Archive for Bill Evans

Some Day My Prince Will Come..

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on July 3, 2013 by telescoper

I’m currently sitting in my office eating a sandwich and girding my loins for three hours of appraisal training this afternoon. Just time, therefore, to post this musical gem I recently discovered on Youtube. It’s Bill Evans recorded in 1965

Miles Davis said of Bill Evans “He plays the piano the way it should be played”. I’m not going to disagree with that, because I think Bill Evans was wonderful, but keep an ear out for Chuck Israels fantastic work on bass too!

Here’s That Rainy Day ..

Posted in Jazz with tags , , on April 28, 2012 by telescoper

If yesterday’s post made you wonder how difficult it is to turn a piece of sheet music into sound using a piano keyboard, then perhaps today’s will make you wonder how a pianist like Bill Evans managed to create music as beautiful as this without any score at all! This is Here’s that Rainy Day from the 1968 album Bill Evans Alone. Miles Davis said of Bill Evans “He plays the piano the way it should be played”. I, for one, won’t argue with that.

 

My Funny Valentines

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , , , , on February 14, 2012 by telescoper

I’m not really into all this St Valentine’s Day nonsense (meaning: “I never get any cards”), but at least it provides me with an excuse to post three versions of the great Rogers & Hart ballad  My Funny Valentine.

The first is by the great Miles Davis Quintet featuring Miles Davis on trumpet, Wayne Shorter on tenor sax, Herbie Hancock on piano, Ron Carter bass and Tony Williams on drums. This was recorded live in Milan on October 11th 1964. There’s a slight distortion in the sound in the form of a pre-echo, which is a bit eery, but I still think it’s a marvellous performance.

And if Miles Davis isn’t your cup of tea, here is something completely different. It’s by Julie London, but very late in her career in 1981 when she was 55. Her voice was much smoother in her heyday in the 1960s, but I love the smokey sound of this very characterful rendition. By ear I’d say the bass player on this is Ray Brown and the guitar is Barney Kessel, both of whom (like Julie London herself) are no longer with us.

Last one up is a miracle of joint improvisation between the great Bill Evans on piano and Jim Hall on guitar, the sort of music that mere mortals can only dream of…

Portrait in Jazz

Posted in Jazz with tags , , , , , on February 5, 2011 by telescoper

At the end of a very busy week (during which I haven’t had much time to post), I decided to relax a bit this morning by listening to some old favourite Jazz CDs. When I got to this one, Portrait in Jazz, by the Bill Evans Trio I couldn’t understand why I hadn’t played it for so long. Surely I can’t have forgotten such a masterpiece? Anyway, I decided to write a post about this wonderful album. If it helps just one person discover this timeless music then it will have been worth it.

Bill Evans was one of the greatest, if not the greatest, Jazz pianists of all time. Among other things he practically created the modern piano trio, converting it from what it had been before – a pianist with bass and drum backing – to an equal partnership of these three very diverse instruments. To make the format work required partners of equal brilliance and compatibility and it was a while before Bill Evans found the right musicians to join him. Eventually he formed his first regular trio with the superb Scott La Faro on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

Innovations based on collective endeavour rarely succeed immediately, however. It took Evans and La Faro a long time, and two or three albums, before the latter was able to work out how his bass lines might comment on and blend with the piano improvisations instead of merely underpinning them. As their relationship changed and matured, Evans’ contributions actually became a bit more fragmented, so as to leave room for the bass to burst through, and increasingly their performances became like dialogues for piano and bass. Not that we should ignore the contribution of the drummer Paul Motian either; he does far more than just keep time in the way old-fashioned drummers when playing in a trio format.

But on Portrait in Jazz, their first album together, the accent was still predominantly on Evans the soloist and because his playing here is so entrancing one has to acknowledge that the eventual change of emphasis, however justified from an artistic point of view, was in some ways a mixed blessing.

What characterises this album is Evans’ lyricism and lightness of touch. He doesn’t try to overwhelm with virtuosic flourishes. Each phrase and indeed each note is finely shaded. Confidence in his timing enables him to make subtle use of the space between phrases and bring off the most dazzling rhythmic displacements, almost casually.

I’ve picked one track to give as an example. It wasn’t an easy choice but I think this – the standard Autumn Leaves – is the best track on the album. After the opening statement there’s a fine example of the interplay between the three members of the trio that was to become more prominent on later albums, but eventually (about two minutes) they kick into tempo and Evans launches into a stunningly beautiful solo improvisation in which every note sings with a sustained emotional intensity few, if any, pianists have ever achieved in any idiom. As Miles Davis once said of Bill Evans “He plays the piano the way it should be played.” Amen.

