Friday, March 27, 2009

John Haley "Zoot" Sims - Part 2

“Jazz musicians are their music … the music can’t be subtracted; it’s the defining essence which sets musicians apart and makes them special and ultimately mysterious.” – Richard Sudhalter

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

Zoot Sims was a player, and he lived to play Jazz - pure and simple. He was the living embodiment of the axiom: “Do what you love and the rest will follow.”

To reiterate Doug Ramsey’s view of him, one that certainly became universal in the Jazz community over the years: “Complex in his creativity, as any great improviser incorporating the skills of jazz must be, Sims nonetheless was a kind and simple man whose deep feeling was manifest in his artistry.”
The following vignette from Gene Lees’ Jazzletter [September, 1991, V. 10, N. 9] is illustrative of the self-effacing professionalism and humanity contained in Doug’s description of Zoot:
“Andre Previn told me the following story.

Years ago, when he was still working as a studio pianist in Los Angeles, Andre was on a record date with a rhythm section that included Ray Brown, Shelly Manne and Barney Kessel. The rest of the orchestra was of like caliber. The music was more or less experimental avant-garde jazz by a composer whose work, Andre said, he didn’t care for.

One of the tunes was to be played at a ferociously fast tempo, with a [chord] change on every beat. When it came to the solo section, one musician after another tried it only to crash in flames.

Finally the solo was assigned to Zoot Sims, who sailed through it effortlessly.

At the end of it, Conte Candoli said: ‘How did you do that, man?’

Zoot said, ‘You guys are crazy. I just played I Got Rhythm [chord changes].’”

Is it any wonder, then, that in an effort to establish his fledgling club, tenor saxophonist Ronnie Scott turned to Zoot Sims as the first American musician to open at the club’s original Gerrard Street location in London?
As told in John Fordham’s Jazz Man: The Amazing Story of Ronnie Scott and his Club [London: Kyle Cathie, 1986]:

"Throughout 1960, the difficulty of sustaining an audience for the local musicians continued to nag at [Ronnie] Scott and [Pete] King. The Musicians' Union ban had stopped being unconditional two years previously and international artists regularly came and went. But residencies, the maintaining of an imported star in a British venue night after night for a week, or a month, had not been considered. King, who still worked with the now highly successful impresario Harold Davison, knew that the latter would not be keen that his protégés step on his territory.

But King also knew that things could not go on as they were. He began .at the British Musicians' Union, with the assistant secretary, Harry Francis, who was amenable to the idea of a new arrangement that would suit the requirements. of a specialist nightclub. If the exchange of artists would be one for one, Francis was convinced that the request would go through on me British side. King turned his attention to the real nub of the problem. Since the 1930s, James C. Petrillo of the American Federation of Musicians had effectively battened down any form of trade in musical resources likely to cause loss of earnings to his own members.

Petrillo (nicknamed 'Little Caesar' because of his stocky, pugnacious, Edward G. Robinson-like demeanor), was a man with a straight-shooting style of negotiation that made him a formidable opponent. The American Federation's policy had grown out of far leaner years than the 1950s and King, as a musician himself, was generally sympathetic to the union's original position. Its inflexibility from the mid-fifties onwards was principally fuelled by the attitude of the British Musicians' Union, which was convinced that American members would receive far more attractive invitations to Britain than the other way around. King reasoned that if jazz musicians were the "Cinderella’s" of the profession already, it was shortsighted now that times were not so hard to turn down a policy that might further the public's interest in the music generally.
Scott and King needed to pick their first guest, then worry about the bureaucracy afterwards. They chose Zoot Sims, a one-time partner of Stan Getz in the Woody Herman band and a player with much the same lyricism and raffish elegance as Getz but with a more robust and muscular delivery. Sims was popular at the Half Note Club in New York, an Italian family business by the Cantorino brothers, with a reputation similar to that of the Scott club in London for presenting good music to audiences that cared about it in an atmosphere conducive to relaxation and inventiveness. Sims accepted readily.
King then went to New York to try to sew it up. He told the music press that Tubby Hayes was taking a holiday in America at the same time, and it was only reasonable that he, as Hayes's manager, should make an attempt to arrange some work for his client. King met Sims for a beer to chew it over. They played Tubby Hayes's records to the Cantorino's, and from distrusting a project they felt they didn't really need - an English jazz soloist on a month's residency in the heart of New York's jazzland - the Italians came around to the idea, and wanted to help Zoot, an old friend. The matter went backwards and forwards inside the American Federation officials' headquarters for what to King seemed like an age. But the news finally came through that Petrillo had accepted the deal. King rang Scott in London and told him they were in business. Scott rang Harry Francis at the Musicians' Union and the swap was on. Finally they called Sims, who asked simply: 'When do I come?'

The exchange was arranged for November 1961. Ronnie Scott's Club was about to become an international jazz venue.
Sims was a delight.

After his first show, the proprietors of London's new international jazz club sat bemused in their locked up premises, counting the hours until they heard him play again. For Scott, who had probably already subconsciously decided that a policy of booking practitioners on his own chosen instrument was going to be one of the principle ways he would enjoy being a promoter, Sims was a definition of the modern jazz musician who was functioning wholeheartedly and pragmatically in the world everybody had to live in.
He had a lot in common with Ronnie. He had been a teenage saxophone star in a showy jazz orchestra, the Woody Herman band. He was an unpretentious, unaffected, music-loving enthusiast. He knew jazz history. And he always played the music as if he enjoyed it. Sims was the kind of player who could have thrived in just about any sort of jazz band of the previous forty-odd years. Sims delivered his easy-going swing and gentle rhapsodizing throughout the month of November 1961 to thrilled audiences at the club.

A casual, fresh faced man, Sims would play without demonstrativeness, holding the instrument still. His opening bars would establish the tune with the directness and confidence of a player completely at ease with his raw materials, and much of his appeal was founded on the manner in which his sound exhibited both confidence and a heady lightness, as if he were performing graceful juggling act in slow motion. King arranged a short tour of out-of town venues for Sims, and the proprietors presented him with a silver brandy flask after his last performance. Other local musicians donated such peculiarly British gifts as copies of Goon Show records.

Sims was also one of the first Americans to experience the off-beam goings-on that entered the folklore of the Ronnie Scott Club in its various incarnations. Somebody threw a smoke-bomb into the room on 5 November which cleared the premises, but the Californian, a man after the East-enders' hearts, barely raised an eyebrow. Fred Twigg, the club's vision-prone cleaner, was deeply suspicious of the quiet, unassuming visitor. 'Russian spy,' he warned Scott ominously. 'He's a Russian spy.'

In an interview, the usually unforthcoming Sims declared he was delighted with playing in London, since the intimacy of a club gave him the opportunity to relax. 'It reminds me of the Half Note,' Sims said. 'The atmosphere is warm and it's an easygoing place. Musicians like it. It has the same kind of management.' Sims added that he'd like to see Ronnie Scott play in the States. 'It depends on his confidence/ the American accurately observed.

For Scott's part, he was sad to see Sims go. 'My God,' he mused. 'What an anti-climax next week's going to be.'” [pp. 83-86]
Ted Gioia, who seems to be the spark for so many of the editorial’s staff’s selected JazzProfiles, remarked: “Sims would have been one of the most important musicians on the [West] coast had he not left Los Angeles while still in his teens to initiate a career that kept him increasingly on the road or on the eastern seaboard." [West Coast Jazz, p. 311].
And while this is a point well-taken, one could posit in return that had it not been for Zoot’s decision to settle in New York City, Jazz might not have experienced the Al Cohn- Zoot Sims Quintet, one of the greatest tenor saxophone partnerships in its history.

In his Jazz Matters, Doug Ramsey offers this comment and anecdote from Paul Desmond about the Al Cohn-Zoot Sims Quintet:

“Cohn and Sims were one of the most celebrated tenor sax teams in the history of Jazz. Their collaborations were extraordinarily satisfying, leading the late [alto saxophonist] Paul Desmond to observe that hearing Al and Zoot at the old Half Note in Lower Manhattan ‘was like going to get your back scratched.’” [p. 221]

Desmond's marvelously understated humor will serve as our segue into the following delightful interview that Zoot & Al gave to Les Tomkins during their 1965 visit to London for another appearance at Ronnie Scott’s club.

Zoot Sims & Al Cohn: A 1965 Interview with Les Tomkins
Copyright © 1965, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved“That great two–tenor team, Zoot Sims and Al Cohn, are making it a jumping June in Ronnie Scott’s club. Ronnie calls them “my favourite group”. Mine too. To illustrate their parallel philosophies, I have juxtaposed extracts from separate interviews with the two musicians. Les Tomkins

Zoot: There were six boys and one girl in our family, in Inglewood, California. All of us had a very happy childhood. We had an open house all the time—a lot of friends, a lot of jam sessions. None of the others ever took it up for a livelihood, except my brother, Ray, who plays trombone. But they were all musical and sang, danced and played.

