of simultaneous improvisation rather than just one guy blowing followed by another guy blowing. If the bass player, for example, hears an idea that he wants to answer, why should he just keep playing a 4/4 background? The men I'll work with have learned how to do the regular kind of playing, and so I think we now have the license to change it. After all, in a classical composition, you don't hear a part remain stagnant until it becomes a solo. There are transitional development passages—a voice begins to be heard more and more and finally breaks into prominence.

"Especially, I want my work—and the trio's if possible —to sing. I want to play what I like to hear. I'm not going to be strange or new just to be strange or new If what I do grows that way naturally, that'll be O.K. But it must have that wonderful feeling of singing "

By then, La Faro was beginning to move jazz bass in relatively new directions—for which Charlie Mingus had outlined the way—and he was doing it with a fascinating and irresistible virtuosity. The monaural version of 'Autumn Leaves" and the originally-issued take of "Blue in Green," from the trio's first studio date, are the initial masterpieces in just the kind of three-way performance Evans was hoping for.

Scott La Faro's death in an automobile accident in July of 1961 shocked us all. "I didn't realize how it affected me right away," Evans said later. "Musically everything seemed to stop. I didn't even play at home." If Chuck Israels, his eventual replacement in the trio, did not have La Faro's manifest virtuosity, he was no less irrepressibly a part of its three-voice musical textures.

By this time, it was evident that Bill Evans was a musician with a growing following. He could regularly work at the Village Vanguard in New York and other venues, and pull an audience. His records sold reasonably well. He could please those listeners who simply wanted to be surrounded by a good, somewhat elegant jazz sound. And he could deeply reward those who wanted to attend each note, each phrase, each invention, each musical idea and structure. In that dichotomy of appeal he was, like Miles Davis and the Modern Jazz Quartet, lucky indeed.

He was fortunate, too, to have the producer of these records. Orrin Keepnews recorded him because he knew that Bill (and the rest of us) deserved it, and knew that no other New York jazz independent of the day (not Blue Note, not Prestige) was likely to be attracted to him. For his part, Bill's words about this friend and associate were succinct and eloquent: "Orrin is a gentleman."

The eight 1963 sides [Disc 10, #5-10; Disc 11 and Disc 12] that conclude this compilation were made to fulfill a terminated contract, after Bill had officially left Riverside and Keepnews for Verve Records. The years of wider success and Grammy awards were ahead of him, years perceptively aided and guided by one of the most valuable managers any jazz musician ever had, Helen Keane.

There is one more element in the life of this man that must be noted, even though it remains painful to all who knew him and loved his music. Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz in the Sixties reported that "Evans' career has been an erratic one, marked by protracted absences due to personal problems." Even his casual fans must have noticed that the boyishly romantic, handsome face was being ravaged — by something.

For more than a decade, starting in the late 1950s, Bill Evans used heroin. Several times he was terribly ill and more than once he retreated from playing and from New York. In 1970, with excellent help, he broke his habit, beginning nearly a decade of life entirely without drugs. Then he encountered the "safe" drug, "nonaddictive" cocaine. Whatever the stated, official cause of death, those of us who knew him recognized what had really killed him. And we knew also that none of us had walked in his shoes.


Yet Bill Evans never stopped growing musically during all of this. And if any of his personal suffering damaged his music or inhibited his artistic growth, I did not hear it.

Discipline and freedom have to mix in a very sensitive way ... I believe all music is romantic, but if it gets schmaltzy) romanticism is disturbing. On the other hand, romanticism handled with discipline is the most beautiful kind of beauty.
Bill Evans

Since his death, testimony from fellow pianists has been exceptionally generous. The quotable praise is endless. George Shearing called Evans "one of my all-time favorites." To John Lewis, himself a rare accompanist, Bill was "a great creative artist and a virtuoso pianist," from whom he heard "some of the greatest accompaniment I know in music." Chick Corea has described his contributions in both music and aesthetics as being too large to be measured and Denny Zeitlin has spoken of the "priceless series of trio recordings on Riverside." For Joanne Brackeen "he turned fantasies into living, breathing realities"; Dave McKenna said that "listening to him got me deeply interested in modern music"; and from Dave Frishberg: "he could play such assertive jazz without sounding percussive."

