This is part of a work in progress of Essays, Reflections and Interviews. Done in an informal style, the writing is meant for the internet. May include audio and video.
Nenette Evans, September 12, 2012
“Somewhere a door closed”
At the time I met Bill in February of 1973, our relationship was completely undefined. Bill was always behind Ellaine, his partner for over eleven years, one hundred per cent. Bill loved her and that regardless of our future as a couple, or not, he would always be there for her. He told her that, over and over again. For me, it was understood. Appreciated. Not a problem.
Bill spoke of big things. He was forward looking. He wrote to me, “it is the search ended.” He spoke of family, larger musical works, financial success, better health. But, on our way to New York from Mexico City, his exuberance seemed to evaporate when the landing gear hit the tarmac at JFK.
Marty Morell told Marc Myers in a recent interview for Jazzwax, that “Ellaine, Bill’s partner at the time, was possessive. There was no life without Bill. She was so much about him and everything they did. That kind of attention made him a little crazy. He was feeling penned-in, and it was all too much.”
On March 21st, 1973, Ellaine’s mangled body was found on a NYC subway track. Just nine days before her 37th birthday, at an unknown hour, she leapt toward oblivion. According to a well known jazz critic, Ellaine had had a history of psychiatric illness prior to meeting Bill. She had been hospitalized because of it on several occasions. Bill told me that once, while he was on tour, that Ellaine had cut her wrists while sitting in the bathtub. According to Bill, she became so thirsty that she got out of the tub to drink some water. She had survived this incident. There were other incidents he said. But, these and other facts seemed to be slow in coming. Forthrightness did not come natural to Bill.
Bill talked about the amount of stress that was present in their relationship. He said that when couple like them were addicted the woman would normally be sent out to procure money for the habit through prostitution. Since Bill didn’t want that he talked about the daily heroics he performed to satisfy both habits. I say heroics because he spoke about as if it was so rare and upstanding of him that he should have received a gold medal. It was incredibly sad to me; sad and tawdry at the same time. It was related to me in his usual third person way, like he was talking about someone else.
Bill’s wish list and my involvement in his quest, sounds more like a rescue mission to me now. But then, it was just youthful optimism on my part. Anyhow, at the very least Bill owed it to Ellaine’s memory to finally get it together in a meaningful way. God knows he tried.
I have sometimes thought, change was not what Bill really needed. But Ellaine’s senseless act removed any choice in the matter. Unlike Ellaine, I could not be finessed into submission, into drugs or into whatever it was that Bill needed to make a relationship suit his narcissistic needs.
Prepared or not, with me, Bill had begun another chapter. He wrote to his mother that he hadn’t been “so happy in 20 years.”
But, the presence of happiness, doesn’t necessarily block pain. Bill may have been deliriously happy with me and the current turn-around in his life and spirits. But, Bill’s high would dissipate. He spent an inordinate time in bed; doctors orders. The prescribed drugs he was taking may have acted as a suppressant. It was possible that his physical health concerns were exaggerated to the detriment of his true state of mind. I feel that the depression caused by Ellaine’s death may have been the real underlying issue. The poor man was just grief-stricken.
He thought he was OK. He put on a stoic front. I feel he had misidentified his own mental state. But, Ellaine’s death triggered the same response as Scott’s death, whether he recognized it or not. There was a sense of finality with Ellaine’s passing. As with Scott’s death, a part of Bill died. He wrote, “A door closed somewhere”…..”We had done something, Scotty, Paul and I. I’m crying.” – taken from a poem Bill wrote after Scott LaFaro was killed in a car accident in 1961 (estate collection).
When Bill went on tour to Japan in 1974, after Ellaine was gone, he said that someone had come up to him and given him some photos. The pictures had been taken during the 1972-73 tour, when the Live in Tokyo recording from Yubin Chokin Hall was made. “It was Bill’s first Japanese tour. He was very comfortable. Everyone on the management side took care of business – the promoter and the people backstage. When we arrived, there was a red carpet and a press conference at the airport. We felt like stars. And on that tour, each piano was better than the last. It was a terrific tour, and Bill was very pleased with the way everything was set up and run.” Marty Morell to Marc Myers, Jazzwax, 6/14/12.