I played drums in school for a very short time. Then the school gave me an old metal clarinet. I started listening to bands—Basie, Ellington, Goodman. And from clarinet the natural thing is saxophone. One of my big influences was Sam Donahue, who was with Gene Krupa’s band at the time. And Ben Webster. So I used to dream about getting a tenor saxophone. Sure, I was very influenced by Lester Young. When you begin, unless you’re a complete genius, you have to be influenced.

With the Bobby Sherwood band, which I joined at 16, I made my first and greatest trip across the country. I learned quite a bit from it, including how to read.
Al: My musical background started with piano lessons when I was 6 years old. which I didn’t like. but my parents wanted me to have ‘culture’. I studied piano for six years. Then, when I was about 12 years old, I became interested in jazz, and I got a clarinet. I became a Benny Goodman fan. Two years later, I heard Lester Young, and immediately wanted to become a saxophone player. So my indulgent father bought me a saxophone, and I just took two lessons on the tenor from my clarinet teacher, who didn’t know much about it. But if you can play the clarinet, the tenor follows.

I started writing very young. When I was about 15, we had a band in high school, and I learned by the trial and error method. I just tried to copy off records. About eight months after joining the union, when I was 17, I joined Georgie Auld’s band. I had written for a few other bands before that, such as Lee Castle and Joe Marsala. But I guess Georgie Auld was really the start of me going about it more than just occasionally.

I consider my two influences on saxophone to be Lester and Charlie Parker. After that, my taste broadened a little bit. I like Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster. And there’s a fellow that was around New York years ago. Nobody’s ever heard of him—his name was Ray Turner. He was a pretty big influence.
Zoot: I met Al originally in 1948, when he joined Woody’s band in Salt Lake City. And we became very good friends right away. I don’t know what year it was, but the two of us were called for a Victor album. Later, we took the arrangements from the record date, got a little band, two cars, and went on the road for a while—in ‘57, I think. Ever since then we’ve been working together off and on. We work mainly the Half Note, New York, around four times a year. Al writes for our group—not as much as I’d like him to. He’s busy writing for other people. That’s

Al’s main livelihood—writing. But he loves to play, and the Half Note is perfect for him because he can stay in town.

Al: We hit it off immediately as soon as we met each other. It’s just grown from there. After Woody Herman, we were briefly with Artie Shaw’s band together in “1949. And we played a lot together before we ever had our group. We used to blow around New York, in the days when we weren’t working so much.
When Zoot and I went out on the road for about four months in 1957, we did the night club circuit—New York, Philadelphia, Boston, Cleveland, Chicago. We never went to California—we’ve been talking about it for years. Nowadays we work about 12 to 15 weeks a year at the Half Note. Occasionally, we’ve done a couple of private parties. Once in a while we play a concert. It’s nice this way—we don’t get tired of it. We’ve always been friends, aside from business associates. We think alike, although we play differently.

Zoot: I feel equally at home in large or small bands. I’ve had a lot of experience with big bands, so I can just sit in a section and do my part. Although I like small bands better. There’s more freedom—especially if you’re the leader. You can play the tune you want and the tempo you want.
Al: I like writing for a big band better, but I like playing in a small group better. When you play with a small group, you don’t have to play boring things over and over again. You’re not within the confines of an arrangement and you can play as long as you want. But writing for a big band, of course, is easier. You can get more varieties of colours, more combinations of instruments. Writing for small groups, having less to work with, you need to use more ingenuity.
Zoot: Woody Herman’s band was about the first I recorded with. I enjoyed it mainly because of my youth and enthusiasm at that time. And I had a lot of respect for everybody in the band. That saxophone sound was first used by Gene Roland in New York in ‘46. Then—I guess you know the story—in California we had this little group, and Woody just took the group into his band, and used the sound. It wasn’t hard to get that blend, because we all liked it and felt it. It was a little sluggish, being a deep sound.
I remember, when we recorded “Four Brothers”, Woody kept thinking we were slowing down. I know why he was thinking that, but actually we weren’t. It was just that sort of heavy sound. And the record doesn’t slow down.

Al: Woody has a really excellent band now. I don’t think it’s only the Four Brothers sound that identifies Woody. Woody himself has a lot to do with identifying the Herman band. His playing—always you know it’s Woody, whether you like it or not. What he does, he does very well. As a matter of fact, I heard him on a record he did on clarinet with just a rhythm section. And it’s pretty nice—it’s the best I’ve ever heard Woody play that thing. He always plays pretty alto. I like Woody.
Zoot: It’s a funny thing. I was born and raised on the West Coast. Yet when I went there in the mid ‘50s, that was actually a very rough period of my career, financially. Very bad. I worked for about eight months, and then everything dropped. People used to tell you: “Zoot! Jeez, if I’d known you were here, I would have called you.” Just nothing happened out there. Except for the record dates, but I didn’t do enough of them for it to mean much. Records take three hours. It had nothing to do with groceries. I’m not drug about it, or bitter or anything. But I like it much better in New York.
Al: The mid ‘50s was the time I got busy. I don’t know if I was leading any East Coast. school. I don’t think so. But I started getting a lot of calls in those days. Fortunately I’ve been getting them ever since.

Zoot: The main reason I went back is, Gerry Mulligan called me up for the Sextet. I’ve been in New York ever since. I enjoyed working with that group very much. It is an experience—especially without a piano. It was very strange at first, not hearing the chords, which I rely on. So I made my own chords up.
Al: In the Mulligan Quartet, Bob Brookmeyer and Gerry have that sort of empathy and instinct together. They play together. Each can sense what the other one’s going to do. They do more of that than Zoot and I—just the two of them playing at the same time, and weaving in and out. They’re both very quick at it.

Zoot: Playing with Al inspires me. I’m a big fan of his. Yes, a kind of a telepathy does happen. Pretty soon you know what the other is thinking, more or less, and it just comes out. Now, Brookmeyer Mulligan—they’ve really got that going. It’s just from working together for so long, and knowing each other’s playing that well.

Of course, a lot of tunes we play, we’ve been playing for a long time, too. Which has got to be. You can’t just play something new every night. But you never play it the same way twice, and you can still get inspired on it. Some nights you may just get bored with it, but the next time you play it you feel completely different.Al: We have patterns, but we don’t play the exact same notes and phrases every time. There are certain sequences that are the same all the time. Other things vary. Our music is arranged, but it’s loose. You know, it’s not strictly on the paper. Then we have a few things that we play that we never did arrange, but it sounds like it’s an arrangement. It just happened. If, as has been said, our joint creativity seems to reach a peak during an engagement, that’s due possibly to the fact that I don’t play most of the time in between. and I may get a little stale. And it takes me a few days to get back with it. It feels a little strange at first. We work, say, every three months or so. So there might be a few weeks where I wouldn’t touch my horn at all. I should practise, but I’m very lazy. Then we go right back in, and I just take it out of the case, find a reed, and blow it for a couple of weeks.
Zoot: Even now, at my age, I still get hungry after a while, if I don’t play for a week or so. It’s nice to play again, you know. Sometimes I go two weeks without playing. But I think that can be good for you, too, if you play professionally all the time. A little time off won’t hurt you. It kind of refreshes you. But I still get that feeling that I’d like to blow again.
Playing jazz has been my whole life, from the age of ten. It’s the only thing I know. There’s a lot of joy in it for me. But it can be drudgery, too. I guess, no matter what you do, you have moments of that. There’s times when, instead of going to work, I’d rather stay home. Because it is work, sometimes. But, once you get up there, you just have to forget it, and try and enjoy it as much as you can.
My big problem is playing the first set. You feel sort of nervous and cold. I may not show it, but I feel it. You know, as long as I’ve been playing, I’ve never got over having people sitting staring at me. But after the first set, I calm down and get relaxed. Sometimes, the first set, I’m thinking about so many other things that I can’t really get with it.
Al: I enjoy playing more than writing, because all I play is jazz. Whereas, with writing I do other things which are not as much fun, but sometimes more lucrative. One of the big differences is that, when you’re playing jazz, once you’ve played it, it’s there. You can always erase a note when you’re writing, or tear up the paper and start again. That makes playing more fun, Another thing I like about playing is that it’s more of a sociable type of thing. You get together with your friends and fellow musicians. In writing, you sit behind the scenes, at a desk or at a piano somewhere. It’s just you and your enemy, the score paper.
I like to do both, actually, and I’m very fortunate that I’ve been able to. I get enough playing opportunities to keep facile on my horn. And I don’t have to travel too much. I was born and raised in New York, and I’ll always be a New Yorker. My arranging (which I do mostly) and composing is done by the perspiration method. I don’t find it easy. If I knew more about it, maybe I’d have more of a scientific approach to it. But I’m really quite ignorant.
Zoot: Reading has never been a problem to me. In grade school I had a teacher. My brother, Ray, taught me a lot about reading, too. And, in dance band reading. there can’t be too much difference. It’s always very easy. But when I read out of an exercise book, I have to stop once in a while and figure it out. It’s a little different.

