Chris, with the LaFaro/Motion trio, Bill Evans was pursuing a style of simultaneous improvisation in a trio setting that went beyond what other musicians had done up to that point. The June 1961 Village Vanguard recording captured a group that had achieved a certain empathy and ability to anticipate where the other musicians were heading in a manner that bordered on the supernatural/telepathic. If you listen to the simultaneously improvised lines in many of these recordings, you will hear a freedom of expression that goes well beyond the typical style of jazz that came before it where you typically have a lead soloist improvising while the other musicians lay back and play fairly predictable lines. Ensemble playing previously tended to be programmed and rehearsed.
This 1961 trio with LaFaro and Motion was IMO successful in achieving Evans's goal, and the trio had just reached its peak when the Village Vanguard performances were recorded. Tragically, the bass player, Scott LaFaro, died in an automobile accident only ten days after the June 1961 performance.
The death of LaFaro cast Bill Evans into a deep depression. Subsequently, his music took on a more dark, introspective quality, and, while his music continued to be great, he never achieved this level of empathy with any other trio until the very end of his life when I believe he came very close with the Marc Johnson (bass) and Joe LaBarbera (drums) trio. Perhaps not coincidentally, there was a second seminal set of recordings that were made at the Village Vanguard in June 1980, less than six months before Bill Evans passed away.
I was going to respond, but what can I say to improve on Cincy Bobs explaination. He really covers all of the bases, I think. I hope this will help you appreciate this music more when you hear it next.
BTW, if you are so inclined, pick up the recording titled Waltz for Debbie...it comes from these sessions. You might even look around and find an Audiophile version, it is widely appreciated.
I can't improve upon what has already been offered here, but I have to wonder if the audience knew what they had experienced after attending this gig, say, discussing the music on their drive home? Generally speaking, was this identified at that time as the classic it has become? I'd like to think it was. Thoughts?
This is an article from "The New Yorker"
about the gig.
Miles Davis' take on Evan's playing -- "like crystal notes or sparkling water".
I love both Village and Waltz. You can just feel the cohesiveness and natural flow of the music from these gifted musicians. Plus the music has a very intimate feel and the ambient sounds from the crowd almost makes it feel as if you're there. I have both of these on vinyl and they are essential weekend listening for me.
i purchased the 2 lps in a dept.store bargain bin as a teenager. on my tinny webcor phono i struggled with them never having heard anything like it before. i was too young to even recognize the popular melodies improvised on. eventually i became so devoted to them that in my naivety i thought they were typical jazz. nothing else in jazz really intrigued me at that age having a very limited exposure to it. well, of course my tastes in jazz would later blossom. but i still love the vanguard sessions above all. there is a nice 3 cd set with booklet available now and very affordable. indeed the ambient sounds from the audience and bar, the peel of a woman's laugh only add to the intimate magic of these recordings.
1. If the recording took place in a studio with a typical studio atmosphere (a bit sterile), would you still hold it in high regard?
2. Would you classify this recording as "great" because of it's highly "organized" character with implementation of notes in an "economic", almost Zenlike way, like Kind of Blue, Out to Lunch and A Love Supreme?
2) I don't understand where you are trying to take this thread, or perhaps I'm just missing the point of this thread.....
Are you talking about the quality of the recordings, or are you tralking about the music and trying to make some sort of comparison of Evans music/style and that of Miles Davis?
BTW, what does "Zenlike" mean to you? It makes me think that you just happen to enjoy Davis' style more than you appreciate Evans style and, more importantly, what he contributed to the evolution in jazz.
It's OK if you don't like Evans........I haven't pulled out Kind of Blue lately either.
Hi Newbee, I'm just trying to find out a reason why this is a great recording. Cincy bob has already given his explanation, which is to me a very insightful one. Many thanks!
No, it's not that I don't like Bill Evans. In fact I like his style of playing very much and I think the Village Vanguard recordings are wonderful. I'm comparing the Village Vanguard sessions with Kind of Blue because I can draw some parallels between these two. For example: Bill Evans Trio played as if there is only one "corpus" and one mind playing. The same holds true for the Miles Davis Quintet in Kind of Blue. Both ensembles played as much notes as needed, not more (this is what I call Zenlike). You can hear the same qualities in Eric Dolphy's Out to Lunch and John Coltrane's A Love Supreme.
