Please read my interview with Claudio Filippini at All About Jazz:
Yusef Lateef, Cedar Walton, Donald Byrd, Chico Hamilton, Mulgrew Miller,Marian McPartland, Butch Warren, Frank Wess and many others.
You can hear some of them in this spotify- playlist:
I still love to play and I’m still developing!
Part four of this Eliot Zigmund special covers his years with Michel Petrucciani in the eighies till now.
As to your question about Michel (Petrucciani, RA) and Don Friedman. I think both those great pianists were inﬂuenced by Bill, but they are very different pianists as far as what is felt like to play with each of them. Don is a contemporary of Bill so shares a certain history of time, place and identity, some harmonic and trio concepts, but is a very different piano player with his own very distinctive style. Maybe in fact, Bill was also inﬂuenced early on by Don if he had heard him play somewhere, who knows?. Michel was inﬂuenced by Bill like every pianist inevitably was who came after Bill, but he was more a disciple of the straight ahead swingers, McCoy, Cedar, Chick, with a little of the lyricism of Paul Bley or Keith Jarrett thrown in.
My recording Breeze on Steeplechase was the culmination of a bunch of playing sessions at my house over a period several months. We decided to go into the studio and document the music and ending up selling it to Steeplechase under my name. I had played a bunch with Mike Lee on some gigs and jam sessions, we both lived in Brooklyn then, he lived in an coop apartment building in Sunset Park that was all musicians and I had a studio in a store front in the same building, so there was a lot of playing going on. I think Mike introduced me to Gary Versace, Mike had some nice tunes, wrote in a soulful but sophisticated way, Phil Polombi and I knew each other from the scene. I’ve gone on to do different projects with Phil and we do the occasional gig together in town. Breeze was kind of a one off project, although we may have done a few gigs, I worked some at that period as a leader in town in small clubs but we didn’t really actively try to ﬁnd work for the band, it was a recording project.
In a broader sense playing with myriad players over 50 years, the process of learning from other musicians is a big continuum. There’s a saying, being a jazz player is like singing the same song your whole life. Basically we’re all trying to ﬁnd people who we’re comfortable singing our song with, and who are comfortable singing their song with us. As all musicians know, there are different levels of comfort zones with different players, in different bands, it’s all very ﬂuid and dynamic. And that the music succeeds on different levels in different ways for different styles that demand different things of the way we play. I still approach it that way today. Every playing situation – every time I sit down to really play, is different – leaves it’s mark, shapes the clay, gives you a challenge to solve, hopefully moves you forward an inch or a foot. I’ve learned from every musician I’ve ever played with, from the worst to the best. I’ve learned how fragile jazz can be, how it’s dependent on everyone you’re playing with, especially the rhythm section players. I’ve learned how strong the music can be when the subtle rhythmic bond is there, when it feels like you can do no wrong.
When you’re a rhythm section player, you’re playing, articulating, every beat of every tune with the rest of the rhythm section and the soloists. We’re like worker bees, continually stitching a rhythmic/harmonic carpet for the soloists to ﬂy on.
I think today we have lived through a tremendous stylistic expansion, the infusion of jazz techniques and theory throughout the world, the popularity of jazz education worldwide, jazz both inﬂuencing and being inﬂuenced by world ethnic musics. We are no longer moving so boldly forward, to borrow a phrase from Startrek, as when I was younger, when it felt like great waves of stylistic innovation were continually sweeping over the jazz world inﬂuencing all who heard it, and it seemed there was endless musical territory to expand into. Expansion or evolution today seems to come more from individual artists – perhaps more self-consciously – mining some unique combination of elements within this amazing choice of style and technique, rather than as part of a musical movement or style that is inﬂuencing many people at the same time, as was the case when I was growing up.
