Tuesday, February 21, 2012
Sunday, September 11, 2011
Just a note to let those interested know that I'll be posting the answers to the first Bill Evans Tune Test here on the blog just after the anniversary date of Bill's death coming up in a few days. There have been some very good replies, some right on the money. I have talked about several of the answers right here on this blog or in my old paper publication, "Letter From Evans." If you don't know the date of Bill's death ask around. It's pretty common knowledge. Jazz singer Mark Murphy even wrote a song about it.
One area where the response has been weak is the listening part - determining the keys and modulation schemes of many of the standards Bill played. Why play standards in different keys, you ask, especially the "in-chorus" modulations where the the first half of a tune is in starts in one key, then the musicians change to a different key for the second half? The scheme is done each and every time, through all the blowing choruses, for everyone. I think I can give you a good reason why this was done by Bill and continues to be done by jazz musicians everywhere.
When I first worked with the great Ira Sullivan some 30 years ago he started playing "Green Dolphin Street" in C then when measure 17 came around he played the melody and chord changes in Eb. I mentally scratched my head for about 20 seconds (while I was playing) but then realized that I loved "Green Dolphin Street" played this way. It just so happens that "Green Dolphin Street" "tonicizes" with the melody and chords going to Eb on measures 13 and 14.
("Tonicize" is just a term in music theory meaning to make a temporary change of the tonic or key, then usually work back to the point where you were before you started the tonicization. The music of Chopin and Wagner, for example, tonicizes all over the place. If a piece tonicizes for more than just a few measures then it becomes a modulation. If this modulation becomes an important part of what notes the jazz musician plays in his/her improvised chorus or choruses then it becomes a modulation scheme)
Normally "Green Dolphin Street" would work itself back to the key of C for the restatement of the initial melody. Ira just stayed in Eb at that point and restated the melody in Eb. It sounded great and it was not readily recognizable to non-musicians in the audiences. They would realize the tune was still "Green Dolphin Street" but some might have scratched their heads and noticed something was different but couldn't exactly put their finger on it.
Not only does this particular in-chorus modulation scheme work harmonically but it makes the musicians work a little harder and pay more attention to the tune. The result is usually fresher, more spontaneous improvised jazz which is great for everyone. Standards are an important part of a jazz musician's fare but if played the same way, in the same key each time, they can get boring - bad for the musicians and the audience.
In deciding whether or not to do an in-chorus modulation scheme the criteria are always musical. Does the composition's harmonic scheme lend itself to it? Are the musicians capable of playing the tune in the chosen key area?
Back to the test questions. What Bill does with "Come Rain or Come Shine" is just a harmonic enhancement, no tonicization nor in-chorus modulation scheme. What Bill does with "Days of Wine and Roses" and "Like Someone In Love" are in-chorus modulation schemes. What Bill does with "Theme From M.A.S.H" is totally different. "M.A.S.H." is a three key, "full-chorus modulation scheme."
As you would expect from Bill Evans, all three are based on musically sound principles and can be done to similarly constructed standards. That is what makes them so unique and special.
So screw your ears on and listen, with your axe or a keyboard nearby and check out one of the things that make Bill Evans, Bill Evans. And to paraphrase Laurie Verchomin, always have fun.
Wednesday, September 7, 2011
Announcing The Bill Evans Tune Test(s).
1. Name the key that Bill always played "My Foolish Heart."
2. Name at least four Earl Zindars compositions that Bill performed and recorded.
3. It is widely acknowledged that Bill was the composer of the tune "Blue In Green," not Miles Davis. First, how many measures is one chorus? Second, what were the intended performance instructions Bill attempted to communicate to the members of the Miles Davis Band on the album "Kind Of Blue?" You'll probably need to listen to the "Kind of Blue" track a few times to put this into words. Also it's helpful to listen to Bill's solo and trio recordings of the tune on other albums.
(The standards in questions 4, 5 and 6 are of the type that the second 16 measure segment of the total 32 measure chorus starts out exactly like the first 16 measures. Their structure is that there is no "bridge" but instead two 16 measure halves.)
