Sunday, January 31, 2016

"Music is Forever" - Dave Usher and Bert Falbaum

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.


"In addition to being the very definition of enlivening swinging, Dizzy Gillespie — whom I knew well — was also an invaluable teacher and humanist. All of Dizzy is here in this book, Music Is Forever, by Dave Usher and Berl Falbaum."
— Nat Hentoff, jazz critic for JAZZed Magazine,
The Wall Street Journal, and author of
At the Jazz Band Ball: Sixty Years on the Jazz Scene


"This book is a major contribution to our knowledge about Dizzy Gillespie, particularly his work in the early 1950s when he had a partnership with Dave Usher in the Dee Gee Record label. Many areas of background are fully fleshed out for the first time, and at the center of the story is the strong bond of friendship between an entrepreneurial Jewish kid and an African-American trumpeter eleven years his senior. Even when Dee Gee failed, due primarily to an error in judgment by Usher — he trusted someone he shouldn't have — the friendship continued, and Usher offers us a very personal view into the life of one of America's best loved entertainers and jazz musicians."
— Alyn Shipton, writer, broadcaster, jazz historian and author of Groovin High, The Life of Dizzy Gillespie


"In the jazz community, it is general knowledge that Dizzy Gillespie and Dave Usher were close. Dave's book discloses the depth of their friendship and the extent of their professional partnership. He tells the story with warmth, humor and detail that further illuminate not only the great trumpeter's genius but also his humanity."
— Doug Ramsey, author of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul Desmond and Jazz Matters: Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers


“We — John Birks "Dizzy" Gillespie and I — were the embodiment of the odd couple. Throughout the years, I often wondered how we developed not only a professional relationship, but a very close personal bond, one that lasted just short of 50 years.


I was born in the North in Detroit; Dizzy was born in the South in Cheraw, South Carolina. I was the youngest of five children; he was the youngest of nine. I had limited musical talent; Dizzy taught himself to play the trombone and trumpet at the age of 10. I grew up in a home that listened exclusively to classical music; Dizzy was exposed to blues and jazz almost from birth, given that his father was a bandleader in Cheraw. I was Jewish; he a believer in the Baha'i Faith to which he converted when he was about 50. (Dizzy grew up in a Methodist household.) Oh yes, I was white; he was black, or more accurately, colored or Negro as African-Americans were called at the time.”
- Dave Usher


In his Introduction to Music is Forever, Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend and Me, Bert Falbaum writes of his co-author: “Dave, I discovered, was a mensch, a Jewish word meaning that the individual has a heart and soul, and he/she is a person of honor and integrity. If anyone ever fit all the nuances of that word, it was Dave.”


Not to engage in one upmanship with Bert, but I already knew that Dave Usher was a mensch because when I was preparing a review of the 3-disc set entitled Dizzy Gillespie in South America which Dave released under the banner of his Red Anchor Productions, I wrote to Dave and asked for his permission to use his interview with composer-arranger Lalo Schifrin [Vol. 2] in a video that I was preparing to accompany the blog posting.


Dave graciously wrote back right away and you can view the results of his approval in one of the video that concludes this piece. You can locate my two-part CD review by searching the blog archives for Dizzy Gillespie in South America: Parts 1 and 2 [January 18, 2014].


I have also included at conclusion of this review a video on Dizzy that features Dizzy Orchestra’s performing Cool Breeze from that 1956 South American tour.


Music is Forever, Dizzy Gillespie, the Jazz Legend and Me is available in both a paper bound and Kindle edition from Amazon, and as a paperback edition from Barnes & Noble.


Harmonically and rhythmically, Dizzy Gillespie gave us the basis for preserving and moving forward with the phrasing that alto saxophonist Charlie Parker used in developing the melodic aspects of Bebop.


In teaching Bebop to others, Diz used the two-foot rule: any musician within 2-feet of Dizzy who wanted to learn the language of Bop got a lesson.


I was one of those who got a lesson, although in my case, it had to do with the sound of my ride cymbal.


Dizzy’s group was appearing at The Lighthouse Cafe in 1962. Howard Rumsey, the bassist who managed the music at the club was moving away from his set group of Lighthouse All-Stars which had been in place since 1949 to booking name bands into the club.


But in doing so, he kept another tradition that he also instituted in 1949 going: the 2:00 PM to 2:00 AM “All-Day” Sunday Session. He hired groups of young Jazz musicians to perform at the club from 5:30 - 8:30 PM to give the name band musicians a dinner break.


Over the years, Howard had created an enclosed room above the Lighthouse Cafe bandstand that served as a place for musicians to hang out between sets. It also served as his office and housed tape recorders that engineers used for “live” recordings at the club [and whatever else Howard may have wanted to tape].


Needless to say, with Dizzy in residence at the club, there was a constant procession of musicians who wanted to meet the Great Man, including the guys in my band.


During the 3-hour break, Dizzy didn’t leave the club, but had food sent up from one of the local eateries.