Sometimes, if a score is very difficult, even if I don’t figure it out, if I hear it once I can play it. I remember when I was in Woody’s band I always used to nudge Sam Marowitz, the lead alto player. and say “How’s that go?” if it was ‘difficult. He’d sing it over a couple of times, and then I’d get it. Then, the next time I saw it, I could read it.
Now in the States you never have a rehearsal for a record date. But with the calibre of the musicianship right now, for most dates you really don’t need it too much. But when you play jazz on some of these record dates—that’s where the trouble begins with me. Because when they just throw a bunch of changes at you and a tune you don’t know, it’s a lot different to just reading music. Most of us can do that. But to play something inspired—I can’t just have something thrown in front of me and feel at home with it. I’m not that type of musician. I don’t read changes that fast and well. There are some musicians who can do it. But I have to really know it before I can settle down.
Al: Writing so much, it’s easy to be caught in the similarity trap. Like, for instance, if you’re doing an album of twelve tunes, it’s easy to fall into certain habits. Especially if you have to write twelve arrangements in a week or ten days or something. Often these dates are put together rather quickly. Sometimes you say: “Oh—I wrote that yesterday”, you know. That can happen if the material is very similar to begin with. Like on that Buddy Greco album. He wanted everything to be—well, dynamic and powerful—nothing too subtle, nothing soft and subdued. So I felt if you listened to the whole album at one sitting, it would start to get a little boring and repetitious.
Most of my income is from commercial arranging—with jazz overtones, you know. But, when you’re working for other people, you don’t try to put your personality into it. You just try to give them what they want. I mostly get good assignments, for people that are pretty hip. Usually, the reason they call me is that they want what I can do.
Most of these people are singers, not musicians, and they don’t know how to explain what they want. When they say they want something that really swings, you have to know what they mean by that. Now, if Guy Lombardo were to come to me and say that, I couldn’t do what I think really swings. I’d have to figure out what he thinks swings. Guy Lombardo probably thinks that Kay Kyser had a swing band.
Zoot: Yes, I’ve never been bothered with time. It’s the other elements that I’m worried about. As natural as breathing? I never thought of it that way, but it’s true. Time has always been very easy for me—just to keep a tempo, you know. Harmonically, I could improve immensely, I believe. I don’t see how you can learn to swing. I really don’t. My whole family’s very musical, like we said before, and when I was very young, my eldest brother took up saxophone and clarinet. And he became very adept as far as reading and technique were concerned. But he has no sense of metre, no time. Very strange. So, as far as that part, I think it’s either there or it isn’t. The other part you can always develop.

Al: The only way to develop as a writer is to keep writing. It’s the easiest thing to talk yourself out of it, to make excuses and say “Oh, I don’t feel well today” or something. All you need is a piece of paper and a pencil, For myself, I should get a belt with a lock on it, and give somebody else the key, so I’d be forced to sit there. As for tenor, I don’t practise. I’ve always hated practising, even as a child. Practising and rehearsing. My experience was all of the practical kind, playing with bands and then at sessions around New York. We used to chip in and rent studios, and play all the time—every night we weren’t working. That was the way I developed.
There’s no accepted pattern for saxophone, After you’ve learned to breathe properly and blow correctly, there’s not much else they can tell you. Like, on a clarinet, they can tell you whether your sound is not this, or not that. We don’t have that on saxophone. Being a comparatively recently invented instrument, it doesn’t have that tradition of what is considered an ideal sound. Every saxophone player has a different sound. You might admire two fellows, and then what you have to play might sound like both of them.

Zoot: What we did when we were kids was play all we could together. And play for the fun of it—not trying to see if we could cut anybody, or be better, or something. I mean, naturally, you can’t get away from that completely.

Everybody wants to be the best, and all that. But I find there’s not much of that going on any more—at least, back home. That was the main thing in life in the ‘forties—around ‘49, ‘50. Mulligan, Miles, George Wallington—nobody was working. or had any money. But we still took a collection up, rented a studio and just played all night—for ourselves. Because we—wanted to play. You can learn more with that than anything.

I think one of the best things you can do, no matter what you play, is to take up piano. Music is based on chord changes and harmonies, and you can get ‘em more out of an instrument like piano, where you can hear all the notes at once. I feel that I lack a lot of that in my own music. I mean, it broadens your ear so much when you know harmony—especially these days, the way jazz is going.
Oh yes, it’s the sound I want. Much too late to change it, anyway. I’ve had two mouthpieces in the last—let me see —well, since ‘43. And I just changed recently, but it’s almost the same mouthpiece. It’s a very old rubber Brilhart. But I don’t know much about mouthpieces—very little. And I find that they really don’t mean that much. Because you can take Stan Getz, Lester Young, or anybody you name, and they can play your horn—and they’ll still sound like themselves.
It’s the individual. You get the sound you hear. It comes from within, the way you grip the mouthpiece with your mouth and your lips. I don’t think it’s anything to do with the set–up.
Al: I like the percussive type of pianist, like John Williams, Dave McKenna, John Bunch. They goose you a little bit. If you feel a little lazy one time, they make you get in there and blow, and forget about your laziness. Stan Tracey is very good in the section. As for drummers, I don’t like those that play very busy and very loud all the time, and don’t listen to what you’re doing. You know, egotist—type drummers that want to be leaders. Well, I have no use for that. I want a drummer that, if I feel like playing soft, he’ll play soft with me. So I want a guy that listens. To me that’s the difference between just being a drummer and being a musician.
Zoot: I like a drummer that plays fairly hard, and all that, but one that listens to what you’re playing. Because when a drummer drops a bomb or fills in, it should be only in one place. And that’s when you, the soloist, leave room for it. Some drummers get carried away with learning all those tricks of filling in, and they just do it automatically —any time they feel like it, because they know how to do it. But if he tries to supplement the soloist, the outcome will be much more tasty. I’ve heard it done so many times, where a drummer is just noodling around, and it’s completely in the way of what’s going on musically with the horn.”

… To be continued in Part 3

Friday, March 20, 2009

John Haley "Zoot" Sims - Part 1

“Zoot Sims produced elegant melodies with apparent nonchalance.”
[Len Lyons & Don Perlo, Jazz Portraits, p.469]

“Zoot was the most swinging jazz musician I ever heard….”
Bill Crow, bassist

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

Early in my ‘career’ as an aspiring drummer on the Hollywood Jazz scene of the late 1950’s, and thanks to a loan from my parents, I acquired a used, yellow and white 1955 Chevrolet.

The trunk of this freedom-enabling-car was big enough to contain my entire drummer set which I always kept lovingly stored in it so I could be at the next jam session or gig at a moment’s notice [something that was also facilitated by the then paucity of traffic on the Southern California freeways].

With a tip of the hat to Richard Boone, I guess my motto was – “Have drums; will travel.”

In my senior year in high school, I somehow finagled a curriculum that was, with one exception, entirely made up of various performance music classes so I could sharpen my skills in a variety of settings. In other words, I essentially practiced and/or performed music all day.

Quite obviously then, as a young man, music was the single most important thing in my life.

Occasionally, I would point the Chevy south where it would cross over the Hollywood Hills and wind up a Larry Bunker’s place for a drum lesson.

In those days on the Left Coast, Stan Levey, Mel Lewis and Shelly Manne were the drummers who received the greatest recognition, and deservedly so. They all played extremely well and their performances rarely failed to enhance the music.

Technically, and I say this without reservation, Larry Bunker could put them all “in his back pocket” and he swung as hard. At that time, the only other drummer resident on the West Coast who could rival [and exceed] his technical ability was Victor Feldman.

Ironically, by the end of the 1950s, Victor stopped playing what he referred to as “sit-down drums” completely and, following his two-year stint with pianist Bill Evans’ trio which came to a close in 1965, Larry Bunker would only occasionally play a drum kit thereafter [although Clare Fischer did talk him into taking the drum chair for a lengthy stretch with his big band in the late 1960s].

This was mainly because both Victor and Larry were making an extremely comfortable living in the Hollywood studios as percussionists and because the Jazz scene virtually vanished in Hollywood by the mid-1960s with the exception of a few clubs that continue to feature the music in the 1970s.

During one of my visits to Larry’s house, I had my first exposure to Zoot Sims when he played some of the Pacific Jazz recordings that he had made with him as part of a concert with the Gerry Mulligan Sextet on December 14, 1954 at Hoover High School in San Diego.
I couldn’t believe my ears when I heard Zoot on Western Union. He just swung so hard and so effortlessly. When I asked Larry to tell me more about Zoot [who was living in New York around this time], he said: “Come on, let’s put your drums in the car and we’ll have an iced tea and talk about him.”

When we were settled in, Larry shared that he and Zoot had grown-up in Southern California not very far from one another [Zoot in Inglewood, near the Los Angeles International Airport and Larry in Long Beach about 10 miles or so south of Inglewood]. As a teenager, Larry also had a “drum-mobile” in the form of a 1938 Ford and he would often collect Zoot [who was 3 years older], when he was in town in the years following WWII, and the two would scout out jam sessions.