4. The standard “Come Rain or Come Shine” has been screwed-up by many a musician. Bill's playing of thetune has pretty much codified the way most play it now.
Part One: What key did Bill play "Come Rain or Come Shine?"
Part Two: Sketch out the changes that Bill plays on the tune (omit the turn-around). Please do this from listening, not looking in some real book.
5. What was the ("in-chorus") modulation scheme that the last trio used for the
Mancini tune, "Days of Wine and Roses?" Bill Played an "in-chorus" modulation - the first half (16 measures) in one key, the second half (16 measures) in another.
6. Bill occasionally played the tune "Like Someone In Love" in the later concerts.
What was the "in-chorus" modulation scheme used with that tune?
(“In-Chorus” refers to actually changing keys within the tune, then returning to the starting key sometime before, or at the start of the next chorus.)
7. Bill's last trio performed the "Theme From M.A.S.H." quite often. What was the
arrangement or (complete-chorus) modulation scheme that Bill used with that
tune? Name the starting key and the subsequent keys the trio played the tune,
before returning the first key. Were there added measures to the tune?
8. There are three main "types" or qualities of chords used in jazz. Bill's
composition "Time Remembered" never uses a particular type of chord. Name the type of chord that never appears in this tune.
9. When performing the tune "Autumn Leaves" with bassist Eddie Gomez, there is a point in the playing of the head that Bill and Eddie always play a little sixteenth
note lick together in unison or sometime in thirds. In what measure of the 32 measure chorus does this always occur? (number between 1 and 32)
10. What are the origins of the tune "Sugar Plum?" This tune does have lyrics!
What 60'-70s folk singer conceived the title and lyrics of the tune?
Well that does it. There are many areas of Bill's which we have not covered. I
would love to have readers submit their own Bill Evans Tests questions to me and I'll publish them here. There's a wealth of music to explore and it's great fun to find new ways to experience it.
Wednesday, July 27, 2011
I recently was turned-on to this very fine performance of two of Bill's tunes by Laurie Verchomin. The Toots Thielemans Quartet performed "Time Remembered" and "Very Early" at a concert probably in Germany in the 90's. The mood and stillness of the band relays the tunes to the audience in perfect respect for Bill.
Friday, April 22, 2011
Several months ago I asked readers if they knew of other tunes that Bill performed in "circular form," playing in one tempo then another, then either another or back to the same starting tempo. Each version is twice the tempo of the first, hence this was done with ballads. I indicate a chorus as an (x). "1x" is the original ballad tempo, in the following sample case make it 60 beats/per/minute. "2x" is twice as fast as the previous version, in this sample 120 beats/per/minute. "3x" is twice as fast as the previous version, or 240 beats/per/minute. And you come back to the first tempo the same way you left it, in steps, for example, 1x-2x-3x-2x-1x.
Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Before I actually read this book, I had heard various comments about it, some flattering, some not. As there seemed to be no one stepping up to the plate to do a review, I purchased the book from Laurie and volunteered to review it for Jan Stevens’ web site, “The Bill Evans Web Pages.” It was a complex challenge, increasing my understanding of Bill and Laurie’s relationship as well as revealing deeper visions of Bill’s everyday living, loving and creating. Reading and re-reading this book, like listening to Bill’s music, has been a life-changing experience for me as I expect it will be for you.
“The Big Love,” is a love story, but unlike most. The stark realities of Laurie’s coming-of-age before meeting Bill, and later, the dried up riverbeds of Bill’s addiction are detailed in a narrative that might be shocking to some readers. Laurie writes in a sort of prose that is still liquid and finding its form as the book progresses. You might consider some of it explicit, maybe PG-13, even though quite appropriate to the situation.
In addition to her relationship with Bill, Laurie goes into great detail about the ups and downs of her personal life. We experience vivid details of her transformation from a young girl growing up in Canada in a semi-dysfunctional family. She experiences some difficult situations and sexual encounters through a fast-paced transition to adulthood. Her relationship with Bill figures prominently.