Chris, if the only reason I liked the Sessions was the audio reproduction aspects, I'd probably listen to Jazz at the Pawnshop. The sense of a live acoustic, the background voices, the tinkling of glasses, are all much more obvious. But then, I think the music value suffers. Now if it were Evans playing there with those recording techniques, wouldn't that be great. Interestingly, one of the biggest problems I have with Davis (and quite a few others for that matter) is the recording quality of jazz music in the 50's and 60's), especially in comparison to classical. Pop has always been dreck. :-)
Chris, I know this may be an intereting exercise for you, but I would no more compare the music of Evans, Davis, Coltrane, Monk, and many others all the way back to its origins, than I would the music of Bach, Beethoven, Sibelius, Mahler or Part. The threads are all there for the scholar, but I typically listen only for immediate enjoyment. Sorry I can't add more of value to your thread.
I hope you don't mind a little jazz humor, but it is said that Miles was upset about the length of the solos Coltrane was playing (live, not on Kind of Blue). So Miles confronted Coltrane about it. Coltrane explained that once he started on an improvisation he had to get it all out, he didn't know how to stop. Miles replied, "Take the horn out of your mouth."
I think the village vanguard recordings are fantastic. Why ? Well it's not because of the number of notes played or " needed". What a curious concept. I have no idea how many notes are needed to express ones self in any given situation but if there were some arbitrary limit then Trane would have exceeded it by a country mile in his "sheets of sound" days. This is how HE expressed HIS 'zen-ness' and , I think, his spirituality by reciting almost every possible musical permutation in his journey to the bottom of that particular rabbit hole. Evans expresses his soul differently. I like the recording because I see the beauty in it. I don't think someone elses reasons should sway your opinion however. As for kinda blue it's iconic and of the highest quality but I don't love it as much as I do several other miles titles. BTW I am surprised by newbees comment about the recording quality of 50's - 60's jazz. Other than almost always undermiking piano I view this period as a golden age of great quality. After 1970 recording quality for me dropped way off. 1958-1965 was peak with 1961 being the best IMHO. I have no idea why this is so. I might be a bit prejudiced by the great performances of the time. - Jim
If you question why this is considered such a great recording, then you just don't get it. That's not a bad thing. Remember it is all subjective. If you can listen to "My Mans Gone Now" and not see the greatness, you really do not get it. Again, that's OK. For me, this album is much better than "King of Blue". I have always considered it overrated.
BB King said, "It ain't the notes you play. It's the notes you don't...." or so I heard he's reputed to have said. In any case, I don't find DazzDax idea "curious" - it isn't really about "note counting"...that's simply code for another manifestation of "less is more". There's a video of Bill Evans talking with his brother about a related concept (authentic vs non-authentic performance based on a solid understanding of the fundamentals). I don't take DazzDax question as "dissing" the Village Vanguard sessions, rather trying to stimulate some worthwhile discussion about what makes some music great. (Thanks for eliciting the wonderful quote from Miles about Evans' playing. I had not heard that before...it is certainly a propos).
Ghosthouse, I think the use of space can be very moving and sometimes less is indeed more. Some people like Count Basie made a living out of it. Others (Pops) used the implication of notes ( not playing them but playing in a way where one expects to hear certain notes ) and then used these 'implied notes' as part of the melody he was playing. This use of space and compactness of playing, this level of virtuosity may indeed be objectively said to be of the highest level. What I found "curious' was to take only one aspect of expression ( space or perhaps compactness- often a Milesian attribute) and try to use it as a some sort of standard upon which to objectively judge the quality of another recording. What makes great music IMHO is it's ability to go beyond the here and now and to offer a transcendent experience to the listener. Each of us has a unique experience we bring with us each time we listen to music or view great art. That's why something might be so obviously magical to me but not to you and vice versa. I don't get a lot of modern art when I go to an art museum but the guy next to me might be in tears. His view and the view of the painters align so that he sees 'through' the painting to its greater meaning which alludes me. Is it great art or great music ? I say yes if it allows a way, if we can but see/hear it, to a deeper meaning which is ordinarily unavailable to us. - Jim
Aldavis - Well said! Especially regarding "transcendence" but the potentially subjective nature of that experience is more fodder for discussion! If you "get it" and I don't...is it great art for you but not for me? Doesn't great art rise above the invidual experience? There must be some objective elements that allow great art to survive over time, changes in culture, modes of thinking etc. I'm not sure what role for the subjective expericence. I think it must play a part - but what weight to give it? I do agree economy can't be the only element defining great art or great music (I didn't intend to imply that). Look at architecture in a Rococco or Baroque style vs some modern minimalist construct. Each has something wonderful about it. Good point also to raise Miles' complaint to Coltrane. In a Coltrane bio I started reading, he's reported to have said, "...why do you have to play so long?" (or words to that effect). When I first read that, I thought it was an ego thing on Miles part about time in the spotlight...in this context now, I'm thinking Coltrane's approach violated (maybe too strong a word) Miles' own sensibility. One more thing I'll add about what defines great art is, "Time". The passage of time is like some erosive process...some stuff gets washed away. Other things remain like bedrock revealed. Setting aside the perhaps distoring effects of commercial interests, we want to listen to Bill Evans and many others decades and centuries after the fact because they tapped into something enduring. Transcendent? yes, I think so too.