For me the playing scene now is very varied, eclectic, and I try to be ﬂexible and supportive, trying to play true to the style of the music I’m playing while still being myself. The music can be anything from swing to bop to post bop to straight eighth note, trio, quartet, backing a singer, playing with a big band, live gigs, recordings, videos, commercial one nighters, whatever. Whereas we used to go on the road for weeks or months at a time with one group, the tours now are much shorter, sometimes only a few days, a week, or even ﬂying around the world for one concert.
I remember people asking Bill Evans, when I was in the band, who was inﬂuencing him at the moment. He’d say, more or less, he liked anyone that played well, and maybe he’d name one or two cats he’d heard recently by playing opposite them or on a recording. I’m kind of the same way now. I hear and play so much good music in NYC and around the world,, so many good young players on all the instruments, that I’m inspired and inﬂuenced all the time, but not by any one drummer or player, but just by the joy of playing real music with great players. I see myself 50 years ago in all the young drummers I meet trying to make a way for themselves, but one must wonder, given the state of the business of jazz, what the opportunities will be for them.
Will jazz survive?What will the future of the music be?
I think the questions are broader in scope.
Will serious culture survive? Is it possible to function in the digital age as a professional, working artist? Is academia the answer? Are too many young people seeking careers in the arts? Certainly jazz techniques will survive, they are the language of today’s harmonic/tonal music and improvisation, a must for any working musician on the scene today. In New York we have a marvelous array of older and younger serious jazz musicians who cover the stylistic gambit of what American jazz has offered and is offering over the last 70 years, as well as musicians from all over the world, who, enamored with jazz and the city, come to NY and bring their musical cultures with them to blend with what’s happening here. In Europe, Asia, South America, the Middle East, worldwide, certainly the States, we ﬁnd great jazz musicians with regional scenes and communities of musicians everywhere, with the usual hard core fans and musicians hanging on in the usual devoted and low budget, hardscrabble ways. I think the music will always survive while there are musicians in the world dedicated enough to learn and play it and there seem to be no shortage of those. Will it sound like what was coming out of the Cafe Bohemia or Slugs in 1967, or Bradley’s in 1978, probably not.
In general the digital age has cheapened the value of art, artists, and media in lots of different ways. Combine that with the number of young people graduating from jazz programs in the States alone (some 5,000 per year I hear), and the general lack of interest in and knowledge of real jazz in the real world, most glaringly in America, and you don’t have a great prescription for the business of jazz in years to come.
I’m hoping to be proven wrong. And, most importantly – I still love to play and I’m still developing!
” Bill was deﬁnitely trying to stretch the boundaries of his music.”
Part three of this Eliot Zigmund special covers his years with Bill Evans in the seventies.
“After moving back to NYC, before joining Bill, I had a long standing commercial-jazz oriented trio gig at the Persian Room in the Plaza Hotel. The trio would augment into a show band when there were acts. The musicians were good jazz players, leader/pianist Barry Levitt and bassist Dave Katzenberg, so I had been playing trio for months every night with good musicians. One night I went right from the gig at the Persian Room to the late set at the Vanguard to audition for Bill. I had borrowed a sizzle cymbal from another drummer at the Persian Room, an older guy, Angelo I think, who played with the relief band, but I think his cymbal helped me get the gig with Bill. I played lots of brushes and the sound of that lush rivet cymbal ﬂoating above the trio was great. It felt very natural to be playing with Bill and Eddie from the ﬁrst tune. I played a whole set, Bill and Eddie seemed to like it and a few days later Bill hired me. I couldn’t sleep for days from the excitement of getting the gig, sort of like getting called up to the major leagues in baseball.
I learned a lot being a member of that trio, playing at that level night after night, clubs, concerts, festivals, with such great musicians. Also, to step into a situation that had such a rich, lush musical landscape and history, was a great privilege and a dream come true. I learned the intricacies of Bill’s arrangements, some of which I’d been hearing for years on records, others which were new and challenging. The music felt fresh and organic, but grounded strongly in tradition, it was Bill’s trio and repertoire but something new was happening, we were coming at it a little differently than the previous trio with Marty and Eddie. We had several years of great live gigs with that band as well as some recordings that captured the trio in it’s best light. It was a good time and we worked a lot, especially in the States.
