Sunday, April 29, 2012


When I got home from work Thursday, the album you cut some 40 years ago “Bill Evans Live at Art D'Lugoff’s Top of The Gate” was waiting for me. Friday, I listened to it for three straight hours. I’m not kidding you. I bet you forgot you cut it in 1968. That was a long time ago. Bassist Eddie Gomez—who worked for you 11 years—played on the date and so did drummer Marty Morell. 

The electronic press release Resonance Records circulated didn't explain why "Top of The Gate" was shelved. At this late date, the reason is unimportant I guess. Your fans will be glad a posthumous Bill Evans session will be available soon. “Top of The Gate" is a splendid two discs set, which captured you in your prime.

The grandfather of jazz reportage, Nat Hentoff, wrote the liner notes. Hentoff explained why you were a special talent, and he affirmed "Top of The Gate” is a masterpiece. I concur. There are many Bill Evans' anecdotes, and Hentoff revealed a few doozies.

Hentoff talked about your stint with Miles Davis. Davis hired you shortly after he fired Red Garland. That move upset some black jazz musicians, and. Hentoff asked Davis about the musician's reactions to Evans hiring. Davis responded: "I don’t care if Bill is purple with green polka dots as long as he can play".

There's another anecdotes Davis talked about in his autobiography. The anecdote is of a sexual nature, so I can't get into it here. This is a family orientated jazz blog. Bill, you entered Davis’ band brimming with talent. You left a well-oiled virtuoso.

The companion booklet that comes with  the two disc set has photos of the session, and remarks from Gomez and Morell. “Top of The Gate” will be available the 12th of June. As a rule, I review an album a few days before it is officially released, but I was so enamored with the album I decided to break that rule. Readers of this blog I buy this album. Resonance is only releasing 3,000 copies.

On "Top of The Gate," you played familiar oldies such as “Emily,” “My Funny Valentine,” “Autumn Leaves,” and “California Here I Come”.  I’ve heard each many times, but never played so elegantly. Those oldies melted over my eardrums. 

Gomez participation was key. You had an eye for strong bassists. Your work with Scott LaFaro is proof.  LaFaro’s and Gomez’s style was alike. On “Top of The Gate” you treated Gomez like an heirloom. You didn’t relegate Gomez to time keeping while you hogged the spotlight. On “Yesterday,” and “Someday My Prince Will Come” you and Gomez understood each others inner workings. 

Morell was low key on both disc but effective, comfortable in the pocket breast feeding the beat. Two weeks before you cut “Top of The Gate,” you hired Morell. That's not much time to master a repertoire. Besides, Morell wasn't the state of the art jazz drummer he is now. Back then, Morell was green as a traffic signal.  

Under pressure, though, Morrell was composed. Sharing the bandstand with you had to be scary. You played with some great drummers such as Philly Jo Jones and Paul Motian. Bill, playing “Emily,” ”Yesterday,” and “’Round Midnight” on both sets was crafty. During the first set, you played "'Round Midnight" as Thelonious Monk designed it. The second time around, you played it at an  adults only tempo.

The sound quality also stood out. It was clearer than an infant’s tears. To achieve that, sound engineer George Klabin put microphones on the piano, the bass, and the drums. Nowadays, that's common. In 1966, that was cutting-edge.

Listening to “Top of The Gate,” I felt I was on the bandstand next to Gomez and Morell. During both sets, the audience was so quiet I could hear a fruit fly sneeze. That wasn’t the case on the live albums you made at the Village Vanguard. The audience was inattentive and  rude. On "Top of The Gate, the audience was spellbound, and. I was, too.

Post a Comment