After the first set, the melody and harmony guys in my band went up to meet Dizzy and to level a barrage of questions at him, mostly to do with harmonic substitutions.


Not wanting to be left out of the opportunity to meet Diz, I tagged along. After patiently answering what seemed like an endless stream of questions from the horn men, Diz looked at me and said: “And you, ask Chuck Lampkin [Dizzy’s drummer] if you can use his ride cymbal for a set.” When I asked “why” he explained that the overtones from my ride cymbal were “... too jarring and not blending in well.”


The cymbal in question was a 20” K-Zildjan medium-ride cymbal, that had been drilled for stainless steel rivets and was flanged around the outer edges [turned up]. I had to admit that it was fun to play on and produced a much more mellow sound.


I found out later [from drummer Mickey Roker] that Dizzy carried that cymbal with him everywhere and made every drummer in his various groups over the years play that thing behind him when he soloed.


Sometimes referred to as a Turkish Trash Cymbal, or just a Trash Cymbal, it took me awhile to find one back in the day, but once I did, I never went anywhere without my “Dizzy Gillespie cymbal.”

Upon his passing, composer-arranger-pianist Lalo Schifrin, said of Diz:

"People should understand the importance that Dizzy Gillespie had in the history of Jazz but also on music of the 20th century...."

Thanks to Dave and Bert's efforts in compiling and writing Music is Forever, there is now another primary source in print to further an understanding of Dizzy's significance.


Here’s the rest of Bert’s intro to the book which will tell you all you need to know about how it came to be written.


“I first met Dave Usher sometime in 1991, and that meeting resulted from circumstances that occurred about two or three years earlier.


I was vice president of communications for a Detroit-based company and had written a letter to the editor of a business journal, lambasting its irresponsible coverage of my employer. Dave read the letter and when he met the chairman of the company I was working for at a social event, Dave told my boss that he was impressed. He wondered if I would do some work for him. Of course, that was impossible since I had a full-time job.


However, after I resigned from that position and founded my own PR company in 1989,1 included Dave on a list of potential clients that I intended to contact. I wanted to pursue the possibility that he might still be interested in PR work. I asked the chairman if he remembered the name of Dave's company, but he didn't. My research — checking all the phone books in the area searching for a company whose name might begin with "Usher"— proved futile. Regretfully, I ended my search. C'est la vie.


As luck would have it, one day I was reading the business section of a local paper and saw a photo of Dave Usher and a story about his company, Marine Pollution Control (MPC), which he founded.


I wrote Dave a letter, outlining what my former employer had told me, and Dave responded by inviting me to lunch. We ate, we talked — for about two to three hours — and, as they say, the rest is history. I was hired to assist with PR for MFC and the Spill Control Association of America (SCAA) which Dave also founded and was president of for many years.


Our relationship quickly developed into one of total mutual trust and respect, and, in fact, into a close personal friendship. Dave, I discovered, was a mensch, a Jewish word meaning that the individual has a heart and soul, and he/she is a person of honor and integrity. If anyone ever fit all the nuances of that word, it was Dave.


I learned that while demonstrating a tough and rough exterior, frequently coloring his language with profanity, he was actually a softy. He had a big heart and suffered fools too long, both in his professional and personal relationships. He just couldn't seem to cut ties even when warranted and well overdue. And I know he knows, though he may not admit it, he has paid a price for his humanity.


As I carried out my PR responsibilities for MPC, I discovered Dave's history with Dizzy Gillespie and the world of jazz. He told fascinating stories although he told them very matter-of-factly. There was no bragging, but just a recounting of his years in jazz, and his friendship with Dizzy which he valued immensely. It is no exaggeration to indicate he considered Dizzy a brother, as Dave states frequently in this book.


On one occasion, when Dizzy was in Detroit and stayed at Dave's apartment, I met the jazz giant and exchanged a few pleasantries with him. I was tempted to ask him to play a few bars. I was confident Dizzy would have done so, but I didn't ask, believing it would be an imposition.


Listening to Dave's stories, I recognized that he was a part of music history, important history that needed to be documented and saved. Here was a white Jew from the North and a black man from the South who practiced the Baha'i Faith, partnering to develop and promote jazz. And it was not just with Dizzy. Because of his relationship with Dizzy, Dave met, worked with and befriended some of this country's most outstanding jazz musicians: John "Trane" Coltrane, Ahmad Jamal, Baron "Toots" Thielemans, Ramsey Lewis, Kenny Clarke, Charlie "Yardbird" Parker, Annie Ross, The Jones Brothers, Yusef Lateef, and many others. I was in awe and a little jealous.


Moreover, this partnership with Dizzy began in 1944, at a time when race was still an incendiary issue. The South remained segregated; Brown v. Board of Education which would hold that separate educational facilities were inherently unequal, would not be handed down by the U.S. Supreme Court for another 10 years. Even after the Supreme Court ruling, Southern governors continued to defy court orders and the federal government to integrate schools, and lynching in the South was not yet a matter of history.


