Painting by Ton von Meesche taken from http://www.billevans.nl
In Buddhist parlance a satori is a moment of enlightenment, similar to James Joyce’s moments of epiphany. There were girls on the beach that enlightened both Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s fictional alter egos. I had several satoris listening to Bill Evans back in my day. My most memorable was a night at the Village Vanguard in 1967. My best friend (soon-to-be Best Man at the time), bride-to-be (now ex-wife) and I drove to NYC from Philadelphia to listen to my favorite musician at that time who has wound up my favorite musician of all time.
Edward Pramuk, Baton Rouge (2002) Turn Out the Stars taken from http://www.billevans.nl
14 feet mural in the Recital Hall lobby of the Pottle Music Building of Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, LA, is in 3 parts, to mark the 3 instruments of the legendary Bill Evans Trio, piano, bass & drums. The center panel of the triptych which is shown here features a silhouette of Evans at the piano.
The Vanguard is legendary for the music played there. It’s also quite memorable as a place. It started as a folk joint / coffeehouse that evolved in spite of the feeling one got upon entering. It was like entering a subterranean place of god worship where you weren’t sure you were going to be entertained or mugged. The stairway was lit by dim red light bulbs that had to be stolen from a bordello. The tables and chairs were fit for the munchkins from the “Wizard of Oz.” Check out the photo on Sunday at the Village Vanguard of 3 guys sitting in a corner of the place.
Remind you of 3 Little Jack Horner’s sitting in the corner?
That night we – maybe just me – spent the first set bent over with eyes closed listening in reverie to the master. At the end of the set Bill passed by our table and asked if we enjoyed the music. Too awestruck to try to engage him any further we nodded, maybe mumbled, “Yes.” As the years passed that moment grew larger and larger in my memory to the point where I asked my still best friend if he remembered sitting and talking with Bill Evans. Ever the realist, my friend said, “Are you kidding? He asked if we liked it and we said we did.”
Having had my imagined conversation shattered with the master I decided to write a novel about wabi-sabi and satoris. Bill’s following has been described as cultish. I beg to differ. First of all the jazz of the late 50′s through the 60′s define its golden age. The legends of that time were more than just great musicians they were artists of the first order. Miles, Monk, Mingus, Trane, Mulligan, Evans, Powell, Brubeck, Rollins, Kirk. I have to stop the list or this post will never finish. My apology to those not on the list who belong there. I am not a member of a cult I am an admirer of some of the greatest music written and played in the 20th century regardless of genre – the music of Bill Evans. Long live “Kind of Blue” the greatest jazz album ever that proves that music knows no color. Miles, Bill, Trane, Cannonball, Paul and Jimmy created a satori for all of us.
Painting by Iris Lavy taken from http://www.billevans.nl
In the novel I’ve written each chapter begins and ends with the inner thoughts and songs of the main character – kind of like the brackets of a parenthesis if you consider each chapter a parenthesis.
Painting by Ian Johnson taken from http://www.billevans.nl
The following is an excerpt from Songs of Icarus.
Wierd dream…dream dream dream.
Girl dressed like soldier no gun faded away. Old man teachin’ ball. Girl came back book in one hand picture in the other. Singing.
She said…with a song in my heart.
Disappeared…gone with the wind.
Still dark. Not rainin.’ Sun’s not up…stormy weather…
Never golfed. Caddied. Never got out. Waited all day couple times. Only wanted certain guys old guys same ones every day…every day…keeps raining all the time..
A pair of black and white saddle golf shoes lay by the bed. Jim put them on. Clattering onto two steps of the circular stairwell but before tumbling down the rest, he went back into the bedroom and put on sneakers.
“I heard your attempt; wouldn’t recommend walking down those steps in golf shoes unless you’re trying to break a leg. Couldn’t sleep. Want some?” Nick pointed to the shoes in Jim’s hand offering him a cup of coffee.
“No thanks. No coffee for me I’m keyed up enough. Never played golf; never met Bill Evans.” Jim opened the fridge.
“He’s an easy guy to get along with.”
“You eat?” Jim poured orange juice.
“Figured we’d eat at the clubhouse. They serve a decent breakfast. I’m buyin’.”
“Whenever you’re ready, I’m ready.” Jim drained the orange juice.
“No rush. Bill won’t be there till 10. We’re supposed to tee off at 11. I got us a tee time but I don’t think we’ll need one.”
The Granada Golf Course harbored nine tree-lined fairways between the two major thoroughfares of Coral Gables. The sun was rising over the first tee when Nick and Jim ordered breakfast sitting at a green Formica counter in the club house restaurant. When they finished eating Nick paid the green fees.