He went on to say: “Zoot was not the kind of guy who talked about music or analyzed it. He just loved to jam and he could play the h*** out of the tenor saxophone. He was a basic, uncomplicated guy, a big kid, really. He loved to play Jazz, drink and smoke; pretty much in that order.”

Since Zoot wasn’t a talker and there’s not much in the way of extended interviews or even detailed articles about the man, it’s not easy to do an in-depth piece on Zoot Sims.
And yet, Zoot is such a wonderful musician and so deserving of a feature, that I thought it would be fun to accept the challenge of finding what references there are about him in the Jazz literature and gathering as many of them in one place as possible.

After a while, the task of compiling writings about Zoot became surprisingly easy as he had made many friends among the community of Jazz writers whom he had touched with his unswerving dedication to the music and his swinging style of playing it. It really is a privilege to have the thoughts and views of so many of the outstanding authors on the subject of Jazz as the basis for this feature on Zoot.

In particular, we are fortunate to have a lengthy interview that Zoot gave, along with Al Cohn, to Les Tomkins during a 1965 visit to London to work at Ronnie Scott’s club, as well as, masterful treatments of Zoot and his music by the esteemed Whitney Balliett and Doug Ramsey, all of which will be reproduced as part of Zoot’s Jazz Profile.

Also included in this treatment on Zoot will be numerous reviews of his recordings which appear in Richard Cook & Brian Morton’s The Penguin Guide to Jazz on CD, 6th Ed.,, Down Beat, Jazz Journal International, Jazz Review, and among other sources.

I am also indebted to close-by friends in Southern California as well as some as far away as Massachusetts, New Zealand and England who have been kind enough to send me recorded examples of Zoot’s work spanning over four decades.

As a place to begin, the following retrospective of Zoot’s career as taken from Doug Ramsey’s Jazz Matters:Reflections on the Music & Some of Its Makers [Fayetteville: University of Arkansas Press, 1989 pp. 215-216 ]will help provide an overview of its highlights:

Zoot Sims

“Zoot Sims was one of a group of tenor saxophonists born in the mid-1920s whose early professional experience came in big bands and who idolized Lester Young. The basic jazz skills of most of these reedmen were developed by the time they had reached their early twenties. But their styles flowered in the bebop atmosphere in which jazz matured so dramatically following World War II.

Charlie Parker, who had been shaped by Young's example in his own formative period in the late 1930s, became the second great influence on this talented collection of tenor men. They melded Parker's complex harmonic discoveries with Young's sound (light, dry, sunny) and rhythm (powerful currents of swing beneath a laconic surface). In addition to Sims, some of the most accomplished members of this school of tenor saxophone were A/ Cohn, Stan Getz, Paul Quinichette, Allen Eager, Brew Moore, Herbie Steward, Bill Perkins, Bob Cooper, Richie
Kamuca, Dave Van Kreidt, Bill Holman, Phil Urso, and Don Lanphere. Some, particularly Quinichette and Moore, were made up of much larger components of Young than of Parker. It is safe to say that none of them could have become the artist he became if there had been no Lester Young.

Except for Quinichette, all of the players mentioned were white. A number of critics and musicologists have had sociological and psychological field days trying to explain why. Whatever the reasons, the fact is that most black tenor men who came up at the same time as our corps of white Lester Young disciples leaned more toward the overtly muscular work of Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Chu Berry than toward Young. In the analysis of jazz styles, however, the matter of influences is seldom clear-cut; Young was unquestionably a formative element in the playing of such black artists of the tough tenor school as Gene Ammons, Dexter Gordon, and Sonny Stitt. And the gruff, often raucous Ben Webster was an early and lasting hero of Sims, long tabbed as one of Young's stylistic progeny.
Among those generally considered major Young disciples, Cohn, Getz, and Sims achieved the most fame, initially because of their membership in Woody Herman's Second Herd (1947-49), the famous Four Brothers band, so called because of its saxophone section of three tenors and a baritone. The recording of "Four Brothers" featured Getz, Sims, Herbie Steward, and baritone saxophonist Serge Chaloff. Al Cohn, who had written arrangements for the band, replaced Steward in r948.

Cohn's formidable abilities as a tenor soloist were equaled and to a large degree obscured by his talents for composing and arranging. Only in recent years has be concentrated on playing and made a wide jazz public fully aware of his gifts as an improviser.

Getz, one of the most lyrical and technically endowed hard swinging tenor men of any stylistic school, was a darling of audiences years before his bit records of "Desafinado" and "The Girl from Ipanema" made his a household name in the early 1960s.
Sims had neither a top-forty record nor mass box office appeal. But almost from the beginning of his career, be had the unreserved admiration of virtually all jazz artists, whatever their generation or musical persuasion. Over the years, his following among listeners steadily grew. Musicians and aficionados alike recognized the basic human qualities of honesty and warmth that Sims projected in his playing without in any way diluting musical values or contriving to find an acceptable style. Complex in his creativity, as any great improviser incorporating the skills of jazz must be, Sims was a kind and simple man whose deep feeling was manifest in his artistry.”

Since his time on Woody Herman’s Band was to continue to be a defining element in Zoot’s Jazz World well after his actual tenure on the band, here are some excerpts from the chapter entitled Bad Boys from Gene Lees, The Leader of the Band: The Life of Woody Herman [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1995] about, shall we say, the “culture” of Woody’s band during Zoot’s time on it:

“While marijuana had been in common use in the music world for a long time-and for that matter in more of American society than may be suspected-nothing stronger was much used in the jazz world until the deification of Charlie Parker. So great was the admiration for him that many of his young idolaters followed him into heroin, even though he warned them, Red Rodney and Gerry Mulligan among them, of its ravages. The master bassist Ray Brown once recalled to me the coming of smack to the jazz world.

Ray said, "A little pot, I was used to that. Then they told me, 'We've got something new. It's even better.'

"How do you take it?" Ray asked.

"With a needle in the arm."

"Forget it!" Ray said.
Exactly half the Woody Herman band at one point was on heroin, eight of its sixteen players: the entire saxophone section, Stan Getz, Al Cohn, Zoot Sims, and Serge Chaloff; Bernie Glow in the trumpet section, Earl Swope and Bob Swift in the trombones, and Lou Levy on piano.

The straights were Ernie Royal, Stan Fishelson, Shorty Rogers, Chubby Jackson, Don Lamond, Sam Marowitz, Bill Harris, and Ollie Wilson.

Terry Gibbs said he realized when he joined the band how seriously many of the men were strung out. "Bernie Glow was really bad," he said. "He almost died."

Ralph Burns said, "I used to visit them, because I was writing for them. t was pretty scary. I got a little bit into it at that time. You thought you had to take a little junk, otherwise they wouldn't play your music. It was sad. You'd go to see the band and the front line would be completely cacked out. On the stand! I don't know how Woody put up with it. And what he got out of them, in spite of it all.

"The funny part of it is they all got straight eventually."'

"I was so naive," Woody said once with his chuckle, "that I couldn't figure out why the guys were falling asleep on the bandstand."

"The whole front line would be nodding out," Ralph said.

Amphetamines were also in use. "That's the band," Woody once said, "where everybody was on practically everything but roller skates." [pp. 171-172]

"Heroin was the drug of the period," Lou Levy said. "Pot was already old hat. Cab Calloway was singing songs about it and making jokes about pot. Heroin was a serious habit, but that was the drug that everybody was into at the time. I got into it.

"I remember Woody's expression. He'd just look at us. He didn't even shake his head. He'd just look. He never said anything to anybody that I recall.
"But the quality of the music was very important to them. They were very conscious of their image. What they were doing in their hotel rooms or on the bus or at intermissions was one thing, but on the bandstand they were real music-conscious. We'd all look for the opportunities to play. Sometimes Woody would get off the bandstand for the last set and go home. We'd drag out all the arrangements we really loved to play, like Johnny Mandel's Not Really the Blues, and play them. There was so much that we loved to play in the band anyway. Neal Hefti and A] Cohn stuff. The soloists were always at their best. We'd find a piano in some room down in the bowels of a theater and jam between shows. Al, Zoot, Stan, everybody. Always looking to play. Whatever else suffered, the music never did. The band sounded healthy. We may have had some unhealthy habits, but the music sounded healthy. Great vitality, great oneness, like Ellington had when that band was at its best. Or Basie. They had those magic moments. The band would come alive, and you'd feel a shortness of breath, it was so exciting. Sort of like Dizzy's band used to be to me, his young, wild, wonderful band that recorded for RCA Victor. I felt that same kind of excitement ....

"Oh God, what a wonderful experience! I'd love to go through it again now that I know a few things. When you're in the midst of such greatness at such a young age, I don't know if you realize what you're involved in. I was nineteen. The magnitude! I don't know if I appreciated it. I met Stan Getz in that band. I didn't know how good these guys were yet.

