On Oct. 28, 1966, pianist Bill Evans was in Oslo, Norway, to play a concert with his trio and to accompany jazz singer Monica Zetterlund. The Scandinavian tour must have been a short one, since he had been at New York's Village Vanguard a week earlier and was there again 13 days later. Joining Evans in Oslo was bassist Eddie Gomez, who had been with him since the spring, and Danish drummer Alex Riel, who was part of the house rhythm section at Copenhagen's Jazzhus Montmartre. Riel had played a concert with Evans and Gomez a few days earlier and with Evans and bassist Niels-Henning Ørsted Pedersen in '65 in Holbaek, Denmark. [Photo of Bill Evans above from YouTube]
In the afternoon prior to the concert, Evans, Gomez and Riel were at a Norwegian television studio being taped as they rehearsed for the concert. Interestingly, the show's producer seemed to favor the same approach used by Robert Herridge in 1957 when he produced The Sound of Jazz for CBS: Let multiple cameras move freely about to capture the most interesting angles and images, and then punch in the best camera shots on the board in the control room. [Photo above of Bill Evans from YouTube]
The resulting video is one of the most amazing Bill Evans documents on film that I've seen—a 45-minute documentary-performance complete with pre-rehearsal banter, Evans's instructions to the producer and musicians, and multiple retakes of Five, his theme. The clip went up on YouTube March 6 and apparently comes from Riel's personal archive. [Photo above from YouTube]
First I'll show you the clip (photo above from YouTube).Then I'll tell what I learned about Evans from watching it. And finally, I'll show you part of the Zetterlund rehearsal and video from the concert that evening. First, the rehearsal clip (the songs are Very Early, Who Can I Turn To, If You Could See Me Now, Autumn Leaves and Five)...
Here what we learn about Bill Evans:
Evans wasn't a good geography student. This is what Evans says as he enters the studio, seemingly trying to paper over some sort of faux pas.
Evans wasn't a fan of the music shelf. He asks to have it removed from the piano, obviously so he can better hear the instrument.
Evans was forgetful. He brought along a large envelope, ostensibly filled with music and notes. But after looking inside for what he wanted, Evans does a 360 in confusion, as if he forgot something important behind at the hotel. Most likely it was the list of songs he had intended the trio to play.
The drums were still a bit player. Prior to 1968, Evans viewed the drums largely as ambient rhythm and not nearly as essential to the musical conversation as the bass. He asks to have visual contact with Eddie Gomez but is fine having the drums behind him, out of his line of sight.
Feel trumped rhythmic rigidity. Rather than flip out over forgetting his song list, Evans is quite calm while solving the problem. He comes up with four songs plus his theme and outlines how he plans to play them. At several points, he urges drummer Riel to relax and just feel the music rather than think about what he had to do with the brushes.
Evans was mellow in a crisis. After sitting down at the piano, Evans notices that the damper pedal's rod was displaced, keeping the pedal that sustains notes from working. Rather than curse the piano, he calmly asked to have it fixed.
Evans loved his own playing. Once he begins to play, Evans appears to fall into a trance at the mere sound of his own beautiful phrasing.
Norwegian assistants had good judgment. When someone shows up with a glass of water for Evans, he waits momentarily until it dawns on him that both of Evans' hands are occupied. He turns and leaves promptly with the glass.
Evans wanted to stay in the moment. Before they began, Riel seems to want a break after each song, in case of a goof he'd have a chance at a redo. Evans preferred to go straight through, with just a pause in between songs. Evans clearly abhorred overthinking jazz or anything that compromised emotion and feeling. Once they agree on Evans's approach, Gomez ribbed Riel by saying, "If you goof up, you'll get fired, that's all, not a problem." [Photo above of Bill Evans from YouTube]
Gomez had a heart. Before they start, Riel doesn't quite grasp how to handle Very Early. Gomez, who moments earlier shot Riel a zinger, offers to show him the music, so he can read it. Evans, eager to get going, eyes Riel like a hawk, trying to determine if he's on board. When Gomez and Riel return from their huddle, Evans once again emphasizes that the feel is more important than thinking about the time. [Photo above of Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez from YouTube]
Gomez was an extraordinary partner. His solos throughout the rehearsal are extraordinary, especially on Who Can I Turn To and Autumn Leaves. Interestingly, by Autumn Leaves, Riel was feeling the music rather than thinking about it.
Evans let a bad note slide. At the end of Autumn Leaves, instead of ending on the final note of the upper-register run, the bass note rings last, seemingly via the damper pedal. In fact, you can see him for a brief second wonder what caused the note to stick and he even looks down at the pedals. In the recording studio, that final sour note would have resulted in a retake. Here, Evans lets it pass.
Evans took responsibility. On Five, Riel struggles on the odd theme to figure out where the brushes should fit in. At the end of the first take, Evans blames himself, noting he "sprung" the song on Riel. Evans tries to simplify what he wants by explaining that it should have a straightforward I Got Rhythm two-beat feel. [Photo above, from left, Alex Riel, Eddie Gomez, Bill Evans and Monica Zetterlund in Oslo by Jan Persson]
Evans was a teacher. Sensitive that Riel is still having trouble with the song after the next take, Evans stops and urges Riel to just play straight time and not to listen to him, because what he is playing is "so over the thing"—a priceless self-evaluation.
Evans solved problems. On the third take, Riel is still not playing behind Evans correctly, so Evans asks Gomez to play straight two-beat feel on the bridge, providing Riel with a guard rail of sorts.
Evans had a sense of humor. At the end, Evans stands, looks around and says, "That was easy," likely referring to the relative ease of the rehearsal taping.
Here's the Monica Zetterlund portion of the rehearsal, or at least one of several songs she rehearsed at the TV studio. It's Waltz for Debby, or Monica's Vals...
And here's the Bill Evans Trio with Riel on drums in Copenhagen prior to the Oslo rehearsal...