Rob Rijneke: linernotes Momentum double album Bill Evans (1929-1980)
Bill Evans is considered to be the most important jazz pianist of his generation and remains one of the most influential musicians of post-bop jazz piano. Those who played and recorded with him often recognized him as the one who made the difference. His inescapable influence on the very sound of jazz piano is apparent in virtually every prominent pianist who followed him.
One can add little to the vast amount of literature, reviews, and transcriptions of Evans’ music, not to mention the proliferation of information about his personal life. Up to now sixteen dissertations have been published about Bill, with analyses of his music, and more than sixty tribute albums have been issued. Evans appeared more than forty times on the covers of important jazz periodicals around the world, always in combination with reviews of his music, awards, or interviews with him. He won the Grammy Award seven times, including a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, and was nominated thirty-one times. Six times he won the Down Beat Critics Poll and was voted into the Down Beat Hall of Fame. Five biographies of Bill have been published in several languages, one of which should be mentioned.
It is no coincidence that a classically trained international concert pianist, Peter Pettinger (1945-1998) wrote a biography of Bill Evans, one of the best documents on jazz that we have, How My Heart Sings (Yale University Press, 1998). The training and repertoire of Bill Evans from ages six to thirteen were strictly classical. Later in his career as a jazz pianist, classical music, particularly impressionism, continued to influence him. “I love the impressionists,” Bill told Jean-Louis Ginibre. “I love Debussy. He’s one of my favorite composers. I’m not crazy about painting, but if I was, I would prefer the impressionists” (Jazz Magazine, 1965). The technical knowledge of harmony that Evans brought to jazz was firmly rooted in this European tradition, as was his exquisitely refined keyboard touch. He introduced an introverted, relaxed, lyrical, European classical sensibility into jazz. Bill Evans and the celebrated Bach interpreter Glenn Gould (1932-1982) enjoyed a mutual admiration. Gene Lees, a notable Canadian jazz writer and lyricist, and a friend of both Evans and Gould, introduced the two in 1970. It was the harmonic originality of Bill Evans that inspired Gould’s oft-quoted comment after he listened to Bill’s album Conversations with Myself: “He’s the Scriabin of jazz.” Bill Evans also shared Gould’s fascination with serial composition and wrote two pieces, “T.T.T” (“Twelve Tone Tune”) and “T.T.T.T.” (“Twelve Tone Tune Two”), based on the twelve-tone principle. (Glenn Gould Magazine, 1999).
Bill Evans introduced a democracy to the piano trio, encouraging greater contrapuntal interplay and collective invention. In his first great trio (with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums), each musician was both soloist and accompanist. The bassist wasn’t confined to a “walking” 4/4 pulse, but served as a melodic counter-voice within the trio, as a kind of dancing accompaniment between the piano and drums. Evans was one of the first musicians to articulate what has become known as the “floating pulse.” Freed from the lockstep 4/4 that had come to exercise a tyranny over jazz, the trio gave the illusion that more space had opened up for improvisation. The Evans trios became a unit that breathed, thought, and functioned as one: “three with one voice,” as it has been described. The trio developed an almost telepathic sense of interplay and a great mutual musical independence, embodying this principle most dramatically, perhaps, in the historical Village Vanguard recordings from 1961.
Evans was also one of the first pianists to play modal jazz. Even when he played standard tunes, which are essentially tonal, he used modes as an element of harmonic and melodic renewal, but without altering the original form. Herbie Hancock attributes the modal concepts in Evans’ solo on “So What” from the Kind of Blue album as a turning point in his own approach. One of Bill’s innovations consisted of ingenious chord voicings in the left hand that supported his lyrical right-hand lines through a subtle use of the sustaining pedal. “The long melodic line,” Evans said, is “the basic thing I want in my playing because music must be always singing.”
