Before he began recording exclusively as leader of a working trio, pianist Bill Evans was a prolific sideman. Between 1954 and 1958, Evans appeared on more than 20 recordings led by other artists. Except for New Jazz Conceptions, his first one-off trio date for Riverside in 1956, Evans was a top keyboard gun for hire in New York. One of those dates in 1957 was accompanying guitarist Joe Puma on an album called Joe Puma: Jazz. Unfortunately, the quartet with Evans recorded just three tracks for Jubilee, most likely to fill out Puma's original studio obligation that used a trio.
The three tracks with Evans were recorded in the summer of 1957, shortly after Evans' work in June on the Brandeis Jazz Festival: Modern Jazz Concert recording, which included a monumental solo on All About Rosie. For the Puma [pictured] date, the guitarist and Evans were joined by Oscar Pettiford on bass and Paul Motian on drums. These recordings offer fascinating combinations at an interesting point in time.
For one, Pettiford [pictured] offers massive support on bass behind Evans, giving us something of a preview of Evans' assertive and engaging style with bassist Scott LaFaro two years later. Evans recorded with Pettiford only two more times—on Sahib Shihab's Jazz Sahib and Helen Merrill's The Nearness of You. For another, we hear the dawn of the Evans-guitar feel that would reach maturation when he recorded with Jim Hall in the 1960s. And lastly, we hear Paul Motian and Evans mid-way through their tight union, which had begun in 1955 with recordings for Jerry Wald.
The three tracks recorded by this Joe Puma Quartet were I Got It Bad (And That Ain't Good), Mother of Earl and Indian Summer. On I Got It Bad, we hear Evans deliver a lush, block-chord solo that foreshadows his pastoral opening to On Green Dolphin Street with the Miles Davis Sextet a year later.
On Mother of Earl, Pettiford takes an extended solo, and we have a chance to hear Evans comp delicately behind him and Puma. On Indian Summer, which feels like a last-minute add-on, Evans takes a bop solo with modal overtones.
These tracks together are a pianistic Polaroid of Evans just before his stylistic emergence with Miles Davis and flowering as a trio leader. It's also an opportunity to hear Evans in his pre-addiction days, when there was a snappy upbeat innocence to his playing, before the financial burdens and melancholy of drug use set in.
JazzWax tracks: The three tracks with Joe Puma and Bill Evans from Joe Puma: Jazz along with the Puma tracks from East Coast Jazz/3 and The Foremost Guitars can be found on The Jazz Guitar of Joe Puma here. You'll also find the tracks on Bill Evans: The Sideman Years here.
JazzWax clip: Here are two of the three tracks—Mother of Earl and I Got It Bad. Dig Evans' Shearing-esque voicings while comping and block-chord solo on the second track...