Bill Evans - piano; Eddie Gomez - bass; Philly Joe Jones - drums
Bill Evans' appearance at the 1967 Newport Jazz Festival overlaps with drummer Philly Joe Jones' brief stint with the great pianist during that year. While the former Miles Davis drummer (1955-1958) lit a fire under the normally introspective pianist with his bop-informed swing factor, he also provided consummate accompaniment with tasteful brushwork and exquisite timekeeping alongside Bill and bassist Eddie Gomez, who had just joined the Evans trio the previous year. Their Newport set ranges from sublime to surging on this rare appearance together.
The "newest edition of the Bill Evans Trio," as emcee Dr. Billy Taylor calls it, comes out swinging with a rendition of Miles Davis' "Nardis" (which Evans had first recorded in 1961 with his classic trio of Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian on Explorations) that has Evans in a more aggressive vein on his solo and also showcases Gomez's virtuosity on an extended bass solo. Jones' unique manner of cutting up the beat with unpredictable snare accents while maintaining a swinging pulse is extraordinary here. The great drummer is also showcased on a dynamic solo that is far slicker and more grounded in the bebop tradition than any of Evans' previous or subsequent drummers. Their elegant version of Evans' lovely jazz waltz "Very Early" is underscored by Jones' brisk but sensitive brushwork. Philly Joe switches to sticks to drive Evans' piano solo more forcefully with his irrepressibly syncopated pulse on the kit, then returns to brushes beneath Gomez's facile, fleet-fingered bass solo.
Evans applies just a touch of his gentle "Flamenco Sketches" intro to beginning of the poignant Betty Comden-Adolph Green-Leonard Bernstein ballad from the 1944 Broadway musical On the Town. Jones' touch with brushes here is sublime and strictly supportive, though he does venture into a bit of the effervescent swing factor midway through during Evans' piano solo. Evans plays an extended piano into on Anthony Newley's "Who Can I Turn To?" before Jones and Gomez enter to put a swinging pulse underneath that dramatic Broadway show tune from the 1964 musical The Roar of the Greasepaint - The Smell of the Crowd which became a hit later that year for Tony Bennett. Jones supplies the steady syncopation underneath, alternating between brushes and sticks, while Gomez contributes another of his virtuosic bass solos. They close their Newport set on a surprising note with an uptempo swinging version of the mellow Swing era chestnut, "I'm Getting Sentimental Over You," which became identified as Tommy Dorsey's theme song. Gomez's bass solo here is unbelievably virtuosic while Jones delivers an explosive and extended drum solo that would rank right alongside Chick Webb, Gene Krupa or Buddy Rich for sheer showmanship on the kit. Never has the Bill Evans Trio swung so hard and sounded so exuberant.
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 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) help 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 Everbody 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 ten 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 label mate 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.
Plagued by a heroin and cocaine addiction throughout his career, the great pianist and composer died on September 15, 1980, from a hemorrhaging ulcer and bronchial pneumonia. During his lifetime, Evans was honored with 31 Grammy nominations and seven Awards. He was named to Down Beat's Hall of Fame in 1981 and in 1994 was honored posthumously with a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. (Bill Milkowski)