Not every jazz musician possesses a unique personal sound. Such a sound may be difficult to define, although instantly recognizable. Miles Davis considered Evans to be one of a few pianists who didn’t merely play the chord, but who produced a distinctive sound. One chord, or two or three notes over a three-inch speaker in a car radio, and Bill’s sound is instantly recognizable, according to his former bassist Chuck Israels. Bill was a great interpreter of melodies. His reharmonizations are so beautiful that most musicians use the chord changes that he developed for standard tunes rather than the original ones; his conception of a standard seems the definitive way to play it.
Evans was not the inventor of the waltz in the jazz idiom, but he made a specialty of this genre and composed some of his best melodies in 3/4 time—“Waltz for Debby,” “Very Early,” “B Minor Waltz” and “The Two Lonely People.” He also played waltz standards and compositions by others—notably “Elsa” and “How My Heart Sings” by his friend Earl Zindars.
Initially Bill Evans was underrated as a composer, his talents in this area being overshadowed by the genius of his playing. He was, however, a productive composer and wrote more than fifty compositions. In his third year of high school he wrote his first, “Very Early.” Over the years many of Evans’ compositions have become jazz standards, including “Waltz for Debby” and “Turn Out the Stars.” Most of them have been recorded several times, and were part of the Evans trio and solo repertoire.
Bill Evans was a gentle, honorable, and extraordinarily intelligent musician who strived for high standards and aesthetics in his musical idiom. He was highly articulate, leaving behind commentary and analyses of his own and other methodologies. But the bespectacled, shy, soft-spoken, and vulnerable Evans was also a modest, introverted, and embarrassed man with little self-confidence, believing that he lacked talent. He suffered, his Riverside producer Orrin Keepnews said, from “a paralyzing combination of perfectionism and self-doubt.” Evans was a withdrawn performer who rarely communicated with the audience, usually choosing not to name the tunes he played. We will never forget his characteristic posture behind the piano, hunched down with his face close to the keys, as if lost in prayer to the muse. As Nat Hentoff put it, “Bill Evans would sometimes get so involved in the piano that he would lean over and lean over and you’d think he was about to be swallowed by the piano.” He played with his head bent to his inventions.
Evans’ unique piano style is probably best summarized by Leonard Feather in his Encyclopedia of Jazz: “The most personal characteristics of his work were his uniquely delicate articulation, his oblique harmonic approaches and manner of voicing chords, his occasional use of the left hand in rhythmic duplication of the right-hand line, and the ability to create a warm, beautiful mood within the framework of a popular song, a jazz standard, or his own original work.”
Bill Evans in The Netherlands
Bill Evans performed twenty-one times in The Netherlands during his musical career. In 1964 his manager Helen Keane organized a first European tour for the Bill Evans Trio. In 1965 came a second tour, with Chuck Israels on bass and Larry Bunker on drums. The very first time Bill played in The Netherlands was February 12th of that year: in the afternoon the trio did a studio recording, broadcast by Dutch Radio, and in the evening they gave a concert at the Royal Concertgebouw in Amsterdam with its neoclassical architecture and famous acoustics. Bill’s last Dutch concert, with Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums, occurred on December 10th, 1979, less than a year before his untimely passing in 1980 at the age of fifty-one. In that period of fifteen years the trio also played two sessions with the Dutch Metropole Orchestra: in 1969 selections from the album The Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra and in 1975 excerpts from his Symbiosis album. In 1974 the trio gave a concert with Stan Getz and in 1979 with Toots Thielemans. The only time he performed with his trio at the North Sea Jazz Festival was in 1978. Noteworthy are performances by the trio at several venues in the small artistic Dutch village of Laren, with its long jazz tradition. A Dutch public broadcasting organisation (TROS) began its radio jazz concerts in Laren in 1973. Since 1982 an extensive selection of these radio programs has been broadcast by more than 200 public radio stations in the U.S.A. and Canada.
