The Bill Evans Trio 2
BILL EVANS, EDDIE GOMEZ and JACK DE JOHNETTE
talking in 1968
This trio is virtually a new one. Jack did three TV spots in New York with us, then three weeks at the Top Of The Gate. Right after that. we went to the Montreux Jazz Festival, where we recorded live our appearance there.
I think we were very fortunate to get Jack. Plus we were also fortunate to have that three weeks in New York, in a rather relaxed club atmosphere to break in the new group before we had to record. It took about a weekĖandĖahalf or so before we started to feel that things were going to really get together in a brand new way. And by the end of the job I felt completely confident about the group and our appearances here in Europe.
Jack has brought something to the group that weíve never had: a sort of creativity on the drums that is different from any of the other drummers. They were creative, too, but Jack seems to find his own things to put in the same places. Consequently, because of his fresh conception, you might say, I think that our general repertoire and possibly the style of the group will go through not, maybe major changes . . . but itíll be noticeable.
Oh, yes, he has had a little bit of an effect on my ,playing. Heís stimulating; you can always feel his creative energy. Therefore he moves me to find things, perhaps, that I wouldnít find otherwise. Just the last few nights Iíve felt that his influence has been getting to me. In other words, I feel myself being disturbed from my, letís say, solid role, the way that I would think if he werenít there. I havenít gotten to what I would get to yet; maybe I wonít. Maybe weíll settle in a different way, or something. But yes, I do feel that heís a very healthy kind of influence in that way.
I think itís true that Iím playing harder now, compared to my appearance at Ronnieís old club three years ago.
But it didnít happen in conjunction with Jackís joining the group so much. Itís been a gradual thing. In fact, I donít knowĖ1 feel Iíve always played about the same. Maybe itís because of the fact that Jack might play a little harder, and Eddie is a very vigorous bass player, that this gives the dimension to my playing that, though it might not be different, it makes the listener feel that Iím playing stronger.
I know that Philly Joe Jones was with the trio in America last year for about four months and during that time I did play physically much stronger, because the strong things that we played were that much more robust. And Philly certainly fitted into the group; the ballads and all were gorgeous. Heís just a tremendously strong drummer, and it wasnít that it was too loud or anything like that. Itís just that it got going, and I acquired the habit of playing that way then. So it may be somewhat of a carryover from that.
As Iíve mentioned before, the Trio has never rehearsed. Before the Montreux Festival, we had to do some new material that night that weíd never done; so that afternoon we played over each selection while the engineers were getting their sound balance and so on.
Thatís the closest weíve ever, come to a rehearsal.
Other than that, everything has happened in performance. As I said, the breakĖin period for Jack was at the Top Of The Gate. When Eddie joined the group, it was at the same time as Joe Hunt; we broke in at the London House in Chicago. It usually takes at least a couple of weeks before the new people feel a bit comfortable, and arenít just going through terrible panics. Because itís an awful lot to try to start grabbing all at once. Then the thing starts to get into a real group sound.
Of course, itís presentable, but it doesnít have the polish that it has later, or the togetherness, or the possibility for creative peaks. We have to get a basic repertoire together that we can use in clubs and concerts.
It seems as if personalities are this way in musicĖprobably the same way in lifeĖif you donít get together emotionally and sympathetically in a very short time, chances are youíre never going to get together. And once you are together on that level, from then on itís a matter of refinement. We might develop a deeper ability to grasp intuitively what the other person is going to do, and so on, beyond that first stage. Then it gets to how we each stimulate each other, and in what directions we push each other, in order to end up with a new product, in a way.
Even though we do the same things fundamentally the same way, thereís a lot of difference. Someone said last night : ďGee, Iíve heard you play soĖandĖso and soĖandĖso with three different groups, and each time itís been entirely different.Ē Well, thatís the way he felt; I donít feel itís entirely different, but thereís an essential change which is the result of the personalities involved.
As for developing a set styleĖI donít believe I ever have, really. It seems to me that Iíve always more or less played myself, although Iíve gone through a lot of different influences. I think probably when I had the trio with Scott and Paul, that was the first time that I was striving for something with a group. The reason being that it was only the first time I had a group, and the chance to do it.
What we were striving for was that each member of the group would have more independence, more freedom, and there would be more interplay between the instruments. That was all, and from then on we just played. I suppose it was more a result of just the experience of working with a trio that maybe I consolidated a sort of a style, I guess.
JACK de JOHNETTE
Iím really having a ball with the trio; itís almost two months now, and it feels great. I had left Charles Lloyd and was freelancing around New York. Eddie Gomez and the man who manages Miles recommended me to Bill. He had never heard me play before, although he knew me by reputation. I came right in, and things just started happening; I seemed to fit in right away. Iíd been familiar with Billís music for a long time, anyway; he was already one of my favourites. The fact that I play piano myself really gives me an appreciation of what heís doing. Itís worked out wellóas you can hear for yourself. I think itís one of the best trios Billís had.