Bill Evans could have been a major musician-critic. Indeed, if we were to collect all he wrote and said about the music and its players, he might appear to have been just that.

Take the notes he contributed to the seminal Miles Davis Kind of Blue album, issued in 1959. Evans compared "the extremely severe and unique disciplines of the jazz or improvising musician" to the art of the spontaneous watercolorists of Japan, who paint on a thin parchment "in such a way that an unnatural or interrupted stroke will destroy the line or break through the parchment. Erasures or changes are impossible. These artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere."

The pictures that result, he added, may "lack the complex composition and textures of ordinary painting, but it is said that those who will see will find something captured that escapes explanation."

Or his comments on one of Thelonious Monk s 1960s Columbia LPs. He described Monk as "an exceptionally uncorrupted creative talent," largely uninfluenced by any musical tradition except that of American popular music and jazz, who against huge conformist pressures, had replaced formal superficialities with "fundamental structure" and produced "a unique and astoundingly pure music which combined aptitude, insight, drive, compassion, fantasy and whatever else makes a total artist."

Or these words on Miles Davis's development (from a 1981 interview in Keyboard magazine: "[He is] an example of somebody I think was a late arriver, even though he was recorded when he first came on the scene. You can hear how consciously he was soloing and how his knowledge was a very aware thing. He just constantly kept working and contributing to his own craft. . . And then at one point it all came together and he emerged with maturity, and he became a total artist and influence, making a kind of beauty that has never been heard before or since."

But whenever he discussed others, Evans, like any important artist-critic, was inevitably also speaking of himself and of his own struggles and growth.

His remarks on Monk's commitment to the jazz and popular traditions were, for example, very much a comment on Evans. "I believe in the language of the popular idiom," he said later, “and this has come out of not just our culture but all of history, especially the traditional jazz idiom. It is the experience of millions of people and of conditions which are impossible to take into consideration. . . . Now if I could take the feelings and experience I have from this traditional idiom and somehow extend it to another area of expression ... I want everything to have roots."


His references to Davis were a part also of the most cogent of many comments on the need for discipline and (most importantly) an insistence on an artists need to arrive at his best style, the one that would allow for a continued artistic growth and development. Indeed, this seems to me one of the most perceptive and succinct statements in all the literature of jazz: "I always like people who have developed long and hard, especially through introspection and a lot of dedication. I think what they arrive at is usually . . . deeper and more beautiful . . . than the person who seems to have that ability and fluidity from the beginning. I say this because it's a good message to give to young (talents who feel as I used to. You hear musicians playing with great fluidity and complete conception early on, and you don't have that ability. I didn't. I had to know what I was doing. And yes, ultimately it turned out that these people weren't able to carry their thing very far. I found myself being more attracted to artists who have developed through the years and become better and deeper musicians."

That need to know what he was doing, intellectually and theoretically, was one pole of the dichotomy of the remarkable combination of careful deliberateness and intuitive spontaneity, of logic and sensitivity, of mind and heart, that was Bill Evans the musician. He elaborated to Don DeMichael—in a singular account of a musical self-education—in the introduction to the folio Bill Evans Plays. "I think it was a good thing I didn't have a great aptitude for mimicry, though it made it very difficult for me at the time because I had to build my whole musical style. I'd abstract musical principles from the people I dug, and I'd take their feeling or technique to apply to things the way that I'd built them. But because I had to build them meticulously, I think it worked out better in the end because it gave me a complete understanding of everything I was doing."

And what is it all about, this music that mankind makes? What is it for?
"I don't want to express just my feelings," he told DeMichael. 'All my feelings aren't interesting to everybody."

