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"...an afternoon after which nothing was ever the same."
January 23, 2006 11:59 AM   Subscribe

On Sunday, June 25, 1961, New York's famous Village Vanguard witnessed one of the greatest live jazz performances ever recorded: the afternoon and evening sets by the Bill Evans Trio (review). Evans was one of the great jazz pianists and Paul Motian has been playing superb drums for half a century now, but it was bassist Scott LaFaro who made the group something new; where other bassists kept time, he played the bass "as though he were playing a large guitar," and inspired a kind of "simultaneous composition" that left everyone who heard it awed when he joined up with Evans (after working with Stan Getz, Coltrane, and Ornette Coleman).
On June of 1961 the Evans trio had a memorable week at New York’s Village Vanguard; the final day of the engagement, June 25th, was taped in its entirety. On July 3, he played Newport with Stan Getz; it would be the final performance of Scott LaFaro. On July 5 he visited his mother in Geneva [NY], and stayed until it was very late. He was invited to spend the night, but said no; he had to get back to New York. In the early hours of July 6, Frank Ottley and Scott LaFaro died when Scott’s car left the road, hit a tree, and caught fire. Bill Evans was so distraught he did not perform publicly for nearly a year...
[More inside.]
posted by languagehat (56 comments total)

 
Evans was already a heroin addict; eventually he added cocaine to the mix and died, worn out at 51, in 1980. Motian (whose Armenian name is pronounced MO-tee-un, but he long ago gave up and accepted the fact that everyone said "motion") is still with us, and the NY Times had a great interview with him Friday in which he discusses drum recordings, his art ("You know, the drummers in those days—I don't think they bashed the cymbals like they do now. It's delicate. It's a cymbal, man. It's not a jackhammer"), and the mysteries of life:
One day during a recording session a few years ago, Hank Jones, the wise old pianist, took him aside. "I know your secret," he whispered. Mr. Motian told this story with a baffled shrug. "I wish I knew what he meant," he said. "Wow!"
posted by languagehat at 11:59 AM on January 23, 2006


I'll have to dig this one out and give it a spin. (Un)fortunately I can across a rather complete discography of Bill Evans and was overwhelmed by where to start, so I've just had one massive shuffle going the past six months. This should set me straight. Thanks!
posted by furtive at 12:13 PM on January 23, 2006


Wow, great post. Thanks.
posted by doctor_negative at 12:13 PM on January 23, 2006


"I know your secret," he whispered. Mr. Motian told this story with a baffled shrug. "I wish I knew what he meant," he said. "Wow!"

Man, I feel that way all the time! I was just listening to a Bill Evans recording of Suicide is Painless this morning.
posted by OmieWise at 12:14 PM on January 23, 2006


The Vanguard version of My Foolish Heart is the most beautiful piece of music ever recorded IMHO.
posted by liam at 12:44 PM on January 23, 2006


My favorite Vanguard recording is John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard. Talk about a transcendent experience. This was also in 61. Looks like some fantastic stuff was going on that year.
posted by spicynuts at 12:48 PM on January 23, 2006


I wonder what ever happened to that whole jazz thing.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 12:49 PM on January 23, 2006


"Outside of her fan base, Iceland native Bjork is probably best known as the woman who performed at the Oscars wearing a swan for a dress. However, an important and growing part of her constituency is in the jazz world, where the pop singer is increasingly recognised as the leading composer of new material; some feel that her songs may become the new standards."
posted by The Jesse Helms at 1:00 PM on January 23, 2006


TJH, sorry if I'm being dense, but what's your point? Are you lamenting the fact that Jazz has stooped so low as to include the music of such pretenders as Bjork, Lennon/McCartney, Radiohead, etc.? Or are you celebrating the strength of Jazz for carrying on the tradition of adapting pop songs into it's own idiom, whether those pop songs come from Gershwin, Rodgers, Hart, Porter, etc., or someone more modern?



