Bill Evans on DVD. It took me four views to finally
understand why Bill Evans: Live '64-'75,
the new DVD from Jazz Icons, is so important. During my first two
previews, I had written off the video as too dull and plodding to recommend. Then last night I realized what
I was doing wrong. I was watching it.
Before I go further, let me first say
that this DVD, like all of the videos in
the Jazz Icons series, was exquisitely shot and restored.
You can't believe how polished and vivid the resolution is and how strong the contrasts and angles are. The problem for me, in general, is
that most DVDs of jazz concerts and club dates simply aren't that interesting to
watch. If you were actually there, you were in the moment. On video, most live jazz seems
much less exciting.
Why? I think by watching jazz performances on video, a good part of your audio perception is distracted by the visual, which childishly insists on more and more action and entertainment. In the process, your visual essentially robs that part of your brain that listens deeply and critically. It's like making too many demands on a power source. The lights dim a little.
Then last night, I viewed the Bill Evans DVD again—but this time on my computer. While viewing, I found I had to take care of some writing. So I started to work, with the visual eclipsed by my Word document. That's when I realized I was listening much more intently to the music of Bill Evans in Sweden (1964), France (1965), Denmark (1970), Sweden (1970) and Denmark (1975). As I worked, I took mini breaks to peek behind my Word document for a few seconds to view different sections of the DVD. And I was always blown away.
That's when I realized how great and significant a DVD this is. The music is beyond superb. Evans takes many of the songs in completely different directions. His 'Round Midnight from the Sweden (1970) chapter may be his most astonishing version of the song. I was blown away. I'll also say that his Sleepin' Bee and You're Gonna Hear From Me are close behind as monumental renditions. And the footage is quite revealing—in nibbles.
And perhaps this is the way all DVDs of jazz performances should be viewed: On your computer, so you can listen hard while doing something else, checking in every so often to see what the artists are up to. Blame it on television. Your brain has been trained to want two guys crashing through a window wrestling for a knife. But listen to a DVD, and it's a whole new bag. I'm going to be listening to this Bill Evans DVD over and over again. Hearing is believing!
Bill Evans: Live '64-'75 is available here for $15. Also, here's a promo for the DVD to give you a taste:
"Fugazi Hall [pictured], where the album was recorded, still stands. It's one of the biggest tourist attractions in the San Francisco. It started off in 1912 as an Italian social club, donated to the then predominantly Italian neighborhood community by John Fugazi founder of the Transamerica Company. There were a few jazz and poetry events held there in the 1950s, and Riverside recorded a few sessions there.
"William Claxton used to tell a great story about photographing Monk for the cover of the Alone LP. I saw him recount it in person once, but it also was summarized by London's The Independent in 2005:
"Photographing Thelonious Monk in San Francisco for an album cover, [William] Claxton had to rouse the pianist from his bed at 3 pm. 'The producer wanted a picture of Thelonious on one of the cable-cars,' says Claxton. Monk groaned when he heard the idea, so the photographer suggested they go for a drink. 'I saw a sign saying champagne cocktails, and asked if he'd had one. 'What's a champagne cocktail?' he replied. But after a couple of those we had a great rapport. That's why he's smiling." [Photo by William Claxton]
Bill Evans surprise. Jan Stevens, host of the Bill Evans Web Pages, sent along an email yesterday letting me know that he posted a holiday clip featuring the famed pianist in rare form. Jan begged me to keep the song title and its novelty a surprise. So if you want to hear it, you'll have to go here and scroll down a tad.
Larry Kart. On December 15, at precisely 2:04 pm, I dropped in on Larry Kart by email, asking the jazz author and critic what he was listening to. At 2:34 pm, here's what Larry emailed back:
Conte Candoli—Quintet with Bill Holman (Definitive). You wrote up this album recently.
Fats Waller—The Definitive Fats Waller (Stash). Released in the early '90s, this is a collection of solo and group things, mostly programs that Waller did for radio stations (transcriptions for later broadcast). Which meant Fats had a block of time, say 15 minutes or so, for each shot. This allowed him to fill as he wished, which seems to have made a positive difference. Typically superb notes by Dan Morgenstern.