“I’ll give you a few pointers. We can play a couple of holes before Bill gets here. The beginning of golf is how you hold the club. Some guys try a baseball grip because they’re used to it from baseball. I’ll teach you the interlocking grip and you can decide for yourself. Wrap your little finger around your index finger. There’s less chance the club will slide making your swing more consistent. Don’t try to kill it just swing easy there’s a rhythm to it that you can feel when you hit it right. Now just try swinging the club without hitting the ball. Deep breath then relax.” Nick stepped back giving Jim space for some practice swings on the first tee.
“Feels kinda like shootin’ foul shots.”
“Feel the rhythm of going back and forth. Your head will get in the way though when there’s a ball down there.”
“Same with foul shooting. It’s easy in practice but in games you get tense.”
“There’s nobody out yet. We can play the 5th hole. C’mon.”
Nick picked up the clubs and crossed Granada Boulevard giving Jim two more tips – descending stroke with irons, upstroke with woods. The 5th tee was 220+ yards from a green with the pin in the back sandwiched between two sand traps. Nick’s drive landed on the front half of the green.
“Wrap your fingers around the ball lightly. Don’t squeeze it. Put the tee in the ground until you feel the ground touching the knuckle of your middle finger.”
Jim took a deep breath before starting his backswing and smoothly brought the club back to the ball feeling the crush of balata before the ball streaked into a smear of white clouds where he lost sight of it.
“Good hit. You’re a fucking natural, no more lessons for you. Tough break.”
“Never saw it.”`Jim had no idea where the ball went once it was in the clouds.
“No draw, no fade you hit it right where you were pointed. It went in the trap on the right of the green. Two twenty on the fly with your first swing. You outhit me, motherfucker.” Nick picked up his golf bag laughing to himself.
“Etiquette of the game is the guy furthest from the hole hits first. That’s me.” Nick’s putt stopped 2 feet from the hole.
“Thanks. When you’re in sand you want the club to dig in the sand just behind the ball and explode it from the trap. Before you hit make sure you know how hard to hit it. It’s about touch and feel – like playing the piano. Some people like to practice lobbing a ball with their hand to the hole to get a feel for how hard to hit the shot.” Nick demonstrated an imaginary underhand ball toss.
Jim took a ball from his pocket, underhanded it to the hole and placed his sand wedge in the sand behind the ball.
“Can’t do that. It’s a penalty stroke for touching the sand with your club before you hit the ball.”
“Why? What’s that about?”
“So you don’t take unfair advantage and smooth out the sand before playing the shot. Lots of rules. It’s a gentleman’s game.”
“Pretty fuckin’ finicky. I’m used to shoveling snow off the courts to play ball in Philly this time of the year. No gentlemen playin’ in those games.”
Jim stood over the ball careful not to let the club head touch the sand. Bringing the club head back to the ball he realized he was swinging too hard, slowed down his swing stopping it just as hit the ball. The ball popped up from the sand about knee high and came to rest in the trap three feet closer to the hole than before. On his next try he swung harder skulling the top half of the ball so it skittered out of the sand and caromed across the green into the trap on the other side. Four strokes later the ball was safely on the green and it took another four before Jim tapped it into the hole.
“You’ve had your first lesson.”
“In learning the blues. Marita told me about saudade then she left. You and she are good teachers.”
“That’s what women do. You have a nice swing. Just stay out of the sand. Hey man, how you doing?” Nick broke into a grin raising his voice. A tall bespectacled stoop-shouldered man in khakis and a light blue shirt was standing by the cash register in the pro shop.
“Gotta go.” Bill Evans took leave of the two middle-aged men talking to him at the counter. “Did you know there’s a Boy Scout lodge on this course.”
“Yeah, the George Merrick Lodge. Bill, meet Jim Collins – he’s staying with me at the house. We played a couple of holes before you got here.”
“How many strokes you giving me? No fair, you have a head start. Nice to meet you.” Bill and Jim shook hands. Jim strained to hear Bill’s incongruous voice that was barely above a whisper mixed with the hard edge of New York City and Plainfield, New Jersey.
“I dig your latest album, Mister Evans.”
“Call me Bill, Jim. I guess they did get the title right, everybody must dig Bill Evans if kids your age are listening. I took a lot of heat for that cover from Miles.” Evans snickered. “I got a letter from Gene Lees said the music sounded like love letters to the world from the prison of the heart. Next album I think I’ll ask Downbeat’s editor what to call it. We’re cutting a new one right before New Years. You play much?”
“I was just kidding about your age. Got my degree in sardonics working with Miles.”
“Jim, get me a pack of smokes will you?” Nick tossed him a quarter. Jim jogged back to the clubhouse
“You didn’t stay with Miles long enough to become the wiseass he is.” Nick lit a cigarette.
