There have been three musical/spiritual tsunamis in my life. These tsunamis came in the forms of Miles Davis, Bill Evans and John Coltrane – in that order. Miles was instrumental in making me aware of both Bill and John.
The first wave hit me in 1958 with the album Milestones. The second in 1959 with Kind of Blue, in which I discovered Bill Evans, and the third in 1965 with Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, but that’s another story.
Kind of Blue was a radical shift from Milestones, which was only a year earlier. In my opinion, this was due to the presence of Bill Evans. I’d already loved Miles even prior to Milestones, but with Bill the magic really happened. I was stunned not only by the music, but by the ‘atmosphere’, the profoundly deep spiritual ‘vibe’ that the music from this album expresses. This was ‘real jazz’. Bill really blew my mind. His delicacy is beyond strength or weakness, and his ‘floating’ sense of time was just amazing to me. Of course my sights were now set on this unbelievable pianist.
It was just a short time later that I found recordings of his trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. What marvelous gifts they make in these recordings!
Bill possessed a number of ‘keys’. These keys were embodied in his gigantic talent and in his soul. These keys were able to unlock the depths of listeners’ hearts, and in doing so, allowed the listener to enter a world of transcendental beauty, of overpowering poignancy, and enable them to discover their own soul. This is so rare …
It was only a matter of time before I felt the need to acknowlege the enormous debt I have to Bill – a debt that I’ll never be able to fully repay – and began my recordings of his works. This entailed employing 5 acoustic guitars, and 1 acoustic bass guitar, to be able to accurately reproduce what Bill had played with 2 hands! What a labor of love …
Laurie’s book has given me an insight into Bill’s life, and the complex and subtle relationship they enjoyed together. In one sense it was strange for me to read, since Laurie recounts two events at which I was present, and we didn’t know each other. The first event was that evening at The Village Vanguard during which Bill played the most phenomenal introduction to “Nardis,” followed by a rendition that had Dave Liebman and myself jaw-dropping …
The second was the memorial after Bill’s death, during which I was hiding behind a pillar for the most part since I was too emotionally upset to be in company.
It’s very clear from Laurie’s poetic description of their life together that Bill was almost permanently aware of the nearness of death, and of the fragility of existence.
And while it is also very clear – given the extreme suffering he experienced in his drug abuse – that through his sublime art he allowed us to experience this suffering as a victory for beauty, for marvelous sensuality and the fundamental tragedy of life – without which life would be absurd.