BILL EVANS EUROPEAN FRIENDS BERNARD MAURY, FRANCIS PAUDRAS AND BRIAN HENNESSEY
Francis Paudras and Bernard Maury, who was jazz pianist and founder of the Bill Evans Piano Academie in Paris (“If rhythm is the body of music, then harmony is its soul”), were close French friends of Bill Evans when visiting Europe.
The harmony specialist Bernard Maury (1943-2005) was one of the best Bill Evans connoisseurs worldwide. “I had some great times with Bill Evans. When he sat down at the piano I never missed a note.
He was one of the great names of jazz, try as he might to deny it – he was a very modest man. “It didn’t come at all naturally,” he told me. “I had to work darned hard.” He would play certain sequences again and again so I could really understand them. He never gave lessons, but if he felt someone was receptive to his music and could see what he was up to, he would go out of his way to explain. I had already been trying to analyse his music for quite a while. Two years before, I’m not sure I would have had the faintest idea about what he was doing. Bill was one of the most important jazz pianists of the second half of the century, up there with Bud Powell and Thelonious Monk. Modern jazz musicians owe him an enormous debt. In the world of jazz he’s also a direct descendent of the French school of Faure, Ravel, Debussy and Lili Boulanger” (Interview with Isabelle Leymarie). Bernard Maury introduced Evans the music of Lili Boulanger and he was fascinated with her polychordal and modal music. “When he returned to New Jersey in 1972 we wrote us a long letter to share his enthusiasm, indicating (underlined) the passages that in particular moved him”. In the late ’80s, after the untimely death of Bill Evans Maury began a series of tribute concerts with piano duets along with former Evans student Warren Bernhardt. He gave lectures at Berklee School in Boston and masterclasses at several universities in Europe and USA. He died in 2005.
The late Francis Paudras (1935-1997) was really fond of piano, not only jazz piano (Bud Powell, Bill Evans, Jacky Terrasson), but also classical piano, for example, Ravel, Debussy, and Rachmaninoff, and he had a special admiration for Glenn Gould.
He wrote a portrait of pianist Bud Powell (1924-1966): The Dance of the Infidels, a moving jazz memoir. Bill Evans wrote the foreword and coda of the book. He remarks, “If I had to choose one single musician for his artistic integrity, for the incomparable originality of his creation and the grandeur of his work, it would be Bud Powell.” In turn Paudras wrote the liner notes for the last live recordings of the Bill Evans Trio at Ronnie Scott in London in 1980. The book served as the basis for Bertrand Tavernier’s film Round Midnight (1986), starring saxophonist Dexter Gordon and pianist Herbie Hancock. Francis Paudras had a country house, a Manoir, 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.
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. 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 was influenced by Bud Powell: “Because Bud got such a sense of the form”. He considered him as a most underestimated pianist. Bill Evans: “He had the potential of a true jazz player….. Because of his history, he never got to use that potential that much, though he did plenty. His insight and talent were unmatched in hard-core, true jazz.” (Down Beat‘s tribute edition 1966). Bill Evans’ early album New Jazz Conceptions was in certain respects his final tribute to Bud Powell.
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.
His British friend Brian Hennessey
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.
Asking Brian to tell something about his relation with Bill, he properly said: The only thing I do avoid is to relate personal matters concerning Bill’s life. I believed him to be a private person with no desire to have his private life exposed to the world. I respect that belief.
When you have been so influenced and emotionally moved by an artist’s work, you can be forgiven for thinking that they are not as a normal human being. They function on a much higher plain and concentrate solely on their art. When one of these icons arrives at your house as a guest, you soon realise (well in Bill’s case anyway) that his interests were not solely confined to music and the piano. I remember a comment from Bill that appeared on the liner notes of his Empathy LP: “Sometimes it can happen that you see everything in terms of music. It’s like a fixation. You can’t help it. But it’s bad if you can’t pull out of it. Nothing should be that dominating. If it is, it’s perverted.” He was really quite a normal human being when he was allowed to be. Apart from his love of literature (a particular fondness for William Blake and Thomas Hardy and Zen of course) he was interested in discussing International politics particularly from a moral point of view. He turned down a lucrative tour to the USSR as a moral protest to the invasion of Afghanistan. On his first weeks pay day on his first visit to London he asked me to take him to the Amex office in Piccadilly. There he first paid off a number of outstanding bills paid through Amex in New York. That left him with around £100. He split that in two and donated half to a plea from Oxfam for funds to relieve starvation in Biafra.
He loved trap racing and spent a good time watching shows and sports on TV. He really loved watching BBC TV because of its absence of commercials. On his visits to our home, I doubt if he touched our grand piano more than two or three times. Of course he had little need to as he was usually playing five nights a week at Ronnie Scott’s in London. He loved spending time with our two children, he met them from school, chatted to them while they had tea and he did actually show our daughter Karin a few enticing chords on the piano. So this short interlude of normal family life really appealed to him but it was something that was impossible to achieve permanently because of the nature of his occupation.
It was on Bills first visit to the U.K. and our home ( I had first met him at The Vanguard in May 1962) that one of us mentioned the name Shelley Manne. Bill had recorded Empathy with Shelley in New York in August 1962. Bill said that apart from hearing some of the tracks immediately after the session, he had never heard the actual record and had been unable to find a copy. I had a copy and he was impressed. He then went through a number of other LP’s that were in my collection and that featured him on piano. He mentioned that major Record companies soon removed “jazz” recordings from their inventory if they did not sell fast enough. I responded that collecting his recordings had become a pleasurable hobby of mine and I would try to ensure that his work would remain accessible to anyone interested even though the record company had lost interest. Before he left London to return to New York, I supplied him with a pack of cassettes recorded from my LP collection of some of his work that he had never heard. So the first customer of the “Evans Library” was a Mr. Bill Evans.
Through various means and some brief advertising in “jazz” magazines across the world, I have had contacts with fellow Evans devotees in many countries. Over the years, they have supplied me with tapes of live gigs (not always good quality) and I have reciprocated. Gradually the Library has grown and as I say on the first page of the web-site – “Bill would say much of this stuff is best forgotten” but I think better to leave it to the listener to decide. © Brian Hennessey 2011