It is true that black musicians had "relationships" with record companies run by whites and with white agents, but these, as Dave indicates in his story, were, at times, tinged with distrust. Black artists knew that some white executives in the music business were exploiting them. With limited opportunities, if black musicians wanted increased exposure for their music they had no choice but to accept contracts and financial offers that were not always fair.


The Dizzy-Dave relationship piqued my curiosity. How did they meet? How was this Gillespie-Usher partnership born? Did they discuss the racial implications of their friendship? Did they consider that they might not be accepted? Was there resentment from white and/or black musicians? What was it like to work with Dizzy and the other world-class artists? I had so many questions, questions I believed Dave needed to answer not to satisfy my curiosity, but to satisfy history.


So I asked Dave whether he would be interested in working on a book on his Dizzy/jazz experiences. I argued that this history needed to be saved. He had a unique story that deserved and had to be recorded for millions of jazz fans, and future generations. I implied, subtly, that he almost had an obligation to do so. Dave reacted passively. "Yes," he said, "it sounds like a good idea. Maybe you're right. I’ll sleep on it."


After I worked for Dave for about two years, he faced financial pressures at MFC, and told me he could no longer afford PR and ended our professional relationship. It was evident in his voice that it hurt him to do so. He felt bad for me, and he kept apologizing. I told him I understood and respected his decision. We maintained our friendship, and had lunch two, three times a year, as I did with Dave's son, Charlie, who became president of MFC in 2004. Dave and I called each other on Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) wishing each other a gut yontiff (good holiday.)


The years passed, but he never raised the subject of the book, although I would revisit the issue with him periodically. The answer was always the same: "I'll think about it, sleep on it." And that he did for some 20 years.


I had given up until after I published a mobster thriller in December 2011. I was quasi-retired and found myself with time on my hands. I decided to call Dave and ask him again. This time his response was a bit more positive. I sensed a different tone in his voice. He listened more closely. I said I didn't need a decision during the phone conversation, but that I would call back in a few days (Dave, at 82 at the time, couldn't wait another 20 years, and I, at 73, couldn't either) and when I did call, it was apparent he had more interest than he'd had years earlier. Actually, he said, "Yes, let's do it."


I set up an appointment at his apartment by the Detroit River just west of downtown Detroit at which I outlined the entire process — the interviews, how much time I would need, my time commitments in writing a draft, reviewing drafts, legal considerations, searching for a publisher, marketing. At the same session, I spent more than two hours delving into his family history.


That was the first of many interviews, all of which I tape-recorded. I interviewed him over a seven-month period. He never tired of the process; he was never impatient no matter how trivial the point I was pursuing. He seemed to enjoy revisiting his past.


I also interviewed musicians who worked with Dizzy and knew Dave well, and I reviewed an archival catalogue covering Dave's 50-year relationship with Dizzy that was compiled by Carol Branston, one of Dave's long-time friends.


As I indicated, Dave is really a softy, his salty language and tough exterior notwithstanding. On numerous occasions, when he discussed particularly poignant remembrances, his eyes would tear up, and sometimes he would cry. I must admit, I fought hard to control my emotions when I saw his tears which were sometimes happy ones, and at other times sad, depending on the respective recollections.


One of the truly bewildering aspects of the interviews was that Dave never referred to any records. He did not make any notes or review papers or documents in anticipation of my questions. He did it all from memory. He could recall dates, spellings, and minor details most people would forget within a few days of their occurrence. Not Dave. He remembered everything.


He remembered street addresses and even apartment numbers in buildings he visited decades earlier. For instance, when he told me that in 1948 the American Federation of Musicians (AFM) enforced a recording ban on artists to protest the financial deals offered by record companies, deals it found unacceptable, he explained that the ban was the work of its president, James C. Petrillo. He recalled the AFM president's name, including the middle initial, and this had happened more than 60 years earlier. Actually, I had noticed this aptitude while working for him.


Throughout my relationship with Dave, I was continually impressed by how he engendered admiration and trust from all those who crossed his path, whether the relationships were professional or personal. The reason, I believe, was that he was committed to an uncompromising standard of honesty and integrity. Some may have disagreed with him on issues, but everyone respected him.


Dave also related fascinating stories on how his father was among the first to launch a recycling business by collecting and refining used motor oil, and how he, Dave, helped pioneer the oil spill and hazardous material cleanup industry. Indeed, Dave became one of the world's leading experts in the business.


