Many of the numerous comments about my Bill Evans article in The Wall Street Journal this week have been touching. None has been more moving or more extensive than this one from Rifftides reader Mark Mohr. The staff agreed that Mr. Mohr’s account of discovering Evans should be an item of its own because it parallels the experiences of so many other listeners.
I first saw Bill Evans in concert at the University of California at Santa Barbara in 1974. He and his trio (Eddie Gomez and Marty Morrell) were touring in support in the newly-released Fantasy album Since We Met. I was a fledgling disc jockey at the campus radio station, KCSB-FM. The station had made a serious commitment to extensive jazz programming, and I was just beginning to experience and enjoy jazz. There were quite a few students at the radio station who said a Bill Evans concert was not to be missed. I didn’t know anything about Evans at the time but the station had received a few promo records and I seriously listened to Since We Met to find out what all the buzz was about. From the first note of the concert until the to the audience applause at the end, I was spellbound and struck by the quality of the music. Tender, sad, introspective and wonderful. I attended the Evans’ concert at the university’s Campbell Hall with some friends from the radio station. We had good seats and sat close to the stage. Evans, Morrell and Gomez walked out in matching slacks, dress shirts and sport coats. (It was the style at the time.) For the next forty-five minutes, the music and the musicians mesmerized me. I had never heard anything like it and I was hooked. At intermission, the radio boys and I went backstage and I nervously introduced myself to Bill and the other members of the trio. He was polite and friendly, but somewhat shy. The second half of the concert was even better than the first, if that’s possible. Afterwards, the band left for their next gig in whatever town was next on their touring schedule.
The audience filed out and I went back to the radio station and replayed the album, listening even more closely. The next day, I found a few more Evans records in the station’s library, and began to enjoy his earlier recordings. I told my parents about my extraordinary discovery and they wound up seeing him in concert a few weeks later at the Hollywood Bowl. I only saw him perform live once more, at the Catamaran Hotel in San Diego. It was four years later but by then, I had developed quite a collection of his records and later on I began collecting his CD’s. His music always struck me as very, very special but I could never quite understand how such a talented musician and such a special man had fallen victim to drug use and abuse. This week marked the 30th anniversary of his passing. I’ve spent the past few days listening to a lot of his music, but I still think my all time favorite is Since We Met. My parents were deeply touched by his music, too. After they died, I spread their ashes into the Pacific Ocean at sunset and played some of their favorite Bill Evans music: “Seascape,” “Dolphin Dance,” “Peau Deuce” and fittingly, “I Will Say Goodbye.” Bill Evans may be gone, but his music will live forever.