A friend of mine sent out this marvelous e-mail. I have to share it.
Fifty years ago today a miracle occurred. One of the best jazz albums of all times was recorded, Sunday at The Village Vanguard, featuring Bill Evans on piano, Paul Motian on drums (still playing the NY scene), and Scotty LaFaro on bass (killed in a car crash less than two weeks after this recording). This is a desert-island disc and features some of the most telepathic communication between players ever heard in any form of music.
Even people who know nothing about jazz are familiar with Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue, which I think of as a Friday night album – the day’s work is done, the room is dark, you’ve got a glass of your favorite wine or scotch, you are quietly sitting with someone you love, and the music communicates for you. Go back and look – you’ll find that Bill Evans wrote the liner notes for that masterpiece, played piano on all except “Freddie Freeloader,” and co-wrote “Blue in Green” and “Flamenco Sketches.”
Sunday at the Village Vanguard is different – it should be subtitled Sunday Morning on Your Front Porch Reading the Paper and Drinking Coffee, or maybe Sunday Morning in Front of a Fireplace Watching the Snow Fall Outside. If anything, it is even more contemplative than the Miles’. It is so still that it demands you stop everything and listen.
Orrin Keepnews recorded and produced the album. Born in 1923, he is still alive and talks about some of his classic recordings on various YouTube sessions, including this one (see video above) on the Vanguard recording, tempting fate by waiting until the last day of a multi-week gig to set up his recording equipment. He was blessed with a miracle. Years later, he was rewarded with a Bill Evans composition, “Re: Person I Knew,” an anagram of his name.
Evans was a self-destructive romantic whom it took me a few years to appreciate. I foolishly thought of him initially as a lounge-type player. One day in the mid-1970 it “clicked” and I finally realized how much skill, knowledge, passion, and soul it took to play like Bill Evans. But Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John Taylor, Steve Kuhn, Don Friedman, Marian McPartland, Denny Zeitlin, Bobo Stenson, Warren Bernhardt, Michel Petrucciani, Keith Jarrett, Fred Hersch, Bill Charlap, Lyle Mays, Eliane Elias, and Brad Mehldau all knew that he was the real thing, and Evans’ influence is apparent when you listen to any of them play. All the alcohol, heroin, and cocaine finally wore him out when he was 51, and he died of a perforated ulcer and pneumonia. His good friend Gene Lees, who wrote the perfect lyrics to Evans’ “Waltz for Debby,” called it “…the longest suicide in history.” (One of Evans’ favorite tunes in his last years was the Theme from M*A*S*H, “Suicide Is Painless.”) Further proof of his influence: his Wikipedia page lists at least 20 tribute albums released since his death. Evans is buried next to his brother Harry in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Paul Motian (pronounced “motion”) was born here in Philly and turned 80 a few months ago. While an eclectic percussionist (he backed Arlo Guthrie at Woodstock), he is best known as the jazz drummer’s drummer. I last saw him in a trio with Bill Frisell and Ron Carter last year at The Blue Note in New York. He looks 20 years younger than his age, is completely bald, and is still one of the most tasteful drummers I have ever heard.
Rocco Scott LaFaro, AKA ‘Scotty,’ was born in Newark in 1936. He had already played with Stan Kenton, Cal Tjader, Chet Baker and other West Coast stalwarts when he joined Evans in 1959. (He also briefly replaced Charlie Haden in Ornette Coleman’s emerging group). By the time of these recordings, LaFaro and Evans were communicating on a level that had never before been heard – the term “telepathic” appears time and again in review of the trio. Several days after completing this gig at The Vanguard, he played behind Stan Getz on July 2nd at The Newport Jazz Festival. Two days later, driving on US 20 between Geneva and Canandaigua in New York, he lost control of his car, which struck a tree and burst into flames. He and passenger Frank P. Ottley were killed. Scotty is buried next to his father in Geneva. At the time of his death, he was living with a Broadway show dancer named Gloria Gabriel, who served as inspiration for his tune “Gloria’s Step.”
Every few years, a recording is made which somehow becomes greater than the sum of its parts. Miles Davis did it with Kind of Blue, John Coltrane did it with Blue Train, Live at The Village Vanguard (also recorded in 1961), and A Love Supreme, Sarah Vaughan did it with Live in Japan, and Bill Evans most definitely did it in this recording. Celebrate the miracle.