Days of Wine and Roses

Posted in Jazz, Poetry with tags , , , on June 15, 2009 by telescoper

Today I finished all my exam marking, and decided to celebrate by drinking a glass or two of wine while I sat in my garden. The lovely roses that have recently been in bloom are already starting to fade and drop their petals. For obvious reasons, this reminded me of this little poem by Ernest Dowson.

The title is Vitae Summa Brevis Spem Nos Vetat Incohare Longam, which I translate from my half-remembered schoolboy Latin as something like “the brief span of Life forbids us from conceiving an enduring hope”. It’s a quotation from one of the Odes of Horace (Book I, Ode 4, line 15).

They are not long, the weeping and the laughter,
Love and desire and hate:
I think they have no portion in us after
We pass the gate.

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

The phrase “days of wine and roses” became the title of an excellent film dealing with the effects of alcoholism on family life, for which Henry Mancini wrote a song with the same title that went on to become a Jazz standard. Here is a lovely version played live by the great Bill Evans (who featured in another recent post of mine).

In the rather melancholy spirit of this post, I’ll add that Bill Evans died in 1980 just about a month after this performance.

On Green Dolphin Street

Posted in Biographical, Jazz with tags , , , , , on May 31, 2009 by telescoper

Years ago in 1980, when the great pianist Bill Evans passed away suddenly, Humphrey Lyttelton paid tribute to him on his radio programme “The Best of Jazz” by playing a number of tracks featuring him. I didn’t really know much about Bill Evans at the time – I was only 17 then – but one track that Humph chose has been imprinted on my mind ever since, and it’s one of those pieces of music that I listen to over and over again.

The track is On Green Dolphin Street, as recorded in 1958 by the great Miles Davis sextet of the time that featured himself on trumpet, John Coltrane on tennor sax, Julian “Cannonball” Adderley on alto sax, Jimmy Cobb on drums, Paul Chambers on bass and Bill Evans on piano. This is the same band that played on the classic album Kind of Blue, one of the most popular and also most innovative jazz records of all time, which was recorded a bit after the recording of On Green Dolphin Street.  I love Kind of Blue, of course, but I think this track is even better than the many great tracks on that album (All Blues, Flamenco Sketches, Blue in Green, etc). In fact, I’d venture the opinion – despite certainty of contradiction – that this is the greatest Jazz recording ever made.

On Green Dolphin Street was suggested to Miles Davis the band’s leader by the saxophonist Cannonball Adderley. It was the theme tune from a film from the late 1940s. It’s also the title of a more recent very fine novel by Sebastian Faulks.

I think the Miles Davis version demonstrates his genius not only as a musician himself but also as a bandleader. On Green Dolphin Street definitely bears the Miles Davis hallmark, but it also manages to accommodate the very different styles of the other musicians and allows them also to impose their personality on it. This is done by having each solo introduced with a passage with the rhythm section playing a different, less propulsive, 3/4 time behind it. This allows each musician to set out their stall before the superb rhythm section kicks into a more swinging straight-ahead beat  (although it still keeps the 3/4 feel alongside the 4-4, courtesy of brilliant drumming by Jimmy Cobb) and they head off into their own territory. As the soloists hand over from one to the other there are moments of beautiful contrast and dramatic tension, especially – and this is the reason why Humph picked this one in 1980 – when Bill Evans takes over for his solo from Cannonball Adderley. He starts with hesitant single-note phrases before moving into a richly voiced two handed solo fully of lush harmonies. It’s amazing to me to hear how the mood changes completely and immediately when he starts playing.

Not that the other soloists play badly either. After Bill Evans short but exquisite prelude, Miles Davis takes over on muted trumpet, more lyrical and less introspective than in Kind of Blue but still with a moody,  melancholic edge. He’s followed by John Coltrane’s passionately virtuosic solo which floods out of him in an agonized stream which contrasts with Miles’ poised simplicity. By contrast, Cannonball Adderley is jaunty and upbeat, sauntering through his solo up to that wonderful moment where he hands over to the piano. Then Miles Davis takes over again to take them to the conclusion of the piece.

I’m not into League tables for music, but this is definitely fit to put up alongside the greatest of them all…

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