In Review is a column in which we ask an artist to write about a
musical experience that has been influential in their personal and musical development.
S. Carey on Bill Evans Trio - Waltz for Debby
Bill Evans Trio: Waltz for Debby
by: Sean Carey
I discovered Bill Evans in college. I mean, I had heard him many times before, on Miles Davis recordings (Kind of Blue most prominently). In fact, up at Shell Lake Jazz camp when I was 16, I transcribed part of Miles' solo on "So What" for vibraphone. How nerdy of me. Anyways, I had been listening to Bill Evans for a while, but the first time I heard his trio, I knew it was something different. I know this word is overused... but this record had a "VIBE!" It was impressionistic. It made me feel things that most jazz records don't evoke. It helps that it was recorded live at the Village Vanguard in New York. The clinking of wine glasses and pitter-pat of silverware contributes immensely to the vibe as well.
Evans was joined by Scott LaFaro on the bass and Paul Motian on the skins. Two guys that, early in their career, had already attained such a distinct sound and style. In a way, they both deconstructed the general rules of instruments (especially Motian later in his life). The bass didn't just walk; LaFaro melodically floated around the chord changes interacting with both piano and drums, but also just doing his own thing. Motian, who stuck mostly to brushes was a relentless time keeper but has this smooth approach that I admire deeply as a drummer. Evans, on piano, also had such a unique style, especially for 1961 when this was recorded. Many modern players have come up trying to sound like him. He also had this floaty - impressionistic - incredibly smooth approach. He took that deep, moody feeling of listening to Debussy and Chopin and brought it to jazz. This particular trio was a thing of beauty.
For some reason this record for me is best set to a wintry landscape. December to be exact. The snow is fresh. Winter is young. The opening track is one of my favorite ballads, "My Foolish Heart." I think this version is one of the most beautiful ballads ever recorded. Motian's cymbal and brush work is inspiring. "Waltz for Debby," the title track, and the only song on the album written by Evans, is super flowing and relaxed. They seamlessly switch from 3/4 to 4/4 on the solos, a move that most listeners don't even catch. The other standout is "My Romance," another standard jazz tune, but the trio's rendition is energetic and swinging and evolving.
Let's face it, there's a lot of bad jazz out there. New school, old school, blah-blah. This record is just good music - beautiful, meaningful music. Check it out now... and revisit it in December during a quiet snow fall.
photo: Cameron Wittig