Ecstatic about the tour, Bill wrote to his mother, “No other jazz artist has ever given more than three concerts in Tokyo. And 4 out of 6 were sold out before we arrived. He continues: “The hospitality and treatment is exceptional.” Yamaha had given them an elaborate tea ceremony.”
Bill told me later that they had been treated like rock stars. He said that young female fans had him autograph their derrieres. Mal Waldron said, “Japan is the jazzman’s paradise. They read every piece of literature they can find, they know every record you’ve ever made.” (Jazz Exiles by James Moody)
The photographs that were given to Bill were of he and Ellaine looking every bit the contented, caring couple.
From Bill’s 1974 Tokyo diary, he writes. “What can I say. No one knew her or loved her as I did. My only consolation is that she knew this.”
Children’s Play Song*
In 1972, Bill had spent time with Francis Paudras, his first wife and their son, Stphane. It struck Bill that there was an empty space in his life at this time. Or at least his longing for a child became a matter of intense focus for him.** Bill told Francis that if he and partner Ellaine, didn’t have children soon, that they would surely adopt. Simply put, this was utter fantasy.
Of course, they both knew full well the myriad obstacles to that ever happening. Adoption agencies don’t hand children over to junkies, reformed or not. And, Bill knew that because of his past, he would never be a candidate to adopt a child. All the grammy’s in the world had little impact on the outcome of that issue. Looming in his background, was two drug related arrests: One in San Francisco and another in New York.
In short, Bill must have realized that in order for a family situation to materialize at all, an act of God would have had to occur. Both Bill and Ellaine knew this. Or, other options would have to be explored. Was I part of another option. Surrogacy perhaps? I have to wonder.
Maybe Ellaine blamed Bill for her infertility. The years of addiction may have caused Ellaine’s infertility. Maybe Bill blamed Ellaine for her lack of a real desire to start a family. It was a thorn in their relationship.
Then, in a related matter that goes to their suitability to begin a family in the first place, was Bill’s brutal touring schedule. Bill’s poor health was another concern. Constant, no chronic, financial difficulties, including massive IRS debt, could be added to the list of negatives. Bill said that the IRS was making an example of him.
And, as far as the drug question, Bill didn’t clean up because he thought it was the right thing to do. It was only because of the second drug bust in customs, that Bill was forced to get help. Bill told me that he was so freaked out by the threat of going to jail that he had meticulously orchestrated his own death. A lenient judge/fan ordered that he check into a hospital asap. There, he was to be enrolled in a methadone program as a further condition of parole.
Ellaine, to her credit , I had heard, cleaned up on her own.
The atmosphere, one might say, for all their wishing and longing was not particularly optimal. Sure they had raised a couple of litters of cats, but children didn’t seem to be within their grasp.
Very little of this information was conveyed to me when I first met Bill. Later, I learned of a much more interesting impediment to the adoption question.
* “Children’s Play Song” was written by Bill Evans. It was used with permission gratis in a public service commercial in the 80’s.
** Bill’s mother confirmed this in her letter to me when she said, “Bill has wanted to be a father for so long.”
I always felt a little coerced into marriage with Bill. For me, the fact that Bill had omitted so many things about himself and his past, only to have them surface slowly inside the marriage smacked of deception. How much this affected my early feelings for him I’m not sure. Had God joined us together or had Bill’s persistence been a greater factor in our alliance.
We were never naive enough to think that marriage was the antidote to infidelity. Admittedly, this was more prevalent in my mind than in his. We had discussed implementing an open marriage. This was an experimental idea that found fertile ground during the early days of feminism. It was a version of the old “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” notion.
