Following my post on Bill Evans' Alone, Again, in which I assert that the lesser-known 1975 album is the pianist's finest solo recording, Jan Stevens, host of The Bill Evans Web Pages, touched base and pushed back:
"I have to take issue with some observations you made. You called Bill's Here's That Rainy Day "painfully slow," adding, "It's just a rainy day, not the Johnstown Flood." The humor aside, there are even slower versions, and with greater public prominence, such as Frank Sinatra's and those by various female vocalists as well. It is a ballad, after all. And a woeful and sad tale of lost love, if you're familiar with Johnny Burke's lyric.
Evans creates that mood on Alone, running the tune in three keys with his patented tone colors in the harmonic movement. He plays with great control and feeling, but then even swings the middle chorus! So your meaning here is unclear to me. It is a celebrated performance among pianists and serious fans, and chosen for one of six complete note-for-note transcriptions for the Artistry of Bill Evans, Vol. 2 piano book.
The other Alone tunes you cite as being "virtually the same pace" as Here's That Rainy Day are also, of course, ballads. Never Let Me Go runs for over 14 minutes. That Bill was totally involved so expressively should be evident. It took up all of Side Two on the original vinyl release.
The reason Alone Again is largely forgotten is that the first Alone album is considered by many to be far superior to it, certainly by many jazz pianists, anyway. There are a few riches to be had in it, but the playing is aggressively harsh and void of his earlier attention to gradations in dynamics in many spots. Besides, most of the tunes he had done before, and often better.
Please note: Bill's version of People has no improvisation at all. He just played the song several times in various keys (this was specifically cited by the original Down Beat review). It also has a somewhat perfunctory quality, compared to many other solo performances.
You also said Alone, Again "may be one of Evans' finest recordings of the 1970s," which is difficult to accept, even if we are staying with the specifics of the solo things. It would be very hard to compare it to the mesmerizing solo version of Duke Ellington's Reflections in D from the 1978 New Conversations recording, or We Will Meet Again, Bill's heartfelt tribute to his beloved brother Harry from You Must Believe in Spring (recorded in 1977) among others!
I also recommend you listen to Solo Sessions Vols. 1 and 2. Recorded in late 1963 but released posthumously by producer Orrin Keepnews, these recordings show many other sides of Evans' solo work. Though some of it can be called meandering, and Evans is clearly working internally and even frustratingly on some things, tracks such as Airegin, Our Love Is Here to Stay and All The Things You Are are so engagingly "up" and swinging you can barely catch a breath.
I saw Bill perform live many times in New York and Boston in the 1970s and, with one exception, I recall him playing solo piano each time. Sometimes, it got the loudest applause of all!"
"I just read your piece on Bill Evans. In my opinion the Solo Sessions are far superior to Alone. Please pay particular attention to My Favorite Things on Vol. 1. Absolutely sensational."
Autumn in New York. I received quite a few emails last week in response to my two-part post on Vernon Duke's Autumn in New York. Some writers were surprised I left out specific versions while others offered up their own favorites that missed my list:
From Terry Teachout, Wall Street Journal drama critic and author of A Cluster of Sunlight: The Life of Louis Armstrong, due from Harcourt next fall:
"My favorite version is by George Shearing and Brian Torff, on their first duet album for Concord, which also contains Billy Taylor's One for the Woofer. In the coda, Shearing quotes from the slow movement of Rachmaninoff's Second Symphony, gorgeously."
From WKCR-NY disk jockey "Symphony" Sid Gribetz:
The Clifford Brown All Stars Jam Session (EmArcy, 1954) with Clifford Brown (trumpet), Herb Geller and Joe Maini (alto sax), Walter Benton (tenor sax), Kenny Drew (piano), Curtis Counce (bass) and Max Roach (drums).
Eddie "Lockjaw" Davis and His Trio (Roost, 1958) with Shirley Scott (organ), George Duvivier (bass) and Arthur Edgehill (drums).
From jazz saxophonist, historian and writer Bill Kirchner:
"I have a special fondness for two versions. One is on George Russell's New York, N.Y. (Decca, 1958), featuring pianist Bill Evans. The other is by Jonathan and Darlene Edwards [comedic pseudonyms for pianist-arranger Paul Weston and singer/wife Jo Stafford]."
From Jazz.com's Alan Kurtz:
"Marc, I am flabbergasted (and, as Steve Allen used to say, if you've ever had your flabber gasted, you know how painful that can be) that you managed to pick 20 recordings of Autumn in New York yet overlooked what is both vocally and instrumentally the finest ever, by the immortal husband and wife team of Jonathan and Darlene Edwards."