Of course, Eddie is a powerful bass player; so itís a good combination. Billís playing is certainly changing. Weíve got an album coming out that we recorded at Montreux: itíll be like a milestone for everybody. I consider itís the first record where I come into my own as an original player.
I just love to play music, and when I do, I like for it to happen. Thatís just something thatís naturally in me. When Iím with people who can play, whatever is in them comes out.
Keeping it subdued some of the time is no problem. Well, Iíve worked with singers, such as Betty Carter. Working with Charles was very good for dynamics, because the music was up and down; you had to listen very closely.
So the trio is helping me to develop a sound and touch. Which is one of the things Iím striving for. Like Roy Haynes; he has a very, very special sound he gets with the drums, that no one else gets. I donít want it to sound like his, but I want a sound of my own thatís as special as that.
I try to be as musical, as rhythmic as I can. Itís an accumulation of my experiences in lifeĖon the bandstand and off. You give up a part of yourself in order to obtain a group affinity. Itís three people doing individual things, but coming off as one. That requires some discipline, but not too much, if you enjoy making it come out right, knowing that it does so because of you being with it.
Certainly, itís a great change for me. A lot of people marvel at it, after my having worked with Charles, with Miles, with Joe Henderson and other horns, where drums are used more forcefully. But I really welcome the change, because it means I can play in any kind of context. Itís good to be able to do all types of playingĖwith the trio, with horns, with a big band or whatever. The thing is, I like to be happy, even though the world could be in a much better state of happiness than it is.
Happiness is something that an individual has to create. Itís easy to moan about the worldís problems. As I see it, weíre all in this life together, all the same. Some of us realise that; some of us donít. I just live my philosophy, practising what I preach. I try to do good in all possible ways, with no negative vibrations set up.
This trio is an extension, more or less, of the Scott La Fare/Paul Motian type of interplay. Bill grows logically. He doesnít jump into anything blind: he looks at it. When he plays, he doesnít waste any notes. And thatís important.
The art is to make use of everything. There are guys who can play fantastic like, ĎTrane could play anything fast or he could play a simple melody. Thatís what makes Miles and Sonny Rollins so great.
Iím from Chicago. At the age of four I started studying classical piano with a graduate teacher from the American Conservatory of Music. I continued my studies on up to my teens. When I got into high school, I played bass before switching to drums. We had high school combos; I had a little rock Ďní roll group, and the drummer used to leave his drums down in my basement. Having them there in my house got me interested in them. I used to practise rudiments while watching television.
As with other young drummers, I was influenced by Max Roach, Philly Joe, Roy Haynes. Roy has been so ahead; what the young guys are playing now, he was playing 20 years ago. Itís just that theyíre doing it a different way, but itís basically the same thing. Every time I hear him, itís like a lesson. And as a person, too, heís beautiful; no attitudes or anything, very happy, he loves life. Heís created a very good image for me; if I were to mould myself after someone, it would be him.
Iíve learned from watching and being inspired by Roy and other drummers. I never studied with anyone. For me, I think itís the best way. Itís helped me to develop an original style. The grip you use depends on what youíre going to play. Itís a personal thing, really. Different drummers hold the sticks tight or loose, but what matters is the sound you get when you play.
The beautiful thing about the drums is that, unlike piano, saxophone, trumpet, no one person dominates the field. Because you can express yourself so many ways. And every era somebody has contributed to the growth of it. No one can ever be crowned the greatest ever on drums; every drummer has something great to say.
Especially the drummers today. I like Rashied Ali, particularly; he and I worked together with John Coltrane, and we really dig each other. Heís taken the drums another way. He knows what heís doing; he plays flute, understands melody and harmony, and can read very well.
People have knocked him because he didnít swing. But heís an innovator; the way he plays, the soloist can swing or he can play free. Rashied has what you can call a drone: itís like African drums. The Western style is okay, but the drumsĖpolyrhythms and things like thaióactually come from Africa. Elvin plays that sort of AfricanĖtype: itís not technical, itís more spiritual. This is what Rashied has going on.
The guys that are really doing some creative things on drums donít get the exposure they should. Thereís Beaver Harris, Milford Gravesóright now he and Don Pullen have a coĖoperative duo; they have their own record label. More people should listen to Milford; he plays African rhythms only. Thereís so much music happening today; you have to keep years ears open.