"One thing was made evident to me right away. Everybody in the band was crazy for Al Cohn. When he played, there was sheer reverence as everybody turned their eyes and ears toward him. When somebody else played, they just looked straight ahead. When A] Cohn played, it was always something special. You can ask anyone who's left from that band .... I remember in 1948 and '49, Stan would look up at Al with those blue eyes of his and just stare at him when he was playing. This is Stan Getz, and he's pretty snappy himself." [pp. 175-76]
"When I was on the band," Terry Gibbs said, "Woody never fired anybody but Zoot, and the only reason he fired him is that Zoot spit at him. And he didn't really want Zoot to leave. We tried to stop it. If Zoot had apologized, Woody would have said, 'Great.' But Zoot wouldn't back down."

"I don't understand that," I said. "Because I know in later years, Zoot adored Woody."

"He adored him then," Terry said.

"Let me tell you," Terry continued emphatically, "Woody was the greatest bandleader I ever worked for in my life. He let you do your thing.” [p. 173]

Terry Gibbs said, "Woody wasn't the instrumentalist that Benny Goodman, Artie Shaw, and Tommy Dorsey were, but he was the greater bandleader. He knew what a band was all about. I learned from Woody! Woody would get an arrangement, sometimes he would take a first chorus and make it a last chorus, or put it in the middle. He'd make it work, I learned how to do that from Woody. just watching him do it.
"He advanced all our careers. Early Autumn made Stan Getz overnight. Everybody knew about Al Cohn and Zoot Sims from Woody's band, Bill Harris. Don Lamond. Lou Levy - Myself. All of us, Woody made us."

And they would all come running, whenever Woody called. They played in reunion bands at Monterey and Carnegie Hall. Or they would simply come to listen to his latest band and talk to him. The same young Turks who had treated him so contemptuously in the Second Herd, almost to a man, came to idolize him as they grew older.” [p. 178]
In his seminal American Musicians: 56 Portraits in Jazz [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986], Whitney Balliett, the Dean of American Jazz essayists, offered this recapitulation of Zoot’s career and lovely tribute to the man that formed an obituary upon his passing in March, 1985. The first part is excerpted as follows [paragraphing modified].

Zoot and Louise

"Zoot Sims had a rustic air. His stoop suggested a man who has milked a lot of cows. His face was rough and handsome and wind-carved. Through the years, his thick, wavy, strawberry-blond hair took on a porcupine look. He had a broad, gap-toothed country smile, and he liked to wedge a cigarette between his front teeth and make a hideous bumpkin face.
His prehistoric Selmer tenor saxophone, bought secondhand in St. Louis in the late forties, completed the bucolic image. (Sims finally bought a new Selmer, in Paris in the sixties and he also bought another secondhand Selmer, in Boston. But neither saxophone ever replaced the original.) But Sims' exterior was deceptive. It hid a big-city wit who never seemed off balance, and it hid a player of high lyricism. This lyricism resulted in an indelible jazz event. It took place at the jazz party Dick Gibson held in Aspen in September of 1969. It was Gibson's pleasure to invite thirty or so musicians and during the almost non-stop weekend concerts to mix the musicians in endlessly different combinations.

Five groups had already gone by on Saturday evening when the violinist Joe Venuti came on with Lou Stein on piano, Milt Hinton on bass, and Morey Feld on drums. Venuti did a fast "I Want to Be Happy" and a blues, and was joined by Zoot Sims. The two men stepped immediately into an up-tempo "I Found a New Baby," with Venuti handling the melody and Sims playing close, tight variations. It was clear after one chorus that something special was happening. Each man soloed with great heat, then went into a long series of four-bar exchanges, in which Sims parodied Venuti's figures, and Venuti, delighted at the challenge, attempted more and more complex parody-proof figures. Caught in their own momentum, the two closed with a jammed ensemble that swung so hard it was almost unbearable. Their tones and timbres and rhythmic attacks were so similar and so dense, yet so distinct, that they sounded, as this writer put it at the time, "like one instrument split in half and at war with itself."

When the number ended, people shouted and leaped into the air. Sims left. Venuti did a cooling violin duet with Lou McGarity, and McGarity left. Venuti looked around and said, "Where's Zootie? Where's my Zootie?" Sims reappeared, and the two nearly duplicated their feat with a ferocious "I Got Rhythm." The audience, though stunned, wasn't surprised. Sims had been swinging hard for twenty-five years.

Sims has long been associated with the legion of white tenor saxophonists who proliferated in Lester Young's shadow in the forties. These included Bill Perkins, Stan Getz, Herbie Steward, Al Cohn, Jimmy Giuffre, Allen Eager, Bob Cooper, and Brew Moore. But Sims began as an admirer of Coleman Hawkins and Ben Webster, and came later to Lester Young. His style involved elements of all three.

His tone in the middle register suggested Webster's, and he sometimes used Webster's descending tremolos. Young's pale, old-moon sound came into view in Sims' high register. Hawkins underlay his drive, his heat, his need to take the audience with him. Sims was a consummate melodic improviser. The melody never completely disappeared. You sensed it, no matter how remote or faint; it moved behind the scrim of his sound. His playing was rhythmically ingenious. Billie Holiday's rhythmic derring-do must have sunk in somewhere along the line. He would deliver an on-the-beat or legato phrase, fall silent (letting the beat click by), slip into a double-time variation of what he had just played, fall silent again, let loose an upper register cry, and slide down a glissando to a low-register honk. He stepped forward and stepped back, raced forward and fell back. He developed irresistible momentum.

All the while, he constructed winsome melodies, melodies that seemed to have been broken off the original song, heated up, and quickly reshaped in his image. His tone had warmth, but it was not enveloping. Nor did it let light through. Sims was revered for his up-tempo excursions, but he was a sensuous ballad player, and his blues were full of melancholy, He had taken to listening to Johnny Hodges' passionate and elegant blues in his last years. He had also taken up the soprano saxophone. He called his horn 'Sidney,' and he played in tune and with great lyricism. Although Sims recorded Often, his quicksilver lyricism does not always come through on records. Maybe he had to be seen to be heard. He was what he played; he played what he was.
Sims was not loquacious, but in 1976 he gave this resume of his beginnings: "I was born in 1925, in Inglewood, California, which is south of Los Angeles, right by the airport. It was all lemon groves and Japanese gardens then. I was the youngest of six boys and one girl. My mother and father were in vaudeville, and they were known as Pete and Kate. He was from Missouri, and she was from Arkansas. My mother never forgot a joke or a lyric, and she performed at the drop of a hat right up until she had a stroke a couple of years ago. My father died in 1950. He spent his last years on the road, scuffling, and he never sent any money home. It was out of sight, out of mind for him. But there was never any falling out among us. When he came for a visit, everybody forgave him, including my mother. I don't know how we made it. The gas and water were always being turned off, and we moved a lot.

One move got me off the ground, though, because we had to go to a new school where they were recruiting kids for their band. They gave me a clarinet and my brother Ray a tuba and my brother Bobby drums. I was about ten. I liked the clarinet fine, even though it made my teeth vibrate, which is why I don't play with a biting grip today. Most sax players bite through their mouthpiece; mine hardly has a mark on it. I played clarinet three years, until my mother bought me a Conn tenor on time. I kept it through my Woody Herman days in the late forties, and I finally sold it for twenty-five dollars. I never had any lessons. I learned by listening to Coleman Hawkins and Roy Eldridge and Ben Webster, and later to Lester Young and Don Byas. My mind was elsewhere at school, which I quit after one year of high. When I was fifteen or sixteen, I worked in an L.A. band led by Ken Baker. He put these supposedly funny nicknames on the front of his music stands Scoot, Voot, Zoot - and I ended up behind the Zoot stand, and it stuck and the John Haley I was born with disappeared.

Then, instead of joining Paul Whiteman, who invited me, I went with Bobby Sherwood. It was like a family, and Sherwood was a father image to a lot of us. Sonny Dunham was next, and after him it was Teddy Powell. I spent nine weeks on the Island Queen, a riverboat out of Cincinnati that had a calliope player who knew Don't Get Around Much Anymore. In 1943, I joined Benny Goodman, and he had Jess Stacy and Bill Harris. In 1944, Sid Catlett asked me to take Ben Webster's place in his quartet after Ben got sick, and we played the Streets of Paris, in Hollywood. I got drafted and ended up in the Army Air Forces later that year and fought the Battle of the South. I was stationed in Huntsville, Valdosta, Biloxi, Phoenix, Tucson, and San Antonio, where I played every night in a little black club. I got out in 1946 and rejoined Benny, and then I went with Woody Herman and became one of the Four Brothers, with Herbie Steward and Stan Getz and Serge Chaloff. I loved that band. We were all young and had the same ideas. I'd always worried about what the other guys were thinking in all the bands I'd been in, and in Woody's I found out: they were thinking the same thing was I was."

