Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Two Pianos on Kind of Blue

Legend has it that Wynton Kelly was irritated when he showed up at Columbia Studios on March 2nd, 1959. Bill Evans was sitting at the piano. Miles had hired Kelly to replace Evans, who didn't stand up well to touring. One can understand. But I think that Evans probably had almost as much to do with the texture of Kind of Blue as Miles did. Evans was one of the jazz giants of the era, surely in the top ten. No one played or composed with such a combination of heart and mind, softly digging into the feeling of every cord. If you look up "introspective" in the dictionary, you'll see a picture of Bill Evans bending low over the keys. As a leader, he was almost exclusively devoted to the standard piano trio. One of the things that makes Kind of Blue so wonderful is that preserves that degree of concentration and sensitivity that marks the Bill Evans trios in the context of a sextet.

Wynton Kelly was not that kind of genius, but he was a damn fine piano player. Whereas Evans was always exploring, asking and answering questions, Kelly was a muscular dancer. He appears only on one cut, "Freddie the Freeloader" on KOB. But he falls right into the goove, exploring the space with as much sensitivity as anyone could ask.

Here is a nice piece from a Kelly disc, recorded a couple of weeks earlier.
Wynton Kelly/Keep It Moving (take 4)/Kelly Blue
It's a three horn arrangement: the other Adderley, Nat, on cornet, Bobby Jaspar on flugglehorn, and Trane's highschool buddy Benny Golson on tenor. Paul Chambers plays bass and Jimmy Cobb drums. Both would appear on KOB. I've got several Kelly recordings in my collection, including Kelly Great, Kelly at Midnight, and Full View. Kelly Blue is the pick of the litter.

Here's a very nice cut with Evans leading a larger than trio group. It was recorded in 1976, and the recording is superb. The bass buzzes and the drum has depth.
Bill Evans/Sweet Dulcinea/Quintessence
Harold Land plays tenor sax and Kenny Burrell is on guitar. Ray Brown no bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums. This is the kind of music they play on the elevators in Heaven.


  1. Glad you liked my previous comment. Bill Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian were one of the best piano trio's of all time. I think the following passage illustrates Evans life very well:

    "After he left Davis in 1959, he went on to form in the following year what became, for many listeners, his greatest trio, with bassist Scott La Faro and drummer Paul Motian —both of whom had been members of Tony Scott's groups, alongside Evans.

    LaFaro's speed and accuracy in the upper register, and the uncanny way his melody lines intertwined with Evans' own made him an ideal partner for the pianist. Motian's ability to sense minute variations in tempo—from hesitations and spaces to slight accelerations or skips and jumps— without losing an overall sense of swing and momentum, completed the exceptional lineup. At the moment they achieved their highest level of cooperation, LaFaro was tragically killed in an accident, a few days after recording two outstanding albums of material at the Village Vanguard in New York City. Evans was devastated, and did not play for some months.

    "When you have evolved a concept of playing which depends on the specific personalities of outstanding players, how do you start again when they are gone?" he asked in one interview. He was already addicted to heroin, and the emotional shock of his bassist's death did little to help him overcome his use of the drug —something he did not manage to do for some years. Even then his life was a constant battle against returning to his addiction, and he suffered other emotional upheavals, including the suicide of his first wife, who had also fought drug addiction."


    "In his final years, Evans's appearance altered. He grew his hair and beard, and during the parts of the late 1960s and 1970s when he managed to conquer his
    addiction, he looked fitter and healthier than at any previous time in his career. His powers of invention continued to the very end of his life, many critics marveling at the degree to which there was constant movement and development in his work, but ultimately the demons inside led him back to addiction and a shockingly early death."

    From: "Jazz Makers: Vanguards of Sound" by Alyn Shipton, page 195-197

    Sad to see such a talented man mired with such great tragedies.


  2. Thanks for another fine comment, André. I share your source's admiration for Scott LaFaro.

    I have only a few regrets in life. One of them is that I didn't purchase a ticket when Bill Evans came to Tuscan, Arizona. I was a student at the U of A at that time. What was I thinking?

    But I didn't know then what I know now.