“My creed for art in general is that it should enrich the soul; it should teach spiritually by showing a person a portion of himself that he would not discover otherwise. It's easy to rediscover a part of yourself, but through art you can be shown part of yourself you never knew existed. That's the real mission of art The artist has to find something within himself that's universal, and which he can put into terms that are communicable to other people. The magic of it is that art can communicate this to a person without his realizing it. Enrichment, that's the function of music.”
— Bill Evans

Evans spent less than a year with Miles Davis, from February until November 1958, but it was a crucial period, and a job and a man that recurred often when Bill talked about himself and his music.

At the time, Davis himself told Nat Hentoff in The Jazz Review that Evans was one of those pianists who "when they play a chord, play a sound more than a chord.' In a statement used on the cover of Evans's second Riverside LP, Everybody Digs Bill Evans [Disc 1, #13-16; Disc 2, #1-6], Davis added: "I've sure learned a lot from Bill Evans. He plays the piano the way it should be played. . . ." And he continued: "He plays all kinds of scales, can play in 5/4, and all kinds of fantastic things . . . you can play chords on every note of the scale. . . . People like Bill, Gil Evans and George Russell know what can be done, what the possibilities are."

Everybody Digs Bill Evans appeared also with quotes from George Shearing ("Bill Evans is one of the most refreshing pianists I have heard in years"); Ahmad Jamal ("I think Bill Evans is one of the finest"); and Bill's companion in the Miles Davis group, Julian "Cannonball" Adderley (". . . rare originality and taste and the even rarer ability to make his conception of a number seem the definitive way to play it"). An auspicious "second debut" for a jazz pianist!

In view of Evans's continuing major commitment to the American popular song, such performances as "Peace Piece" (from the Everybody Digs session), the Village Vanguard version of "Milestones," Bill's "free" solo on George Russell's 'All About Rosie," and his participation in the Davis Kind of Blue album call for special comment. For these events either led to or were early parts of the movement called "modal" jazz or "free" jazz (which are aspects of the same thing, albeit parts with a difference). And what they represented were the efforts of a substantial number of jazz musicians to find new bases for improvising, after having explored fundamentally the same ones for over 35 years.

Of "Peace Piece," Evans said at the time: "It's completely free-form. I just had one figure that gave the piece a tonal reference and a rhythmic reference. Thereafter, everything could happen over that one solid thing. Except for the bass figure, it was a complete improvisation." Because of that, he added (describing a situation that subsequently changed), "I so far haven't been able to do it again when I've been asked for it in clubs"

"Peace Piece" is conceived (like "Flamenco Sketches" on Miles's Kind of Blue) on a succession of scales, which the soloist takes up one at a time and improvises on for as long as he pleases before turning to the next. So the notes available to the improviser are a "given," but structure, phrase length, and overall length are spontaneous.”

"Blue in Green" was also on Kind of Blue. It was written by Evans on a succession of unusually juxtaposed chords apparently suggested to him by Davis, and on a ten-measure, rather than twelve-measure, phrase. Strictly speaking, "Blue in Green" is neither "free" nor "modal," but it is very challenging to the player, requiring him to get gracefully as well as correctly from one chord to the next and "think" in phrases of unusual length.

And, just for the record, "So What" (the other highly influential selection on the Davis album) is opposite to "Flamenco Sketches" but is like the flowing "Milestones." This piece, heard on Disc 6 here, is phrased like an AABA popular song, giving the player 16 measures of one scale (or mode), eight of another, then back to eight of the first. In other words, he's got the notes to choose from and his phrase lengths assigned, but no pre-determined chords to wend his way through.


But despite Kind of Blue, and despite "Peace Piece" and its successors, Evans continued to feel that he needed roots in the jazz and popular idioms and in the
materials he found there when he came to the music. If something further could be built on those roots, fine! But jazz should not, must not, try to cut itself off from them.

There is a related element in Bill's music, but one that is more fundamental to his work and to his influence. Of the posthumous tributes from a variety of pianists, many have spoken of his harmonic ideas. Teddy Wilson, who was a major jazz pianist as far back as 1935, said this: "He came through with chord voicings that were refreshing tonalities . . . and based on traditional harmonies he used his own voicings which gave them a new sound." Dave Frishberg spoke of "exquisite harmonic systems"; Herbie Hancock acknowledged him as a major influence because of "harmony and touch."