Or is it something else altogether that I'm just missing? Sorry, I'm a little slow.
posted by fingers_of_fire at 1:06 PM on January 23, 2006


There was a time when I would have said that Hip Hop was the new Be Bop, but I wouldn't say that anymore.
posted by spicynuts at 1:19 PM on January 23, 2006


Amazon Wish List: Updated.
Thank you.
posted by joecacti at 1:27 PM on January 23, 2006


What a fabulous post, thank you languagehat!
posted by madamjujujive at 1:30 PM on January 23, 2006


I love Waltz For Debby and the companion Sunday at the Village Vanguard recording. Picked 'em up after first hearing Kind Of Blue, which is a great primer recording that trickles downward and out brilliantly. The book by Ashley Kahn about its recording is pretty close to essential for all jazz listeners.
posted by beaucoupkevin at 1:43 PM on January 23, 2006


Awesome, excellent post. I was a jazz club a couple of weekends back. As the performer was playing, I thought of the Oscar Wilde line "Please do not shoot the pianist. He is doing his best." I had to give that to him; he was trying. Thinking of that, I would have paid dearly to see either of these sets. And Evans, he should have a sign. "Please do not shoot the jazz pianist. He is the best."
posted by dios at 1:59 PM on January 23, 2006


Thanks, languagehat. Another fabulous live jazz set - Duke Ellington at the Newport Jazz festival in 1956 - you can hear the crowd going bananas behind Paul Gonsalves' sax solos in 'Diminuendo and Crescendo in Blue.'
posted by carter at 2:00 PM on January 23, 2006


There's plenty of music I can connect with, but Jazz moves me in ways that nothing else does.
posted by raedyn at 2:04 PM on January 23, 2006


Lovely post, languagehat.

This recording profoundly changed my life. I was turned on to Evans by hearing the exquisite guitarist Ralph Towner's versions of Evans' sublime compositions "Time Remembered" and "Re: Person I Knew" on Towner's own recordings. I was lucky enough to see the Evans trio with Eddie Gomez on bass (not nearly as great as the LaFaro trio, alas, but still) at the Vanguard when I was in college, but after buying the Vanguard sessions, I became obsessed with Evans' work, and listened to little else for nearly a year, following the arc of his career.

This led to me getting deeply into Evans' playing on Miles Davis' Kind of Blue, and as any jazz fan knows, Kind of Blue is one of those gateless gates that leads to Everywhere in jazz if you trace the paths of the people who played on it. (I even ended up getting a sub-obsession on the tune "Nardis," which Evans wrote with Miles and ended up playing hundreds of times throughout his career. I now have over 35 versions of "Nardis" by Evans and others.) Still, after all those hundreds of hours of listening, the Village Vanguard sessions are the pinnacle of Evans' career. The fact that LaFaro was killed in that accident is one of the very greatest tragedies in jazz, a genre full of tragedy and transcendence.
posted by digaman at 2:07 PM on January 23, 2006


I wonder what ever happened to that whole jazz thing.

Nonsense. Last night, I saw the Bill Frisell Quintet play in Berkeley, and it was one of the freshest, most swinging, most passionate, most forward-looking, and most deeply satisfying performances by any group that I've ever seen. And my companion was a bright 21-year-old whose iPod contains everything from brilliant obscurities like George Russell (a huge influence on Evans and Miles) and Lenny Tristano to the usual indispensable library of Monk, Mingus, 'Trane. People who fulminate about the "death of jazz" -- which has been predicted since the birth of bebop -- are usually lazy provincials who can't be bothered to get off their asses and support the musicians who are moving this music forward.
posted by digaman at 2:19 PM on January 23, 2006


People who fulminate about the "death of jazz" -- which has been predicted since the birth of bebop -- are usually lazy provincials who can't be bothered to get off their asses and support the musicians who are moving this music forward.
posted by digaman at 2:19 PM PST on January 23 [!]


Either that or I was too busy to hang out and try to listen to Naked City over the gurgling of bong hits.
posted by The Jesse Helms at 2:26 PM on January 23, 2006


Great music. If you are into that kind of thing, both "Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard" and "Waltz for Debbie" are available on SACD or 180g vinyl. They were recorded as beautifully as they were performed and benefit greatly from these high resolution sources.
posted by caddis at 2:31 PM on January 23, 2006


Last night, I saw the Bill Frisell Quintet play in Berkeley,

Lucky bastard :)
posted by doctor_negative at 2:35 PM on January 23, 2006


Thank you for making clear how much credibility you have, TJH -- I'll parse that factor in when reading your future posts. Oh and by the way, I never liked Naked City much myself. But anyway, back to the beauty at hand.
posted by digaman at 2:42 PM on January 23, 2006


Timely post. I listened to Bill Evans a lot when I first got into Jazz in the early nineties but, had kind of neglected him for more 'exciting' 'outside' stuff in recent years. Just a couple weeks ago, I put on 'Waltz for Debby' for the first time in years.

