Bill Evans - piano; Eddie Gomez - bass; Eliot Zigmund - drums
One of the most influential pianists over the past 50 years, Bill Evans pioneered a new direction in jazz that emphasized harmonic extrapolation and an exquisite, walking-on-eggshells sensitivity moreso than the macho, two-fisted, blues-based swinging style of the previous generation of players. Evans' crystalline, Erik Satie-inspired approach to the keyboard would have a huge impact on generations of players who followed in his wake, including Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Denny Zeitlin, Marc Copland, Richie Bierach, Fred Hersch, Michel Petrucciani, Bill Charlap, and Brad Mehldau.
A former member of the Miles Davis sextet (his presence on the landmark 1959 recording Kind of Blue is most striking on pieces like "Blue in Green" and "Flamenco Sketches"), Evans made a strong impression with his first trio, which included the innovative bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. Their 1961 live Sunday at the Village Vanguard set the standard for interactive trio work and is still regarded as a jazz classic. Tragically, LaFaro was killed in a car accident 10 days after that historic session. There followed of succession of rhythm tandems until Evans found another inspired pairing in 1968 with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morell, who remained together for seven years. By early 1975, Morell left the trio and was replaced by Eliot Zigmund, who appears on this September, 1975 concert at the Great American Music Hall.
The pianist is in superb form here. And the formula throughout this set is remarkably the same - Evans begins each piece with an introspective solo piano extrapolation on a theme, followed by a near-telepathic mingling by the three kindred spirits, usually involving intricate counterpoint lines from Gomez and perhaps a virtuosic bass solo to boot. The melodies are gorgeous, the vibe precious, the interaction uncanny.
Following an introspective piano intro, Evans leads the trio into the mournful "Turn Out the Stars," a poignant piece he introduced at his 1966 Town Hall concert as part of an extended suite dedicated to his father and which appeared later that year on his classic duet album with guitarist Jim Hall, Intermodulation.
For a change of pace, the trio launches into a burning "One for Helen," an uptempo number Evans dedicated to his longtime manager Helen Keane and which features an extraordinary bass solo by Gomez. The trio then tackles the lilting Jerome Kern waltz "Up with the Lark" before striking a delicate accord on "Blue Serge," recalling the ethereal vibe of "Flamenco Sketches" from Kind of Blue. They further demonstrate a capacity to burn a blue streak on Evans' "T.T.T. (Twelve Tone Tune)" and an urgent reading of his "34 Skidoo," the latter featuring a stellar example of Gomez's virtuosic arco playing on the bass. Shifting gears once again, they settle into a Zen-like vibe on a delicate rendition of the Gene Lees-Armando Manzanero ballad "Yesterday I Heard the Rain."
As profoundly focused and in control as Evans sounds on this extraordinary performance on September 17, 1975, at the Great American Music Hall, he would only have five more years to live. Plagued by a heroin and cocaine addiction throughout his career, the great pianist-composer died in 1980 at age 51.
Born on August 16, 1929, in Plainfield, New Jersey, Evans began piano lessons by age six and later attended Southeastern Louisiana University, where he studied music theory, played flute in the marching band, and also played quarterback on the school's championship football team. After graduating as a piano major in 1950, he toured with Herbie Fields' band before being drafted. Following three years in the service (he was placed in the Fifth Army Band near Chicago), Evans moved to New York in 1954 and began playing in clarinetist Tony Scott's quartet while pursuing postgraduate studies at Mannes College, where he met and began collaborating with composer/theoretician George Russell. By 1956, Evans recorded his first album as a leader, New Jazz Conceptions (Riverside), which included one of his best-known compositions, "Waltz for Debby."
In the spring of 1958, the pianist began an eight-month tenure with the Miles Davis Sextet, where his delicate touch and European harmonic sensibility (inspired by such French impressionists as Debussy and Ravel) helped forge a new musical direction for the enigmatic trumpeter and bandleader. Though Evans left Davis' sextet by the autumn of that year, he put his stamp on Miles' epochal 1959 recording, Kind of Blue--the biggest-selling acoustic jazz album of all time--particularly on the atmospheric tracks "Blue in Green" and "Flamenco Sketches," which were both imbued with a kind of Zen-like delicacy by the pianist.
Beginning in December 1958, Evans combined forces with the astounding young bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian in a near-telepathic trio. On the strength of such successful Riverside albums as 1958's meditative Everybody Digs Bill Evans, 1969's Portrait in Jazz, and especially 1961's Sunday at the Village Vanguard, Evans became a bona fide jazz star. Sadly, only 10 days after a landmark live session at the Village Vanguard in June 1961, LaFaro was killed in an auto accident at age 25. Shattered by the tragedy, Evans went into seclusion for almost a year. His first recording after LaFaro's death was his classic duet album with guitarist Jim Hall, Undercurrent, which was recorded in two sessions on April 24 and May 14, 1962, for the United Artists label. After signing with Verve later in 1962, Evans was encouraged to record in a variety of settings, which led to sessions with Gary McFarland's big band, saxophonist and labelmate Stan Getz, singer Tony Bennett, and a full orchestra performing the arrangements of Claus Ogerman. He also recorded the experimental Conversations with Myself, which utilized multiple overdubbed piano parts, a first for Evans.
With the emerging jazz-rock scene, Evans dabbled in some Rhodes electric piano recordings in the 1970s. He had begun playing with Puerto Rican bassist Eddie Gomez in 1966, and two years later they were joined by drummer Marty Morell. This trio remained a solid working unit for the next seven years, until Morell retired from the music scene. After Morell left, Evans and Gomez recorded two duo albums, Intuition and Montreux III. In early 1975, the vacant drum chair was filled by New York native Eliot Zigmund, who would remain in the Bill Evans Trio for two years. Evans' last trio, consisting of bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe La Barbera, remained together from 1978 to 1980.
Evans died on September 15, 1980, from a hemorrhaging ulcer and bronchial pneumonia. During his lifetime, Evans was honored with 31 Grammy nominations, with seven wins. He was named to Down Beat's Hall of Fame in 1981, and in 1994 was honored posthumously with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. (Milkowski)