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Interview Two: The Bill Evans Trio Pt.1
The American pianist and composer talks to Les Tomkins between 1965-1976. Two inteviews conducted with his Trio (1966 and 1968).
Source: Jazz Professional
Do you think that a jazz club is the ideal environment for stimulation in playing?
EVANS: Well, there's different answers come into my head. It seems to me we have to perform in clubs a certain amount of the time. There's a volume of playing involved there, which is important to our development as a group, since we don't rehearse and everything comes from the music. However, ideal performance conditions are concert conditions. The closer a club can get to concert conditions, the closer it is to being ideal. Sometimes we find ourselves in difficult situations— the piano may be below standard, we may be crowded on the stand, or the acoustics may not be the greatest. And, however marvellous an audience is, these other factors have to be considered. But we do have the discipline to adjust to whatever situation we're in, and try to get the most out of it.
Certain clubs are much better than others. There's a club in Tulsa that the fellow built like an auditorium, and went into all kinds of acoustical research to build the bandstand. And it has a fine piano. Most places we go to now do have good instruments, and we find the right kind of working conditions. However, I feel, and we all agree, that we don't want to perform perhaps more than six months a year, because we all have other musical projects and interests. And we'd like to divide that up into, say, a two- month European tour of concerts and some club work, and perhaps two months of concerts and two months of club work in the States— something like that. That way we feel we'll have enough of each, and develop. To my mind, both are essential— at least, where we're at now.
ISRAELS: We've done all our developing in clubs, I must say. And most of it in the Village Vanguard in New York, It's simply that we must play so much time every night, so many nights a week.
BUNKER: And you get that in a club, where you don't on a concert. You do a concert performance of 45- 50 minute an hour at the most— and you're done with it. And to me there is a certain quality of relating to an audience, that I find hard to do in a large auditorium sometimes. We're playing, first of all, for each other. We hope the music is liked, and accepted, and understood—that’s one of the reasons for it. And I've played long enough where I prefer now to play for people. I don't particularly like to sit up in a roam or in somebody's house and just play for the enjoyment of the three of us. Or in other situations, the jam session— that's fine when you're 16 years old and you're learning your instrument and your craft.
But I get more of the intimacy and the feeling of something really happening between the people and us in a club, rather than a concert hall— that's if the conditions are optimum and everything is right. Occasionally it happens and, when it does there's nothing quite like it in the world.
EVANS: I think you set yourself emotionally for a concert performance more and I would say the percentage of chances that it would be a peak performance would be greater in a concert for that reason. You're directing your emotional energy towards just one thing. But then, actually, in clubs it'll come anyhow, with the volume. And you'll suddenly get these peak sets, and you don't know why, or anything. And, as I say, that seems to set a new standard.
BUNKER: Then you keep striving to reach that level.
ISRAELS: Same of those peaks, I think, come from striving to fight the boredom! EVANS Well, that's all part of it. You're being a responsible musician, and if you make a challenge out of anything, the progress will happen as a result. You have to really develop a disciplined attitude, because it's easy to become stagnant—for instance, playing basically the same repertoire every night, as we do. But I definitely accept that as a challenge— as I always have, really, from the beginning. Any good vehicle offers the same challenge as any other. The very fact that you've played it a million times doesn't make any difference— you can still find more in it. That's why I've stuck with pretty much the same framework today that I used when I started, which is the popular song, fundamentally, and a few other basic forms. But you have to have that kind of discipline. That's just being an adult, I think.
It's obvious that a large ingredient of the music you play is the feeling you have for one another. What do you regard as the most important qualities in the other two?
ISRAELS: Ah, that's an interesting question. I'll start with Larry. I regard his complete general knowledge of all the musical techniques that we use as one of his most important qualities. Secondly, his sensitivity to our musical feelings. Third, his inventiveness within our framework, and his ability to came up with a fresh idea which will make me feel renewed about the music.
Bill's qualities are many, many for me. In some sense they embody the very qualities which I look for in all my musical experiences. If I had to find one word to describe it, it would have to be a balance of every different aspect of things. Let me say this: the important qualities for me in Bill are the same as those that are there for me in Mozart, Bach, Debussy, Stravinsky, Prokofiev and many other fine composers whose music I love very much. Plus the addition of a certain rhythmical experience in the music, which is, to any mind, his particular contribution to musical history.
I think it would be possible to find examples of almost any given combination of notes in Bill's music in some other written music. But it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to find those notes in anything like the rhythms that Bill plays. These are things that I find valuable and important to me in Larry and Bill.
BUNKER: This is a tough one. With Chuck— I'll take him first— probably the most outstanding thing that I appreciate in Chuck's playing is a certain kind a fluidity that he seems to get with the bass, that very few bass players up to now have achieved. In a different way, Scott La Faro, who worked with Bill, of course, before, had that quality. Since him, other bass players have suddenly found that it is possible to play the instrument in this fashion. But Chuck gets a kind of a very sonorous, soaring sound— a kind of a melodic sense. Well, sometimes he does sound very Jewish! But there's a very beautiful Jewishness to his solos that I like very, very much. He has the ability to play with the time, to interpolate figures, to get inside the time and then strike off on tangents. Things will be almost like swimming, and then coming back suddenly, and here's ONE— and off we go. I like his bass, too— he's got a good instrument.
And the gentleman on my left— I don't know, it's all superlatives— it’d get embarrassing. People have asked me: "Who's your favourite musician?" I say: "Bill is." "Why's that?" As I tell them, it’s because I hear just about everything that I want to hear in jazz in his playing. I can't find any shortcomings. I can't say: "Well, God, he'd really be superb if he only did this, or didn't do that." And so many times, if you're a professional jazz musician, you find yourself doing that with most players. After a certain point, when you've been involved in music that long, you do get a little picky— you pick things apart. I do— I tend to be that way; that's my nature. But there's nothing to pick apart in his playing. Like Chuck said, I've never heard that kind of rhythmic inventiveness from anybody on any instrument. There's a harmonic sense, a sense of logic and rightness in whatever he does that borders on the inhuman sometimes.
EVANS: I mean, what can I say after all that? I think it's a very interesting question that you asked, and it's difficult— and personal. And, of course, we wouldn't be together if we didn't have a lot of personal feelings about each other. But I'll try to keep pretty much within what I feel in the music. And to put both Larry and Chuck together, I think the thing that moves me most is that I can feel that things have been on a level for a long time, and just for a moment I might find something within myself that's a little bit different. And they're so ready all the time. This would be after such a long period of time that you figure they couldn't be ready to respond so quickly. Their being so ready makes me feel such a responsibility to come up with these things— and I feel that I don't do enough. But that is the miraculous thing to me.
As far as their musicianship, I find that superb and their interests musically Larry is a complete musician, as Chuck said— as many drummers are not. A1though many drummers, that don't know as much about music as Larry does, have a musical ear. Larry has a trained musical ear, as well as the taste and discretion that go with it. And, specifically, he's a master drummer, as far as I'm concerned, and percussionist.
One thing that I particularly like about Chuck's playing is his basic conception. You talk about a musician's conception, and it's always a mysterious thing that you can't develop. Of course, I find this in Larry, too. But there's a thing in bass players which I've always looked for, and if it isn't there, it just isn't there. And Chuck really has it. Another person that has it for me is Percy Heath. It’s a particular kind of thing that gives me a lot of support, and a lot of pleasure, too.
So I won't get too personal. I'll leave it go at that, except to say that neither one of them would be here if I didn't feel that they were the ones that I want to be here. I'm glad that they want to be here, but certainly it's my choice as well.
Copyright © 1966, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved