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Orrin Keepnews on Bill Evans


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In rereading producer Orrin Keepnews' superb book, The View From Within, a collection of his jazz writings and recollections over the years, I came across the following passage on Bill Evans and the recording of Explorations. I've often posted that the years between 1959 and 1965 represent my favorite Bill Evans period, with Explorations being among my favorite recording, primarily for its poetic ideas and bounce.

Here's Orrin, a recently named NEA Jazz Master, on the February 2, 1961 session that he produced:

Explorations was the direct successor to [Bill Evans'] first working-trio record, but it did follow (by less than a week) the first of three trips to the studio in connection with a Cannonball Adderley album on which Evans was featured.

“The trio [Evans, Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian] had now been together for more than a year, had spent much of that time on the road, and had made giant strides towards the goal of becoming a three-voice unit rather than a pianist and his accompanists. Inevitably—and properly—Bill remained the focal point, but his interweaving with Scotty and the freedom this truly unusual bassist was afforded were very much up front.

“There had also been noticeably movement towards the more introspective style that is generally considered 'typical' Bill Evans, and is certainly the most widely influential aspect of his work. Although this is really much more a matter of approach than of tempo, it is more readily apparent at the relaxed pace that predominated on this session.

“Also much in evidence is that emphasis on the reworking of standard tunes: six of the nine selections are in that category. Of the others, Nardis is credited to Miles (although I have always wondered if perhaps an assist shouldn't also go to Bill, who took part in its first recording on Cannonball's 1958 Riverside debut album); Israel is an intriguing but neglected piece first heard on Davis' legendary Birth of the Cool set; and Elsa is one of several contributions made to Bill's repertoire over the years by his friend Earl Zindars. When we finished with more material than could comfortably fit on the album, Evans decided The Boy Next Door was most expendable, but it was eventually inserted into a '70s reissue package...

“My chief recollection of this session is as a classic case of personal factors influencing musical judgment. Evans was full of openly expressed negative feelings during the date, largely because of a running nonmusical argument with LaFaro. I felt equally negative, being annoyed with both of them and distressed by Bill's complaints about a presumably tension-induced headache. Although I kept insisting that the music sounded just fine, that was mostly pep talk; I actually shared his misgivings, and we were equally surprised when later listening proved my words to have been accurate. (In a 1976 interview, Bill went so far as to call this 'one of my favorite albums.')

—Orrin Keepnews, The View From Within: Jazz Writings 1948-1987. For a copy, go here.

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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