Gene Lees, Helen Keane and his European friends Bernard Maury, Francis Paudras and Brian Hennessey
Two personalities had a great influence upon the musical career and personal life of Bill Evans: Gene Lees and Helen Keane.
Gene Lees introduced impresario Helen Keane to Bill Evans in July 1962 in the kitchen of the Village Vanguard. Gene Lees was over ten years the partner of Helen Keane and
was always central to the relationship between impresario and musician.
Gene Lees (February 8, 1928 - April 22, 2010) is a Canadian journalist, lyricist, singer and composer. He was editor of the jazz magazine Down Beat, later he published on freelance basis and wrote among other things for The New York Times. He contributed liner notes to close to 100 recordings of artists including Stan Getz, John Coltrane, and Quincy Jones.
He published a lot of books on jazz as Waiting for Dizzy and biographies of Oscar Peterson and Dave Brubeck.
Lees, who studied composition at the Berklee College of Music in Boston wrote the lyrics for many songs during the 1960s.
He became a close friend of Bill Evans and he wrote the lyrics to his compositions “Waltz For Debby”, “My Bells”, and “Turn Out The Stars” and contributed liner notes to his recordings as Conversations With Myself.
He introduced also Helen Keane to Bill Evans, who became his personal manager and producer and who would fashion his following career. In Friends along the way: Helen and Bill (268-285) by Gene Lees (Yale University Press, 2003). Gene Lees defined the music of Bill Evans as “Love-letters written to the world from some prison of the heart.” He is the author of another fourteen books of jazz history and analysis including Meet Me at Jim & Andy's: Jazz Musicians and Their World with an excellent chapter on Bill Evans: The Poet (Oxford University Press,1990), Cats of Any Color: Jazz, Black and White (Da Capo Press, 2001), Singers and the Song (Oxford University Press, 1987) and You Can't Steel Steal a Gift (Bison Books, 2004).
Since 1981, he had published his idiosyncratic Jazzletter, a monthly collection of essays that was something of a blog before the term was invented. It became an underground sensation among musicians and critics, and Mr. Lees often reworked articles from his newsletter into his books.
See also Reflections of Gene Lees on his birthday by Harrigan Logan (2006).
Helen Keane (1923-1996) was, except the producers Orrin Keepnews of Riverside and Creed Taylor of Verve,
Evans's personal manager and producer since 1962 and remained that almost longlife for 18 years, until his death in 1980. She was one of the few women on the business side of jazz.
Helen started as a secretary at MCA, a large talent agency. At the age of 19 she became the first female agent at MCA.
Later she joined CBS and remained there for seven years. She left CBS and opened a personal management office. It was at this time that Gene Lees introduced Helen to Bill Evans.
Overall, Helen produced some thirty of Evans' records over a period of 15 years on the Verve, Warner, Columbia, CTI, Fantasy
labels. Seven of these albums produced for Bill Evans were Grammy winners, and numerous others have been nominated for the award; the most recent were awarded in 1980 for the Best Jazz Recording by a Soloist and Best Recording by a Group.
She was responsible for bringing Evans together with singer Tony Bennett and she produced two albums with this unique duo.
She produced in 1989 the Fantasy boxed 9 discs set titled The Complete Fantasy Recordings and the 1991 release
Blue in Green - The Concert in Canada for Milestone, a compilation of several live recordings in Canada.
Furthermore she produced the 45 minute video The Universal Mind of Bill Evans, now reissued as DVD.
She died in 1996 in New York at the age of 73 because of breast cancer. She was cremated and buried at Mystic, Connecticut. The memorial service was held at the Saint Peter's Lutheran, the "jazz church" in New York.
After the untimely death of Bill Evans, an impressive tribute album was recorded by Helen Keane and Herb Wong; they put together an all-star line-up of 14 contemporary fellow pianists who made also statements on the music and personality of Bill Evans.
Helen Keane: "He was a pure, beautiful soul. Even when he was in the worst private torment, he kept on giving beauty to the world right up to the end. That's how we should remember him."
Helen Keane has spearheaded several projects which have kept Bill Evans memory and music available and accessible. She was invited to the 1992 IAJE (International Association of Jazz Educators) convention to present a lecture on Bill Evans.