Jackie McLean—The Complete Jubilee Sessions. I didn't even know that an October 1955 Jubilee session existed, which is a good as any Jackie I know of from this early period—and better than most. First recording of Little Melonae, and there's a fine piece by Mal Waldron, Mood Melody. Wonder how this came to be on Jubilee because it was recorded by Rudy Van Gelder and has the relaxed but rehearsed feel of a typical Blue Note date rather than a Prestige one.
Ehud Asherie—Swing Set (Positone). The pianist here is with bass and drums.
Ruby Braff—For the Last Time (Arbors). Ruby's final concert performance from August 2007. I was fearful, but though Ruby obviously is not in great shape physically, I prefer what I've heard here to most of his latter-day studio dates.
Hal McKusick. When he's not teaching and playing and writing and practicing, saxophone legend Hal McKusick is wood-shedding—literally. Behind Hal's historic home is a shingle-style structure that he converted into a wood shop. There, he whittles and saws and carves and polishes raw wood, turning it into magnificent pieces of furniture. I visited this space last year and was amazed by Hall's set up and self-taught skill set. On Friday, in the midst of the New York blizzard, Hal sent along a couple of photos from an article published a few weeks ago on his shaving shed. Watch those hands, Hal! [Photos by Dawn Watson]
Stan Kenton. Reader Gary Stewart sent along an email after reading my interview with Chris Connor and her Stan Kenton days:
"My father, Art Stewart, played the drums for Stan Kenton when the bandleader was at the Gaslight Square in St Louis in the 40’s and early 50’s. My dad wasn't a regular touring drummer for Kenton. Instead, when Kenton came to town, he would contact the local musicians union hall to see who was available as an extra. Since drummers were the hardest working member of any big band, they tired easily and needed a break.
"So when that took place in St. Louis, my dad [pictured, left] would fill in on drums. He did this a lot for touring big band groups that came to St. Louis. In the late 70’s, Kenton performed at one of the nearby dinner theaters, and I took my dad there for his 50th birthday. Of course, Stan was very old and all the musicians were college students who were just starting out. But the band was fantastic to say the least.
"Well, during the intermission, my dad went up to Kenton and asked him if he remembered him. Without a second's hesitation, Stan said, “Art Stewart, Gaslight Square!” Believe me that not only made my dad's evening, but it also made my dad's life that a legend like Stan Kenton would remember him.
Teddy Charles. Following my conversation last week with Teddy Charles on his year in California in 1953, David Brent Johnson, host of WFIU's Night Lights show, dropped a line to let me know that he posted a show he did on Teddy a couple of years ago. Go here to listen.
Also, reader Noal Cohen wrote to say that Teddy's discography and an article Noal wrote about the vibraphonist in 2000 are available here.
Life Goes to a Blog. Michael Steinman, host of JazzLives, had a terrific post this week (December 16) on Google making Life magazine's photo archive available through its search engine (click on the "images" tab at Google and scroll down a little). Michael went on to post about a fabulously warm and vivid color photo series he found of a famed 1940s jam session.
Frankie Laine. To clarify the credits on the Frankie Laine album I cited toward the end of my post on the singer last week, three different arrangers were used for the Rockin' LP:
Rockin' Chair was arranged by Russ Case. That's My Desire, West End Blues and Give Me a Kiss were by Paul Weston. All of the album's other arrangements were by Billy May.
Richard Sudhalter service. A memorial and concert for the late writer and jazz cornetist Dick Sudhalter will be held in New York on January 12, from 7 to 10 pm at St. Peter's Lutheran Church, at 619 Lexington Ave. The concert is being organized by Dan Levinson and Dorothy Kellogg with Judy Kahn as stage manager. Performances are expected by Carol Sudhalter, Bill Kirchner, Loren Schoenberg's big band, Daryl Sherman, Dick Katz, Ronny Whyte, Bob Dorough, Marian McPartland, Bill Crow and others. Brief talks will be offered by Dan Morgenstern, Terry Teachout and Albert Haim of BixBeiderbecke.com.