Following my interview series last week with alto saxophonist Herb Geller, I was curious about Herb's interactions with bassist Scott Lafaro in the late 1950s and his flute playing with pianist Bill Evans in 1972.
It turns out Herb was the one who first introduced LaFaro to Evans, that Herb began playing flute only after relocating to Germany, and that there's a reason why Bill Evans looks so dazed in the YouTube clips.
Here's Herb on LaFaro and Evans:
"In the spring of 1959, I was in Los Angeles preparing to fly to New York to rejoin Benny Goodman for a six-week tour. Just before I left, Scott LaFaro phoned. He said he was back in town after being fired by Stan Kenton.
"It seems a young drummer had approached Stan saying it was his life´s ambition to play in his band. Stan hired him on the spot, but Scott wasn't too keen on the drummer's skills. After the second night, Scott told Kenton that either the drummer had to leave or he would.
"Stan said he would keep the drummer and gave Scott two weeks' notice. The last concert Scott played with the band, I believe, was in Omaha. Stan was going to cover Scott's travel cost, so he asked him where he wanted to go, since the distance to New York and L.A. was about the same from Omaha. Scott chose L.A. [Photo of Scott LaFaro waving at Herb Geller's house in the Hollywood Hills in 1955 courtesy of Sam Geller]
"Scott told me on the phone that soon after arriving in L.A., he began to doubt that he had made the right choice. Scott said he wanted to go to New York and was looking for work there. I told Scott that I was flying out the next morning to join Benny in New York. Scott asked me who was playing bass. I said I had no idea but that if the occasion arose I would certainly recommend him to Benny. [Photo of Scott LaFaro by Ed Dephoure]
"In New York, Benny told me he was auditioning bass players because he wasn't satisfied with Tommy Potter in rehearsals. I told Benny about Scott, and Benny asked me to phone him to find out if he could be in New York the next day for the last rehearsal. I called Scott, and he made the trip. Benny was happy with him.
"That night, after the New York rehearsal, Scott and I went to hear Bill Evans at a club on the East Side of Manhattan. I introduced them, and Bill asked Scott to sit in for the second set. The next morning Scott and I left on the Benny Goodman tour. A few weeks into the tour, Scott received a telegram from Bill asking him to join the trio. [Photo: Scott LaFaro, Bill Evans and Paul Motian at the Village Vanguard in 1961]
"As for the flute, I first started to play it professionally after I joined Germany's NDR Orchestra in November 1965. I had joined the NDR as an alto saxophonist but decided to learn other doubling instruments. I started on the piccolo and moved on to the alto flute, bass flute, oboe and English horn. I was also arranging for the band.
"I always imagined I would return to Los Angeles with my new family, which is why I doubled on instruments. The more versatile you were, the more studio work came your way.
"But as things were getting better for me in Europe, there was a downturn in the American music studios. Synthesizers were in and putting many musicians out of work. Complicating my plans was the undesirable political situation in the U.S. in the 1960s and hearing from musician friends who were looking for work similar to what I had in Europe.
"I decided to accept a new NDR contract that was for life with retirement at age 65, followed by pay at two-thirds the salary. NDR also offered me extra money at low interest to buy a home. So I became a Hamburger.
"In 1972, the jazz producer at the NDR asked me to perform with the Bill Evans Trio during the second set of a concert. The producer told me that Bill's trio would play the first set alone and that I would then join them on flute—no sax.
"Bill had recorded an album with Jeremy Steig on flute in 1969 and the NDR wanted to recreate that sound. I was asked to write all of the original material for our set, though I did sneak in the sax during our rehearsal on a jam of What Is This Thing Called Love.
"Bill Evans, Eddie Gomez and Marty Morrell arrived in Hamburg very early in the morning. They were picked up at the airport, checked into their hotel and were brought immediately to the NDR studios. Only the rehearsal was filmed and eventually televised. The concert was just for the radio.
"Bill and the others were exhausted, and I believe Bill was stoned. He was nodding off during the rehearsal so I kept talking to him to keep him awake.
"The concert went well. I had known Bill for a few years, but that was the only time we played together."
JazzWax clips: Here's Part 1 of three parts featuring the Herb Geller and the Bill Evans Trio in 1972 rehearsing at Germany's NDR studios prior to a concert engagement...
Here's Part 2...
And here's Part 3...