Francis Paudras had a country house, the "Manoir La Cure", 45 minutes drive from Poitiers. He recorded more than 300 hours of music in the two years he stayed there. It became a jazz haven, attracting other greats, including Gil Evans, Herbie Hancock, Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Miles Davis and Billie Holiday: the lady sang the blues there for more than two months. Paudras drank heavily. He had lost all his money, both his marriages had failed and most of his jazz friends were dead. He hanged himself in the cellar of the Manoir in 1997, aged 62, surrounded by empty wine bottles. During the funeral service, the pianists Maurice Vander, Jacky Terrasson, and Bernard Maury played some of his favorite tunes. See here a short YouTube clip of Paudras at the piano, recorded at his beautiful 14th century mansion in Antigny in France.
An excerpt from an interview with Francis Paudras in the French magazine Le Jazzophone from 1980: "Since 1964 every time I see Bill, I discovered another man. In 1972, I saw someone different, not only physically but also in his behavior. I saw Bill evolve, but not only in historical sense, I saw him metamorphose in every respect. Bill had edema, that was always so, because it is a difficult to treat disease. He had sore ankles and like everyone has remarked, very swollen hands, consequences of a disease of his liver. He did eat very little, satisfied with a café au lait with some sandwiches. Eating for him, was something really secondary. His obsession was music and especially his exploration in music. He was already as far as I can remember a delicate character without being sophisticated. When I say delicate I also want to say very distinguished, very elegant, as is his music. He also has a crazy sense of humor. And he always expressed himself clearly by carefully choosing his words. And moreover he is an intelligent and cultivated person. When you're with him, the whole environment changes in quality."
Bill Evans and Francis Paudras, Nice 1978
Bernard Maury and Bill Evans, at the home of Francis Paudras 1979
Bernard Maury, Walter Davis Jr. and Bill Evans, 1979
Bill Evans, Francis Paudras and Marc Johnson, Lyon 1980
Bernard Maury, Nenette Evans and Vicki Pedrini, California 1997
With permission and property of Nenette Evans
Finally Alain Gerber (France, 1943), although not a friend, must be mentioned. He studied literature and philosophy before becoming a novelist and jazz critic. His writings, which won several prizes, include 24 novels, including four “novelized” biographies of American jazz figures. He has also written extensively for the principal jazz periodicals in France. Gerber has been a presenter on France Musique and France Culture and has been awarded le Grand Prix du Roman de la Ville de Paris for the totality of his writings. Gerber produced 50 programs about Bill Evans on the theme Le Jazz Est Un Roman in 2000. The series was entitled Mort et Résurrection de Bill Evans (Death and Resurrection of Bill Evans) on the Radio broadcasts of France Musique and was followed by a series of four broadcasts entitled Autour de Bill Evans (Around Bill Evans) in 2001, featuring some of the numerous outstanding sidemen who played in Evans’ succession of trios. Gerber wrote a 350 page book, Bill Evans (Fayard, 2001). The book and program were based on copious secondary sources. His principal sources were observations on Evans by Canadian jazz critic and lyricist Gene Lees (editor of Downbeat) and the 1998 biography by Peter Pettinger, plus published interviews with Evans’ sidemen and by Evans with the French critic François Postif, as well as books on Miles Davis and on others who crossed Evans’ path.
Brian Hennessey (died September 4, 2014)
Brian Hennessey, brother of pianist and jazz writer Mike Hennessey, is the founder of the The Bill Evans Memorial Library, an immense tribute archive of material relating to the finest jazz pianist of his generation Bill Evans. A very useful resource to visit. Today, the library includes over 600 hours of audio recordings, over 10 hours of interviews and discussions, over 50 transcriptions, lead sheets and rare notations, feature articles spanning 37 years, video and DVD material. During a business visit to New York in 1962 Brian went to meet Bill at the Village Vanguard and offered him some playing dates in England. Brian and Bill Evans have become mutual friends and Evans was his houseguest many times during his concerts in Europe. "Away from the piano, Bill was articulate, witty, highly intelligent and sensitive. He was certainly one of the most important experiences of my musical life and what he gave me both directly and indirectly is incalculable". Read Brian’s reminiscence of the start on January 9, 1972 of a four week residency of the Bill Evans Trio at Ronnie Scott’s in London (In: Bill Evans: How My heart Sings by Peter Pettinger, page 206-207, 1998, Yale Press). He is director of the Welsh Jazz Society and working for Jazz UK magazine.
He wrote the two articles Bill Evans - a person I knew in UK Jazz Journal International: March 1985 and October 1985.