When President George Herbert Walker Bush asked the U.S. Coast Guard, after the Iraqi dictator, Saddam Hussein, dumped millions of gallons of oil in the Persian Gulf during "Desert Storm" in 1991, who had the best expertise to clean up the oil, he was told "Dave Usher" by U.S. Coast Guard Rear Admiral Joel D. Sipes. The President ordered Dave sent to the Gulf to represent the U.S. as an advisor to the Saudi Arabian government. The assignment almost cost Dave his life when he was caught in quicksand. The headquarters for the operation was located in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia, a coastal city on the Arabian Peninsula. During his first assignment, Dave was on foot inspecting an oil-damaged marsh when he suddenly began to sink. The quicksand was already above his waist when two coworkers managed to grab him under the armpits and pull him out. They literally yanked him out of his waders. When Dave described the incident, he told me, "My waders are still there." One of the men who saved Dave was MPC general manager, Jeff Heard, Dave's godson and nephew of the jazz drummer J.C. Heard.


After the U.S. ended its involvement in the cleanup, Dave was asked to continue work on the project for the International Maritime Organization (IMO) under the auspices of the United Nations. In all, "commuting" back and forth from the U.S. to Saudi Arabia, he spent one year on the Persian Gulf cleanup operation. Specifically, while an IMO representative, he worked for the Saudi's Meteorological and Environmental Protection Agency (MEPA.)


A sensitive problem which had to be faced and solved in assigning Dave to the Gulf was the fact that he was Jewish. Saudi Arabia did not welcome Jews on its soil, frequently prohibiting entry, particularly if they were Israelis. It was an open question whether Dave would be admitted if the Saudis learned that he was Jewish; it was a risk that needed to be addressed. The Coast Guard raised the issue with President Bush, who ignored the implications that a Jew might be barred by the Saudis. The President simply told the Coast Guard, "Have him at hanger No. 6 at National Airport at 0600." (Dave was told of the President's comments to send him to the Gulf and how the President handled the "Jewish issue" by his Coast Guard contacts.)


However, after the U.S. ended its involvement in the cleanup, his religion became an entirely different matter. When Dave traveled on U.S. government aircrafts, he did not have to worry because he did not need to go through customs or have his passport cleared. When he started flying commercial, however, which he would have to do on many occasions, Dave realized he could face serious problems if the Saudis discovered that he was Jewish. IMO officials addressed the problem while Dave was sitting in a Jaguar, the IMO secretary general's car, in London. The solution they proposed was: When filling out the papers required by the Saudis, Dave was instructed to write "n/a" (not applicable) in the space asking him to declare his religion. He followed the advice and told me, "I never had any trouble." Incidentally, while in Saudi Arabia, Dave periodically telephoned Dizzy in the U.S., and each time Dizzy would ask him, "So did you find a good delicatessen yet? Because if I come over, I want to be able to eat some good kosher food."


After we finished the interviews, I began writing, and as chapters were completed, Dave reviewed the drafts, corrected errors, and suggested editorial changes he deemed appropriate.


I could not have had a more rewarding writing experience. I learned about Dizzy Gillespie, about some of the hallowed figures in jazz, and the contributions my friend — and I consider it a privilege to be able to call him my friend — made to this soul-searing music and how, in his other career, he helped protect the environment by developing sophisticated processes and techniques to clean up oil spills and hazardous materials.


In addition, our friendship seemed to grow during the process, and many interviews concluded with the exchange of warm hugs and testimonials on how much we valued the friendship of the other.


It took Dave 20 years to say "yes," and I am delighted he did. I believe we saved some important jazz history (along with a little Detroit history), and I had the opportunity to spend many delightful hours with this engaging man as he told me about his historic relationship and regaled me with countless warm and very moving stories.




Friday, January 29, 2016

Terri Lynn Carrington

© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.


“I gravitate to this kind of drumming. It doesn't feel lick-oriented. It feels organic, open, like you're playing off what you're hearing, as opposed to things in your repertoire.”
Terri Lyne Carrington

There are two things about the following Blindfold Test by drummer Terri Lyne Carrington that especially impressed me: [1] she nailed the identity of all but one of the drummers and [2] she describes their respective drumming styles with a vocabulary that is fresh, inventively descriptive while at the same time being expressively clear for those who are not conversant with drum speak.

“Drummer, composer, producer and Grammy winner Terri Lyne Carrington bedrocks her forward-looking musical output with an exhaustive knowledge of the roots and branches of jazz, world music and technology. She plays an array of instruments on her new CD, The Mosaic Project: Love And Soul (Concord).” [Ted Panken]

This is her first Blindfold Test. It was conducted by Ted Panken and appears in the February 2016 edition of Downbeat.

I have underlined those portions of Terri’s impressions that I found to be particularly new, different and helpful as descriptions of each drummer’s style of playing.

Ali Jackson

"Ali Got Rhythm" (Amalgamations, Sunnyside, 2013) Jackson, drums; Aaron Goldberg, piano; Carlos Henriquez, bass.

It's swinging hard. Something in the ride cymbal pattern reminds me of Ali Jackson. I love his forward motion on the beat. It doesn't feel rushed, but it's real edgy. I tend to play more behind the beat than that, but I appreciate when somebody does it well. Usually I'd rather listen to something that was done when the style was fresh, cutting-edge, pushing a boundary, but musicians who preserve a style from another time period are playing an important role. 31/2 stars overall; 41/2 for Ali, because I could pick up his ride cymbal.