“I’ve been working on it. Sense of humor was essential in that band, especially for me. Miles was always messing with me. His way of showing he was the boss I guess. Philly Joe and I got along real well when he was in the band. Too well in some ways. Miles and Trane stopped cold turkey said it was awful. It’s so expensive I cut back but I keep going back for the sense of beauty and energy I get. It helps a lot on the road. Scotty gets pissed wants me to stop altogether. Playing with him is better than being stoned sometimes. He’s so intense I don’t know how he keeps his energy up. Practices until his fingers bleed. Doesn’t look much older than that kid you brought along. You’ll have to meet Scotty when you get back to New York. Sometimes his bass sounds like a guitar. He’s only been playing 5 years but he’s got talent and intelligence that gushes like an oil well with an incredible creative drive. Never seen anything like it. He keeps telling me we have to make the most of the time we have together like it’s not gonna be long. I can’t believe we found each other. It’s scary sometimes how he anticipates where I’m going with the music. He has an enerring incredible intuition based on musical knowledge. We’re on the verge of being what I want the trio to be. Sometimes it feels like fate brought us together.”
“I remember when you got that call to play with Mingus. That seemed like fate to me. You did a helluva job on on East Coasting, especially Memories of You.”
“Charles is all over it, man, he’s gone from Ellington to 5 years studying bass with the New York Philharmonic’s bassist. He gave us room to roam on that date. His latest, Mingus Ah Um has so many wonderful musical ideas and themes…composing skills are underated because he’s such a great bassist. Scotty’s working on composing too.”
“Personally I’ll take Kind of Blue but I won’t argue with you about Mingus. Where’d you meet Scotty?”
“We were the break band for Benny Goodman at Basin Street East. They treated us terribly. I lost a couple of drummers and bassists while I was there – needed to replace Jimmy Garrison because Benny wouldn’t let the bartender comp him a coke. They even turned the mikes off on Philly Joe because the crowd liked him so much. Benny wanted to make sure we knew we were his warm-up band. Paul joined me and knew Scotty was available. When Scotty started playing Paul and I looked at each other like this is not the same bassist who auditioned in LA for the session we did with Chet Baker. Scotty’s unique. I think that with Paul, he and I have a chance to make the music sing. We can get to that special place where the beauty happens like I hear in my head. When that musical rush starts through my body, man, every note, every chord is another step closer to where I want to be. My concentration becomes the most intense it‘s ever been. Scotty gets angry when I get stoned. He’s adamant that I should quit H especially when I miss a gig. If Harry knew what I was doing he’d be really pissed. But I cut back when I have to. Being with Peri on the road helps. It’s ironic in our racist world when I’m with her I’m not using, not breaking any criminal laws, but when I’m alone I am. How you doing with it?”
“Since the accident I’ve been clean until the Basie gig at the Lyric. Really freaked me out losing Dory like that.”
“I can imagine. I turned John C onto the Upanishads. Maybe they can help you too.”
“Thanks, good idea.”
“Stay in control, is the motto. How do you know the kid? He local?”
“No. Came down with me. Troubles at home. His father beat up his mother and he ran away. Figured he was safer with me for a while so I let him help driving down here. Smart kid with a lot of talent. Plays high school basketball. Has some musical talent too. Been teaching him a little. When my Dad comes down I’m gonna talk to him maybe help the kid out.”
“I’ll see what I can do. Here he comes.”
Jim tossed the pack of Luckies to Nick.
“I’m not giving you strokes, Bill. By the way the owner of the Incognito wants to play you and your father in a foursome.”
“We can schedule something next week maybe go to the track after. You still shooting to a 5, Nick? I’m no match for that anymore.”
“Every time you come down here you practice with your father. His father owns a golf range, Jim. Wanted Bill to turn pro. Beat me by 4 holes last time we played. He thinks I’m stupid.” Nick turned to Jim jerking a circle made by his thumb and index finger. “How is Peri by the way?”
“Good. Day after Christmas I’m in the recording studio with Scotty and Paul for the first time. I wrote a tune for her. Planning to record it. You know me with words, named it Peri’s Scope. I want her to hear it sooner rather than later. Sorry man, that was thoughtless.” Bill awkwardly touched Nick’s shoulder.
“No problem, man. More I can talk about it, better I can handle it. When I was coming down here I was trying to forget what happened. I met Jim and he helped me get it out of my mind. Let’s play.”
Three hours later Jim sank a five-foot putt for a bogey and a 99 at the 18th hole. Bill and Nick shot in the 70’s. They gave him the scorecard as a memento at the end of the round. By three in the afternoon they were in the garden at La Casa de Canes eating roast beef sandwiches and drinking Lowenbrau.
“Miles filed suit against New York City for 500 grand.”
“That beating at Birdland?”
