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Bill Evans/Don Elliott: Tenderly: An Informal Session

Bill Evans, the pianist, and Don Elliott, the multi-instrumentalist, were longtime friends and colleagues. They had a band together when they were New Jersey teenagers in the mid-1940s. During Evans’ period of heavy freelance work a decade later, he frequently played in his old pal’s group. The music on this CD comes from tapes recorded by Elliott in his home studio during 1956 and 1957 as the two worked out ideas. An Informal Session, the CD’s subtitle accurately calls it. The occasional car horn filters in from outside. We plainly hear Evans straining to bend a song to his conception. We hear the musicians’ comments and laughter. “That was fun. You were cookin’, man,” Evans tells Elliott.

Elliott plays vibraharp on a few tunes. On some, he provides hi-hat cymbal sounds by rhythmically forcing air through his teeth. On one, trading four-bar phrases with Evans, he scats to simulate a drummer’s breaks. But most of the playing is from Evans, often alone. The fascination in hearing these rehearsal tapes is to follow Evans’ mental processes as he sorts out harmonies, chord voicings and rhythmic notions. The rhythmic thoughts were crucial. In a snippet of conversation at the end of their workout on the changes of “Doxy” (misidentified in the booklet as “Blues #2”), Evans talks about his ideal of group interaction.

Evans: “I like to blow free like that, with no ‘four’ going, but you know where you’re at. It’s crazy. If everybody could do that, if the bass could be playing that way-why not-drums could just…” (he vocalizes in imitation of a drummer playing free).

Elliott: “That’s right; doesn’t have to help you.”

Evans: “Not if everybody feels it, man.”

It would be 1959 before Evans put bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian together in a group in which everybody felt his way of playing time. They went on to reform the very idea of the jazz trio, but this glimpse into his thinking tells us that Evans was ready years earlier.

Originally Published