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Bill Evans

Hard to tell what was going on. Had the father buggered the son, or the daughter been seduced by her own mother? It was that kind of play about that sort of people, billed as New Australian Work and given its first airing in the distinguished setting of the Drama Theatre of the Sydney Opera House. There were really no characters to speak of, just unpleasant insinuations designed—and cleverly designed—to produce the predictable sniggering on cue. We left at interval.

White wine at a quayside restaurant helped cleanse the palate, but it wasn’t until we were riding home in the car that I found something to soothe the mind: Bill Evans on piano. The silvery opening of ‘Round Midnight was a cool bath for raw nerves, and though you found yourself vaguely wondering which overlaid track was producing the final magical effect, that can happen when musical intelligence is at work.

Bill EvansI gather (reading some sleeve notes by Phil Bailey) that Bill Evans was not the first to over-dub—as this melodious layering of sound is unmelodiously called. But he must have been a lot more knowing than the Chipmunks. Bailey writes that the technique was a logical extension of the conversational approach to trio playing that he encouraged in his sidemen in live performances. If a pianist, bassist, and drummer could develop a close rapport, Evans reasoned, three parts played by the same person should have an even closer rapport. Evans was obviously thinking of a true three-way interplay in which each ‘pianist’ would have the lead role at some time during the track.

Contrapuntally meditating, extending, elaborating, always sympathetic, the second and third interpretations enrich the first and produce a remarkable mix. Evans himself wrote that

I remember that in recording the selections, as I listened to the first track while playing the second, and the first two while playing the third, the process involved was an artificial duplication of simultaneous performance in that each track represented a musical mind responding to another musical mind or minds.

The argument that the same mind was involved in all three performances could be advanced, but I feel that this is not quite true. The functions of each track are different, and just as one in speech feels a different state of mind making statements than in responding to statements or commenting on the exchange involved in the first two, so I feel that the music here has more the quality of a ‘trio’ than a solo effort.

Another condition to be considered is that I know my musical techniques more thoroughly than any other person so that, it seems to me, I am equipped to respond to my previous musical statements with the most accuracy and clarity.

So far as I know Bill Evans never went to Oxford, but the introspective awareness he displays is worthy of a philosopher, and not too bad a philosopher either. He died at 51 from the effects of prolonged heroin addiction. Artists do strange things. But it’s not what they do to their bodies, it’s what they make of their art that counts.

Posted in Notes.

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