Kendrick Scott

"Never Catch Me" (We Are The Drum, Blue Note, 2015) Scott, drums; John EIlis, tenor saxophone, bass clarinet; Mike Moreno, guitar, Taylor Eigsti, Fender Rhodes; Joe Sanders, bass.

The toms and snare sound like Kendrick Scott, but the bass drum sounds heavier than Kendrick's. Some things remind me of Eric Harland, and there's a beat I've heard Jamire Williams play — there's a school of drumming that's pulled from the same sources. I enjoyed the counterpoint between the two melodies. I like the piano sound. The drums are featured, but aren't overwhelming. It's nice to hear something in 4. So much music now is in odd time signatures, which I like playing, too— but you have to balance it. I would buy this track for sure. 4 stars, [after] Kendrick's playing has grown. His articulation, ideas, everything feels more intentional.

Jeff "Tain" Watts

"Brilliant Corners" (Blu, Vol. 1, Dark Key, 2015) Watts, drums; Troy Roberts, tenor saxophone; David Budway, piano; Neal Caine, bass.

Jeff Watts. From the first beat. Jeff has a distinctive way he plays that swing-funk thing. His triplet is very distinct. With the metric modulations, the tune sounds like either something by [Thelonious] Monk that he arranged or wrote in Monk's style as a tribute. I'm not crazy about the sound of the recording, though it has a certain rawness I like, with everyone playing in a room. At one point, he started playing a hi-hat, and it was overwhelming. I don't know who the tenor player is, but he sounded great. The piano solo was great. 4 stars. The playing is strong enough that I can get past the sound.

Antonio Sanchez

"Fall" (Three Times Three, CamJazz, 2014) Sanchez, drums; John Scofield, guitar; Christian McBride, bass.

That's Antonio. That little sound, the bell, [bass solo] During the ostinato, I couldn't tell it was Christian, but the solo tells me. It sounds amazing. I'm used to hearing Sco play more lines; this is a pastoral sound. Antonio is playing very cinematically and texturally. I love the sound of the recording and his drums—full and powerful, so balanced. 5 stars. The song itself sucks you in; it isn't over-arranged, and it's the right combination of players. Antonio masterfully took up the right amount of space without overplaying. What he played was tasty, but also meaningful.

Lewis Nash

"Y Todavia La Queiro" (The Highest Mountain, Cellar Live, 2012} Nash, drums; Jimmy Greene, tenor saxophone; Jeremy Pelt, trumpet; Renee Rosnes, piano; Peter Washington, bass.

That song took me back. At first I wasn't sure it was Lewis Nash, with the fingers on the drums (though I've seen him do that), but I knew it was him when he picked up the sticks. He's steeped in the bebop tradition, and plays it in a way that sounds modern and has an excitement factor. It's the ferocity he puts on the tempo, undeniable, like a train. The track is a drum feature, done live, and it's so well-executed ... just great drumming. He's a master at what he does. 4l/2 stars.

Myra Melford

"First Protest" (Snowy Egret, Enja-Yellowbird, 2015) Melford, piano; Tyshawn Sorey, drums; Ron Miles, trumpet; Liberty Ellman, guitar; Stomu Takeishi, bass guitar.

The drummer likes Jack Dejohnette. The sound of the snare makes me think of Brian Blade, though it's a little more on top, and the ride cymbal is brighter. I gravitate to this kind of drumming. It doesn't feel lick-oriented. It feels organic, open, like you're playing off what you're hearing, as opposed to things in your repertoire. When the piece started, the piano soloing with the drums, I thought it would stay in the vein of contemporary classical musicians who also improvise, but then it entered an area where I heard M-Base inflections—someone who has gone through that camp or been influenced by it. I like the loosey-goosey effect in this player's groove as opposed to some others from that school. 4 stars.

Brad Mehldau/MarkGiuliana

"Luxe" (Mehliana, Nonesuch, 2014) Mehldau, synthesizers, keyboards; Giuliana, drums, electronics.

I'd never heard Brad play electronic instruments; I'd never know it was him if I didn't know the record. I like it. Some elements remind me of Weather Report, a little Joe Zawinul creeping in. Mark is a strong, well-rounded drummer. I like the minimalism of the groove: I only heard the toms a few times in the piece, and he really held my interest with just the kick-snare and a hi-hat in the pattern, [keeping] a relentless feeling to the groove while improvising inside of it. His choices never took away from what's making me dance to the track. I like the '70s lope that pops into the beat. 4 stars.                                                        

Monday, January 25, 2016

Bill Evans - Intellect, Emotion, Communication - By Don Nelsen


© -  Steven A. Cerra - copyright protected; all rights reserved.