The Story of Momentum
In 1969 Bill Evans and his trio gave a concert in the RAI building in Amsterdam, recorded for the album Quiet Now on the Affinity label. It was the first recording to be released of an Evans concert in The Netherlands. The recording of the Momentum album happened three years later. During a short European tour in 1972, the Bill Evans Trio (with Eddie Gomez on bass and Marty Morell on drums) gave a concert on February 6th at the Maison de l’ORTF in Paris, France. The concert had been taped and partly broadcast by Radio France. Only in 1988 was it released on two albums , Bill Evans Live in Paris Vol. 1 and Vol.2.
On February 4th, two days before the concert in Paris, the trio played in Groningen, a university city in the north of The Netherlands. Jan Warntjes, a Dutch pianist and Evans aficionado, taped the concert after making an agreement with Bill’s manager, a woman he believes was Helen Keane. He made a digital copy of the tapes in order to maintain their quality. Jan preserved and cherished these recordings for many years and decided recently, after nearly forty years, to make them public, feeling that it would be a shame if they were to be lost. He got in touch with me, and again an Evans recording has appeared, seemingly from “Out of Nowhere,” as Bill’s friend the poet Bill Zavatsky remarks in his poem written for these liner notes. Momentum offers yet another confirmation of Bill Evans’ musical heritage, and with perfect audio quality, unlike the many bootleg recordings released by buccaneer labels in recent years. The original tapes of these live recordings have not been altered or enhanced in any way except to transfer them to a digital format. The order of performance has not been changed, and only “Nardis,” the last selection on the concert, fades out because the recording engineer ran out of tape.
I asked Nenette Evans, Bill’s widow, if she would propose a title for the current album. She offered the following response: “At the time of this recording in 1972, Bill was experiencing a momentous upswing in his personal life, his health, and his career, so I would like to give the album the appropriate title of Momentum.”
Rob Rijneke, a native of The Netherlands, is a retired cardiologist, but a lifelong Bill Evans aficionado and connoisseur from the moment that Evans performed for the first time in The Netherlands in 1965. He was previously advisory director of a Dutch jazz label. At present Rob serves as webdesigner and webmaster of a website about Bill Evans: www.billevans.nl. He asked three close friends and specialists devoted to Bill Evans and his music to contribute to the brochure that accompanies this album: Brian Hennessey, Bill Zavatsky, and Win Hinkle.
Brian is the founder of the Bill Evans Memorial Library (www.billevans.net), a large tribute archive of material dedicated to the pianist. Today the library includes over 600 hours of audio recordings, over ten hours of interviews and discussions, over fifty transcriptions, lead sheets and rare notations, feature articles spanning thirty-seven years, and video and DVD material. Brian has published several articles on Bill Evans in the English magazine Jazz Journal International. He summed up his policy about giving statements: “I avoid discussing personal matters concerning Bill’s life. I believed him to have been a private person with no desire to have his private life exposed to the world. I respect that desire.” What follows is Brian’s reminiscence of the start, on January 3, 1972, of the four-week residency of the Bill Evans Trio at Ronnie Scott’s in London, a month before the recording of Momentum.
It was during Bill’s first visit to the U.K. and our home (I had first met him at the Village Vanguard in New York City in May 1962) that one of us mentioned the name of Shelly Manne. Bill had recorded Empathy with him in New York in August 1962. Apart from listening to some of the tracks immediately after the session, Bill said that he had never heard the actual record and had been unable to find a copy. I had a copy, which impressed him. 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 that I would try to ensure that his work would remain accessible to anyone interested, even if the record company had lost interest. Before he left London for New York, I supplied Bill 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 what would become the Evans Memorial Library was Mr. Bill Evans himself.
When we are influenced and emotionally moved by an artist’s work, we are inclined to assume that the artist functions on a much higher plain, where life excludes almost everything but his art. When one such icon is welcomed into your home as a guest, you soon realize (in Bill’s case, anyway) that this is not always the case.
A pertinent comment of his appeared on the sleeve notes of the 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.”