As for what Buddy Rich once saidóthat drummers nowadays tend to specialise too much: Buddy is a drum freak: he plays incredible things, but he specialises in something himself, whether he knows it or not. He specialises in being a great technician and a bigĖband drummer. He can really push a big band, and I prefer him in that context than with a small group. Whereas, I would sound better in a small group context, I think. When you play in a big band, you canít play as free: the drummer has the responsibility of holding the band together.
Musicians as a whole are too critical of each other. You have to be, I guess, but you can get something from everybody, if you listen. Thatís how I feel. Buddyís knocked me a couple of times. Drummers seem to think that because youíre not playing a strict time, you donít know what youíre doing. But, I mean, time only exists on a relative level. Time is something that man creates, as a means to get from one place to another. On the other hand, there is no timeóonly space. You deal with rhythm, sound, harmony, melodyóthatís my conception.
You have to specialise in something, to make a living. You must have something specialóa sound, a technique, or whateveróthat makes you Buddy Rich, or Eddie Gomez, or Bill Evans. People want to hear that: thatís what makes an artist. Buddyís got his thing; he has to accept the fact that everyone else has their special thing.
Even though you might not dig it for yourself, there are going to be people who believe it and will accept it. Youíre bound to get to somebody: thereís people all over the world vibrating different things. There are so many ways that you can make people vibrate.
Sure, playing piano and bass as well as drums has been a fantastic asset. Itís opened my head wide. Itís helped me as a percussionist, because I donít sit down and practise drums. I like to be purely spontaneous, so that whatever I play, itís always different. Everyone should know a little bit, at least, about the piano. You should learn as much as you ,can about musicóand about life. Because if you donít experience life, you wonít put out any music.
Iíve been using the melodica about four or five years. I always wanted to play the saxophone, but I never got around to getting one. I do have one now, which I plan to take up eventually and study seriously; Iíll get to that in my own time. But I started on the melodica to be free of having to put down chords in the left hand, so. I really investigate playing harmonically and melodically. Itís a coldĖsounding instrument which can turn you off, and at certain times Iíve felt like putting it down. Now I seem to be finding more things on it; so I think 1í;; continue with it. Thereís something about it which I like. This is the soprano, I guess.
Theyíre all great players that Iíve been doing the first set with every nightóDave Holland, John Marshal, Pat Smythe. And especially the guitarist, John McLaughlinóheís fantastic.
I hope I get the chance to work with Miles again some time. I was more or less filling in for Tony Williams; it was quite an experience. Miles gives you lots of freedom. He makes suggestions and things to you that really donít sound great at the time he mentions them.
The future of jazz lies with the younger players, and thereís going to be a lot of good groups now. It wonít be just the Miles Davis Quintet or the Charles Lloyd Quartet. A lot of fine players are coming up; the music horizon is going to be full and varied.
The ultimate thing is to be able to weave in and out of all types of playingófreedom and all of it. Like these first sets Iíve been participating in here. It all happens naturally; itís not intentional. We donít say: ďLetís play freedom.Ē I mean, what is freedom? Itís being able to do whatever you can get to.
Itís been over two years now that Iíve played the bass with the Bill Evans Trio. A very rewarding experience. The rapport between Bill and me has gotten more intense, on a much broader level in the last year, Iíd say. Itís just a growth development, especially for me. Thereís a sort of a development that goes along with the whole trio, and it can vary, depending on the members of the band.
Since Jack joined us, itís been an added boost. The growth has really been very clear. Jack has brought in more fire in general. The way he provides a rhythmic counterĖbalanceĖI guess he conceives the cracks to fill, against what weíre playing. Bill and I play certain things, and Jack kind of plays off those. Heís very musical; heís able to go up and down with the music, just what is demanded of the percussion section. There are so many facets of Billís playing, but I guess it all comes down to the way he goes about making music. Itís a very clear, straight, honest way of going at it; thereís nothing thatís contrived. He can play very sensuously: everything is directly concerned with music. Heís a great lesson in himself.
My relationship with the bass began when I was eleven years old. I was born in Puerto Rico 23 years ago; as a baby I came to New York with my parents. We lived among mainly SpanishĖspeaking people on the edge of Harlem. Which is a very good mixedĖup sort of environment to grow up inóall kinds of different influences.
Actually, I didnít single that instrument out. It was given to me. Before that, I didnít know one from the other really. Most kids have an idea they want to play saxophone, flute or something. Perhaps I wouldnít have minded playing the violin. I liked singing, and I used to sing in the assembly sometimes. I love the guitar, but itís not an instrument that I can really play. Iíve fooled around on the Ďcello. and I love that, too. But, anyway, I got the bass, and I was glad I did. Once I got familiar with it, I fell in love with it.
It was when I got into junior high school that there were some kids listening to blues and some jazz. I started getting some jazz records, and I really dug it. Especially the bass, and the function it played. What bothered me was that it seemed to be just snubbed and looked down upon by everybody.