Sims stayed with Herman until 1949, then gigged around New York and rejoined Benny Goodman. He passed through Stan Kenton's band and Gerry Mulligan's sextet, then, in 1956 or 1957, formed a group with Al Cohn. They played together off and on until Sims' death, in the early spring of 1985. When he wasn't with Cohn, he worked as a single or with his own quartet. He was on the road much of his life, and he appeared all over the world. It was a patched-together career, and he scuffled continuously until 1970, when he married a remarkable woman named Louise Ault [nee Choo]. (His first marriage ended in divorce.) She was an assistant to Clifton Daniel at the [New York] Times, where she had worked since the early fifties, and she gave Sims the first security he had ever known. It was soon apparent. His come-as-you-are clothes were replaced by tweed jackets and gray flannel pants and loafers, and he cut his hair. His playing took on a new fullness and warmth; by the mid-seventies he had become a saxophonist of the first rank.
Musicians idolized Sims, particularly those who worked with him. The guitarist Bucky Pizzarelli: "Zoot and I played as a duet at Soerabaja off and on for two and a half years in the mid-seventies. The owner, Taki, was Greek, and he called Zoot - "Zeus." Zoot lived at Sixty-ninth and Second, and Soerabaja was at Seventy-fourth and Lexington, and whenever he wasn't on the road he'd fall in and we'd play. He loved the job. When we were finished, I'd drive him home and he'd say, 'I'll give you a dollar a block or a pothole-whichever comes first.' We also worked one-nighters with Benny Goodman's sextet, and we went on the road with piano and bass. We'd do school clinics. He'd shy away from them, but the kids loved him. He was a dream to play with. He was always good, he was always charged up, he never pussyfooted. He used to tell me it was concentration - that music was all a matter of concentration. [emphasis mine]
Doing the duet with him was tough at first. He was very demanding. He didn't like different harmonies. He wanted to hear the straight harmony that went with the tune. He'd growl at you on his horn if things weren't going right. just being around Zoot was special. He seemed to gather everybody together. After a job, he liked to sit and talk and laugh. One night, when we were playing Toronto, musicians started dropping into our hotel room - Charlie Byrd, Rob McConnell, and the like - and we must have played five or six hours. Charlie played un-amplified, and Zoot played standing on the bed in his bathrobe. He loved to sit in. He sat in one night at the Hotel Pierre with my trio and broke the place up. He wasn't at all like people thought he was-super-hip, that kind of down beat thing. He was the opposite. He was a real country boy."

The composer, pianist, and singer Dave Frishberg: "I worked with Zoot at the old Half Note from the fall of 1963 to 1968 or 1969. I thought of him as the greatest natural jazz musician I'd ever heard. He'd play two notes, and the rhythm section fell immediately into place. I was sitting in a hotel room in Denver just after I had heard he was sick, and I was listening to some of his records, and I felt overwhelmed. I wrote him a letter telling him how much I loved him and admired his playing. I told him that if Al Cohn was the Joe DiMaggio of tenor saxophonists, he was the Ted Williams. I never got to know him terribly well playing with him. He kept himself at a remove. In fact, I saw him as moody. He'd be irascible early in the evening, then later on he'd be soft as a grape." Jimmy Rowles: "I first met Zoot in 1941 in a night club in southeast Los Angeles called Bourston's. They had Sunday jam sessions. He was only fifteen or sixteen, dressed real tatteredly, and he didn't look like a musician. He already sounded like Ben Webster. I guess he hadn't heard Lester Young yet. He played great, and we thought, Who's this guy? He'd come in weekends, and suddenly he was gone, working with local bands, and later with Woody Herman. I didn't see much of him again until I went to New York in the early seventies. He had been at the Half Note with Al Cohn a long time, and I think he was a little jaded. We put together quartet, with Michael Moore or Bob Cranshaw or George Mraz on bass and with Mickey Roker or Mousie Alexander on drums, and at first seemed to play the same thing over and over.
He didn't know many songs so I began to go to his apartment in the afternoon and write out songs in key that would be good for him-tunes like 'Gypsy Sweetheart' and 'Dream Dancing' and 'In the Middle of a Kiss.' Once he got the hang of songs like that, he loved them. He had a wild sense of humor. If we had a new drummer who couldn't keep time or got the tempo wrong, Zoot would stop everything, and say, 'O.K., this is where we started. I’ll give you one more chance.' There was a pianist he had worked with who swayed all the time, and he said he couldn't play with him anymore because he made him seasick."

Al Cohn: "Zoot and I were first together in Woody Herman's band in 1948 and 1949. We formed our own group in the late fifties, and worked together until the end of his life. Playing was both an escape and a serious vocation for him. He used to talk about the ecstasy factor-the times when your playing becomes a kind of ecstasy. Once he sat in somewhere and played 'Sweet Lorraine' for half an hour. He told the piano player, who was really a bassist, the name of another tune, and the pianist said 'Sweet Lorraine' was the only tune he knew, so Zoot said, 'Play it again,' and they played it for another half hour. He didn't look like a sophisticate, but he was a sharp, fun-loving guy. And this quality never left him. Not long before he died, his doctor came in to take a look at him, and Zoot said, 'You're looking better today, Doc."'

…. To be continued in Part 2

Friday, March 13, 2009

Enrico Pieranunzi, Part 6 - "Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist"

[C] - Steven A. Cerra, Introduction, copyright protected; all rights reserved.

Perhaps it may be fitting to conclude Enrico Pieranunzi’s retrospective on Bill Evans as an artist and his explanation of what made Bill Evans’s style so unique and so innovative by introducing what Bill Evans’s had to say about how he arrived at his approach and why he thought it distinctive.. Bill’s comments [BE] are from a portion of an interview that he gave to Wayne Enstice and Paul Rubin [PR] in 1979, just a year or so before he died:

“PR: We’re surprised to hear that you never strived for identity. Within four bars, your sound is unmistakable!

BE: Well, if there is a striving for an identity, it’s something that’s so much a part of my individuality or personality that it’s just automatic. I never said, like, “I want to have an identity,’ in so many words. What I said was ‘I want to approach the musical problems as an individual. I want to build my music from the bottom up, piece by piece, and kind of put it together according to my own way of organizing things. Yet I want it to fit in, but I'm not going to take it en toto from any one place,’ which is what I did, really. I just have a reason that I arrived at myself for every note I play Now, I think just as a result of that you probably have an identity-just because you are an individual and you see the problem, and so forth, in your own way. But as far as saying, like, ‘I'm going to project my personality’ or ‘I'm going to project an image onto music’ -a kind of a personality image onto music, which is kind of the way most people think of identity - that was no part of it whatsoever. And I don't think that can be effective.

I think having one's own sound in a sense is the most fundamental kind of identity in music. But it's a very touchy thing how one arrives at that. It has to be something that comes from inside, and it's a long-term process. It's a product of a total personality. Why one person is going to have it and another person isn’t, I don't know why exactly. I think sometimes the people I seem to like most as musical artists are people who have had to-they're like late arrivers. Many of them are late arrivers. They've had to work a lot harder in a sense to get facility, to get fluency, and like that. Whereas you see a lot of young talents that have a great deal of fluidity and fluency and facility, and they never really carry it anyplace. Because in a way they're not aware enough of what they're doing.

There are certain artists - Miles Davis is a late arriver in a sense. I mean, he arrived early, but you couldn't just hear his development until he finally really arrived later. And Tony Bennett is another one that's just always worked and dug and tried to improve, and finally, what he does as a straight singer has a kind of a dimension in it and is able to transport the listener way beyond other singers in his category. Or Thad Jones is another one that I can enjoy listening to play. I enjoy listening to player. that think for themselves, especially. I mean, you could line up a hundred players that all more or less sound alike, and they're all good players, and I can even enjoy listening to them. But if just one of them thinks for himself, he stands out like a neon sign. And it's so refreshing to hear someone who thinks for himself.

Now at the same time, the danger of a person grabbing a concept like this is that they think thinking for themselves is being eccentric or being rebellious or being-especially of being ‘different’ - and that's not it. The idea is to be real and right in the core, right in the middle, but still an individual enough to handle the material your own way.”[Jazz Spoken Here, New York: Da Capo Press, 1994, pp. 139-141].
With these comments from Bill and the following, concluding chapters from Enrico’s book about Bill and his music, we have now come full circle as to what started me on this quest of trying to understand why Bill’s playing evolved the way it did, especially as analyzed from the perspective of another Jazz pianist.

And while we have focused this Jazz Profile on Enrico Pieranunzi’s narration on the career and music of Bill Evans - the single greatest influence on Jazz piano in the 2nd half of the 20th century – the editorial staff is also planning a future profile on Enrico with an in-depth look at the sizeable footprint that he has placed on Jazz in Italy over the past 25 years.