At the time of its publication in the December 8, 1960 edition of Down Beat, Don Nelsen was a 34-year-old feature writer for the New York News, for which newspaper he also wrote well informed jazz reviews. In 1959, he received his M.A., specializing in medieval literature and was at work on his Ph.D. He "studied trumpet privately for two years, and I still practice safely out of earshot of professional musicians." This article on Bill Evans was his first for Down Beat.

It reflects a tranquil Bill Evans, one who had not as yet been besieged by The Time of Troubles which was to be the recurring theme in his life from 1960 until his death in 1980.

The photographs that accompany the essay show a big, broad-shouldered Bill; a man who appears to be healthy and happy with his lot in life.

Bill had recently left the Miles Davis Sextet and formed his trio with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

About seven months later, in July, 1961, Scott LaFaro was killed in an automobile accident.

By December, 1961, one year after this piece was published, Bill would be a shell of his former self. Ravaged by an addiction to heroin and an inconsolable depression brought on by Scotty’s death.

As Mr. Nelsen notes in his opening sentence, Bill may not have had a “miserable childhood,” but Life certainly brought him some heavy burdens to bear after that such that he was dead at the age of 51.


December 8, 1960
Downbeat
By DON NELSEN

“It may distress believers in the jazzman legend, but the truth is that Bill Evans has become one of the most creative modern jazz musicians without benefit of a miserable childhood. With candor, he said:

"I was very happy and secure until I went into the army. Then I started to feel there was something I should know that I didn't know."

If the 31-year-old pianist upsets a few cherished illusions about the origins of jazz musicians, he demolishes another held by many jazzman themselves and fondly nurtured by the hippy fringe: that a jazzman must be interested only in jazz.

Evans is no such intellectual provincial. For one thing, he does not believe that jazz—or even music as a whole— necessarily holds the key to the "something" he began searching for in the army. His basic attitude is that music is not the end most jazzmen make it. It is only a means.

A glance into Evans' library provides an indication of what his mind is up to. The diversity of titles shows how many avenues he has explored to reach his "something"— Freud, Whitehead, Voltaire, Margaret Meade, Santayana, and Mohammed are here, and, of course, Zen. With Zen, is Evans guilty of intellectual fadism, since everyone knows that Kerouac, Ginsberg & Co. holds the American franchise on Oriental philosophy? Evans waved a hand in resignation and said:

"I was interested in Zen long before the big boom. I found out about it just after I got out of the army in 1954. A friend of mine had met Aldous Huxley while crossing from England, and Huxley told him that Zen was worth investigating. I'd been looking into philosophy generally so I decided to see what Zen had to say. But literature on it was almost impossible to find. Finally, I was able to locate some material at the Philosophical library in Manhattan. Now you can get the stuff in any drugstore.

"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's not. It's feeling."

Such a manifesto may pain the academicians of jazz, but Evans is no pedant with a B-plus critical faculty. He is an intellectual in the true spirit of the word: an intelligent inquirer. His flights into philosophy and letters spring not from the joy of scholarly exercise but from the fierce need to comprehend himself. It is this need, whipped by surging inner tensions, that has driven him to Plato, Freud, Thomas Merton, and Sartre. It is responsible for his artistry on the one hand and his erudition on the other. The former has enabled him to catheterize his emotions; the latter has given him the opportunity to understand them. Hence his great emphasis on feeling as the basis of art.

Undoubtedly, the four years he lived in New Orleans and attending Southeastern Louisiana college had much to do with shaping this emphasis. It certainly exerted a powerful influence on his personality and playing. He himself admits it was the happiest period of his life.

"It was the happiest," he said, "because I had just turned 17, and it was the first time I was on my own. It's an age when everything makes a big impression, and Louisiana impressed me big. Maybe it's the way people live. The tempo and pace is slow, 1 always felt very relaxed and peaceful. Nobody ever pushed you to do this or say that.

"Perhaps it's due to a little looser feeling about life down there. Things just lope along, and there's a certain inexplicable indifference about the way people face their existence. I remember one time I was working in a little town right near the Mississippi border. Actually, it wasn't a town. It was a roadhouse with a few tourist cabins out back and another roadhouse about a half-mile up the highway. There didn't seem to be much law there. Gambling was open and thriving. I worked at the first place for months, and I never saw any police. Well, the night after I had left to take a job in the saloon up the road, a man walked in and pointed a .45 at another fellow. As I heard it from a friend, all he said was, 'Buddy, I hear you're foolin' aroun' with my wife,' and Bang! That was all. The second guy fell dead. As far as I know, nobody ever gave it another thought, and nothing was ever done.

"Still, there was a kind of freedom there, different from anything in the north. The intercourse between Negro and white was friendly, even intimate. There was no hypocrisy, and that's important to me. I told this to Miles (Davis) when I was working with him and asked him if he understood what I meant. He said he did. I don't mean that the official attitude is sympathetic or anything like that. Some very horrible things go on down there. But there are some good things, too, and the feel of the country is one of them."

