Finding a Letter by Evan

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Outside the Library

Bill Evans was a writer. He did not write novels, nor did he write the occasional editorial in the Plainfield paper. He did not write in the way you may have assumed he wrote. No, Bill Evans wrote music. That was what I was searching for. The music perserved , invented hundreds of years before the iPod, CD, or record player. I was searching for sheet music by the pianist.

Not only was Bill Evans a groundbreaking performer, he was also a well-known composer with jazz tunes such as “Very Early” and “Letter to Evan”. His most popular work being  “Waltz for Debbie” for his niece, surprise surprise, named Debbie. Plenty of albums feature his work, not to mention the amount of times his compositions are played whether it be at a hotel lounge, a bar, or anywhere in between.

After 6 flights of vigorous search and 3 bookshelves of seemingly-hopeless looking, I had found it. The book containing pages of silent music. Among them, several of his original songs, as well as songs he made popular or was known for performing. FullSizeRender (1)

To the left is the song “Letter to Evan”. Within the music, it not only showed the melody, but how whe might have played it. His voicings, his improvised lines, and the general feel of his playing. This is what distinguishes him from any other jazz pianist. Those technical aspects of his playing that can be put onto paper, and his tone which cannot be replecated by anyone other than him Thankfully, I had some of his albums handy on my phone to listen along to with the written music. You could really hear the different voicings and lines when reading along with it.

The eminence of Bill Evans is not only restricyed to his playing, both as a sideman and a leader, but also in his writing. The titles and the music he wrote reflected the time of his life and who he was and what he was going through. A true artist, he put his soul into his art. More upbeat songs like “Waltz for Debbie” with brighter, more cheerful lyrics (written by close friend Gene Lees) were written at one of the better parts of his life, and it shows in the music. Tunes written at later times of his life, such as “Letter to Evan” for his son, were more meaningful to him and that shows in the lyrics he wrote and the gentle melody of the piece. This shows the depth and human-ness of such a great artist.

I had come to the library, already having known my eminent person, and if anything, doing this research only confirmed the fact that I would be doing this man for eminent. I came on this trip, not expecting to find all that much, maybe a new song or two and to bond with my fellow TALONS, but I got so much more out of it than just that. Already an inspiring man through his music, discovering this inspired me even more to find out more, not only about him, but about music in general. How much of people’s souls they put into their music affects the quality and meaning of the piece.

Letter to Evan

September 15th, 1980 marked the end of one of the world’s finest jazz pianists. William John Evans was dead in the hospital after suffering what friend Gene Lees called, “the longest suicide in history”.

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Born to a heavy-drinking Welsh father and to a musical Russian mother in Plainfield New Jersey, Bill Evans was the younger of two brothers. He was raised a classical pianist and practiced for hours. In high school he played the flute in his concert band, and at the same time he first grasped the jazz idiom when playing the tune Tuxedo Junction on the piano. He had played something not written on the paper and the thought of playing something that wasn’t there thrilled him.

In college, he played 1st flute, majored in piano, and played quarterback for the winning intramural football. When studying jazz, he looked not only to jazz pianists, but also saxophonists, trumpeters, etc. One of his biggest influences, as well as one of mine, is singer and pianist Nat “King” Cole. By the end of his college experience, he was invited to play jazz in New York, where his career took off, eventually playing with Miles Davis and becoming the Grammy-winning musician he is known for.

At this time, his older brother Harry married and had a daughter named Debbie. Bill was incredibly fond of his niece, and wrote his most famous piece for her, “Waltz for Debbie”. However, his happiness wouldn’t last. One of his first trio members, bassist Scott LaFaro, died in a car crash at the age of 25. This event devastated Evans, rendering him unable to play for several months. This was the start of his heroin addiction. It worsened after the death of long-time girlfriend Elaine. What put him over the edge was the death of his brother at the age of 52. A year later, Bill followed his brothers footsteps and met him in death.

Bill Evan’s eminence in the field of jazz is immense. He has inspired many jazz pianists, singers, and instrumentalists from both contemporary times and times just after him. Jazz giants he influenced include Herbie Hancock, Vince Guaraldi (composer of Charlie Brown music), Michel Petrucciani, Keith Jarret, among many others.

His playing was and still is influential in the jazz world. His voicings and improvisation style rocked jazz to its core. The way he played inspired and influenced not only the musicians above, but nearly every other jazz musician after him. Cornerstone albums such as his collaboration with Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue” and his trio albums at The Village Vanguard revolutionized the way jazz combos soloed and preformed.