I had similar experiences with Michel Pettrucciani’s trio with Palle Daniellson, two extremely gifted and creative musicians (and a few other bassists after Palle left the band, Andy McKee, Dave Holland, Ron Mclure). With Michel’s gregarious personality the band and entourage was like a big raucous family. It was very social scene with lots of travel, music, and friends hanging out in Paris, Rome, NY, California. Like with Bill, playing together night after night made the music ﬂow like conversation between friends. I got to play with Michel at a time when he was just emerging as an international artist, was very committed to the trio, and it was a very exciting gig in terms of the strength of the music and our usually full itinerary at venues all over the world. Bill and Michel, accounted for almost 10 years on the road, some great experiences.
As to your bass player questions:
I think Eddie and I had an interesting way of playing together behind Bill,
we played introspectively – broken, even eighth phrasing, open, lots of colors – on his moodier pieces, things like re: Person I Knew, Time Remembered, and more straight ahead 4/4 when Bill would stretch on things like In Your Own Sweet Way, Nardis, Waltz for Debby, etc. Also, Eddie soloed on most tunes so I could experiment with colors and sounds and space behind his solos. When that trio was on, and we were a lot of the time, it was a great band.
I had a chance to play with Bill and a few other bass players on the rare occasions when someone would sit in or the even rarer gig that Eddie couldn’t make. I played with Chuck Israels once (or twice?), and Charlie Haden sat in on a couple of different occasions at the Vanguard. Chuck was quintessential Bill Evans trio so that was a very nice musical experience, sort of like it felt when I played with Bill the ﬁrst time. I think there’s actually a public TV video recording of that concert, at Eastman School of Music, mid-seventies. Charlie Haden ﬁt in really well also, I enjoyed those sets. He had a nice loose feel behind Bill and left lots of space as he does. I remember Bill would completely lay out on Charlie’s solos, with his head hung over the piano, giving him room to stretch the harmonies and forms a bit. Later on I left the trio, at the time to play with Richie Beirach and his trio, Eon (which in the end never happened, Richie ended up playing in John Abercrombie’s band for several years), and brieﬂy returned to play with Marc Johnson on some gigs and to record the album Afﬁnity. I remember being very comfortable with Marc and Afﬁnity became one of Bill’s classic CDs.
In general, I like a certain elasticity to the time feel, to be able to subtly pull the beat back or push it forward a bit without changing the tempo overall, to be able to respond to the ebb and ﬂow of intensity and dynamics in the music with the time, within the context of the beat ﬂoating effortlessly around the music. Kind of the way Ron and Tony played together with Miles’ band, liquid lightening, think Miles Smiles. Sounds very complicated, but it’s basically just moving together with a bass player and with the rest of the band. Moving it back and forth effortlessly the way a great basketball team does when trying to score. I enjoy bass players who see time playing, as well as soloing, as a high art.”
I ended up recommending Joe LaBarbara (I’m sure others probably did as well) and one or two other drummers to Bill as people to consider and listen to and eventually after Philly Joe did the gig for a while, while Bill was auditioning bass players after Eddie left, Joe and Mark got the gig and the last trio was formed. I always admired Joe’s playing, when I was with Bill he was in Chuck Mangione’s band with Chip Jackson and Gerry Niewood and we would sometimes ﬁnd ourselves on the same festival, etc, so I got to know him and hear him play a lot back then. I’m not an expert on that last trio, I know there was some great music made, Bill was deﬁnitely trying to stretch the boundaries of his music.
“However it became apparent that jazz was really in my blood, it deﬁned me, reﬁned my taste in music, and my playing goals.”
Part two of this Eliot Zigmund special covers his years between his teenage years in the fifties and the time he met Bill Evans in the seventies.