In short, it was Evans's chord voicings that had the widest effect. They are not too difficult to explain: Bill voiced certain chords — that is, he chose the notes to go in those chords — leaving out the "root" notes that tie down the chord and its sound. Without them, a given chord can sometimes have several identities, it can lead easily and consonantly to a wider choice of other chords, and it can accommodate a wider choice of melody notes and phrases for the player on top of the chords. The "open" voicings that Bill used opened up melody and flow in new ways for jazz. Its as simple, and as important, as that.

In 1975, I attended the annual International Piano Festival and Competition at the University of Maryland, at which he appeared as the first jazz pianist ever invited. At one afternoon workshop, with critics and faculty as well as performers on hand, Bill was his usual articulate self, verbally and musically. But a call for questions at first produced none from the audience, and I decided to try to get them started with something like, "Your chord voicings, your harmonic ideas, have proved very influential. Would you care to comment?" He responded quickly and tersely to the effect that one really can't discuss harmony in this music: jazz players are too occupied with melody and flow in improvising for harmony per se to have much significance.

Perhaps Evans was being modest. Perhaps he just didn't care to talk about the matter at that moment. Or perhaps he assumed that a room full of pianists, musicologists, and critics would know enough about Bartok and Stravinsky's voicings to be unimpressed with the current use of similar devices in jazz (and if that were the case, I'd bet he was making an unwarranted assumption).

Now if all this seems too technical or whatever, just go to "Young and Foolish" (on Disc 1). The piece is in C. Within a half chorus, Bill is in D flat. And he ends in E. So gracefully, so easily, so eloquently. The proof of the theory is in the new and unexpected beauties it allows the artist to bring to us. And often, and most effectively, without our even noticing.

When Bill Evans first came to jazz piano, Bud Powell was the dominant influence on most younger players. Powell, whose best recorded work had largely been done by the mid-1950s, was a frustrating influence. Easy to imitate in some aspects by players who knew less about the keyboard than he did, Powell seemed impossible to emulate, and too many of his followers had settled into a kind of middle-register glibness in which hornlike treble phrases were bounced off self-accompanying bass-line chords. Only Horace Silver had evolved a personal style under Powell's spell—and it was a virtually irresistible one—by reintroducing large doses of blues (i.e., minor thirds) with an assertive swing (“he sounded like Bud imitating Pete Johnson," said one wag at the time).

There was a lot of very good Powell and some good Silver on Evans's first Riverside record [Disc 1, #1-12]. Try "Our Delight" for Powell, or "Displacement" for Silver, or the originally-issued take of "No Cover, No Minimum" for both. (What was not so apparent was Evans's expressed admiration of Nat Cole as a jazz pianist, which later became clearer with a change in touch and with Evans's evident commitment to ballads.) There was also something of the enigmatic, peripheral style of Lennie Tristano.

I suppose if Bill Evans had done nothing else, he would have deserved credit for bringing some of Tristano s ideas into the mainstream of jazz. But of course he did much else. To do it, he had to sacrifice some things. The swing that he gave us on 'All About Rosie," and which can be heard virtually throughout his first album, was a conventional swing, and for Evans to become entirely Evans he had to find his own kind of rhythmic momentum — one that was integrated with his evolving personal touch and use of dynamics — as well as his own sense of musical phrase and melodic flow.

I should not leave that first session without pointing out "Five," Evans's "I Got Rhythm"-based piece, whose theme laid out his characteristic interest in rhythmic displacement, in "turning the beat around" on a single short phrase. (If these words don't make the challenge fully clear, play the opening chorus of "Five" and it will be.)

The 26 months that passed between Bill Evans's first and second Riverside sessions were patently fruitful, and what can be heard on the second is a remarkable, emerging Bill Evans style, his influences assimilated (or abandoned), his own approach fully integrated if not fully developed. And what one hears subsequently is the style's development and the development of an ensemble style for the Evans Trio as well. The Powell-like bluntness of touch was gone; the Silver-like bluesiness no longer evident (perhaps because it came to seem all-too-easy to be expressive for anyone but Horace himself).

