One night in Seattle, pianist Bill Evans had dinner with dancer Bill Evans. The dancer, at the time, was prominent in the Northwest and was making a name for his dance company nationwide. He first danced professionally in 1966 and formed the Bill Evans Solo Dance Repertory in 1970. Four years later he formed the Bill Evans Dance Co. Over the course of his career, he choreographed more than 250 works, a number of which with jazz musicians. Two of these works were with the pianist Bill Evans—Double Bill (1978) and Mixin' It Up (1979).
Their little-known collaboration began after the pianist played a gig at Parnell's, a famously comfortable Seattle jazz club founded by Roy Parnell. After the performance, the dancer went backstage and invited the pianist out for a meal. At the restaurant, the dancer told the pianist that people had often come to his Bill Evans In Concert" shows in various cities expecting to hear the trio, not to see modern dance.
They laughed and then learned they both defined good technique as getting the biggest reward from the smallest expenditure of muscular energy. That evening, they decided to collaborate and did so in 1978 and 1979. The first event took place on March 17 and 18, 1978, at Meany Hall at the University of Washington in Seattle. According to notes from the dancer that appeared with the recent YouTube post of the performance, the work ran about 45 minutes and included several other Bill Evans compositions in addition to Waltz for Debby and Peace Piece.
The dancer continued:
I know that we danced to Waltz for Debby." Bill brought bassist Michael Moore and drummer Philly Jo Jones. We performed together again in 1979, also at Meany Hall. This time, we repeated Double Bill and added another 45-minute piece called Mixin' It Up.
The new piece was choreographed to Bill's recordings of jazz classics by other composers, including Nardis," Sweet and Lovely," How Deep Is The Ocean," Hi-Lilli Hi-Lo and other pieces, as well as an improvisation by his sidemen then—bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbera. Reviews for both shows were overwhelmingly positive. We sold out the theatre for all performances. Working with Bill was one of the highlights of my performing career.
Here's the video, which seemed to be taken by the audience member but still affords us a look at Bill Evans the pianist accompanying Bill Evans the dancer with his dance company and how the pianist altered his playing to fit the dancers' needs...
This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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