Bill absorbed this feel not only by living there but also by gigging around New Orleans and the rural areas almost nightly. One job took him and his fellow Casuals (the name of the band suited these collegiate artistes to a man) far into the country. After turning off the main highway, they headed up a road, which appeared to have been paved with the contents of vacuum cleaner bags. Small tornadoes of choking grit swirled around them as they pushed along. Each time another car passed, the windows were closed tight to fend off suffocation. They were beginning to taste the Grapes of Wrath in their dust-parched throats when they sighted their target after about an hour.

"It was a church in the middle of a field," Evans recalled. "A boxlike structure about 40 x 20 with nondescript paint on the outside and none on the inside. It was more like a rough clubhouse than a church. I think they built it themselves."

"Themselves" were the 70-odd folk who had hired the Casuals to play for their outdoor do. "You wondered where the hell they came from because you couldn't see any houses around," Evans said.


The bandstand where they were to play was one of those little round summer pavilions you see in films like Meet Me in St. Louis when the town band plays concerts in the park. This one was fenced around with chicken wire.

"It was a dance job," the pianist said. "We played three or four tunes for them, and then blew one for ourselves. They didn't seem to mind. Everyone had a ball. The women cooked the food — it was jambalaya — and served it from big boards. Everything was free and relaxed. Experiences like these have got to affect your music."

Apparently they have affected Bill's, and all to the good, because his playing has caused much nodding of heads among musicians, critics, and fans for the last couple of years. Yet he scoffs at people who claim to hear two or three specific influences in a musician's playing.

"A guy is influenced by hundreds of people and things," he said, "and all show up in his work. To fasten on any one or two is ridiculous. I will say one thing, though. Lennie Tristano's early records impressed me tremendously. Tunes like Tautology, Marshmallow, and Fishin' Around. I heard the fellows in his group building their lines with a design and general structure that was different from anything I'd ever heard in jazz. I think I was impressed by Lee (Konitz) and Warne (Marsh) more than by Lennie, although he was probably the germinal influence. I guess it was the way Lee and Warne put things together that impressed me."

It was the way Evans put things together that brought him to the attention of his fellow craftsmen. In New York less than five years, he has worked with such as Charles Mingus and Miles Davis, who pick their bandstand associates with care and discrimination. Obviously,

Evans has the touch. But he is still not satisfied with his playing and, because he is an artist, it is doubtful that he ever will be.

"I once heard this trumpet player in New Orleans who used to put down his horn and comp at the piano," he said. "When he did, he got that deep, moving feeling I've always wanted, and it dragged me because I couldn't reach it. I think I've progressed toward it, but I'm always looking to reflect something that's deeper than what I've been doing."

What he is seeking to reflect came out in a conversation about William Blake, the 18th century poet, painter, and mystic. Evans had found that Blake's poetry was a sort of intellectual orgasm. Bill, in describing Blake's art, defined what he was looking for in his own:

"He's almost like a folk poet, but he reaches heights of art because of his simplicity. The simple things, the essences, are the great things, but our way of expressing them can be incredibly complex. It's the same thing with technique in music. You try to express a simple emotion — love, excitement, sadness — and often your technique gets in the way. It becomes an end in itself when it should really be only the funnel through which your feelings and ideas are communicated. The great artist gets right to the heart of the matter. His technique is so natural it's invisible or unbearable. I've always had good facility, and that worries me. I hope it doesn't get in the way."

Even a cursory hearing will indicate that the Evans struggle for simple beauty is not without its triumphs. When he plays, it is like Hemingway telling a story.
Extraneous phrases are rare. The tale is told with the strictest economy, and when it is over, you are tempted to say, "Of course. It's so simple. Why didn't I think of that?" He is, in essence, a synecdochist, an artist who implies as much as he plays. And moving all his music, coloring every note, is that deep, rhythmic, almost religious feeling that is the seminal force of jazz.

It was perhaps these qualities that recommended Evans to Miles Davis after the trumpeter lost the services of Red Garland. The move was somewhat of a departure for Miles. Indeed, there were rumbles in some quarters that the color of Bill's skin automatically depreciated his value to the group. But Davis knew what he was doing. The association was a successful one for both.


Bill worked with Miles for about eight months and quit. Just why has mystified a good many persons in the jazz arena. He was playing with one of the most respected musicians in jazz and getting a $200 a week salary. The job meant not only inestimable prestige but a rare opportunity to improve artistically. Bill's explanation of the parting is, like his music, a simple statement of how he felt:

"At the time I thought I was inadequate. I wanted to play more so that I could see where I was going. I felt exhausted in every way — physically, mentally, and spiritually. I don't know why. Maybe it was the road. But I think the time I worked with Miles was probably the most beneficial I've spent in years, not only musically but personally. It did me a lot of good."