The Evans touch — gentle, delicate, always involving perceptive pedal work — had begun to emerge. He seemed, as Miles had said, to make a sound rather than strike a chord. But try to decide which notes in any Evans chord were struck forcefully and sustained, and which played softly, in achieving those sounds.

Most telling is the musical flow — the flow from one idea to the next, the magic flow of sound between the hands, the integration of the hands. He was now a pianist discovering the instrument and its resources as he needed them, not a stylist imposing ideas on a keyboard.

Returning to the Tristano effect, for me one of the fin signs of its assimilation is the way Bill slides into the melody of Harold Arlen's "Come Rain or Come Shine" - teasingly, obliquely, gradually. It was an occasional device that Evans made his own: theme statements that seem to evolve from improvisation rather than the usual other way around. That, and the parallel motion of th two hands on a single phrase. Bill once spoke admiringly of "the way Tristano and Lee Konitz started thinking structurally," and the words suggest that Tristano s horn-playing "students," Konitz and Warne Marsh, affected him as much as did the pianist himself.

One of the most eloquent descriptions of Evans's piano comes in a remarkable book on American music by the British historian-critic Wilfred Mellers, Music in a New Found Land. Speaking of his ballads, Mellers notes "the middle register chords scrunchily sensuous, the spacing warm, the texture enveloping; yet through and over this introverted quiet the melodic lines float and soar high in the treble, insinuate in the tenor range, and occasionally reverberate in the bass. Evans' ability to make melodic lines 'speak' on the piano is of extraordinary subtlety; and always the sensuousness leads not to passivity but to growth. The dance-lilt flows into-spring-like song; the inexhaustibly inventive cross-rhythms and counter melodies are never rebarbative, always supple and in that sense songful. "Even when Evans plays quick numbers," Mellers added, "the rhythmic zest provokes song. . . ."


I'd also like to quote from a review I wrote for Down Beat in 1961 on the first of the two originally-issued Village Vanguard albums, not because I still insist on what I said, but because it raised issues that still seem to me worth considering.

"On 'My Man's Gone Now' and especially on 'Solar the trio goes a long way toward becoming what it wanted to be — three men simultaneously improvising around given material, each playing musical phrases ... an interweaving of three equal parts. . . .

"But [this is] first of all Bill Evans' record. I think it would be commendably his if only for the way that he handles the improvised impressionism of 'Jade Visions' . . . And it is commendably Evans' record even for so simple a matter as the compelling yet gentle momentum with which he handles the theme-statements themselves on 'My Man's Gone Now,' 'Solar,' and 'Alice in Wonderland.'

"There is hardly a selection here — hardly a chorus here — on which Evans is not musically interesting. And yet, I realize that to hear that he was interesting, I had to give almost constant and careful musical and technical attention. I think Evans has a very special problem in reaching people.

"Oscar Peterson s flash and Dave Brubeck s geniality, for examples, are obvious and natural qualities, ready for an audience to grasp immediately. . . .

"Evans' is a potentially more complex, and therefore potentially greater talent. And so he has to face problems that some men don't have to face, and has work to do that not all men need to do. But such problems can be faced honorably and with musical integrity, for during the late thirties and early forties Teddy Wilson was able to play out his melodically inventive, gentle introversion and reach people with it.
And I expect it has cost John Lewis a great deal to learn to project his essentially introspective talent so strongly as he does now. A musician can make great emotional demands on an audience — Monk does — but one cannot ask an audience to do a musicians part of the job.

"No man could possibly tell another how to go about solving such problems of communication, or what their solution might be for him individually — and certainly it would be an effrontery for a record reviewer even to try. Communication is a much abused word, especially in the public arts, but it is not necessarily a small consideration, especially not for a potentially complex talent. No one could doubt that both Teddy Wilson and John Lewis became better and more expressive players for facing their problems of communication squarely and honestly. The rewards can be as great as the task difficult. And the work to be done, if the problem is there, cannot be run away from no matter how difficult or discouraging.

