Eliot Zigmund (part 3, The Bill Evans years)
” 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.