Bill Evans - Sunday At The Village Vanguard / Waltz For Debby


Recorded live at the The Village Vanguard, New York City, June 25th, 1961

Waltz For Debby CoverSunday At The Village Vanguard Cover

Bill Evans (piano)
Scott La Faro (bass)
Paul Motian (drums)


Sunday At The Village Vanguard: Gloria’s Step*, My Man’s Gone Now, Solar, Alice In Wonderland*, All Of You*, Jade Visions*; Waltz For Debby: My Foolish Heart, Waltz For Debby*, Detour Ahead*, My Romance*, Some Other Time, Milestones, Porgy, I Loves You
(* alternate versions also present on remastered CD re-releases)


Bill Evans created a unique style in jazz yet he has often been overlooked as his quiet, introverted approach has been sometimes confused with jazz as easy listening. Basing his work almost exclusively around the piano/bass/drums trio format, his shortened career yielded over 60 albums, a monumental output. While many would claim that the high point of his career was the six months in 1958 that he spent with Miles Davis and, shortly after that, his contribution to “Kind Of Blue”, this live session recorded at The Village Vanguard, New York City in June 1961 is justifiably the equal of that. Released as two separate albums taken from tapes recorded on the same day, the first “Sunday At The Village Vanguard” emphasised the playing of Scot La Faro (who was tragically killed in a car accident just 10 days later) while the second, “Waltz For Debby”, completed the release of most of this material.

The trio, completed by Paul Motian on drums, established in these sessions the ultimate yardstick against which all subsequent trio based jazz would be compared. Bill Evans’ playing was described with wonderful insight by Miles Davis: “Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down some clear waterfall.”

Bill Evans was well versed in the classical tradition in addition to his deep understanding of jazz form. He studied piano, violin and flute from an early age and studied for a degree in music at Southeastern Louisiana College. The much commented on classical influence in his music was securely founded. Miles Davis again: “Besides Ravel and a whole lot of others, Bill Evans had turned me on to Aram Khatachurian, a Russian-Armenian- composer….. Bill brought a great knowledge of classical music, people like Rachmaninov and Ravel. He was the one who told me to listen to the Italian pianist Arturo Michelangeli….” But on leaving college and a short spell in the army, Bill Evans had quickly formed important connections on the New York City jazz scene. By 1956, three years before ‘Kind Of Blue’ he had cut his first album for Riverside (‘New Jazz Conceptions’) to critical acclaim and begun to establish the piano/bass/ drums format that he would favour for the rest of his career. Importantly, he had worked with and recorded with George Russell, whose book “The Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization” laid the basis for the introduction of modal jazz and was well acquainted with George Russell’s liberating ideas. Yet despite these influences (and of course the effect of working with Miles Davis himself) none are sufficient to account for the unique qualities of Bill Evans’ playing.

Alun Morgan has offered some interesting insights in his sleeve notes to the album ‘Serenity’. “Evans’ great strength lay in the harmonic shading which he would impart to any song…. He was the most harmonically sophisticated player who achieved a rounding out of the chords rather than stating them in their raw form as the boppers invariably did. Evans was interested in the inner harmonies of the chords, easing sensitively from one chord to the next and giving himself a greater freedom in terms of the melody notes which could be set against them.” Or as Ian Carr has noted: “Bill Evans had studied the piano music of the French impressionist composers, and he brought Debussian chord voicings to support his supple and flowing melodic lines. His work has quite remarkable sensitivity and depth.” Ian Carr also comments on “Evans’ creative ability with the inner voicings (of chords).”

You can hear this throughout these Village Vanguard takes and particularly clearly on the remarkable ‘My Foolish Heart’ which has a tranquility at its centre which is quite special.

Scott La Faro brought a necessary counterpoint to what could easily become a music of introversion; his strong bass lines taking on much of the melody in these pieces, at times using bass to duet with piano rather than playing accompaniment or solos as most jazz bass was played up to this point. This, together with outright virtuosity, explains the impact of Scott La Faro’s contribution and the anguish felt by Bill Evans and Paul Motian at his loss. This opened the way for the trio to work with a cohesion now taken for granted but at the time a genuine breakthrough in going beyond the idea of drums and bass accompanying piano.

How this was achieved musically has been explained by Victor Verney in his review of Petter Pettinger’s book “Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings”:

“Evans was also largely responsible for reforming chord voicings played by jazz pianists. A voicing is the series of notes used to express a chord. Up until Evans' time chords had been expressed either by spelling the chord, with root, 3rd, 5th, 7th and sometimes 9th, or with a selection of these notes. Also before Evans, Bud Powell had pioneered the so-called shell voicings or alternations between outer and inner notes of a chord….. Evans, however, abandoned roots almost entirely to develop a system in which the chord is expressed as a quality—a color—with the root being left to the bass player, or to the left hand on another beat of the measure, or just left implied. “If I'm going to be sitting there playing roots, fifths and full voicings, the bass is relegated to a time machine,” explained Evans. Pioneered and standardized by Evans (who derived it from classical composers), this is now a widely used system…...”

With such a conception it is not difficult to see that bass has an enhanced role, amply filled here by Scott La Faro.
Beyond these underpinnings, there is the simple pleasure of listening to this wonderful, meditative music. Bill Evans’ own “Waltz For Debby” is possibly the single most likeable jazz song every recorded. “Gloria’s Step” (a Scott La Faro composition) is one of the most memorable. “Jade Visions” is a jumping off point for so much piano based jazz that has followed in the past forty years. Remarkable music and a seminal point of entry into all the other great music that Bill Evans made during his twenty five year recording career.

In many ways Bill Evans life replayed the tragedy of Charlie Parker’s life; addiction to heroin, impoverishment by the habit and resulting medical complications that led to a premature death in 1980 aged just 51. But beyond these two albums and the impact of Scott La Faro, down the years Bill Evans’ trio featured bassists (Chuck Israels, Eddie Gomez and Marc Johnson) and drummers (Paul Motian, Marty Morrell, Philly Joe Jones, Jack DeJohnette, and Joe La Barbera) who would in their own turn make a large contribution to the future of jazz. And of course, Bill Evans’ playing has been an inspiration to jazz pianists of great note, Keith Jarrett and Brad Mehldau amongst them.

Star Rating *****

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"Miles - The Autobiography" by Miles Davis with Quincey Troupe
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"Miles Davis - The Definitive Biography" by Ian Carr
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Bill Evans - complete discography

Bill Evans - complete sessionography

Free chord progressions for some Bill Evans compositions with listenable piano chords / drums and printable score
Bill Evans at Song Trellis

Bill Evans four-note voicings

Scott LaFaro

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1 comment:

nessa said...

do you know where I could get the sheet music for the arrangement with vocals?