Bill Evans had precise intellectual understanding of everything he did in his playing. However, like most superior improvisers, he developed his skill and knowledge to the point where he could set aside concentration on keyboard technique and the elements of musical language in order to achieve an unfettered flow of creativity in the spontaneous act of playing jazz. On occasions when he talked about the nature of improvisation, Evans spoke with exactitude and coherence to match his expressiveness at the piano. The most widely known example of his verbal eloquence is in conversation with his brother Harry, a music educator, in a 1966 television program called The Universal Mind of Bill Evans, which is available on DVD.
Now, three revealing video clips have surfaced. They were taped nearly thirty years ago at a private house concert in Finland. The Evans trio played and he talked with his hosts about his music-making. Asked how far the intellect goes in playing jazz, he replied:
Only as far as being a student. You couldn’t manipulate yourself fast enough intellectually, to play. I mean jazz is a certain process that is not an intellectual process. You use your intellect to take apart the materials and learn to understand them and learn to work with them. But, actually, it takes years and years of playing to develop the facility so that you can forget all of that and just relax, and just play.
At the end of the third sequence, bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morrell, also speak. These You Tube clips are apparently from a television program that aired in Helsinki. As far as I’ve been able to discover, they have never been commercially available. This was about a decade before Evans’ death in 1980. Relaxed in comfortable surroundings and congenial company, he even smiles, a rarity in video recordings of Evans. The first clip has Evans speaking.