Jazz Review: Bill Evans Plays the Blues

August 28, 2018

"Are you takin' this, Don? Tell me when we're gonna start." --Bill Evans. 


"Should I try Tenderly, only slower..." --Don Elliott.


These words were recorded on one of jazz's great "informal" sessions by two musicians. 


Tenderly (An Informal Session), like Our Delights, is a duet album, but this time the two instruments are vibraphone and piano rather than two pianos. This session is another example of a fairly uncommon instrumental combination, but a combination that is well worth listening to. 


One of the musicians' names in this duet is familiar to practically anyone who has any knowledge of jazz piano whatsoever: Bill Evans. Bill Evans was a jazz pianist who had a fairly long career, recorded many albums, and had a great impact on the world of jazz piano. Don Elliott, however, is much like Dave Schildkraut - he's not particularly well-known amongst jazz fans and musicians. Elliott did quite a lot of performing with Bill Evans in the late 1950s, but unfortunately did not get the recognition he deserved. When he played the vibraphone (he played multiple instruments, by the way), he sounded a lot like Milt Jackson and therefore was a good match for Bill Evans' percussive style of that era. 


There was perhaps a surprising number of tunes recorded in this "Tenderly" informal session; in fact, they recorded almost as much in this informal session as they would have done in a recording studio: 13 tracks they recorded in the session were released, two of which were just called "blues", along eleven specifically-named tunes. These varied in length from less than a minute ("Love Letters") to several minutes.


A longer recording they did in this "informal session" was simply titled "Blues #2" and included substantial, improvised features by both musicians, along with some conversation after the recording. Why the conversation was recorded is a good question, but it actually gives a better idea of what they had just been doing musically.


But let's get on to the actual recording now.


 "Blues #2" by Bill Evans and Don Elliott.


The recording begins with a Bill Evans introduction on the piano, before someone, probably Don Elliott, taps out the rhythm and begins to improvise. The two musicians are clearly supporting each other as the recording progresses, and the fact that Bill Evans is too loud actually has a positive influence: it gives this blues almost an "ensemble" effect, rather than the effect of "the pianist is comping for the soloist, as usual".


Eventually, Bill Evans takes a piano solo, and apparently Don Elliott is attempting to produce the sound of maracas as a rhythm behind Evans, but the effect does not work as well as it would have done if Bill Evans had simply soloed on his own. After Elliott takes a second solo, and he builds the energy level, Evans takes a second solo. Around this time, the recording volume is reduced, and they close off the "tune" - but the recording is not over yet. Some of their discussion is reproduced in written form below:


"...Will it be distorted?" was the approximate wording of Bill Evans.


"... A lot of it might. Might. Might ... I like to go free like that, with no four goin', but you know where you're at.


"Yeah. It's great..."


"...If everybody could do that, if the bass was playing the same way..."


"Why not? You could be playing, like ... you know ..."


"...Not if everybody feels it..."

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