JFK Airport – New York City – May 25th 1979

Bill Evans Notecard

 

Bill Evans letters

JFK Airport

May 25 / 1979

I arrived at JFK not knowing if I would recognize him, wearing what I thought a man my father’s age would find attractive ~ something from the 1940’s. A long pleated skirt, platform shoes and a prim white blouse with a tweed jacket.

I did recognize him, and I’ve never forgotten the funny, toed-in way he walked. He was wearing what he thought a 22-year-old woman from the 70’s would expect ~ a vinyl jacket, multi-coloured polyester shirt and a pair of flared jeans.

He grabs the child-sized red Samsonite suitcase from my hand and leans in to kiss my cheek. A silver chain with a silver and turquoise bear paw amulet dangles from his grey-haired chest. He seems smaller, younger and frailer in his personal life. I can’t see his eyes behind the tinted aviator lenses ~ but he mentions straightaway that he’s been up all night.

We stop at the A&P all-night supermarket in Fort Lee to pick up a few supplies (hot dogs, Pepsi and cigarettes for him ~ soda water for me). And while we are standing at the check out counter I can’t help but wonder if people think I am his daughter. This gives me a little kick. Like we are getting away with something. The idea that everything is not what it seems.

 Apartment 9A / Completion and Beginning

His place is immaculate, not a crumb in the galley kitchen where he will show me how he has perfected the one egg omelet and brew his “chock full of nuts” coffee. The spotless fridge holds a few cans of Pepsi, his preferred drink, and I add the bottle of club soda he purchased for me at the A&P.

In the living room, everything feels spacious, serene, orderly. There are no newspapers strewn about ~ or ashtrays overflowing or unfinished projects piling up in corners. Everything in the room seems unified by order and function.

The Zen surrealist atmosphere ~ white walls, tidy bookshelves, careful arrangement of art ~ all nesting around the piano, the Chickering baby grand. Only the piano has the look of being lived in. Sheets of music on one side of the worn padded bench and an ashtray on a stand on the other side. This is where he lives.

He shows me his bedroom. The green on green on green room. No curtains, a single window covered by a roll-down shade. The Spanish Modern furniture.

And offers me a gram of cocaine neatly folded into a piece of magazine paper. He slides it across the chartreuse bedspread.

“For your personal use,” he says, “while you’re staying here .”

I am touched by his inclusiveness and accept the package politely. I carefully open this expensive gift and take a bit of the white powder onto my fingertip and apply it to the end of my unlit cigarette.

He has several lines of the stuff laid out on the back of the same magazine. I watch as he slowly clears them one by one, snorting them up a rolled dollar bill until the glossy magazine is empty.

I light my cigarette and inhale deeply. The cool chemical sensation of burning cocaine and tobacco hits the back of my throat and slides down my spine, numbing my mind and opening up my body.

I have no idea how our chemistry will play out ~ his hand reaches to touch mine, our eyes connect. I am slightly high from the cocaine, his eyes seem magnified by the removal of his tinted glasses. His quiet confidence draws me inside.

He begins to disrobe, shedding his street clothes , revealing pale thin legs scarred and cratered, something like the surface of the moon. I am seeing his body for the first time. I’ve never seen scarring like this. Something about the mid-calf length dress socks reminds me of my Dad standing in his boxer shorts.

The look he gives me in this moment has no shame, no regret. He explains to me not how he came to be scarred this way, but that they are old scars and don’t hurt anymore.

His hands begin to explore my body. I am amazed by the sensitivity of his touch. His intense desire to give me pleasure overrides my need to stay in control and I am surrendering to this experience of pure bliss.

Waves of orgasm travel through my body and exit through the soles of my feet.

This is how he hooks me. I am insatiable after this first lovemaking session.

At 22, I am like soft wax, waiting to be impressed, and Bill does impress me with images that will last a lifetime.

For All We Know

The next morning I creep quietly out into the living room. The hazy Jersey sun fills the room; it must be noon . As I lie back on the white sofa to light my first cigarette of the day, Bill shuffles into the room in his red pajamas and asks me if I drink coffee.

I wonder what I look like after a few short hours of sleep. Bill’s sheepish grin let’s me know that I am looking rather fine in one of his white v-neck T-shirts.