“Yeah. They really messed him up – physically and mentally. He was starting to believe things were changing after Little Rock, Selma, Martin Luther King. So was I a little. He was hanging outside the club between sets helping a white woman get a cab when a drunk cop came by and hassled him. Same old stuff the white cops have been pulling for years. Another cop comes and they hit Miles up the side of the head for hailing a cab for a white girl. They beat him up and the so-called, hippest city in America, charges him with resisting arrest. Had to go to the hospital and then post bail. New York City drops the charges, gives him back his cabaret license and says all is forgotten. But Miles is not about to forget. He has his lawyer file suit. He told me in France everything was different racially. He hung out with Jean-Paul Sartre and Juliette Greco. Juliette didn’t speak English, neither did Sartre and Miles doesn’t speak French. They’re white he’s black but none of it mattered. He left Juliette in France because he didn’t want her to have to deal with all the racist stuff here. Miles is no racist but he can be a real wiseass with white people when he wants. When I first started he said I had to go to bed with him before he’d let me play in the band. I didn’t know him at all and I wasn’t sure if he was serious so I went back to him and told him as much as I wanted to be in the band I couldn’t do it and he busted out laughing. He made a lot of phone calls to people he knew to help me out when I told him I was going on my own.”
“Kind of Blue happened after you left the band. That was weird.” Nick opened another beer.
“Miles wanted one more album since we had tightened things up in the 6 months I was there. He really liked how we did Green Dolphin Street on the first album and wanted my piano to play a big part in the last album. Wynton wasn’t too happy when he showed up and I was already there.”
“What about the songs on that session? The album says all the tunes were written by Miles. Blue in Green sounds like something you might write.”
“Blue in Green is my tune. Miles asked me to build a modal chart for F-major. I guess because he posed the problem he took credit for the solution, but it was my chart. I went to his place in the morning before we did the session and took it with me. Miles said he thought of the colors blue and green when he heard it. So we called it Blue in Green. At least I got credit for writing the liner notes.”
“They might not let a musician write liner notes again after what you did. Wasn’t that the first time a musician wrote the notes for an album. You were pretty damn abstract.”
“I don’t know about it being the first time but it was Miles’ idea because he liked my Eastern ideas. We talked music all the time while I was in the band. The tunes that he sketched out for Kind of Blue were simple – most of them done on the first take. Our version of wabi-sabi.”
“Wabi-sabi?” Jim interrupted.
“Japanese aesthetics. The Japanese emphasize the beauty of all things humble and simple at the core. Beauty in Buddhism must always be modest. Satori is the moment when we become enlightened when we become one with the things around us. It was a satori moment when we did Kind of Blue. Satori moments lead to wabi-sabi. Miles laid down some simple spare themes and relied on everybody to improvise around those themes. That way he got the best from each one of us and wound up with more than the initial musical ideas because each one of us added to his idea. Birth of the Cool was made by Gil and Miles at the end of bebop. It was the influence that came after Charlie Parker. But it was more than that it was truly the birth of the cool – art that is self-contained, detached like the artist himself. Miles is a leader in the best sense of the word. There aren’t many Miles, or Monks, or Mingus. Miles likes to set trends in everything he does – music, clothes, life style. Kind of Blue is his modal statement. Never been done before. Miles listens more to classical music now, especially modern composers who are into the modal form. I had something to do with that. We snuck in a little Debussy – the second Prelude – at the beginning of ‘So What.’ Some of Miles’ family were classical musicians when they were slaves in the South, so both blues and classical music are part of his musical heritage. Jazz didn’t invent improvisation. Improvising’s always been part of music. Bach in the 17th century wasn’t played the same way every time, musicians improvised. Miles hears and understands music in his own way. He creats art that’s truly wabi-sabi – intuitive, natural, simple, beautiful. Miles’ trumpet is unique, so’s the way he dresses, the sound of his voice. I’m not interested in setting trends like Miles, but I hope Scotty, Paul and I turn out to be wabi-sabi in our own way.”
“He can drive you nuts sometimes especially when he lays down that Eastern stuff?” Nick handed Jim the last sandwich.
Speaks soft sounds like a wiseguy. Funny.
Wabi-sabi. Dedalus’ girl on the beach. Bayfront Park. Stars. Moon. Close enough to touch the universe. God was there. My satori.
‘So What.’ Heard Miles’ trumpet say the words. Have to listen for Debussy. Why? Wouldn’t know it when Evans played it. Ask him.
Easy to talk to. Regular guy. Damn good golfer. Marks on his arm. Must be using dope. Scotty? Paul? Must be musicians.
Green Dolphin Street was cool…duuuuh do do do do duuuuh duuuuh do do do do duuuuh.
New Years till Marita Morena’s back. 90 miles across the sea…Havana Cuba’s waitin’ for me.