"I think that in having such a task, Evans also has a commanding opportunity not given to all men."

Time changes things — it would be foolish to deny that. Even our best and most thoughtful reactions, even our deepest and least transient selves, grow and therefore change. To Evans himself, the Vanguard sessions reportedly did not seem so remarkable while they were being performed as they did later in studio
listening sessions, and later still on the LPs. And they no longer seem uncommunicative to me, as they did in 1961. Perhaps I did not properly respond to the rapport between the three men. (And to the kind of affinity Bill evolved with Cannonball, Jim Hall, Freddie Hubbard, Zoot Sims [heard with him on Disc 4, #6-14; Disc 5, #1-4; Disc 8, #5-13; and Disc 9, #1-7.]) Still, the Vanguard sessions appear no less introspective to me, while Evans himself seems — perhaps paradoxically — no less uncompromisingly emotionally exposed.

I think Bill Evans was the most important and influential white jazz musician after Bix Beiderbecke — and that statement is no reflection on the contribution or the importance of Bunny Berigan, Benny Goodman, Jack Teagarden, Dave Tough, Stan Getz (does Django Reinhardt belong on such a list?), or any other. I consider my statement valid partly because of his intrinsic merit, and partly because his effect on the music has been so general—technically, in ways I have commented on; emotionally, in its uncompromising lyricism. At the same time, I think that in the future his work may come to seem somewhat isolated from the mainstream, as Bix's now does  —but no less valuable, no less authentic, and no less beautiful.

Evans's major contribution was, as I say, in an abiding lyricism, again like Beiderbecke’s. Such a remark is an observation and a description. It is also perhaps a limitation, but would one complain that Lester Young was always playful? Coleman Hawkins dramatic? Or, for that matter, Beethoven humorless?

No, it would be as foolish to deny that lyricism pervades all aspects of Evans's work as to deny the element of privacy in some of it. I can say more about that latter quality as I hear it on the 1963 solos on Disc 10, #5-10; and Disc 11, #1-7, now being issued for the first time. They strike me as some of the most private and emotionally naked music I have ever heard. I was shocked on first hearing, and if Bill Evans were still with us, I'm not sure I would want to hear them. But I have noted that time changes even our least ephemeral selves. So does death. And 'All the Things You Are," "Easy to Love," "I Loves You, Porgy" (this last a fine sketch for his 1968 Montreux masterpiece trio version), and the rest now seem to me a legacy invaluable and without precedent in recorded jazz.

There have been times when, hearing Bill Evans, I have thought: this music, so emotionally unprotected, so completely exposed in its feeling—take it into the real world and that world will crush it and crush the man who made it. Perhaps, after all, that is what happened.

But what a heritage he left us.””

The following video features Bill with Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Jim Hall on guitar, Percy heath on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums on Wrap Your Troubles
In Dreams from the April 1963 Interplay LP, the only larger-than-trio Bill Evans album to be released on Riverside.


Saturday, December 20, 2014

The Terry Gibbs Dream Band - Fantastic and Full of Fun

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


Although The Terry Gibbs Big Band existed for only 3 years [1959 - 1962], performed in relative obscurity because it never toured and didn’t have most of its recorded output released until a quarter of a century after it folded, those who experienced it in person during its brief existence have come to refer to it by another name – The Terry Gibbs Dream Band.


And yet, during its existence, everyone, including the musicians who played in it, seemed to take the whole thing for granted. Nonchalance was the byword.


Let me try to explain this better so that you don’t get the idea that there was nothing special about a bunch of world class musicians getting together once a week to blow on arrangements by the likes of Bill Holman, Marty Paich, Shorty Rogers, Al Cohn, Manny Albam, Med Flory, among many others.


But that’s exactly what happened and nobody thought that anything extraordinary was going on while it did!