From Jason Crane, host of TheJazzSession:
From reader Scott Silbert:
Shorty Rogers. Reader Chuck Diaz emailed his touching memories of trumpeter Shorty Rogers and Bob Andrews, a record store owner on the West Coast:
"What a blast from the past. I just received West Coast Jazz, the four-CD Shorty Rogers box from Proper Records. Out of the clear blue it mentions Bob Andrews on page 15 of the booklet. Bob Andrews is the man I met when I was 15 working at the Food Giant market in Hawthorne, CA. He was managing the record department of a music store that was across the street. I used to buy all my records from him.
"We became good friends and he is the person who took me to the Lighthouse the first time I went there. He introduced me to all the Lighthouse All-Stars, and I became a fixture there for a while. In August of 1953 I turned 16 and had my own 1941 Ford and could get to the Lighthouse on my own.
During that same time period Bob opened his own record store on Redondo Beach Blvd. called Recordville. I painted the storefront name on the building on a sign above the building. I was an art student and also used to paint posters of latest album releases to advertise them in his store. I especially remember one that I did for Shorty’s Cool and Crazy.
Bob also took me to the party that was held at the Lighthouse when Shorty, Jimmy and Shelly left and Bud Shank, Max Roach began. Bob had always treated me so kindly, and he was the primary influence or avenue that brought me to love West Coast Jazz and Shorty Rogers.
I find it amazing that the tapes he made have survived the decades and I’m now hearing them again for the first time in over 50 years. I don't know how old Bob was at the time, but I thought he was in his 30s. Do any of your readers know what happened to him and if he's still alive?"
Sonny Rollins. Reader Alan Kaplinsky asked last week whether I had seen this clip of Sonny Rollins with Leonard Cohen. I hadn't. But here's yet another example of what makes Sonny so special. From The Rolling Stones to Cohen, Sonny comes to play. Bret Primack tells me the clip is from Night Music, a late 1980s TV show that was co-hosted by alto saxophonist David Sanborn.
Benny Golson. Reader David Langer passed along a tip about a recently issued CD featuring two classic Benny Golson albums:
"You've had some great posts lately; I've just been crazy busy and haven't had the chance to tell you. I especially liked the Benny Golson interview, as he is one of my heroes (I play and arrange jazz). A couple of small things: One of the coolest sides Benny was involved with was recently reissued—Brass Shout by Art Farmer, for which Benny wrote some of the most gorgeous brass choir charts for Art. Indeed, this gorgeous record must be heard to be believed.
To sweeten the deal, Blue Note packaged it with the sister Art Farmer United Artists' album from the same period, The Aztec Suite with compositions and arrangements by Chico O'Farrill. You can see it here."
English recollections. U.K. reader Brian Hope sent along this email:
"I'm sure that I'm too late really in offering my thanks and congratulations, you have already received thousands I'm sure. I have been a jazz fan since about 1943 when I used to run home from school (3 miles) to listen to Duffle Bag on AFN Europe. It was mostly swing then but the bug bit deeply, and I'm still what my children always called a jazz freak. Not a day goes by without my listening avidly (like now, Gerry Mulligan playing Blues Going Up). The depth shown and the contacts made at JazzWax are delightful. May you go on for a very long time. My children increasingly ask me to fill their iPods so it has finally got through, and now I add selections from your columns whenever appropriate. In the past few days I have been reading In the Spirit of Jazz by Otis Ferguson and, like you, he draws me back and expands my education. Wonderful, thank you very much."
Count Basie. Last week (October 6), Michael Steinman, host of JazzLives had a superb post entitled "Basie's Bad Boys," about a four-tune Chicago recording session on February 13, 1939. The tracks appear on Mosaic's Lester Young/Count Basie Sessions 1936-1940 box set.
Johnny Green. David Brent Johnson, host of WFIU's Night Lights, just featured a two-parter on composer Johnny Green (Body and Soul, Out of Nowhere and I Cover the Waterfront) and jazz interpretations of Green's [pictured] songs. As always, the programs were superb. Listen to the podcast for free here.
Clifford Brown's birthday. Mark your calendar. WKCR-FM will celebrate Clifford Brown's birthday on October 30 by playing the trumpeter's recordings for 24 hours. WKCR can be accessed anywhere in the world on the web by going here. In New York, the station is at 89.9 on the FM band.
Oscar Peterson. As part of my monthly series of on-air interviews with disk jockey Ralph Benmergui of Jazz.FM91, Canada's largest jazz radio station, Ralph and I discuss Oscar Peterson and Mosaic's Complete Clef/Mercury Recordings of Oscar Peterson box set. To hear a podcast of last week's radio segment, go here.
(My voice sounds like I'm talking from a shoebox buried inside a linen closet, so I'm researching headsets and other phone gear that will deliver my voice more clearly. If you have recommendations, please email them along.)