The music of Bill Evans has surrounded me as far as I can remember. I have always known him as a musician, but I also want to learn more about him as a person. I want to know why. As in, why is he so enjoyable to listen to? What about his playing makes him better or at least different from everyone else? And what about him, just as a person in general? In short, my goal would be the fact I want to know how and why he became the Bill Evans. Another goal would be to accomplish this project in better time than many of my other ones, and making it something I would be proud of. This project, I believe, will be something I will now only enjoy doing, but something I will benefit from out of school. I enjoy playing piano for fun, especially jazz. So studying such a huge figure in jazz will help my understanding of jazz, as well as help my playing by researching the ways he played. He is an influence on great musicians, so he is an inspiration for me.

Is there a place that is all willing?
Is there a heart that is all beauty?
Is there a love that’s every answer?
A truth most dear lies within this song if you can hear it

Thought is the place that is all willing
You have the heart that is all beauty
You are the love that’s every answer
Just listen- mnn – there is but this one music
Evan you will need no other star

Letter to Evan (words and music by Bill Evans for son, Evan)

OFF WITH HIS HEAD

How Alice in Wonderland relates to the story of Charles I

In 1865, the world first read the now-famous line, “off with his head”. The notorious queen of hearts, screamed it again and again, over and over. Off with his head, off with her head, he smells funny so off with his head too! The senseless and maniacal phrase was said so much it astounds me that she has a population to rule [but then again this was a story on how logic is needed in the world]. The evil red queen said those words without reason, and without a second thought.

At a point in the story, there are 3 or 4 cards deperately painting some roses red, so not to lose thier heads. They had mistakenly planted white roses, instead of red roses. In a last-ditch effort, they pull out a can of red paint and frantically painted those white flowers. They of course knew the punishment, should the red queen discover thier [fatal] mistake.

Now, jump back some 200 years prior to Alice’s adventures in wonderland. Make a hop, skip, and a jump to not-so jolly old England. Charles I was being a bit of a goof (here we hear the hundreds of 17th centruy English citizens crying out in sarcasm A BIT?!). We all know of his attempts to abolish parliament, and then re-establish it, then on tuesday abolish it again, then next friday bring it back…  So they killed him. That’s one way to deal with the problem.

But now, I think I am going to side with the victim here. What if he was just, in a way, trying to paint the roses red?

What if this once king, was in fact just trying to do what was right for his people? Could he have just made a simple error, and everybody blew it out of proprtion? Since histoy is written by the winner, how do we know King Charles’ side of the story?

The british population at that time (could be analagous the queen of hearts) was against Charles I (the painter of the white roses). The masses were demanding he be put to death, and said something probably along the lines of “off with his head”. Chales I had abolished parliament then re-established it time and time again. Eventually the analagous red queen’s demands were met, and Charles the first no longer had a head.

Perhaps it was his constant alterations of power that drove the people over the edge, and would thus change society forever.

Were the british people just as bad as the queen of hearts for what they did to Charles? Perhaps not. But is all killing equal? By that question I mean this, is killing ever justified?

Does it really matter how or why one kills another? Like the comparison between Alice in Wonderland and the happenings of the English civil war. Is killing on a whim that much different from killing out of anger? Is killing the same, no matter the circumstance?

To answer these questions we could turn to many sources. A lawer might have an extremely differnet opinion than monk. The bible for one, says Thou shal not kill. Period. Others say it is acceptable if its for your country or in self-defense. Others still, say it is acceptable in the form of severe punishment.

Nowadays, murder is slightly more frowned-upon than it was then. Of course, killing for fun didn’t win you the ‘citizen of the year’ award either. But using death as a form of capital punishment was much more common then. It was also a form of entertainment. Instead of having people come from different towns to see the Canucks play, people came from all around to see the Lewis Brothers hanged or to see that horrid witch burn. This begs the question, why? Why did we enjoy watching our fellow men and women be excecuted? What dark part of the human soul longed to see thier neighbour burn before their eyes?

The English civil war itself, may be due to Charles I inability to decide a medium of ruling. It was just a huge mess for the English people. But the people’s excecution of thier own king was as surprising for me as it was the king in question. As for my questions, I do not know if they should ever reveal an answer. We would have to travel to the innermost and darkest parts of the human mind and soul. It would be an interesting experience, but one that may not yield an answer.

So did Charles follow a small white rabbit down a hole, through a tea party, and into a deadly game of croquet? Probably not. However the collective identity of the English people at the time, may have reflected the idedntity of the malicious queen of hearts. And though it has been said before, I pray we won’t hear masses of peole chanting the same words the red queen so infamously exclaimed: OFF WITH HIS HEAD!