Then I was in the Newport Youth Band at about 14 years old while at high school. I was very lucky. So I surrounded myself with music, and kind of threw myself towards my particular goals. I started doing a lot of playing around New York.
I just wanted to try and think of the bass a little differently. What people like Paul Chambers, Ray Brown and Mingus were doing always excited me. But there werenít enough great bass players contributing. In a solo way, I felt that all the good, interesting things were coming from the horn players. Thatís all changed now. A lot of bass players are making a musical contribution, and kind of challenging the other instruments.
When I say Iíve been influenced a lot by horns, I refer to the freedom with which they seem to express themselves. Thatís all I want to do. I really donít want to sound like a saxophone, a guitar or any instrument othe than .the bass. It would be taking away from the bass to try and imitate a horn. The bass just has to be free to play anything that music will suggest.
Scott La Faro, more than anybody, freed the bass role and function, so that you didnít have to be so strict. Especially in the relationship he had with Bill. Mingus was doing that before; so was Richard Davis a little bit, I guess. But with Bill, it was very clear thinking by Scott as to what he wanted to do on the bass. He was a great, great player. His death was a tremendous loss, because imagine what he would be playing like now! He played quite incredibly then.
To my mind, no one after him has come near that kind of playing. Including myselfóvery definitely.
Itís a monster of an instrument, one that you really have to love and dedicate yourself to. Otherwise, thereís no sense in playing it. Iím still nowhere near where I want to play. Thereís so much more you can challenge yourself to do.
It has nothing to do with technique, necessarily, or virtuosity. It isnít just scales, being able to play certain studies, or anything like that. A whole musical growth takes place, with the scope widening and widening. Ideally, itís a growth that should never stop. Although it doesówith most humans.
Whatever I playóif itís just one noteómy intention is to make a nice, pretty sound, that has a good feeling about it. I never thought so much about whisking about; up and down the bass.
Of course, I had to work somewhat, and be aware of the kind of sound that I wanted. I think a teacher has something to do with that. Fortunately, I had a very great teacher, the late Fred Zimmerman. He had a beautiful sound, particularly with the bow.
But it doesnít always have to be beautiful. Sometimes there is a need for making a sort of a contrary sound to that. Not really ugly: just another way of playing, expressing a different emotion. I like using the bow, but I donít with Bill, because that would just add another entire dimension to it, that I would have to explore fully. Iíd have to try and use that to the fullest. And that Iím not ready for; I just donít want to do that, since Iím trying to develop the pizzicato.
I practise with the bow, but not a lot. I really practise playing tunes more than with the bow now. No special practice routine; only when I feel like playing. Which is a lot, but very unroutined. I have a lot of books that I practise from, but thereís nothing in particular that I set myself to do every day.
Sure, Iíve heard the Francois Rabbath record (ďThe Sound Of A BassĒ). Heís a very, good bass player. He wasnít entirely in the jazz thing, but that has nothing to do with it. The performance was great. Iíve tried some of that bowing under the bridge in my own kind of fooling around, and maybe in other music with other people. But with Bill I kind of play a certain way because he requires it. That record was very inspiring, though.
The occasional feature spots that Bill lets me do, like ďEmbraceable You,Ē constitute an experiment. I pretty much do everything: they accompany me, and let the bass make as much happen as ,possible. The bass certainly can command attention. And itíll continue doing it.
Like anything else, certain nights are tough with the trio. A club has more of a loose atmosphere than a concert. You can stretch it out, and you have two or three sets to play. In a concert thereís an air of this is whatís going to be, and after itís over, itís done. So itís very quick and I guess more tension is involved. I prefer a club, because it gives more opportunity for all of us to just try and relax and not be thinking about being on top of it. Billís tunes all afford the same sort of big challenge. But theyíre so great, so demanding, that theyíre certainly enough to occupy me.
Composing is part of what I want to do, but thereís nothing of mine in the trioís book. Iím kind of very select, and if I ever do it, itíll have to be very special. My general aim is basically just to keep playing. To try different music, too. Ultimately I want to do a couple of my own albums, trying out the things in my mind.
Recent albums Iíve been on include one I did with Mike Mantler and one with Lee Konitz which is coming out, where he played duets with different people. Then the Montreux concert album that I did with Bill is going to be released in September. We were happy when we heard it; itíll be a nice album.
Advice to bass players? It depends on what it is they want. The only thing Iíd say is: just familiarise yourself with the instrument, the best that your musical direction implies you have to. Get a good teacher, if thatís how you want to express it on the bass. Itís very challenging to somebody who is really willing to face it truthfully. A monster.
Copyright © 1968, Les Tomkins. All Rights Reserved