Gerard D'Angelo: Who's Kidding Who?
AAJ: You've mentioned that your dad would take you as a kid and the two of you would catch Bill Evans at the Vanguard or at this club in Midtown. What were some of your early recollections of watching Evans play?
DG: I was around 12 to 14 at the time and I was just enjoying my own little thing and I never thought that I wanted to pursue [music] in any professional way; I never really even thought that I was talented enough to do that. I was just playing a lot and I was having fun. Then at 14 or 15 I heard Bill Evans. A friend of mine, Joe Zappa, who also played piano and I would teach other what we knew.
So here we were showing each other stuff and we both liked Ramsey Lewis and a few other jazz players, but we didn't really know jazz that well. All the sudden, he gets hooked up with someone who knew about Bill Evans, so I got this Bill Evans record and I thought it was the greatest thing I ever heard in my life. I found myself going back and listening to his earlier records, but basically [Evans] sounded like the coolest thing in the world to me.
So that was what really prompted me to study more seriously. I started taking lessons with Milton Krauss on the north shore of Long Island. He was an amazing musician and he could read anything. He graduated from Juilliard back in 1820.
DG: [Laughs] No, I'm kidding! He was around 70 in the '70s, so he might have gone to Juilliard in the 1930's. He was a phenomenal musician; he could read and transpose anything. I studied with him while I was a junior in high school. He was teaching me all my basic chords and he taught me how to read a little bit. He was really blown away and upset that I could play a lot of piano and couldn't read anything. He would put simple things in front of me like "Camptown Races" and I couldn't read it, but I could move around the piano with stuff I knew. So that kind of irritated him, and he really got me to read. I learned all my chords and all my scales. Then my father discovered Berklee and he said, "Why don't you take a summer course at Berklee?"
But in the meantime, I fell in love with Bill Evans and I showed my dad who Bill Evans was. My dad had never really heard modern jazz. My dad was born in 1920 so he was 50 years old by that time, and he was really brought up on popular music. He loved all kids of music, but he [listened] to Erroll Garner, Art Tatum and Count Basie. But he knew the popular jazz guys, he didn't really even know people like Evans, Peterson and Thelonious Monk. My dad turned me on to all kinds of music during my life and here I am as a teenager turning him on to all the jazz. It was kind of like "Hey dad, look at this," and he just loved it and he said, "Wow! We gotta go see this guy."
We only lived a half an hour from the city, and we used to drive in and catch Bill Evans play at the Vanguard and Top of the Gate. As I remember Top of the Gate, you would walk down a few steps and there would be Bill Evans playing. So [Evans] would play there and the Vanguard. There were a couple of times where he would play at this club in Midtown called The Half Note, but it was mostly at Top of the Gate or Vanguard.
AAJ: So it was mostly the downtown scene?
GD: Yeah, mostly the Downtown scene and not much in Midtown. So my dad and I would always come into the city whenever Bill was in town. I was a young kid so I had to get in to the clubs with my dad. I remember when the Vanguard was $5 and I remember when it was even $3.50. I remember when it went up to $5 and I thought, "Wow! It's getting expensive."
Back in those days, Bill would play all night. He would do four or five sets. It was never called a show; they were just called sets. Later on they [billed] it as a show so they could charge each set as an individual entity, but back then it was just a gig with sets. There were times that he would play up until midnight or later! I would go there and hear four sets!
Sometimes there would be no one there at the fourth set. There might have been four or five people there on a weeknight and [Evans] would go back up and play. There was this one time at Half Note where he went on to play when there was no one there except for my father, this couple and me. He was really upset and he had a spat with the owner and he just left. It was just unbelievable to think that here was Bill Evans- -who I thought was one of the greatest musical geniusesgo through that. I felt like watching Bill Evans play was like getting to see Beethoven play.
AAJ: What was Five-Week program like for you at Berklee?
GD: It was my the summer of my junior year in high school and I really felt like I wanted to do music. I thought it was great to be at school and hang out, listen to records, and play. I went to Berklee and I met a lot of people who had a similar vibe as me. I enjoyed it thoroughly and it was an incredible summer. That summer was more about realizing how important it was to be motivated. The jazz stuffeven the theoretical part of itwas really fun, and I was able to get into it.