Apart from his love of literature (a particular fondness for William Blake and Thomas Hardy, and for Zen, of course), Bill was a keen observer of international politics and was dismayed by the frequent lack of morality that it demonstrated. He refused a lucrative tour of the USSR to protest the Russian invasion of Afghanistan. Although his domestic skills left much to be desired, he kept a sharp eye on our household and spent many hours with our children and their studies. To have the Bill Evans walk round to our village school and escort our two children back home was a most unexpected but pleasurable experience.
Bill loved watching BBC TV because of the 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 because he was usually playing five nights a week at Ronnie Scott’s in London. These short interludes of normal family life really appealed to Bill, but the reality of it eluded him because of the nature of his occupation. I will always treasure my friendship with Bill Evans. That such beautiful music could be created by someone whose life was plagued by ill health and family catastrophes is difficult to comprehend. It was not the first time that artistic genius blossomed out of deprivation.
The poet Bill Zavatsky was a good friend of Bill Evans. He worked as a jazz pianist and journalist, publishing articles and reviews in the New York Times Book Review and Rolling Stone. He has also translated poetry by Valery Larbaud, Robert Desnos, and André Breton’s Earthlight, which won the PEN/Book-of-the-Month Club Translation Prize. In 2008 he was awarded a fellowship in poetry from the Guggenheim Foundation. Bill taught for many years at the Trinity School in New York City and now teaches at the Eugene Lang College of the New School University. Bill published a poem about Evans in his first book of poetry, Theories of Rain and Other Poems (1975), which led to his meeting with Bill and Nenette Evans. His poetry collection Where X Marks the Spot includes “Live at the Village Vanguard” and the “Elegy” that Bill wrote after Evans died in 1980. Nenette Evans and Helen Keane asked him to write something for the first posthumous recording that would be released. “Elegy” appeared on You Must Believe in Spring (Warner Bros.). For Momentum Bill Zavatsky has written next new poem dedicated to his friend.
BILL ZAVATSKY ANOTHER POEM FOR BILL
Just as there always seems to be
another recording of yours coming out,
seemingly from “Out of Nowhere,”
as the old song says, I’ve come to know
that I can always find a poem about you
somewhere inside me. I remember you
talking about a gig you had to play
(and by this you meant many gigs)
and how you sat down at the keyboard, wondering
(then if not many times) if anything good
would come out, and more often than not,
it did. You surprised yourself, you told me.
And that is as good a definition of an artist
as any: someone who is ready and willing
to surprise himself, at any time or place.
You insisted that what was good happened
only as the result of endless hard work. That
was the foundation of the readiness, what
a musician (or a poet) can fall back on
or can use as a springboard to something fresh,
some phrase or line, plain or gorgeous
or wildly unexpected, that he didn’t know
he had in him, that surprises him
and surprises us, the way that you
and your music are always inside me,
surprising me, sustaining me, breathing into me
even when it seems that I have forgotten how to breathe
Poem: © Bill Zavatsky
Sculpture: © Earla Frank
Win Hinkle is a bassist, an Evans historian, and editor and publisher of the international quarterly newsletter Letters From Evans (1989-1994). He also created “The Bill Evans Jazz Resource” and “Win’s Bill Evans Blog.” Win is a performer, lecturer, and consultant for the annual Bill Evans Jazz Festival at Southeastern Louisiana University, Hammond, Louisiana, the alma mater of Bill Evans. He presented lectures on the music of Bill Evans at the New England Conservatory of Music and for the BBC. Win Hinkle offers the following observations about Bill’s treatment of the tunes on this album:
What immediately struck me as I listened to Momentum was its feeling of happy abandonment. The trio members are immediately caught up in their work, with each listening to the other, reacting, inserting a new angle on the material, pointing different directions, all simultaneously but always conscious of the combined outcome. The music is expansive. The acoustics in the room hide nothing. The audience is attentive and respectful. This is Europe, and the audience is aware that it is about to listen to the best conversational jazz trio that existed on our planet. The energy is transferred from the musicians and absorbed by the audience. Audible utterances, whispered conversation, and stifled shouts of joy never compete with the music. Occasionally there is some applause after a solo section, but even this is hushed out of respect for the music.