Edmonton, Alberta, Canada
After an education that included music theory and a growing understanding of jazz, Laurie has her first encounter with Bill Evans while she is waitressing at a place called the Mayflower Restaurant on 97th Street in Edmonton. The Railtown Jazz Society had booked the trio to perform in this “church/disco/Chinese restaurant.” It proves to be a trial by fire for her as she has not seen an audience so entranced by the music that they ignore the waitress trying to serve them drinks. None are big spenders as most are students and professors from Grant McKuen Community College where she was once enrolled.
Either due to the fact that she is inexperienced as a waitress, or the cheapness of the audience, or a combination of both, she is $50 short at the end on the night and has to borrow from a friend to tally-up with the bartender.
After the concert she and Bill get together. Laurie communicates her experience with the bartender to Bill while they spend the evening together at her apartment with other friends. Bill gave her a short note and his phone number written down on the back of one of his manager’s business cards asking her to call him. Several days later she gets her first letter from him with $50 enclosed to repay the debt to the friend.
Bill seems to be immediately convinced that he wants to have a long term relationship with the twenty-two year old and invitations and travel arrangements are made for Laurie to join Bill on his tours and performances. This culminates in Laurie eventually joining Bill, not just in hotel rooms while on tour, but as a resident of his apartment in New Jersey for his gigs in the New York City Area and the down-time between performances. After a meeting with Bill’s manager Helen Keene, Laurie is given the title of road manager.
The saddest part of “The Big Love” is an event that I thought somehow escaped Bill and his addiction - paranoia. I know that paranoia can be a normal part of an addict’s thinking, but somehow I thought Bill Evans was immune, since he seemed to continually compose and perform on a level that transcended those medical symptoms. Alas, that was not the case and when you read this section, it smacks you in the face. Be prepared for it dear reader.
Laurie delivers much of Bill's personal life to the reader - vivid descriptions of their love and growing bonds to each other as well as the sinister ogre of Bill’s addiction and its consequences. Along the way, we are permitted a close-up look at Bill’s crafting of the song “Laurie,” from a basic sketch, through various permutations, blossoming to the final version. Simultaneously, we watch his illness progress to the missed nights at the trio’s last engagement at Fat Tuesday and, ultimately, to his death.
The book is fascinating and hard to put down partially due to Laurie’s prose. Here is an excerpt from Laurie’s description of Bill Evans holding court at the Village Vanguard.
“He assumes his position, face draped gently over his hands on the keys. He tilts his head to one side - listening - and I see his face, the sallow skin stretched over the broad forehead, eyebrows raised in astonished agony or ecstasy, his eyes closed behind dark glasses, mouth and jaw open.
This is the expression he has at home composing at the piano. This is the expression he shares with me when we make love. This is his most intimate expression - egoless, vulnerable - full of truth and beauty.
Smoke curls up from ashtrays, filling the darkened red and black room with an eerie blue haze. No one speaks, everyone is in accord. We are all in accord with the intangible feeling of inner beauty decompressing from the depths of our neglected souls - surfacing.
We are remembering who we really are. Remembering our place in the perfection of everything. The place beyond words and feelings.”
All in all, this a great addition to the small library of written words about Bill. I would place it second only to Peter Pettinger’s great work, “How My Heart Sings.” You'll also learn the name of Bill's main drug dealer in the last chapter of his life, an anagram of the tune, “Yet Ne'er. Broken,” a name that I've been trying to figure out for years.
Feb. 27, 2011
Buy about a one pound, thick fillet of Atlantic Cod or Halibut (never Tilapia) and cut it into two pieces. In a shallow bowl melt 1/3 of a stick of butter and add the juice of 3/4's of a fresh lemon. Add a pinch of Dill weed (or fresh Dill), a pinch of Sea Salt, a tiny pinch of white pepper and a pressed clove of garlic. On a plate, place an appropriate amount of seasoned, toasted breadcrumbs. Dip fillets in butter mixture, then breadcrumbs and place in baking dish that has been lightly coated with cooking spray or olive oil. Bake on top rack of 375 degree oven for 25 minutes. Serve with rice and fresh green salad. Use left over butter mixture as sauce if desired.