Recently, I’ve gradually been working through my blog history and archiving my posts – all 641 of them and counting – to my hard drive. It occurred to me that my ten-year blogging anniversary is this year (September 21, to be precise), making this little space my longest lived blogging endeavour to date, and the impending milestone made me realise how very sad I would be if I were to lose a lot of this writing to the internet’s penchant for impermanence (or, more specifically, to Google’s penchant for killing off their services without much warning). In the course of doing so, I have been able to revisit the sort of things I used to share in this space and realised that I no longer talk about music as much as I did. Which is a shame, because music is great! And I spend the majority of my waking hours listening to it! So, in the spirit of my old music share posts, here’s some of what has captured my aural imagination as of late.
Sometime over the last week, I tumbled down a Bill Evans rabbit hole and haven’t been able to clamber out of it since. I’m not entirely sure how this happened, given that jazz isn’t a genre of music to which I listen with any regularity. I imagine that, as with many a layperson, my acquaintance with the work of Bill Evans began with Kind of Blue, where he provides the piano backing to Miles Davis’s trumpet stylings. (Aside: I was introduced to Kind of Blue by my high school music history teacher, himself a jazz musician. He described it as a jazz album even people who hate jazz love. So, if you haven’t yet, you owe it to yourself to listen through the record at least once before you die, though, afterwards, you may be too full of inchoate emotion to leave the house for a few days. Do not fret, that is perfectly natural.) Every once in a while, I would reach for Evans’s solo album, Alone, but it rarely rose above the status of background music. Then, perhaps a month ago, I had my radio tuned to Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz on the local NPR station (sorry, I’ll try to sound more like the living, walking stereotype of an east coast liberal elitist next time) when I heard the guest, whose name now escapes me, perform a rendition of a piece called “Waltz for Debby” written by none other than Bill Evans:
♪ Bill Evans Trio – Waltz for Debby (Take 2)
Is there such a thing as a delayed-onset earworm? For some reason, it floated to the surface of my consciousness last weekend, and, since then, I’ve been obsessed. Completely obsessed. Like, I-can’t-bring-myself-to-listen-to-anything-else obsessed.
If I knew anything at all about jazz theory or history, this would be where I explicate, in my admittedly amateurish way, the brilliance of Bill Evans, but the truth is that I am approaching his music in almost a complete vacuum of intellectual preconceptions. In some ways, this is a bit frustrating: I suspect that, as with any art worth its salt, one’s appreciation of jazz is strictly increasing in the amount that one knows about it. In another way, however, it has proved quite liberating. Instead of book learning, I must rely on music intuition. There is less thinking and more feeling.
What is it that Bill Evans’s music makes me feel? His brand of jazz runs cool in temperament. It is unruffled, contemplative, lyrical, and just a touch melancholy at the edges. It is suffused with a fundamental innocence. “Waltz for Debby,” after all, was written for his niece. In that sense, it reminds me of Ravel’s “Ma mère l’Oye” (“Mother Goose”), an orchestral suite that was originally written as a piano duet for two children that shares the same earnestness and lack of pretension.
♪ Maurice Ravel – Ma mère l’Oye: Laideronnette, impératrice des pagodes
Rotterdam Philharmonic Orchestra with Yannick Nézét-Séguin, conductor
That, I think, gets to another reason that Bill Evans’s music has attached itself so firmly to my heart. For me, it is impossible to not hear, lurking behind the jazz inflections, a classicism that hearkens back to the piano works of the French Impressionist composers in particular. I imagine that must make Bill Evans an easier sell to me than other jazz musicians because I feel like he and I speak the same language, if rather different dialects thereof. Indeed, I find myself wanting to try playing some of his pieces on the piano, and I haven’t had the urge to personally try my hand at jazz since high school (I was convinced for about a month that it would be a good idea to expand my musical boundaries a bit, only to discover that my classically trained brain just couldn’t handle the rhythm and syncopation). Take, for instance, this other piece of his:
♪ Bill Evans Trio – Some Other Time
The double bass plucking out a broken perfect fifth in the very first bar of music – one could hardly find a simpler gesture, yet its supreme unhurriedness frames everything to follow. This made me think of Erik Satie’s “Gymnopédies”, which, in spite of their ubiquitous presence on compilations of Relaxing Classical Music, really are beautiful in their compactness and simplicity.
♪ Erik Satie – Gymnopédie No. 3
Pascal Roge, piano
And there are a few chromatic runs in the piano part that trace out a whole-tone scale, of which Claude Debussy, among other composers, made extensive use.
♪ Claude Debussy – Preludes, Livre I: Voiles
Pascal Roge, piano
And, in a twist that I am sure is far from coincidental, “Some Other Time” shares almost the exact same beginning as “Flamenco Sketches” from Kind of Blue.
♪ Miles Davis – Flamenco Sketches
I wonder if maybe the time of year has something to do with it too, caught as we are in the fitful transition between winter and spring (though, given recent meteorological events, there is no question as to who has the upper hand there). There is a yearning for warmth and the angled sunlight of longer days, but, until then, I will have to be content with dreaming of it.