“In Your Own Sweet Way” — A Bill Evans Memory, by Robert Hecht

January 25th, 2018

“Bill Evans,” by Klaas Koster

 

 

In Your Own Sweet Way—A Bill Evans Memory

     It was the kind of New York night not fit for man nor beast. Sleet and wind whipping about, snow banks and ice everywhere. With my ‘49 Dodge slipping and sliding on the Village streets, I make my way to the Vanguard to catch the midnight set. The small sign outside the entrance inconspicuously announces: “Bill Evans Trio.” This is the 1962 edition of the trio, reformed after bassist Scott LaFaro’s death the year before; and this is the club where Bill had played his last sets with Scotty, with whom he had such unearthly musical empathy, before the fiery car crash that ended his life. (Those final, magical sessions were captured for posterity on two historic Riverside live albums, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, and Waltz for Debby.) The trio still has Paul Motian on drums, but now features the young Chuck Israels on bass, in the unenviable position of trying to fill LaFaro’s role.

     As I finish my descent down that famed, steep staircase, I can see that there are only a few people in the club on this winter weeknight. I take a table right in front of the bandstand and order a beer. What a cozy and warm contrast to the storm raging outside, just above this basement jazz oasis; here I am, nestled in my favorite club—which feels even more intimate than usual tonight with so few patrons—and about to hear my very favorite musician. Within a few minutes the trio walks onto the stand, and without any noticeable communication but seemingly as one mind begins playing “How Deep Is the Ocean.” I listen raptly, mostly with my eyes closed. The music is transporting, the interplay like a finely tuned conversation. When the tune ends I clap and in that moment realize with a shock that I am now the only remaining audience member, the few others apparently having slipped out at the start of the set.

     Zen question: What is the sound of one pair of hands clapping in a jazz club? Answer: Emptiness. And that just felt so wrong, especially given the magnificence of this trio’s music. Bill and his cohorts, however, seem unfazed (how many other times has something like this happened, I wonder) and they continue without comment to the next tune, which I recognize as “How My Heart Sings.” They then go on to play a full forty-five-minute set. As I listen I’m in a weirdly ambivalent state—alternately uncomfortable and rapturous—as I feel bad for the musicians yet am also ecstatic at witnessing this giant playing an entire set for an audience of one…at being that audience of one! I applaud enthusiastically but it’s still very much a hollow and pathetic sound. (Much later I wish I would have jumped from table to table clapping, whistling and cheering to simulate a fuller and more appropriately boisterous audience—perhaps they would have at least gotten a laugh out of that.)

     At the end of the set I see Bill standing near the stairs and I approach and thank him for the marvelous music. And then, knowing that music at the Vanguard typically continues for a couple more hours—and fully displaying my twenty-year-old naiveté—I actually ask the great Bill Evans if he’s going to play another set! He smiles sweetly, with none of the condescension, irony or even hilarity that would have been fitting under the circumstances, and says simply, no, he doesn’t think so. I bid him goodnight and climb those stairs from the empty club to the blizzard waiting at street level.

how my foolish heart sings
how deep is the detour ahead
so very early my man’s gone

 

 

_____

 

 

The author in 1963

 

 

*

 

 

 

Robert Hecht is an award-winning jazz disc jockey and fine art photographer whose photo work has been published in LensWork, Black & White, Zyzzyva and The Sun and exhibited internationally. His writing has previously appeared in LensWork and in the haiku journals Frogpond, Bottle Rockets and Modern Haiku. He and his wife live in Portland, Oregon. For twenty-five years they have been partners in On Point Productions, writing and producing marketing and training video programs.  Visit his website by clicking here.

 

*

 

In 1935, the Village Vanguard began as a music club that featured primarily folk music and poetry readings.  Since 1957, it has predominately featured jazz music

 

 

The entrance to the Vanguard

 

The stairway leading into the basement club

 

The interior of the club

 

Click here to see more photos of the Village Vanguard

 

 

The 1962 recording of the Bill Evans trio playing “How My Heart Sings,” 

 

A 1965 film of Evans, Chuck Israels and Larry Bunker playing “How Deep in the Ocean”

 

Share this:

One comments on ““In Your Own Sweet Way” — A Bill Evans Memory, by Robert Hecht”

Comment on this article:

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

In This Issue

Jeffrey Stewart, National Book Award and Pulitzer Prize-winning author of The New Negro: The Life of Alain Locke, is interviewed about Locke (pictured), the father of the Harlem Renaissance.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 19 recommended recordings by five jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

On the Turntable

This month, a playlist of 19 recently released jazz recordings, including those by Branford Marsalis, Joe Martin, Scott Robinson, Allison Au and Warren Vache

Poetry

In a special collection of poetry, eight poets contribute seventeen poems focused on stories about family, and honoring mothers and fathers

The Joys of Jazz

In this new volume of his podcasts, Bob Hecht presents three very different stories; on Harlem Stride piano, Billy Strayhorn's end-of-life composition "Blood Count," and "Lester-ese," Lester Young’s creative verbal wit and wordplay.

Short Fiction

We had many excellent entrants in our recently concluded 50th Short Fiction Contest. In addition to publishing the winning story on March 11, with the consent of the authors, we have published several of the short-listed stories...

“What are some of your all-time favorite record album covers?”

Gary Giddins, Jimmy Heath, Fred Hersch, Joe Hagan, Maxine Gordon, Neil Tesser, Tim Page, Veronica Swift and Marcus Strickland are among the 25 writers, musicians, poets, educators, and photographers who write about their favorite album cover art

Art

“Thinking about Homer Plessy” — a photo narrative by Charles Ingham

Jazz History Quiz #128

Although he was famous for modernizing the sound of the Tommy Dorsey Orchestra -- “On the Sunny Side of the Street” was his biggest hit while working for Dorsey (pictured) -- this arranger will forever be best-known for his work with the Jimmie Lunceford Orchestra. Who is he?

Great Encounters

In this edition, Bob Dylan recalls what Thelonious Monk told him about music at New York’s Blue Note club in c. 1961.

Art

Jerry Jazz Musician regularly publishes a series of posts featuring excerpts of the photography and stories/captions found in Jazz in Available Light by Veryl Oakland. In this edition, Mr. Oakland's photographs and stories feature Stan Getz, Sun Ra, and Carla Bley.

Interviews

Romare Bearden biographer Mary Schmidt Campbell discusses the life of the important 20th century American artist

Cover Stories with Paul Morris

In this edition, Paul writes about jazz album covers that offer glimpses into intriguing corners of the culture of the 1950’s

Coming Soon

Michael Cuscuna, the legendary record producer and founder of Mosaic Records, is interviewed about his life in jazz...Award-winning photographer Carol Friedman, on her career in the world of New York jazz photography

In the previous issue

Maxine Gordon, author of Sophisticated Giant: The Life and Legacy of Dexter Gordon, talks about her book, and the complex life of her late husband.

Also in this issue…A new collection of jazz poetry; "On the Turntable," a new playlist of 22 recommended recordings by seven jazz artists; three new podcasts by Bob Hecht; a new “Great Encounters”; several short stories; the photography of Veryl Oakland and Charles Ingham; a new Jazz History Quiz; and lots more…

Contributing writers

Site Archive