A couple of faithful Rifftides readers comment on the posting about the Bill Evans- Kenny Burrell video on YouTube. Ted O’Reilly counters my supposition that Evans and Burrell recorded together only one other time. He writes:
Bill and Kenny are both sidemen with Chet Baker on Chet — The Lyrical Trumpet of Chet Baker, Riverside OJC CD-087-2.
I had forgotten that. Thanks for the reminder.
Mel Narunsky writes:
Listening to Bill Evans and Kenny Burrell brings to mind a probably highly contentious question that I’ve seen posed on the web: Was Bill Evans a cocktail pianist?
Being a Bill Evans fan I was initially taken aback at such a question until I remembered a good example of such a possibility.
On his CD Alone (Again) (Fantasy) he plays, for 13 minutes and 41 seconds what became a much lauded performance of “People.”
I’ve never seen this performance criticized – on the contrary – but listen to it: for the whole 13 plus minutes he plays the melody only – not a bar of improvisation – and to my mind it becomes extremely boring.
So, despite being usually an inventive improviser – he could at times be something of a cocktail pianist as well.
Perhaps he could be, but “People” is not evidence of it.
Piano improvisation consists of more than variations on melody or the creation of new melody. I hear Evans’s “People” as a performance of orchestral proportions, with a rich palette of harmonic voicings, subtle and varied rhythmic patterns, exquisite use of timing, phrasing, dynamics and space. It has delicate balances between the intensities of the choruses and, within each chorus, among the internal sections of the song. In nine choruses of “People,” Evans alternates between two keys, creating sunny or reflective moods in B-flat, mysterious and occasionally stormy ones in the key of E, although he often departs from that pattern. He glorifies a less than glorious melody with his harmonic genius and his pianism. If that is cocktail piano, take me to the lounge where music like this is being played and I’ll buy you drinks all night.