head to the hammered strings

15Nov11

My dad plays piano, and it was always a comfort to hear that sound (wooden, golden, airy and percussive– a choir of non-human vibrations so handily channeling human sentiment) inhabiting the house. Yesterday, my husband Zack listened to Bill Evans in the car as he drove out to the mountains to hunt mushrooms. At the same time, with no communication between us, I streamed Bill Evans for three straight hours, no other music sounding quite right in the house-bound rainy Sunday afternoon while I struggled to keep the kids off of TV and video games and into paper and scissors and tape. I don’t know if it’s the photos I’ve seen of Evans slumped over the keys, as if magnetized to the strung strings by the crown of his head, or if his entranced self is transferrable auditorily, but his playing has an effect on me similar to the way that my childhood home felt when the piano was played. My dad didn’t play with Miles Davis, but he had (and has) a connection to music that is utterly catching, deeply convincing.

From Enrico Pieranunzi, “Bill Evans: The Pianist as an Artist”:

Even though he was no longer part of the group, Miles Davis called him to record an album that very quickly would prove to be one of the all-time masterpieces of jazz. Destined to become a cult album for the most informed of jazz fans, it was, and still is, also able to attract an audience usually drawn to other forms of music. Kind Of Blue [CL1355; CK64935] was recorded in two sessions, one on March 2nd and the other on April 22nd [1959]. Evans played on four selections, two per session: So What and Blue in Green for the first, and Flamenco Sketches and All Blues for the second. It was Evans who wrote the album’s liner notes, and it is very interesting to read with what penetrating clarity he analyzes the process of improvisation.

Taking Japanese painting as a model, he observes that “these artists must practice a particular discipline, that of allowing the idea to express itself in communication with their hands in such a direct way that deliberation cannot interfere.” Further on he adds: “this conviction that direct deed is the most meaningful reflection, I believe, has prompted the evolution of the extremely severe and unique discipline of the jazz or improvising musician.”

‘Discipline’ is a term to which Evans would often refer in order to clear up the common understanding of improvisation as a sort of game where “anything goes”. He consistently repeated that the opposite was true, that freedom in music only makes sense when there is a solid foundation; otherwise you get lost in arbitrary disorder and reduce the aesthetic value of a piece.

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