Mondays and Tuesdays back-in-the-day were “dark nights” which meant that most of the major restaurants, clubs, and theaters were closed. On average, people didn’t go out on these nights to cabaret. They had had their fun on the just-passed weekend and Mondays and Tuesdays were essentially backed-to-work days.


The musicians in Terry’s band basically performed for the love of working together. Because they played on “off nights,” they generally performed in front of small audiences. It’s difficult to pay 15 musicians of this caliber much of a wage when the revenue is being generated by a small cover [admission] charge and a one or two drink minimum. If the club owner met the Class B scale requirements [modest would be an understatement here], the Musicians’ Union stewards left things alone, grabbed a drink on the house [if they even showed up] and went home early to watch some television with their families.


The guys in the band worked with one another in the studios most days where they made a more considerable daily wage recording for movies, television and for radio [primarily “jingles” for advertisements]. Since there is so much money involved in the production of these entertainments, studio musicians work under a lot of pressure; they have to “get it right the first time.” Studio time is expensive and studio musicians are expected to show up on time and to be quick, accurate and free of errors in executing the music they are called on to play, whatever the context.


Enter Terry Gibbs - one of the loosest guys on the planet - offering a chance to play a bunch of swinging charts [arrangements] with a coterie of the world’s finest studio musicians playing big band Jazz for three [maybe even four, if they were in the mood] sets a night!


So there is Conte Candoli sitting up on a riser above drummer Mel Lewis dropping a handkerchief over Mel’s eyes as he tries to read the music, alto saxophonist Joe Maini shouting “Hammer, hammer” as Terry Gibbs bangs out his solo on vibes, and trombonist Frank Rosolino screaming “Work, work….” each time Stu Williamson [trumpet], Bill Perkins [tenor sax] or Pat Moran [piano] took their solos.


You had to be there to believe it. I’ve never see so many guys having so much fun playing in a big band. They laughed, smiled, played wonderful solos and pretty much swung their collective backsides off. And when Terry called the next tune, they rifled through the band book to find the arrangement all the while “hootin’” and “hollerin’” like a bunch of kids. These guys were so good that most of them had memorized the band’s exacting charts [arrangements] and didn’t need to look at the music.


Talk about taking the lid off a pressure-cooker.


Thankfully, you can hear the fantastic musicianship and the fun-filled atmosphere on a half dozen CD’s of the band in-performance that have been released since the band’s initial LP’s on Mercury, Emarcy and Verve first came out in the early 1960s.




Among these, my favorite is Terry Gibbs Dream Band, Volume Four: Main Stem [Contemporary CD 7656-2, originally released on LP as Terry Gibbs/Exciting Mercury MG-20704].


Here are Jay Roebuck’s informative insert notes to the CD:


“THE BAND


After listening to this album, two conclusions leap to mind: All big-band albums should be recorded live. And all big-band albums should be this live.
That's asking a lot, though, because Terry Gibb's band ranks with the most exciting aggregations in big-band history. It had everything: drive, spirit, great arrangements, outstanding soloists, and Mel Lewis, one of the great big-band drummers.


It also had a dynamic leader in vibraphonist Terry Gibbs, who was the band's No. 1 cheerleader.


The band's early days in 1959 have been documented on three previous "Dream Band" albums on Contemporary. As good as they were, this collection, recorded at the Summit in Hollywood in 1961, is even more exciting because the personnel had stabilized, and the band had been together for two years. Also, this time the band knew it was recording and had special arrangements for the occasion. The material for the other albums had been taped by Wally Heider for Gibbs's private use.


"This was one of the few bands that really knew the difference between an eighth and a quarter note," Gibbs says." Just listen to 'Limerick Waltz.' They even knew what beat to make a swell start and end."


By 1961, all the section leaders (saxophonist Joe Maini, trombonist Bob Edmondson, and trumpeters Al Porcino and Ray Triscari sharing lead) were in place, and "these guys called the shots on when to breathe, and they breathed together."


If there's a standout on this album, it's really the ensemble playing which even overshadows the excellent solos. The reed section of Maini and Charlie Kennedy on altos, Richie Kamuca and Bill Perkins on tenors, and Jack Nimitz on baritone is especially impressive.


