Tony Bennett And Bill Evans Play “Waltz For Debby”

Tony_Bennett_-_The_Tony_Bennett_Bill_Evans_AlbumListen to this track by powerhouse jazz-pop crooner Tony Bennett, and impressionistic ivory-tinkler Bill Evans. It’s “Waltz For Debby”, an original melody written by Evans that turned into something of a jazz standard from when it was first recorded in the mid-fifties.

This version appears on the pair’s 1975 collaborative effort, The Tony Bennett Bill Evans Album, which was the first of two albums from them. It represents a high watermark in the catalogues of both men, which considering the calibre of talent at work here, is really saying something. In some ways, the likelihood of this record being as transcendent as it is seems unlikely on paper. As dextrous as Bennett has always been as a vocalist, by this time in his career he was a traditional pop singer, and not noted for a pure jazz style. In contrast to that, Evans was known for his complex and even cerebral approach to jazz. Although like Bennett, he’d traded in the interpretation of jazz standards for a good deal of his career by this time, Evans’ tendencies to deconstruct those melodies stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from the vocalist.

With all that said, this album works anyway, and gloriously so. And this rendition of Evans’ tune, with lyrics written by Gene Lees is one of the most powerful. This is down to the strength of the song as interpreted by Evans for this duet. But, Bennett does more than his part to bring it to life, a story about childhood, adulthood, and the bittersweet process of seeing one fade to make room for the other.  Read more

The Bill Evans Trio Performs “Someday My Prince Will Come”

Here’s a clip of jazz egghead and piano innovator Bill Evans with his 1965 trio performing what was to become a jazz standard – “Someday My Prince Will Come”. The piece was originally featured in the 1938 Disney version of the children’s folk tale Snow White and the Seven Dwarves and would be covered by many other jazz artists including the Dave Brubeck Quartet and Miles Davis.

Bill Evans, circa 1959
Bill Evans was an accomplished composer as well as an interpreter of standards. Here he is at work.

There’s something about Bill Evans as a pianist which appeals to me even though it shouldn’t. His approach sounds very academic at times, and on the surface he’s more the technician than the emotive interpreter. This would normally turn me right off. But, what Evans had was a strong sense of musical history and development of form backing him up, and his passion springs out of it when you stop and listen. There’s an awful lot of impressionism in his playing, very influenced by another favourite of mine, Claude Debussy. As such, there’s a lot to admire, and plenty to love too, about his playing; the lightness of touch, the subtlety, and his amazing sense of interplay with his rhythm section. This piece shows his ability to swing, but another piece of his, “Blue and Green” could be an impressionist piece just as easily as it is a part of the jazz idiom. In this respect, Evans had tremendous range as a musician.

Evans’ talent made him a sought after sideman from the 50s onwards. His work can be heard on records by Charles Mingus, Art Farmer, and later in his significant contributions to many albums by Miles Davis including the 1959 masterpiece Kind of Blue. A popular period for Evans was his recordings on the Riverside label, on which he worked with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. This was arguably his definitive partnership as the leader of a trio. With LaFaro and Motian, Evans recorded the sublime Portrait in Jazz, which included the cut “Someday My Prince Will Come”, along with a version of “Blue n Green” which had appeared on Kind of Blue. The trio also recorded the seminal Sunday at the Village Vanguard, a high point in Evans’ career, and for jazz in general. At the height of the trio’s popularity in 1961, LaFaro was killed in a car accident.

Evans spent the remainder of the decade and the one to follow working with a variety of collaborators, including (oddly, some would say) Tony Bennett in 1975 on their Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album. On paper it was an odd pairing, given that Evans is noted to be at the more studied and cerebral end of the jazz spectrum, while Bennett occupies a more instinctive and feel-oriented space. Yet, the album works and stands as a unique statement. Evans also recorded a number of solo pieces from the 60s onward, and maintained versions of his trio which included long-term bassist Eddie Gomez, and drummers Phily Joe Jones and Jack DeJohnette.

A long term drug user, Evans died in 1980 due to complications arising from his habit. Yet his work with other artists and through his own albums as leader helped to draw out the range of jazz, delving as it did into the world of classical impressionism and in world music.

For more music, visit the Bill Evans MySpace page.


Epiphanies in Jazz – Miles Davis and ‘Kind of Blue’

Miles Davis Kind of BlueThe main thing written about this gathering of jazz giants was that it was the beginning of what was called “modal” jazz, which later became “the new thing” in the next decade. Talking about that aspect of things would require me to know something about the difference between improvising around scales and improvising around chord changes. I’m sure a musicologist would be able to write a book on why Kind of Blue is such a groundbreaking benchmark in the development of jazz. But, I’m not a musicologist. I’m just a fan. I am just a person who heard “So What” once on a cheap Columbia compilation album and was musically grabbed by my lapels and shaken to my shoes. I am a person who never knew that jazz could be this cool, in every sense of the word. It is music that is both cerebral because of its complexity, and visceral because of its ability to swing. It dances on the knife’s edge of intellectual pursuit and irrational, ineffable feeling.