I agree to a coffee and finish my early morning contemplation. I guess he’s not a maniac, I would have sensed that by now ~ but he’s not as conservative as I thought either.

Bill serves the coffee in the living room and pulls out an orange and black album from the book case on the wall behind his piano bench.

“This is Donny Hathaway and Roberta Flack,” he says. “There’s one track on here that I’ve been listening to a lot lately. It’s called “For All We Know”.

The piano begins very softly and then I hear Donny Hathaway’s voice. A mournful call to attention. I am immediately transported to another state. His voice is pure emotion ~ beyond Billie Holiday. I’m stunned.

We listen in silence together, Bill seated at the piano, me still reclining on the sofa.

At the end of the song, Bill lifts the needle off the record and begins to tell me the story of his brother Harry’s battle with schizophrenia, about the hours he spent listening to his paranoid ranting about the nature of the universe. How he really wanted to believe that Harry was just ahead of his time, onto something the rest of the world didn’t understand yet.

In the end it was a self-inflicted gunshot wound to the head that took Harry out.

Bill goes on to tell me that Donny Hathaway had suffered from depression and that he had been found dead on the sidewalk, outside his Hotel, a few months ago. They said the windows in his room had been carefully removed. He was 33 years old.

Then he sits down at the piano and plays for me the tune he had been writing for Harry just before his death and tells me that he has decided to title it “We Will Meet Again”.

This is how I learn to be present.

With Bill.

He draws me in.

Makes a place for me beside him.

And the experience of knowing someone this deeply is irresistible to me.

This is where my mission impossible begins ~ the one where I drop off my dry cleaning and slip through the back of that Manhattan storefront directly into the underworld.

This is where Persephone goes underground.

 

excerpt from “The Big Love: Life & Death with Bill Evans

 

 

 

Bill Evans Composition “LAURIE”

 

For an extensive view of all things Bill Evans, please visit Rob Rijneke’s tribute site:
www.billevans.nl

Bill Evans, Memoir and the Nature of Art

Laurie Verchomin, Bill Evans, Francine Tomlin, The Big Love

“Laurie Verchomin” photo by Francine Tomlin

Insightful review of  “The Big Love: Life & Death with Bill Evans”

This is from the blog ” the moderate contrarian”  by Mitch Hampton, a lay philosopher, jazz pianist and composer, essayist, cinephile and humanist and aesthete.

http://themoderatecontrarian.blogspot.ca/2011/07/bill-evans-memoir-and-nature-of-art.html

There is much truth to the ways we systematize and understand our lives. There is some truth to the labels in the latest DSM. I am perfectly willing even to concede all of the vogue words and jargon that we create to try and make sense of our lives. Having said that, I still think it is the role of art to get around, behind, and beyond such reductive forms of understanding. Nowhere is this problem made clearer than in the subject, content and potential reception of a valuable and well written memoir by jazz pianist Bill Evan’s last (literally to the deathbed) and younger lover Laurie Verchomin, The Big Love.