Hi Ghosthouse, thank you for sharing my thoughts. First I would like to say that I personally think the Village Vanguard sessions are quite extraordinary and beautiful. I started this thread because I would like to know from you (fellow music lovers) what is in your opinion the ultimate reason why this particular recording is so "great". Today I heard the slow part (Largo) from J.S. Bach's third Sonata for unaccompanied violin. If you know this piece, you'll understand what I am trying to say. I'm not saying that Bill or Miles play few notes: they play as much notes as necessary, not more, not less, and each of those notes has it's own unique place within the structure of the music. That is what I call "Zenlike", because (forgive me if I'm wrong, I'm not an expert in this field) the Zen philosophy is about the "essence" of things. This essence can be found in the Village Vanguard sessions, but also in Picasso's Guernica, Miles Kind of Blue, Mozart's Don Giovanni, Bach's Sonata for unaccompanied violin, Charles Eames' Lounge Chair, Rubik's Cube, the classic Mercedes-Benz "Gullwing" model, etc.
Ghosthouse, I don't know to what extent subjectivism is important. It's probably pretty rare when something resonates with everyones conscienceness at the same and in the some way. I don't believe that art is purely objective and that all we need to do is refine our tastes. There are many truths and many pathways which will be apparent to some but not to others as a function of their state of being and not necessarily their taste. This is subjective to the extent that certain vision requires certain life insight which may not be taught in art/music school. - Jim
Dazzdax, Aldavis -
I wish you a Happy New Year...
Here is a link to a series of videos with Bill Evans discussing his art.
The first link (#1 of 5) will take you to the site with various other segments and contains remarks pertinent to Aldavis' comments.
See also the 4:33 clip (there are 2 with the same title), Bill Evans - The Creative Process and Self-teaching. I found this discussion meaningful in terms of Dazzdax points about the relevance of economy to the creative process.
Hope you enjoy.
This site also contains an 8:22 interview with the producer of the Village Vanguard recording that started this thread.
Thanks Ghosthouse. Happy new year to you. - Jim
Thanks to onhwy61 for the Gopnik article. Just sat and read it with the album on in the background and got chills--which Gopnik's writing does for me not quite as often as Evans' playing, but often enough. To anyone else who enjoyed that article, his book "Paris to the Moon" is fantastic, as is his essay "The Last of the Metrozoids" which, while not about music, talks about art and a life well lived in the same sort of spirit as the Evans article. Happy listening, everyone.
Ghosthouse, thank you very much for the link. This is truly unbelievable. I'm flabbergasted. Bill was a genius, some kind of Mozart on the piano. Everything he played was a reflecting of his unconscious mind. This level of playing can't be learned even if you are a quite talented piano player.
Happy New Year to you too!
Dazzdax - so glad you enjoyed the stuff at that link. I neglected to give credit to my brother-in-law (a gifted musician in his own right) for showing it to me and enabling me to share it. I'm a relative newcomer to jazz and Bill Evans specifically, but I agree with your assessment of his "genius" as a musician. AND he's not too shabby as a philosopher either! I especially appreciate his obvious humility and lack of pretention. Wish I could have met him.
Yes, I wish I could have met him too. He looked like a "nerd" at time of the interview (and at time of the classic Village Vanguard recordings) but what a genius he was! It wouldn't surprise me if he was already playing piano when he was six years old (improvising on "One Day My Prince Will come").
I'm spinning Waltz / Sunday this morning. There's nothing better on a quiet rainy Sunday morning. Combined with the newspaper and a good cup of coffee, life is good.