Wow.

I had to stop what I was doing and just sit and listen like a good boy. It's so easy to move beyond the more straight ahead jazz and go all Zorn all the time (or Ornette Coleman or your favourite wacky poison) but, there's a reason stuff like Waltz for Debbie or Kinda Blue becomes such iconic standards. It's absolutely transcendent stuff.

Perhaps it's time to pull out some of my crunchy old Bix Beiderbeck 78's and revisit that genre too.
posted by Loctor at 2:50 PM on January 23, 2006


Other top-level Evans recordings for the curious: Portrait in Jazz, Explorations, Moonbeams, How My Heart Sings!, Loose Blues, Undercurrent, Everybody Digs Bill Evans,and Miles 1958. The rest are merely sublime [grin].
posted by digaman at 2:52 PM on January 23, 2006


Last night, I saw the Bill Frisell Quintet play in Berkeley...

I agree with you digaman, there are many great jazz groups around to enjoy and support, although in last night's program in Berkeley I much preferred the Brad Mehldam trio over the Frisell quintet. The group I respond to most in the Bay area is the Mitch Marcus Quintet, with special affinity to their bass player George Ban-Weiss.
posted by semmi at 2:55 PM on January 23, 2006


Digiman, I just dropped Portrait in Jazz into my computer as your comment came up. Sweet.
posted by Ohdemah at 2:59 PM on January 23, 2006


DigAman. Fuck. Sorry.
posted by Ohdemah at 3:00 PM on January 23, 2006


Heh, semmi, I frankly thought Mehldau was a bore last night, though I have loved some of his stuff. But to each his own.

Yeah, I have seen Mitch Marcus a bunch, nice stuff. Sweet guy, too.
posted by digaman at 3:02 PM on January 23, 2006


And lower case "d" I suppose. It's a big night up here in Canada.
posted by Ohdemah at 3:03 PM on January 23, 2006


heh, it's OK.
posted by digaman at 3:11 PM on January 23, 2006


Wow, I expected this post to get <1 0 comments; i'm tickled there are so many fans of this music. i just want to say that as much as i love the new stuff and widening my horizons, i never ever get tired of em>Waltz For Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard—every time I put them on I'm mesmerized. (I love the Coltrane set too, spicynuts, and have played it many times, but there's just some magic to that Evans session...)

And yeah, 1961 was quite the year.
posted by languagehat at 3:16 PM on January 23, 2006


I have no idea what that space is doing in the middle of 10.
posted by languagehat at 3:17 PM on January 23, 2006


Rahsaan Roland Kirk. Now that was a cat.
posted by spicynuts at 3:27 PM on January 23, 2006


Time to dig out some Evans recordings. Thanks, languagehat.
posted by .kobayashi. at 3:39 PM on January 23, 2006


Word. Nice work, LH.
posted by V4V at 3:45 PM on January 23, 2006


LaFaro's yearbook photo
posted by digaman at 3:54 PM on January 23, 2006


I'll just add that if you like Paul Motian, Joe Lovano, and Bill Frisell, then their latest album I Have the Room Above Her is worth checking out as well..

Thanks for this post, LH. Waltz For Debby was the first album that got me into jazz..
posted by provolot at 3:55 PM on January 23, 2006


I love that story about Paul Motian's "secret," languagehat.