Both Bill and I had ample opportunities to stray. Several girlfriend’s from Bill’s past turned out to see him in the many cities where he played. I found letters that indicated that more than a few were still pining away after decades had passed. There was no shortage of female fans. One letter proclaims, “I used to wish my name was Debby, but it isn’t….it’s Ann” (name changed to protect the author). The letter is signed, “Love Eternal.”
One time when Bill was on the road, I happened to be at an art opening in Soho. This was in around the spring of 1974. I met an artist there and bought three large abstract landscapes. They were reasonably priced, I thought. Most of the artwork in our house, paintings and sculpture, was what Bill and Ellaine had bought or had been given, in their travels. I had respectfully displayed this art along the top of a very long bookcase we had erected in the Riverdale digs. I was least fond of one of those creepy troll-like dolls, from Scandinavia. Bill seemed attached to it; I found it hideous. At the time I thought it would cheer Bill up to have mementos of Ellaine around the house. It was big of me, really.
Well, when Bill returned from the road, I proudly showed him my new purchases which were hung nicely around the living room. Bill was impressed at first, but he soon changed when his mind quickly took him somewhere else. He asked if there was something more to my sudden “appreciation” of large abstract landscapes. Bill suspected that the artist and I were having a fling. I asserted my hardcore feminist rights by neither confirming nor denying his suspicions. After all, I was a card carrying member of the National Organization for Women. Perhaps, what he was thinking was that decorating one’s love nest with another lover’s artwork was not the better part of discretion.
It seemed that Bill had no sooner put down his suitcases than he went to the kitchen and he got a big knife. He began hacking away at the canvases. Jealousy had cracked Bill’s normally deadpan veneer. Slash, rip, tear. It was a crazy scene; he was a madman. Within minutes, he had turned the paintings into a mutilated heap of canvas and wood. I kept my distance not knowing if I was next. I went down the stairs and stood outside. Had he turned homicidal? It was comical.
Anyhow, we had one whopper of a fight. We took a drive in his Mercury Cougar to cool off. While driving around the neighborhood, a screaming match ensued. At one point, I made him stop the car near a bridge and I got out. I ripped the wedding ring off my finger and hurled it into orbit. Plunck! It disappeared into the Harlem river.
In December of 1974, there was party for Bill at fan, Richard Levien’s penthouse in Manhattan. Of course, I didn’t realize that I myself may have been the subject of curiosity as the new person in Bill’s life. That never occurred to me. The dust, it seemed, had settled after Ellaine’s death; it had been almost a year and a half.
Some friends of Helen Keane’s were there: Mickey Leonard and Joao Gilberto, among them. Joao was in the planning stages of Amaroso with Helen and Claus Ogerman, which eventually came out in 1977.
Michael “Mickey” Leonard, arranger/composer, had previously worked with Helen Keane on the controversial Left To Right recording.
Just a short note to thank you for your party and especially for the kindness shown to Richard Levien who still can’t believe he met you.
It’s good to see you looking like a 25 year old music student but playing like Rachmaninoff or Liszt. For what it may mean to you (coming from one of your humble admirers) I congratulate you on your return to the human race….I think your wife is just sensational it’s easy to see why you look so terrific and sound so great. Everyone should be that blessed. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and continued success – my love to Nenette and you…
December 24, 1974
By the end of ’74 Bill was home more. It had been an exhausting year for him with several overseas tours with little time for R and R. It was during this time that we found out that we were expecting a baby. Because I had had a miscarriage in London, I began seeing a specialist in New York City. Most of those silly issues took a back seat to this momentous upcoming event. Bill was giddy with excitement about becoming a father. Fan, Mary Franksen fired up her knitting needles.*
* Mary Franksen was the inspiration for Bill Evans composition “Knit For Mary F”
“Many thanks to Rob Rijneke for his passion for Bill Evans and his meticulous attention to detail. Rob is a real treasure. A man like Rob who has given his life to healing others is a man who deserves all the praise he gets and more.”
Copyrighted and published here with permission of Nenette Evans.