Upon leaving the Davis group, he flew to Ormond Beach, Fla., to see his parents. "And think," he said. He stayed there three weeks, mostly relaxing and playing golf, which he had learned as a boy in Plainfield, N. J., where he was born and schooled.

His father, now retired, owned a driving range, and Bill and his brother, Harry, were frequent customers and ball shaggers. According to Bill, Harry was good enough to be a pro — he played in the 70s — but music pulled him as strongly as it did his brother. Harry still lives in Baton Rouge, not too far from where he and Bill went to college together, teaching music in public school and playing three or four gigs a week.

Florida retreat was a productive one. By the time Bill was ready to return to New York in November of 1958, he had cleared some of the fog from his brain and shot a 41 on his last nine holes. Both accomplishments brought him a certain measure of satisfaction, and he came back to grapple with his music problems.

His method of doing this is a familiar one to artists whether they are musicians, writers, painters, or mathematicians. He concentrates on his stone wall intensely and when he breaks through, he explores the new terrain beyond for about six months. Then he gets bored and, as new problems are born, he abandons it to go through the same process.

"I wish it were easier," he said.

For the man who wishes to create, however, there can be no other way. He may hate the time he spends at it and fear that he may not be able to succeed; he may give up in disgust a hundred times, but he goes through with it anyway, because, in the summing up, nothing slakes the artistic thirst except the satisfaction of its own work well done. Yet Evans has some reservations concerning the sustained intensity with which an art should be pursued.

"Sometimes it can happen that you see everything in terms of music," he said. "It's like a fixation. You can't help it. I get that way every time I'm trying to work something out. But it's bad if you can't pull out of it. Nothing should be that dominating. If it is, it is perverted."

Because he respects his craft so deeply, he abhors those who would degrade it through a distorted loyalty. He looks with fascinated horror upon the hippies who try to live something they aren't.

"They live their full lives on the fringe of jazz and yet miss its essence entirely," he said. "They take the neuroses that are integral in every art and blow them up to where they're the whole thing. Do you remember the Platonic dialog in which Socrates argues the definition of wisdom with Hippocrates? As far as I'm concerned, Hippocrates was the first hippy, a guy who was smug because he thought he knew something. Socrates was wise because he realized how little he knew."

Bill's way of life is consonant with his anti-hipster philosophy. Jazz jargon constitutes a small factor in his lexicon. "Dig" and "man" he uses frequently, but overindulgence in hip talk, to him, is an "excuse for thinking." His clothes are just about what's in fashion, he shaves every morning, and his Manhattan apartment is a three-room piece of ordinary.

A bed, a few chairs, and a kitchen table is the furniture complement, all of it thoroughly bourgeois. A piano takes up half the living room. There is a hi-fi set and a television set, the latter of which he sits before almost every afternoon to apprise himself of the sports scene. He has some 50 books in two bookcases, but only two paintings decorate his walls. One, by Gwyneth Motian, wife of his drummer, Paul Motian, is a small but extremely effective abstraction. The other, by himself, is an attempt at design. It's terrible, but this has not stopped him. He continues to paint with this as his credo: "I can be as good as Klee at least."

His view of his piano playing is more in accord with reality. He is no longer the confused youngster whose feelings about music were badly shaken by the military psychology of the army.

"I took everything personally, because I thought I was wrong," he said. "I was attacked by some guys for what I believed and by musicians who claimed I should play like this pianist or that. Pretty soon I lost the confidence I had as a kid. I began to think that everything I did was wrong. Now I'm back to where I was before I went in the army. I don't give much of a damn now what anybody thinks. I'll do what I think should be done."

He is doing it with his own trio, featuring Motian and bassist Scott LeFaro. So far, he is fairly happy with the results and said, "If there is any dissatisfaction with the group, it's only with myself."

The question of whether a group of musicians who play together continually tend to become stale and/or rigid in their attitudes is one of individual capacity, Bill said.

"As a leader, it's my role to give direction to the group," he said, "and Paul and Scott have indicated that they are more comfortable in the trio than anywhere else.

Does a group get stale? It all depends on whether there is continuing stimulation, whether all the musicians concerned want to share each other's progress. As for myself, I want to grow, but I don't want to force it. I want to play as good as I can, not necessarily as different. I am not interested in consciously changing the essence of my music. I would rather have it reveal itself progressively as I play. Ultimately, what counts is its essential quality, anyway, and differences vanish in a short time.

"What is most important is not the style itself but how you are developing that style and how well you can play within it. You can definitely be more creative exploring specific things within a style. Sometimes Paul, Scott, and I play the same tune over and over again. Occasionally, everything falls in right, and we think it's sensational. Of course, it may not mean much to a listener at the time, but, then, most people in clubs don't listen closely anyway."

Up until now, the trio has been a unit for many months and acceptance is, in general, high. The fellows are not playing as many gigs as they might wish, but they are not starving. Evans himself puts no restrictions on the type of club they'll work.

"We'll play anywhere that people will listen," he said.

That should be just about everywhere."