Eliot: “Growing up, NYC was swing, bebop (later post bop) from the 50s onward, and they mixed and matched. So one week I could hear Coleman Hawkins play with Rex Stewart and Eddie Locke, by standing in front of the Metropole on 7th Ave and 48th St, and the next week hear him play with Monk downtown somewhere. In a relative sense, to a 16 year old, everyone was alive and playing, their presences were a given, part of life in the city.
My high school “dance band” did the the bassist’s Chubby Jackson’s children’s TV show (a jazz musician with a TV show!) and the guests were the great Gene Krupa and our “dance” band. Going to the drum stores in Manhattan you might run into Papa Joe Jones holding court, Elvin Jones hanging out between students, Jake Hanna giving advice about sticks, etc. The period from the 60s-80s in New York was a very exciting time. Great band leaders and their sidemen, from one incarnation to another, expanded the forms and vocabulary forward. Recordings were rarer, monumental, and would immediately inﬂuence players sensibilities, like a benign contagion.
I played along endlessly to my Miles Davis, Thelonious Monk, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Gil Evans, Count Basie, et. al. recordings until I wore them out. I learned to identify drummers just by the way they played time, Philly Joe, Max, Art Blakey, Roy Haynes, Art Taylor, Jimmy Cobb, and many others, the gladiators. As I became more of a jazz player myself I was inﬂuenced by some of the younger up and coming drummers of the day, Pete LaRoca, Joe Chambers, and of course the genius of Tony Williams and Jack Dejohnette. Harmonic concepts broadened, modal playing combined with a sophistication in blues playing, combined with european harmonic and formal inﬂuences produced a rich harmonic jazz language.
The next generation players were constantly revolutionizing their styles and approach to their instruments, strong stylistic tributaries arose, moved, merged, inﬂuencing and inﬂuenced by a decidedly intellectual black/urban musical and political agenda and the urgency of the civil rights movement in the US. There was a feeling of being swept along by a wave. As a young player, I did all kinds of commercial gigs, worked with singers, shows, jazz gigs, some early pop stuff with Neil Sedaka, Dionne Warwick and later on brieﬂy with the Pointer Sisters. However it became apparent that jazz was really in my blood, it deﬁned me, reﬁned my taste in music, and my playing goals.
I started getting serious about my jazz playing. There was always lots of jam sessions going on either on the gigs themselves – after hours if they were location gigs in resort areas, or at peoples houses in the city. A typical summer resort in the Catskills or Poconos, local resort areas driving distance from NYC, might have had 2, 3, 4 bands living on the premises. So guys, weren’t many ladies in the bands back then, got to hang out for 12 or 16 weeks with lots of other musicians. I ﬁrst met Marty Morrell working opposite him at a Catskill hotel one summer. I remember one summer away where I played endlessly after hours with Eddie Daniels and a bass player named Lanny Fields, we played trio, clarinet, bass, drums, all summer long, late at night or during the day when we weren’t working.
To this day I try to play one or two sessions a week at my place or other people’s houses or studios, I’ve spent literally thousands of hours throughout my career playing with other musicians at jam sessions. New York is one of the few, if not only place, where that kind of extra-curricular playing is always happening and welcome.
I lived on the west coast for a few years in the early 70s, did a lot of interesting playing there (Vince Guaraldi, Art Lande, Steve Swallow, Ron McLure, Mike Nock, Art Pepper,) and came back to NYC in ’74 and started working with Bill Evans a year or so after that. Playing with Art Lande and Vince Guaraldi was a good training ground for my later time with Bill Evans. Vince loved to swing, was a real bebopper at heart and always had ﬁrst class work in the bay area. I did some soundtracks for the Peanuts TV shows with him. Art Lande’s music was always challenging and on the cusp of what was happening at the moment, swung in a different way. He had a huge book of originals and we worked a bunch in the bay area in the early 70s with Art’s quintet with saxophonist Mel Martin, percussionist Glen Cronkite, Steve Swallow and myself, and also with Art’s trio with Steve Swallow.”
(to be continued)