Later in his life, Evans made a cryptic entry in his journal: "I've found something wonderfully basic... right in the middle of modern harmony." I've always wondered what he meant, though, not being a musician, I probably wouldn't be able to understand it.
posted by digaman at 4:06 PM on January 23, 2006


Great post, languagehat. I had been slivating over the complete Vanguard box set ever since it was issued in Japan a couple of years back. My birthday came early in '05 when the box was released domestically. Nice to upgrade my vinyl with the complete recordings.
posted by joseph_elmhurst at 4:23 PM on January 23, 2006


Hrm. All iTunes has are the three 1991 releases on Riverside ....
posted by grabbingsand at 5:40 PM on January 23, 2006


I came to Bill Evans back in college via a John Abercrombie/Marc Johnson/Peter Erskine live recording with covers of some Evans standards (Alice in Wonderland, Beautiful Love, Stella by Starlight). It's a totally different style, but I recognized something I liked and I picked up my first Evans CD, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, as a result. I guess I got lucky. Thanks for the amazing post, languagehat!
posted by Songdog at 5:45 PM on January 23, 2006


Oooh... John Abercrombie. I have like 40 of his recordings. A brilliant, very underrated genius.
posted by digaman at 5:47 PM on January 23, 2006


August Kleinzahler poem about LaFaro.
posted by bardic at 5:58 PM on January 23, 2006


(all the way at the bottom)
posted by bardic at 5:59 PM on January 23, 2006


A friend of mine who is a musician was sitting with me listening to Waltz for Debby (I think -- it was one of the Vanguard recordings) and remarked that one of the things he sort of loved/hated about those records was that in the quiet places you could hear fragments of people at the tables talking about completely mundane and trivial things -- clearly paying only half-attention to the musical history being made onstage. It made me wonder about the times I've dully sat through something genius that just went right over my head, leaning over now and again to whisper something of great import in a friend's ear while ten feet away on a stage, somebody is reinventing harmony.
posted by BT at 7:02 PM on January 23, 2006


LH- u rule.

The Village Vanguard album is truly amazing. Listening to LaFaro's playing is almost heartbreaking, knowing that it took place so close to his death. Had he survived, he probably would have been bigger than most of the bass legends we know today, like Mingus, Haden, Ron Carter, etc. He was into some new shit, that's for sure.

The player that I think has best carried on the Evans tradition (while doing his own unique thing) is Keith Jarrett. Both his solo stuff and his trio work with Gary Peacock and Jack Dejohnette is great. They've got the harmonic complexity of the Evans trio, with a bit looser style. They sometimes get a bit more out, but they can be just as delicate and beautiful.
posted by papakwanz at 7:22 PM on January 23, 2006


The saddest thing about that timeline LH is that it ends in 1997, despite the y2k tease. There is really good stuff being composed and played today, especially in NYC. For instance, check out William Parker, Matthew Shipp or David Ware.
posted by caddis at 7:56 PM on January 23, 2006


Seems your post struck a chord here! the album I love is, conversations with myself.
posted by hortense at 7:56 PM on January 23, 2006


bardic, thank you for that link to Augie's fine poem -- the fact that I live just down the block from him, and see that hill & antenna he describes in the poem every day, plus he's a good friend & one of the best poets in America and gets/z jazz like nobody's business -- anyway, your post was like a satellite suddenly flying over my house. thanks.

papakwanz, I agree. The Jarrett trio is nonpariel.
posted by digaman at 7:57 PM on January 23, 2006


Ok, I have an album called "Sunday at the Village Vanguard" but it doesn't have "Waltz for Debby" on it—Gloria's Step, My Man's Gone Now, Solar, Alice in Wonderland, All of You, and Jade Visions. Later set?
posted by kenko at 10:31 PM on January 23, 2006


There is really good stuff being composed and played today, especially in NYCChicago.
posted by kenko at 10:41 PM on January 23, 2006


Scott LaFaro died just after the gig and they mixed the "Sunday Night at the Village Vanguard" album to emphasize his playing. The "Waltz for Debbie" album contains more material recorded at the same time.

So who's hot in Chicago that I should be checking out?
posted by caddis at 4:44 AM on January 24, 2006


There is really good stuff being composed and played today, especially in NYC. For instance, check out William Parker, Matthew Shipp or David Ware.

Tell me about it.

So who's hot in Chicago that I should be checking out?

Start here.
posted by languagehat at 5:27 AM on January 24, 2006


well holy shit. im really impressed somebody mentioned the velvet lounge. i used to hit that spot when i lived in chicago about ten years ago, and it blows more mainstream spots like green dolphin away.

but it goes without saying. i really miss the bop shop.
posted by phaedon at 7:50 AM on January 24, 2006


[this is very good]
posted by LinusMines at 2:17 PM on January 24, 2006


Chicago.
posted by kenko at 8:38 PM on January 24, 2006


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