"I really believe this band should go down as one of the great ensemble bands," Gibbs says. "I think it rates with Basie's band of the Fifties, Woody's Second Herd, Benny Goodman's band with Gene Krupa and Artie Shaw's with Buddy [Rich]."
The reference to Goodman is significant because Gibbs adopted Benny's strategy of having the arrangers weave his vibes in and out of numbers as Goodman's did for his clarinet. "I didn't want to just play a vibes solo and then step back and let the band play," Gibbs explains.


If a direct comparison is to be made of Gibb's exciting band, the inevitable one is to Woody Herman's Second Herd, the celebrated Four Brothers band. And, perhaps, it's not mere coincidence that most of the Gibbs musicians (including the leader) once played for Herman.


"I think you have to give Chubby Jackson a lot of credit for the spirit of the band," Gibbs says. "He always had enthusiasm, and I probably picked up some of that from him." Gibbs wasn't the only cheerleader, though. Not in a band where Frank Rosolino, Joe Maini, and Conte Candoli were constantly shouting encouragement.
That spirit is captured on this album which long has been unavailable. It was
recorded at the Summit (formerly the Sundown) with the masterful Wally Heider again at the controls. The music sounds like it was recorded yesterday instead of 29 years ago.


A year later, in 1962, Gibbs's band won the New Star Award in the annual Down Beat magazine critics' poll, an amazing achievement since the band had never toured.


Now, thanks to the herculean efforts of Gibbs and label owner Ralph Kaffel in obtaining the rights to release this material, we again can enjoy this magnificent band at its peak of performance.



THE MUSIC


Bill Holman's chart of "Day In, Day Out" gets the album off to a roaring start with a performance that sounds more like an encore than opener. But, then, this band always did play the first set like the third. The entrance by the Al Porcino-led trumpets after Terry's break will raise the hair on the back of your neck. There's also a trumpet solo by Conte Candoli and some booting tenor by Bill Perkins.
Shorty Rogers arranged "Summit Blues," which he co-wrote with Terry. Bassist Buddy Clark shares the honors with Gibbs. Holman's funky "Limerick Waltz" features some great drum work by Mel Lewis and solos by trombonist Frank Rosolino, Gibbs, and a preaching Joe Maini, who was one of Terry's favorite alto players. "I always loved Joe's playing," Terry says, "because he always had that edge."


Al Cohn's lovely arrangement of "You Don't Know What Love Is" showcases Gibbs, who works in a brief reference to "Angel Eyes." Manny Albam's "Sweet Georgia Brown" chart is a tour de force for the band.


Gibbs and Maini are the soloists on Al Cohn's "Nose Cone." Cohn apparently was fascinated with Terry's proboscis since he previously had written "Julie's Bugle" for Gibbs (a.k.a. Julius Gubenko). Holman arranged "Too Close for Comfort," a superior pop song of the day, to feature Terry, Richie Kamuca, and bassist Buddy Clark.
Albam's shouting chart on Duke Ellington's "Main Stem" gives pianist Pat Moran her only solo opportunity. (Moran, incidentally, was the third woman pianist who had worked with Gibbs. The others were Terry Pollard and Alice McLeod, who later married John Coltrane.) After Terry's solo, the brass provides a launching pad for Kamuca's tenor. "Richie always hated big bands, but he loved to play with this one," Gibbs says. The band takes this one home with Conte Candoli up top.
Holman dresses up the old warhorse "Ja-Da" for a medium-tempo romp for Terry and Conte. "T and S" stands for Terry and Shorty, who collaborated on the tune. Rogers wrote the building arrangement which features Terry and some great ensemble playing with Ray Triscari on lead trumpet. Mel Lewis provides a textbook lesson in big-band drumming.


The album ends the way it began—on a high.”
Two of my favorite tracks on the disc are Bill Holman’s arrangement of Day In, Day Out and Manny Albam’s chart on Sweet Georgia Brown and you can listen to them on the following videos.