The problem stands in relief because in this tiny work of art in prose Verchomin takes material in her content loaded with traps to snare those who would approach it with preconceptions and stereotypical assumptions – Evans’ chronic cocaine abuse (evidently he was never not on drugs for decades), the fact that a much younger woman chose to be with him until his death and care and comfort him, the way the author negotiates the painful contradictions and joys of the 1970s sexual revolution – and makes all of this content a means by which she communicates not explanation or even understanding but experience in the sense that the better art communicates experience.
She is also working in a much maligned form. Memoirs are enormously popular (in part for the worst of reasons, say, an overt belief in “the truth” or an excessive interest in certain fashions) some feel that there are too many of them, it is associated with charges of self indulgence, celebrity culture, the evasion of artistic and literary seriousness and much worse besides.
Yet, as I have stated many times before, genre – in this case I suppose the label would be a “coming of age” genre – is not always the most useful way to understand literary or any other kind of art. A better way to understand art is to ask if we are changed somehow after expreriencing it, if it opens up newer forms of experience to us.
One of the reasons for the mistreatment or suspicion of memoir is that both audiences and critics make a whole host of assumptions about what consists an art object, what is the role, if any, of narration, point of view and other issues.
The other reason is pure sexism in the old fashioned Feminist sense. That is, many of the concerns of the memoir are concerns authored and experienced by women. Since historically such concerns are deemed of lesser importance than, say, a traditionally plotted novel, or an objective biography of a musician, this bias can only work against a memoir written by a woman.
Verchomin’s The Big Love is one of the most unusual experiences I have ever had in reading creative non-fiction. It is poetic, emotive, and compressed and distilled. Set in diary form, each sentence or paragraph is both austere and dense at one and the same time.
The great ballad “Laurie” as heard in the youtube selection was written by Bill Evans for her.
As a jazz pianist and lover of Bill Evans my perspective is surely biased: the content of the book is inherently interesting. But even more interesting is the complete lack of moralism (as distinct from true morality) and complete presence of compassion in her book. Every day that is covered reveals a very young woman coming of age and also reveals a Bill Evans slowly dying all the while performing, arguably the greatest music performances of his career. (I am often reminded of Edward Said’s book On Late Style). Evans’ late playing is exuberant and unafraid; it has the rawness of a scene from a Cassavetes movie yet the form of an old melodrama. Verchomin’s artistic and aesthetic strategy of using bits of poetry and the journal form as we stay with the experience of this young woman and this far older celebrity and greatest of jazz artists on a daily basis has a directness that would have otherwise been unavailable to us had she travelled a more worn path.
It is admittedly disturbing the passages that creep upon the reader. As we read we get deeper into the consciousness of the subjects. It is almost as if Verchomin is challenging us to think about ethics and human relationships in a deeper way. I will be reading her book and come upon a piece of information about public people, yet the innocence and tone of the delivery works against the severity of the information. For example:
“Bill’s other connection is Sam DiStephano who manages the Chicago Playboy Club. He sends over two former playmates (now a lesbian couple) to keep us company at the hotel. One is really tall and the other is short like me.

Bill asks them to find some cocaine. We went back to their apartment to wait while the tall one went out to score. I loved their apartment. They had this great writing-partner desk, where they worked on their careers as writers. And Tony Bennett had given them matching walkmens so they could think of him while they were having sex”.
The effect of the passage is startling because of the reporting style mixed with the point of view of a young woman from Canada.

There is no greater case to be made for the supremacy of style in how art makes meaning than in The Big Love. Verchomin’s “voice” and rhythm is everything. After many weeks of reading about the wildness of 1970s culture it is a nice to come upon purely musical examples such as Bill Evans’ understandable love for Earth Wind and Fire, or more personal passages where detail and rhythm are all important:
“I am Ellaine, because she is so much stronger. I am drawing on the strength of her tenure as Bill’s first wife. The woman who ate nothing but Haagen Dasz coffee ice cream for two years and then broke her fast with sushi. The woman who gave birth to twin Siamese cats, which they named Melody and Harmony. The woman who lay beside Bill for years and years, in candlelit apartments without electricity, yet keeping sacred the art of television with an extension cord strung out into the hallway”.

At other times she writes about Evans’ musical style:
“No one recognizes the melody; the discard has his head rearing up, an angry mane of thick grey hair framing his broad forehead,eyebrows raised in astonished agony.

Here is Bill, crucifying himself. Finally exploring his suffering in public, no longer able to control his passion, freely expressing the distortion he is directly experiencing.”

It is direct experience that is one of Verchomin’s themes, as well as a good phrase for the style in which she writes.

As the book keeps building the sense of repetition, by the book’s end we are not quite the same as we were when we started. We are in a place where the usual categories do not apply. In my view there is no better place for a piece of writing to take the reader. We are constantly having to readjust ourselves our sense of what music and the music making process is. We have to constantly readjust our preconceptions of drugs and sexuality.
The Big Love is a short book. It is concentrated, precise and sharp. But it is a creation of pure love. It builds to a powerful and inevitable end that seems far vaster than its surface size. It is unabashedly spiritual and mystical and never downplays such interests for the sake of a purely secular or scientific culture. The Big Love it is a must for anybody involved in jazz and certainly for anyone interested in the history of the 1970s, and, above all, anybody interested in the subject of female experience in the twentieth century.