The parties involved are legends in their own right; the equivalent of Elvis, The Killer, The Georgia Peach, Buddy, Chuck and Bo swinging by a studio and making a record together. But where the morass of egos may have short circuited any hope of such communal greatness from the rock world of the time, the jazz equivalents seem to be able to put the music to the forefront, while infusing it with something of their own personalities at the same time. You hear Miles’ trumpet and you can imagine it skimming on the surface of the next big movement, daring the others to join the chase. You can hear Trane’s darkness and spiritual turbulence. You can hear Cannonball’s affability and playfulness. You can hear Bill Evans academic and stolid anchor in musical theory playing in and out of the blues-devoted rhythm section of drummer Jimmy Cobb and session stalwart bassist Paul Chambers. Everything is in its place, no one element being more important and prominent than the other, despite the magnitude of the persons involved. It’s there in every note and pause and nothing is wasted.

The opener, “So What” builds from Evans’ impressionist piano lines, bolstered by Chambers almost menacing bass. When the horns enter the scene, they are not the frenetic voices of the be-bop days of old; they are lilting and minimalist, adding to the building tension that has been established in the intro, as elements and not as dominant lines. The urgency of bop and the bombast of the big band sound are subverted and turned on their heads in turn, answering dexterity with efficiency, grandiosity with musical subtext. Where a solo may have once been measured by its ability to reinforce a theme, it serves here to build on what has started from nothing. It would not supplant the need for melody, but it would open the possibilities for musicians to bring out many melodies, some heard on first listen and others heard after years of hearing the record.

It is in this respect that Kind of Blue is timeless. In the expression embedded in the solos, the moment is conveyed, the spark of creativiMiles Davisty of artists gathering together is communicated, and you’re there too within the conversation as you listen. The romanticism of Bill Evan’s “Blue in Green”, the mischievous waltz time of “All Blues” (which is nothing of the sort!), the exotic flavorings of Flamenco Sketches, and the easy-going “Freddy Freeloader” all come together as simple yet eloquent exchanges between musicians with considerable sonic vocabularies. They make it sound so easy, and as listeners we are drawn into it, not realizing that a revolution has just taken place until we think on it after the record is over. Then, we want to play it again, just to be sure we’ve heard everything there is to hear. Of course, we don’t. We can’t. There is lyricism, personality, emotion on various levels, and some can only be heard when a listener is paying attention, and some can only be absorbed when the listener is not. One might expect a record where melody and chord changes are secondary to be nothing but egotism on the part of the musicians, but the opposite is true. It involves you. It marks you and raises the bar in what you come to expect from the form. It comes as no surprise that the results would take jazz in directions that many within that world as well as outside it feared to go in the next decade – to freeform, to electric instruments, and back to Africa where it was born. It is no surprise, that these musical conversations between giants should start a revolution as all revolutions start this way – masters talking in a room with a unified vision, unafraid to embrace the future.

Further Listening

  • Something Else by Cannonball Adderley. A year previous to the Kind of Blue sessions, Miles played on alto saxophonist Cannonball Adderley’s classic album , which showed some of the more relaxed, lighter side of Davis’ playing. In many ways, it foreshadowed the tone of KoB – relaxed, cool, and playful. This is a great place to start for a jazz newbie.
  • Sketches of Spain by Miles Davis & Gil Evans. This isn’t technically a jazz record, although it certainly incorporates jazz improvisation. Evans arranged Concerto De Aranjuez, and a selection of pieces similar in tone, for a small orchestra and invited Davis to add his own improvised lines. The result is a sensual, slightly menacing, and ultimately triumphant effort which stands as a career highpoint for everyone involved.
  • In A Silent Way by Miles Davis. By the end of the 1960s, Davis’ musical curiosity took him even further away from where he’d started in hard-bop and cool. IASW is a stand alone record in many ways – a rest stop between the jazz of the past, and the development of jazz fusion of which Davis was a prime architect. This record, like Kind of Blue, cherishes feel over structure, texture over shape. The approach results in a record that is a celebration of the use of space in music; an atmospheric, dreamy ride that comes off as the first hints of Ambient.

Hear Miles Davis and John Coltrane play ‘So What’.

Hover over the image and click the ‘play’ icon. To enlarge the viewing window, click the magnifying glass icon. Enjoy!

Miles DAvis