Bill Evans Trio: Sunday at the Village Vanguard
Bill Evans (p) Scott LaFarro (b) Paul Motian (drs)
Recorded ‘live’ at the Village Vanguard, New York City; June 25, 1961
Gloria’s Step (6:05) (Scott LaFaro)
My Man’s Gone Now (6:21) (George & Ira Gershwin)
Solar (8:51) (Miles Davis)
Alice in Wonderland (8:32) (Fain – Hilliard)
All of You (8:20) (Cole Porter)
Jade Visions (3:46)
Just because I am a writer-critic in the jazz field doesn’t mean that I can’t enjoy an album like any layman. It is true that when one is forced to listen to “x” amount of LP’s every week, there are times when the spirit can become hostile toward the very thought of records. But, fortunately, the most effective antidote to this malaise de vinyl lies adjacent to the trouble source itself. There is nothing more healing than good music.
Whenever a new BILL EVANS album is issued, another weapon has been added to my arsenal of therapy against boredom, fatigue, irritation or what-have-you. I have all his trio albums (this does not make me unique) but I have never written about him at length in any professional capacity.
“Everybody Digs Bill Evans” was used as one of his album titles and the phrase became a literalism. So much has been printed in praise of Bill that it is difficult to express positive thoughts about him without quoting some other critic, either directly or indirectly.
One writer who did an excellent job of capturing Evans, the man, was Don Nelsen in the December 8, 1960 Down Beat. One reason for the piece’s success were the cogent statements he managed to draw from the pianist. In one, Bill was talking about Zen and it led to some accurate insights into jazz. Evans said, “Actually I’m not interested in Zen that much, as a philosophy, nor in joining any movements. I don’t pretend to understand it. I just find it comforting. And very similar to jazz. Like jazz, you can’t explain it to anyone without losing the experience. It’s got to be experienced, because it’s feeling not words. Words are the children of reason and, therefore, can’t explain it. They really can’t translate feeling because they’re not part of it. That’s why it bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It’ not. It’s feeling.”
Anyone who has experienced the playing of Bill Evans is aware of his deep feelings and the great clarity with which he communicates them. Also evident to the listener who has followed Evans’ progress on Riverside is the constant striving for a real group projection where each man improvises and all three do it together. Most trios consist of bassist and drummer supplying rhythmic backing for a pianist. Here, there is an inter-relation of melodic and rhythmic phrases actively involving everyone. The freshness of the Evans trio’s approach produces music with a truly magical aura.
In listening to the present album, I find myself so absorbed that consciousness of my body disappears and I become as one larger ear, equipped only with a psyche. I am not aware of the act of listening. I am suffused by the music and become one with the music. Evans’ comment – “It’s feeling” – has never been more graphically presented.
The regular Sunday matinees at New York’s Village Vanguard have earned a wide reputation as attracting the most genuinely interested jazz audiences to be found at any time or place. Considering the nature of Evans as an artist (as expressed, for example, in the Nelsen piece article above), it seems extremely fitting that “Sunday at the Village Vanguard” is Bill’s first “live” recording. For the first time it brings him to his LP public in the type of extended and spontaneous performances that can result from such a club atmosphere. Of the six selections, only one runs under six minutes and three exceed eight minutes in length. This enables the trio to really explore each piece.
As is usual with an Evans recital, the program is rich and varied. He continues several of his personal traditions here. One of these is the inclusion of a song written by Miles Davis. Here it is Solar, which has everyone stretching out – and it is as if you are discovering the very process of improvisation as they do. There are two Evans customs combined in the use of All of You: it is by Cole Porter, a standard composer to whom he turns quite frequently, and his version is phrased in an extremely personal – you might even say “impressionistic” – way. It’s sort of a distilled essence of the tune, with the melody never once directly stated, an approach to ballads that Bill has been making increasingly frequent use of. And in offering us Alice in Wonderland (from the Walt Disney film production) he once again treats us to the reworking of a piece of trivia and banality (preciously, he did the same with Someday My Prince Will Come, from “Snow White”) into a wonderous musical experience.
Gershwin is represented here by an unbelievably poignant version of My Man’s Gone Now. Evans has a caressing, exquisitely beautiful exposition, while LaFaro contributes brooding underlinings and a thrilling solo.
While this album contains no Evans originals, there are instead two by LaFaro. Gloria’s Step has an arresting line and harmonic structure, with perfect creative balance among the three men. Evans’ solo is a composition in itself, Motian swings dynamically with his brushes, and the composer’s solo is truly brilliant. Scott’s Jade Visions is a piece of sensitive calligraphy with an Oriental cast. His tremendous overall contribution to this album makes his death all the more tragic. I am content that there exists for me, as a listener, these recorded results of a momentous “Sunday at the Village Vaunguard.”
The six selections that make up this album were recorded on the afternoon and night of June 25, 1961 – the final performances of a two-week stand at the Vanguard for the Bill Evans Trio. (Specifically, the version of Scott LaFaro’s Jade Visions that concludes the album was the last number they played that evening.) As it turned out, this was to e the last time together for these three musicians. For it was only ten days later that LaFaro was killed in a tragic highway accident.
It was a shocking death – as is all death, and sudden death in particular. To us so deeply involved in jazz, the loss of a young man in the very midst of the process of realizing what were generally recognized as really major potentials on his instrument, is all the more tragic. For Bill Evans and Paul Motian, who had worked so closely with Scott for most of the past two years, it was the double loss of both a friend and a vitally important fellow-musician.
I had asked Bill to write a few words about Scott and their association to be printed in this space. He tried, but not too surprisingly found that he simply could not. I cannot really substitute for Bill here, but having heard this trio countless times, and having supervised three sets of their recording sessions, I am very much aware of the strong, unusual and richly creative inter-relation between Evans and LaFaro, and of the way in which they stimulated, challenged and assisted each other towards the development of an approach they considered far more rewarding than the conventional ‘lead voice plus two rhythm’ of most piano-trio jazz.
I know that the Vanguard engagement as a whole was musically a highly satisfying one to the group and that they were all pleased with the overall results of the last day’s recording. In our assembling of this album, Bill’s preferences were influenced by a desire to emphasize Scott’s contributions, but I don’t think sentiment interfered with judgment there. The album does happen to be one that can stand as a fitting memorial to the abbreviated career of a talented bassist. Bill has said he’d like to think of it as “dedicated” to Scott by him. I’d prefer to put that this LP can serve as a permanent reminder of not only how much, but also why, Scott LaRaro will be deeply missed by Bill Evans, and indeed by everyone who ever heard him play.
Bill Evans’ other Riverside albums include –
Explorations (RLP 351; Stereo 9351)
Portrait in Jazz (RLP 315; Stereo 1162)
Everybody Digs Bill Evans (RLP 291; Stereo 1129)
New Jazz Conceptions (RLP 223)
Produced by ORRIN KEEPNEWS
Recording Engineer: DAVE JONES
Mastered at Plaza Sound Studios
Album designed by KEN DEARDOFF
Back-liner photograph by STEVE SCHAPIRO
RIVERSIDE RECORDS are produced by BILL GRAUER PRODUCTIONS, Inc.
235 West 46th Street New York 36, New York