A Bill Evans Rehearsal

Rifftides reader Mike Harris (more about him later) alerts us to a little-known piece of video catching Bill Evans in rehearsal for a 1966 Danish television broadcast. The 21-minute sequence lets us Bill Evans, head downsee and hear Evans and his trio preparing pieces he frequently included in his playlists: “Very Early,” “Who Can I Turn To,” “If You Could See Me Now” and, toward the end, “Five,” his rhythmically demanding original based on the “I Got Rhythm” chord progression. The trio includes bassist Eddie Gomez, who had recently joined Evans, and the young Danish drummer Alex Riel, whom Evans patiently instructs in the convolutions of “Five.” We don’t customarily post videos of this length, but we don’t often have this kind of opportunity to witness music being prepared.

Mike Harris, who tipped us to that video, is the dedicated Bill Evans fan who surreptitiously recorded the pianist at the Village Vanguard over nine years in the 1960s and ‘70s. In 1996, producerEvans Secret Sessions Orrin Keepnews and engineers Joe Tarantino Kirk Felton transformed the Harris tapes into the eight-CD Evans set The Secret Sessions. In those recordings, Evans is heard with bassists Gomez and Teddy Kotick and a variety of drummers including Philly Joe Jones, Jack DeJohnette, Eliot Zigmund and Marty Morell. Here is a lightly edited excerpt from my notes that box set:

It is impossible to know whether Bill Evans would have agreed to release of the Harris tapes, but in a Canadian interview a few months before he died, he made an observation that addressed the general proposition of unauthorized taping and of the contrast between live club performance and studio recordings.

“You’re never going to hear on record what you may hear live,” he said. “Our best performance is gone into the atmosphere. We never have have really gotten on record that special peak that happens fairly often. And there’s nothing like that physical contact with an audience.”

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  1. Mark Mohr says

    Doug, you had me at “A Bill Evans Rehearsal.” There is just something wonderfully ephemeral about those old, black and white TV rehearsal and concert video recordings, warts and all: a tight shot of a drummer’s hand when a bass player is soloing, a still photographer wandering into the background or a studio cameraman awkwardly getting into position for his next shot. (There really seems to be something more “pure” about TV coverage of jazz in the 1960s than at any other time.) But behind it all is the playing of my favorite pianist, Bill Evans. This might have been just “another rehearsal” in a seemingly endless string of rehearsals, but my god, this music is sparkling and brilliant. Evans just played with such an inherent finesse that, in my humble opinion, his rehearsals were as good as gold. And speaking of gold: 15:57…a real insight into the creative process. As a non-musician, Evans was speaking Greek to me in his explanations to his Danish drummer, but it was wonderful. “Just think of it as a two-beat ‘I Got Rhythm.” “Play straight time in the melody chorus.” I didn’t have a clue what he meant, but it was stunning to hear. Also loved the 50 seconds of chatter at the end of the rehearsal. Priceless. Thanks to Mike Harris for bringing this to your attention and Bravo for posting it.

    • Terence Smith says

      I like the zen-koan quality of some of Bill’s words to Alex Riel, on the subject of how to “accompany”/participate in the unique layers of “Five”:

      “Don’t listen to what I’m playing cause it’s so, you know, over the thing.”

      I also like Jimmy Guiffre’s words as quoted in the notes to Bill Evans Live in Paris, Vol. 1:

      “There’s a certain level as from where there no longer exists a category in music; it’s not only jazz or classical music ( European ) or anything else, it’s simply music which can’t be labeled—great music; that’s what Bill plays.”

      • Brian Priestley says

        Wonderful to see the close-up of Bill’s face when rehearsing Five. And to notice that, when Alex Riel gets slightly out of phase towards the end of the second run-through, Bill smiles to himself but doesn’t say anything negative. Just “Let’s try it again”. Very classy

  2. David says

    Those who can’t get enough can click through to another DrummersWorld post of “Autumn Leaves” that looks like it’s from the same rehearsal. A concert by this trio, from October of that year, with some of the same tunes, can be found on the Shanachie dvd The Oslo Concerts, along with a splendid concert by the last trio from 1980. I think both of these are on YouTube as well.

  3. says

    Thank you for posting this! Wow, can you imagine how it must have felt for Alex to be a part of this? As a drummer myself, I have to put in a word for him here about the time being turned around on “Five”. The bridge is tricky because neither of the two syncopated phrases that flow through it in the melody/bass start on “one” and, I humbly submit it is not Alex that gets the time turned around, but Eddie is one beat early coming in on the last A section. He offers that comment in the vid but Bill keeps it moving by suggesting Eddie play in “2” on the bridge. As Brian points out, Bill focused on how to make it work rather than put anyone on the spot.

    Thank you for posting this fantastic 20 minutes!

  4. says

    I’m not sure, but is the tape not from the Oslo Munch Museum in Oktober 1966, produced by the Norwegian Broadcasting Company? See the DVD Bill Evans Trio, The Oslo Concerts.