I Will Say Goodbye
Evans believed in "simple" music; but simplicity, of course, not necessarily at the expense of beauty, and it was precisely that which he demonstrated a couple of years later. Beauty has to do with a deeper and somehow mysterious dimension - a something that Bill possessed, and thanks to which he had captured, especially in the 1950s and 60s, the hearts and minds of musicians and jazz lovers all over the world. In May of 1977 Evans recorded his last album for the Fantasy label, I Will Say Goodbye, with Gomez and the sensitive Zigmund on the drums. The album's title track, written by Michel Legrand, as well as Johnny Mandel's tender Seascape, are both film score tunes which, in Evans' hands, become compelling, intimate Mendelssohn-like "songs without words.”
Here Evans revives the classical piano modules of Brahms and Chopin, Debussy and Scriabin, whom he had known and loved in his childhood and later in his college years in Louisiana. He treats these melodic lines, evoking images of separations ("goodbye") and seascapes, with a touch that unearths a rich range of color and nuance that had been lost in his years with Gomez and Morell. Here he greatly refines the classical technique of playing three or four notes with the right hand, making their upper voice "sing".

All this is made possible also by Zigmund's sensibility and capacity to listen to and play with Evans, avoiding the error of other drummer's of playing "with the bass", thus leaving the piano isolated. Zigmund follows the emotional and sound "curve" of the pianist and, in this way, restores to the trio the breath that has long been missing.
Another big film hit tune People, written by Jules Styne and made popular by Barbara Streisand, had been used by Evans a couple of years earlier for his solo album Alone Again. That performance had marked a moment in which Evans seems to have declared his belief more in interpretation than in improvisation as the primary vehicle for his musical communication. The melody of People is played for more than thirteen minutes in various keys and becomes a sort of "theme and variations" in which Evans shows the many possibilities for dealing with a simple song on piano. His use of the left hand playing arpeggio-lines as a kind of "contrapuntal" accompaniment to the right is characteristic here. This device goes beyond just simply confirming or tracing the harmonic path of the piece, and is able to create a second "voice" dialoguing with the right hand and, at times, functioning as protagonist.

Throughout the entire length of the performance, the original melody is never abandoned. John Wasserman, who wrote the liner notes for this album, rightly observes, “one would have to be a fool or a genius to pick such songs, songs that have been played with a repetition past counting. The fool would choose them because they are familiar and one with nothing to say must be satisfied with quoting others. The genius chooses them for the challenge; for the untapped potential lying underneath the facade. It requires supreme confidence and fundamental humility in addition to an innate sense of beauty. His music, complex and simple at the same time, is like stop-action photography - the learning, the understanding, the feelings of a lifetime compressed into three minutes, or five, or seven.”
The material that Evans chose for both Alone Again and I Will Say Goodbye, was almost always very easy on the ear, mostly evoking melancholy, nostalgia for something lost, something which had perhaps never existed, or else had always been unattainable. Very often, as has already been said, these were songs from films which spoke of lost, impossible or troubled love, or of the travails of couples and the unending search for happiness. Russian tradition is full of story-telling and fables, and we must not forget that Evans origins were half Russian. It is no surprise, therefore, that he was orienting himself more and more towards musical stories written to accompany picture stories. Improvisation as such seemed no longer to interest him very much. Far from the extreme harmonic quest of a Coltrane, extraneous also to the contemporary jazz/rock revolution with its new rhythms and sound, Evans was heading in a musical direction that no one but he was attracted to in those years.

In August of 1977 Warner Bros made Evans a very generous recording offer, and it was Helen Keane who made the switch to that label possible. You Must Believe In Spring (again with Gomez and Zigmund) continues along the lines of I Will Say Goodbye, but there is much more in it. This album, however, also begins to reveal the traces of a destiny marked by some unsettling clues: the opening piece, B Minor Waltz, is dedicated to Bill's former long-term, unfortunate girlfriend Ellaine (was it just a coincidence that the key of B minor was the same as Tchaikovsky’s tragic, desperate "Pathetic" Symphony?”); the closing piece, Johnny Mandel's theme from Bill's favorite TV series M*A*S*H*, is sub-titled Suicide is Painless. What was happening to Bill?

Why dwell on self-destruction? Maybe because “suicide ... brings on many changes, and I can take or leave it as I please?” Perhaps a successful hit like M*A*S*H*was enough to set off that subconscious image/sound mechanism which always seemed to stimulate him. The story of M*A *S*H* (set, as everyone knows, in the Korean War) denouncing the madness and psychologically devastating violence of war, probably sparked Bill's memory of his psychically wounding experiences at Fort Sheridan in the early 50s, where he had come into contact with the harsh and senseless reality of army life. His slow slide into a self-destructive depression, probably traceable to those distant days, led him some years later into the drug habit (“the longest suicide in history,” as writer and great friend Gene Lees would say of him) which he shared with fragile, vulnerable Ellaine, who could not bear the idea of being separated from him.
Not even the birth of his son Evan the previous year had been able to fulfill that promise of regeneration that he had begun to glimpse, not to mention the fact that his marriage with Nenette was on the rocks. Perhaps all this would be enough to explain the album's mournful tone. Alongside the images of that movie which recalled his own suffering and the pain of another failure, that of his marriage, Bill was “speaking" through his music to Ellaine.

But another element must be factored in to give You Must Believe In Spring [Warner Bros. 3504] a special place in the final stages of Evans' artistic activity. The entire record, in fact, and not only the piece We Will Meet Again, was dedicated to his beloved big brother Harry - although Harry was never to know this. Bill loved movies, as we have already pointed out, but a script that not even the most imaginative screenwriter could ever have conceived had cast him in the leading role. His past (Ellaine) and his present (Harry) were soon to be linked precisely by the suicide. Two years after the recording of You Must Believe In Spring, Harry Evans Jr., he as well suffering from a long depression, took his own life. Since the album had not yet been published Harry never heard it nor did he ever know about that act of affectionate brotherly devotion - a shocking premonition. Starting with the recording of that ill-fated album in August '77, a dark destiny seemed to be rushing towards the artist; but he still had a little more time - time enough to say many more things in music and to "close the circle" of his musical journey.

Affinity Near the end of 1977, at more or less the same time, Zigmund and Gomez - who had been with Evans for eleven years - quit the trio. Evans was left with the job of forming a completely new group. He played for about a year with the trusty Philly Joe Jones on drums, alternating different bass players, until an old college friend called his attention to a young bass player playing at the time with the Woody Herman orchestra, and who he thought had “something special that Bill would like.” Marc Johnson, the 24-year-old son of a pianist, had grown up listening to Bill Evans records. He had studied cello for a while before taking up the bass, and this, along with a truly unique musical sensibility, gave his playing that "vocal" appeal that Evans had always set such high store by in his own music and in that of his partners. The two finally met, after a certain hit-and-miss period of trying to hook up, and their first gig together was at the Village Vanguard. "Before we even finished the first number, I got the feeling immediately that this was the guy."
Evans had recently recorded another solo album New Conversations [Warner Bros. 2-3177] on which he made use of the same over-dubbing technique already employed on two previous albums, this time extending it to the electric piano. This album contains his first recorded version of Reflections in D which is played right through once without any over-dubbing - a piece which was to become one of his standards in this last brief stretch of musical activity. It was an old improvisation by Ellington in one of his rare trio recording sessions in the early 1950s which, in Evans' hands, sheds its somewhat decorative character and is turned into a piano essay of the highest order, both in terms of its formal construction as well as its haunting charm.
In July of 1978 Evans went off on a European tour. The Johnson/Jones combination worked well, regardless of some imbalances between the boisterous drummer and the refined young bass player whose true value and potential began to shine through. Johnson, gifted with an instinctive, genuine capacity for interplay, proved to be tuned in to Evans and also had a lot of his own things to say when soloing. The three performed at various European festivals (among which Umbria Jazz and Montreux), playing at times with guest musicians such as Lee Konitz and Kenny Burrell.

Upon his return to the USA Evans recorded the splendid Affinity [Warner Bros. 3293] where we find him encountering the marvelous lyrical sound of the phenomenal Belgian harmonica player Toots Thielemans. A successful meeting once again made possible with the help of the skillful Helen Keane; Marc Johnson on bass, Eliot Zigmund on drums and the talented young tenor saxophone player Larry Schneider completed the personnel. Proving not to recognize any distinction between genres, nor to care about where a piece came from when something struck him, Evans selected, among some well-known standards, the beautiful Sno'Peas by pianist Phil Markowitz as well as Paul Simon’s I Do It For Your Love - both very likely on the suggestion of Thielemans (“any time that I come across a tune that I really love and get into, I'll use it regardless,” as Bill once said). Evans' performance here is one of extraordinary poetic value: he and Thielemans establish a solid lyrical understanding fed by great depth and communicative authenticity which rigorously avoids the trap of mannerism.
Shortly afterwards, sometime between late 1978 and early 1979, on the strength of another recommendation (this time from guitarist Joe Puma with whom Bill shared a long-time friendship as well as a passion for trotter-racing), Evans decided to hire drummer Joe LaBarbera for his trio, despite worries that he might not have been completely available due to his heavy studio commitments. LaBarbera’s capacity to “do the right thing at the right time” made him a drummer of considerable musical intelligence. Gifted with a strong and relaxed sense of swing a la Elvin Jones he, like Johnson, had a highly developed ability to listen to his partners. The chemistry between these two and Evans gave him reason to expect peaks like those that he had known with LaFaro and Motian and, in fact, that is what happened.

