Bebop and Beyond
By Armand Lewis
In 1976, pianist Bill Evans was settled into what would come to be known as his great 1970s trio. Yet, the group would be together for just two years. While his bassist Eddie Gomez had been with him for nine years, Evans’ latest drummer, Eliot Zigmund, had only joined the trio a year before.
It had been a long road to that point. After spending much of the 1950s as a journeyman pianist playing everything from wedding gigs to accompanying vocalists, Bill Evans was still something of a reluctant leader. His own self-consciousness held him back from several opportunities to record under his own name, even though he had recorded his own first LP in 1956 (“New Jazz Conceptions”).
His breakthrough — to both the jazz public as well as to himself — came with his participation in Miles Davis’ legendary album Kind of Blue. And though Evans had been recording as a sideman since 1953, he would not even consent to making another LP under his own name until 1959 — the aptly titled Everybody Digs Bill Evans.
Everybody Digs… began a series of albums for several major jazz labels that continued through the 1970s, by which time, Evans was truly a master of the piano trio format — perhaps the master.
The fact that Evans’ 1970s trio with Gomez and Zigmund only make three studio LPs and two European broadcasts can be attributed to the group’s short tenure together. But despite making relatively few recordings, it would be the only group that Evans’ fans would rate as being on an equal level as that of his late 1950s/early ’60s trio featuring bassist Scott LaFaro.
On November 15th, 1976, ten days after doing in a broadcast in Paris France, Evans, Gomez and Zigmund found themselves at the University of Wisconsin, Madison; performing at the university’s 1,000 seat Wisconsin Union theater. A tape of this remarkable concert has recently emerged and has been released for the first time on vinyl, CD and MP3 as Bill Evans Trio – On a Monday Evening (Fantasy). In a set featuring Evans favorites as well as jazz standards, Evans and company deliver an album equal to the others of this under-recorded trio.
“Sugar Plum” made its recorded debut in 1971, and quickly became a staple at Evans’ concerts. Likewise, Jerome Kern’s “Up With the Lark”; an upbeat waltz, with which Evans often liked to open his concerts.
Evans’ own “Time Remembered”, as well as “Someday My Prince Will Come” both go back to Evans’ recordings of the late 1950s, and here, they are played with an ease and comfort of spending an evening with old friends.
“T.T.T.” (“Twelve Tone Tune”) utilizes classical composer Arnold Schoenberg’s “twelve-tone technique” method of composition, whereby all twelve notes of the chromatic scale are used equally in a piece of music, preventing any one note from dominating. The result in Evans’ composition is a departure from his usual association with what has been referred to as “jazz waltz”, but is a fascinating flirtation with something akin to avant garde jazz.
The tender ballad “Minha (All Mine)” is likely the highpoint of the album, with its sensitive and almost telepathic interaction between Evans and bassist Gomez.
This particular Bill Evans Trio would only make two more albums before Eddie Gomez would leave the group (“I Will Say Goodbye” and “You Must Believe in Spring”), though the trio would also appear behind saxophonists Warne Marsh and Lee Konitz on the LP Crosscurrents.
That this great trio only made a hand-full of albums makes this discovery all the more important. On a Monday Evening is a truly rare document of both Evans’ last great group and a significant time remembered.
Armand Lewis buys and sells rare Jazz LPs. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org )