A student of Bill’s early-to-mid 1970s repertoire will recognize most of the tunes here. Evans does reach further back for the Earl Zindars composition “Elsa,” as well as the exercise-composition “Sugar Plum.” “Sugar Plum” has an interesting pedigree, deriving from an eight-measure improvisation played by Bill in a Jim Hall composition, “Angel Face,” on their Intermodulation duo recording. Each chorus of “Sugar Plum” consists of the phrase played or improvised upon in all twelve keys. A complete chorus is ninety-six measures long. Here the trio starts in the key of G, with Bill playing a few notes to allow Eddie to tune his bass because “Sugar Plum” served as the set-opener.
“RE: Person I Knew,” “Turn Out The Stars,” “Who Can I Turn To,” and Denny Zeitlin’s “Quiet Now” offer special rewards to the listener. Though we have heard them many times before, this venue spurs the musicians to even be more resourceful. The sweetest plum of all is the nine minute, thirty-seven second track of the Scott LaFaro tune, “Gloria’s Step.” Eddie and Bill both approach this song very personally, since Scotty’s style of playing was responsible for the central “engine” of the trio. Eddie plays more aggressively than usual. There is fantastic interplay between bassist and pianist. Some of the call and response happens in microseconds, so listen carefully. Try slowing the recording down digitally to appreciate it even more. This one track is worth the price of the CD.
The only downside to this recording is that the engineer did not bring two tape machines to the date. The set-closer, “Nardis,” is incomplete. It opens with some incredible brushwork by Marty Morell. I only wish that we could have heard this version of “Nardis” to its conclusion.
Earla Porch is a visual and performing artist (www.earlaporchfrank.com). Her career as a sculptor is entwined with her life as a jazz vocalist. Earla has sung in jazz clubs since she was in her teens and has worked with many jazz greats, including Chet Baker and Duke Jordan. Her sculpture of Bill Evans from 1980 is on display at the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in Orlando, Florida, and at the Bill Evans Piano Academy in Paris, France. Nenette Evans remarked: “I couldn’t believe the likeness. Bill would have been so flattered to see it. It’s a real honor.” Bill’s longtime manager Helen Keane sent Earla two photos of Bill to work from, and a video tape helped her to capture different angles of his face. The photograph of her sculpture on the jacket of this recording is used by permission of the artist.
The writings included in this brochure are copyright © 2012 by the authors.
01 Re: Person I Knew (Bill Evans) 7:59
02 Elsa (Earl Zindars) 7:04
03 Turn Out The Stars (Bill Evans) 5:13
04 Gloria’s Step (Scott LaFaro) 9:37
05 Emily (Johnny Mandel and Johnny Mercer) 7:47
06 Quiet Now (Denny Zeitlin) 5:38
01 My Romance (Richard Rodgers) 10:24
02 Sugar Plum (Bill Evans) 11:33
03 The Two Lonely People (Bill Evans) 8:12
04 Who Can I Turn To (Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley) 7:49
05 What Are You Doing The Rest Of Your Life (Michel Legrand) 5:17
06 Nardis (Miles Davis) 6:08
Bill Evans (piano)
Eddie Gomez (bass)
Marty Morell (drums)
February 4th, 1972
Location: Stadsschouwburg, Groningen,
Recording engineer: Jan Warntjes
Recorder: Revox B77.
Recording: Four-track Stereo.
Recording speed: 19 cm/sec.
Tape: BASF LP35.
Microphones: 3 Sennheiser MD421.
Sculpture of Bill Evans by Earla Porch
Photography and cover design by Rob
Art direction by Joost Leijen
Issued with the approval of the Bill Evans
The album got the Preis der Deutschen
(German Record Critics’ Award)
Limetree Records, Van der Renne Allee 3,
46446, Emmerich, Germany
Producers: Maria Reijnders and Rob Rijneke