Nevertheless, the first recording featuring LaBarbera and Johnson together - We Will Meet Again [Warner Bros. HS 3411] was a quintet album, the two horns being Tom Harrell's expressive trumpet and again the brilliant tenor sax of Larry Schneider. This album is comprised exclusively of original Bill Evans compositions, among which the inspired Laurie - dedicated to the woman who would be at his side in this last brief leg of his journey - and We Will Meet Again (which Evans had recorded two years earlier, surely never imagining the sad circumstances under which he was to find himself re-recording it). That session of August 1979, in fact, took place shortly after the tragic suicide of Bill's brother Harry, and the solo piano version of We Will Meet Again included here was clearly a despairing musical farewell directed towards this brother whom he had always worshiped.
“It's there for that reason. Also a solo version of For All We Know because that's linked with the title. So, there are those two solo tracks - For All We Know- We May Never Meet Again- and then the song We Will Meet Again.” These words from an interview with Evans' in August of 1980, give us an illuminating glimpse, flashing momentarily on the secret code that often encrypted the connection between his music and his life. With the benefit of hindsight it is not difficult to see that this was precisely the period in which Evans had unconsciously decided to let loose all his self-destructive urges, and in which he began to chant his swan song.

From that August 1979 on, in fact, we see his gradual and complete rediscovery of music, but the energy in that new spurt of growth would be inversely proportional to how much he cared about his own life, which was rapidly slipping into decline. The trio with Johnson and LaBarbera made its European debut in November of that same year. A couple of months earlier, on the occasion of his son Evan's fourth birthday, Bill had composed a tender piece for which he had also written the bitter-sweet words. The affectionate and detached Letter To Evan was performed many times along the tour, one concert of which was recorded and released on the two LPs The Paris Concert, Edition One & Edition Two and received with great enthusiasm by fans new and old. Curiously, Evans was being "rediscovered" in those years by a large number of younger listeners who had begun to tire of rock music and who were beginning to get interested in his music, having heard him perform at various European festivals.

Your Story
The trio with Johnson and LaBarbera evolved rapidly. Bill was satisfied and proud of the extremely fast progress his two partners were making, and of how in tune they were with his musical world. But he was beginning to have serious problems with his health. For some time now, and probably increasingly so following his brother's tragic death, he had been using cocaine, and this was having repercussions on his way of playing, among which a strong tendency to rush the tempo (something of which he was completely aware, according to what he once said to LaBarbera).

In fact, on his final recordings, his solos were frenetic at times and lingered at the highest register of the keyboard. Regardless of all this, his creative energy was propelled by a new impetus, and he began once again to compose extensively. The structures he used were extremely varied, but the prevailing approach was one that we might call “nuclear", in which the same brief sequence of notes and their rhythmic layout is repeated many times in a harmonically modulating development.

This is the case with the yearning Your Story, a piece in which the music is both a confession and an invocation. Here, thanks to his masterful use of enharmonic modulation, Evans tells a true story of regret and desperation; a vast and hopeless "why?", repeated and then repeated again, knowing that there will never be an answer. He also began to perform Nardis again, repeating it at almost every concert. The version he played in Paris, and which appears on the The Paris Concert Edition Two is a remarkable one. The long piano solo he improvises on the structure of this piece, whose Eastern flavor has always held a special attraction for him, becomes an amazing recapitulation of all the elements that have contributed to his piano style, of everything that he has ever loved in music. Shades of classical music (Khachaturian, Rachmaninoff, his favorite Russian composers), harmonic derivations from Tristano an entire piano tradition ranging from Romanticism to the 20th century and jazz are fused in this Nardis, something which has no antecedents in either jazz or in the classical music tradition.

Without giving up the structure, thereby remaining anchored to a tonal approach, Evans succeeds in escaping from it to create a series of sound forms in which constructive intelligence and pathos, mind and heart are no longer separate. When, after a series of variations, Johnson and LaBarbera join him, the audience understandably explodes in the joyous applause of those who have been led across unknown and beautiful places never before seen. Thus Nardis became a kind of message that Evans was sending out to everyone in each of his final concerts. His whole personal story is here, in this series of inventions and combinations: he seems to be posing the music one more question, whose answer is the certainty of his own creativity. This re-discovered faith shines through in the whole of this last phase.
The collaboration of the highest caliber offered him by Johnson and LaBarbera was never routine and brought him back that tension and passion for the musical quest with which he had peaked twenty years earlier at the time of his unparalleled collaboration with Motian and LaFaro: “This trio is very much connected to the first trio ... I feel that the trio I have now is karmic.” Having previously been heavily involved in Zen, and also due to his Russian Orthodox background which had given him a natural aptitude and sensitivity for the metaphysical and spiritual, he felt that having these two young musicians alongside him was a sign of destiny, of the "circularity' of things and their inexplicable propensity for moving according to a script already written.

Evans was drifting by now, no longer resisting his own karma, in which the key role was being played by his powerful subconscious death-wish. With his adventurous piano solos in Nardis he was confirming what many years before clarinet player Jimmy Giuffre had said of him: “Bill Evans is a greater musician than Charlie Parker;” and to clarify so surprising a statement to his incredulous listeners he added: “There is an area up here where musical categories do not exist. This area isn’t only jazz, or European music, classical or anything else. It's just music, great music which cannot be categorized. That's what Evans plays.”

In reality Evans played his own experience, his thoughts, his wisdom, and lived his music, as like Charlie Parker himself had said a real musician has to do. Or better, he had the power to “express tenderness, love, rage, fear, happiness, despair wonder: in a word, beauty,” as Don Nelsen writes in the liner notes of Trio '65. “A lot of people feel these emotions deeply but haven't the technical means to crystallize and communicate them. Others have the technical ability but seem unable to probe into the depths of emotion. The rare bird has both the insight into the universal and the means to express it.”

The communicative force of Evans' music in that last year was becoming more penetrating than ever. He had gone back to music as his definitive refuge from the world. Despite the fact that his physical condition was rapidly deteriorating, to the point of becoming literally emaciated, amazingly enough he was able to find the energy to make a long and successful European tour in the late summer of 1980. In Great Britain, Belgium, Norway, Italy and Germany his enraptured audiences listened respectfully to this artist who still had the strength to go on telling them his fascinating and touching musical stories. Once back in America, Bill continued to work frenetically. August 31 found him engaged for a week at the Keystone Corner in San Francisco. Right after that, on Tuesday, September 9th, he began a new gig at Fat Tuesdays in New York. The Thursday afternoon of that week he called the club to say that he was not feeling well and was in no condition to play.

Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera convinced him to go to the hospital, and even in this he succeeded in keeping his surreal wittiness and his proverbial composure: on the way there he is quoted, in fact, as having commented: “I must be close to the end, because I'm seeing all these good-looking girls go by and it's not phasing me at all.” His condition rapidly and irreparably deteriorated. A series of massive hemorrhages due to his long-lived, and by now devastating, hepatitis brought the situation past the point of no return. On September 15 1980, at the age of fifty-one, Bill Evans died. The void he left behind was profoundly felt by jazz musicians all over the world, many of whom dedicated compositions to his memory.
As often, unfortunately, happens in cases like this, his passing away sparked renewed interest in the work of this musician who had never, in his lifetime, drawn huge crowds; an anti-hero who, discreetly but with unusual depth, had penetrated the hearts of both jazz fans and ordinary listeners everywhere. In 1981 Evans was inducted into Down Beat magazine's Hall of Fame, taking the "place of glory' reserved for him alongside the greatest and most important names in the history of jazz. Memorial recordings and concerts abounded recalling this reserved poet of the piano able to reveal through music his most intimate self.

In 1982, under the auspices of Helen Keane, fourteen pianists (among whom George Shearing, Teddy Wilson, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock and McCoy Tyner) recorded a moving tribute in which each played one of Bill's pieces or a composition from his repertoire. In England a Bill Evans library was founded that collected all types of audio/visual material regarding the pianist and curated initiatives aimed at keeping the musical heritage of this great artist alive. September of 1989 saw the publication of the first issue of the periodical entitled "Letter from Evans" (which has now gone on the Internet). Here the founders wrote a sort of manifesto explaining their reasons for dedicating this publication precisely to Bill Evans, these were his voicing, his personal sense of rhythm, the new definition of roles within the trio. All this had for a long time been the object of study and loving attention by pianists, both jazz and otherwise, in corners of the world.

This is the "material" part of Bill Evans' legacy, but it is the astonishing artistry of his work that makes of his heritage a pivotal contribution to the history of 20th century music.