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Meet some of the people and places who in different ways played witness to Bill Evans — either as participants in our book or just through a moment in their own lives. 


Richie Beirach

On Bill Evans' continuing influence and their friendship

Photo by David Baker. Courtesy of Richie Beirach.

Q&A by Charles Levin

(Ventura, California) — Pianist Richie Beirach occupies an important distinction in the world of “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio.” Beirach (along with drummer Adam Nussbaum) attended Bill Evans’ final public performance on September 10, 1980, at Fat Tuesday's in New York. And even though Bill was five days away from dying in a New York hospital emergency room, Beirach, now 76, recalled a masterful performance.
“It was some of the best, most creative, brilliant, loose, swinging and sensitive playing I ever heard from him!!!,” Beirach wrote for a testimonial in drummer Joe La Barbera’s 2021 memoir.
It’s fair to say that Beirach can speak with authority about this in that he saw Evans as both mentor and friend. Beirach, who lives in Germany, has racked up numerous playing credits over a five-decade career. He’s played on more than 400 recordings as a leader or sideman — with more than 25 on solo piano.
Playing piano since age 5, Beirach initially only studied classical music like Mozart and Beethoven. That changed when he was 13 and heard Red Garland’s arrangement of “Billy Boy” on Miles Davis’ Milestones album.
He started gigging around New York in the mid-1960s, playing with trumpeter Freddie Hubbard and alto saxophonist Lee Konitz, while occasionally working as a longshoreman. In 1967, he enrolled at Berklee College of Music but transferred to Manhattan School of Music a year later to focus on composition. He finished his stint there with a Master’s in Music in 1972 .
Following school, he worked in Stan Getz’s band alongside bassist Dave Holland and drummer Jack DeJohnette. In 1973, Beirach joined Lookout Farm, a standout group in the burgeoning fusion movement led by tenor saxophonist Dave Liebman. The band dissolved three years later, but Beirach and Liebman continued partnering on projects to this day.
Among those bands was Quest, which recorded six albums between 1981 and 1991. Since then, Beirach has largely focused on trio playing.
Critical to his musical sensibility was Evans, whose influence features heavily on Beirach’s latest album, Leaving (Jazzline Records), a live concert solo piano outing at a French winery. Beirach answered questions by email from his home in Hessheim, Germany, where he’s lived since 2015 (following a long tenure as a professor at the Leipzig Conservatory).

Times Remembered: Your latest recording, Leaving, save the encores, are all standards. Tell us why you chose this route and your philosophy about standards.
Richie Beirach
: I had, during lockdown, been doing mostly free improvisations with my old friend Dave Liebman. We released a five-cd set on the Jazzline Records label, called Empathy —all free improvisations with me and Dave in duo; trio with me, Dave and Jack DeJohnette; and a prepared tape CD with Dave and I improvising over the tapes. 
So, when it came to doing a new solo piano CD, I went back to my recent past and thought HEY!! I WANT TO REVISIT THESE  GREAT OLD WARHORSE STANDARD TUNES THAT I HAD BEEN PLAYING ALL MY LIFE BUT IN A SOLO PIANO CONTEXT!! I was given the perfect opportunity with this live concert recorded in the beautiful wine tasting room of this fantastic old castle in Bordeaux, France owned by a French family that operated these vineyards for 800 years!!! St. Emilion!!
Anyway I felt very inspired by the situation, the great Steinway grand piano, and the specially invited audience. 
Also these standards somehow felt very fresh again because I had mostly played and recorded them in a trio or quartet configuration, so the solo piano format added to the feeling of freshness. 
TR: It’s also not lost on us at Times Remembered that most of the songs on this album are all part of Bill Evans’ repertoire. Coincidence? Please talk about that.
When I was growing up in the 1960s in New York City, there were three main bands that inspired and amazed us: the Miles Davis Quintet with Wayne Shorter, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter and Tony Williams; the Bill Evans Trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian; and the John Coltrane classic quartet with McCoy Tyner, Jimmy Garrison and Elvin Jones. We were lucky enough to be able to actually go and see and hear these three bands play ON A NIGHT TO NIGHT BASIS. In other words, if Bill was playing with his trio at the Village Vanguard, WE WENT EVERY NIGHT — Tuesday through Sunday. Plus there was usually a matinee on Sunday!! We had very little money, but we knew the people at the door and in the kitchen, so we were LUCKY!! We got in usually for free.
There was a pretty well-known list of standard tunes that were played by Bill’s trio during those years, and, YES, BILL’S REPERTOIRE WAS VERY INFLUENTIAL ON FORMING MY OWN REPERTOIRE!! This was one of the ways I learned  to play jazz — by hearing and studying Bill’s brilliant interpretations and trying to copy, ingest and hopefully personalize Bill’s stuff INTO MY OWN SOMEDAY. Remember jazz education hardly existed in those days except for the BERKLEE COLLEGE of Music in Boston. IT WAS AWFUL!! I KNOW. I WENT FOR A YEAR IN 1966!! Now EVERY MUSIC SCHOOL AND COLLEGE UNIVERSITY HAS A SO CALLED ACCREDITED JAZZ DEPARTMENT!! I’m happy to say I was able to make that transformation, and my recordings of some of Bill’s basic trio repertoire became my own especially on the trio recording of mine called Elegy For Bill Evans, which I recorded in 1980 after he died with George Mraz on bass and Al Foster on drums. 
Bill was and IS an ongoing deep inspiration for myself and my own music and always will be.


TR: There’s a photo you provided for Joe’s memoir of you and Bill. Is there a story that goes with that photo?

RB: That photo is in front of my house on Spring Street in 1977. It was taken by the wonderful engineer David Baker, who’s also no longer with us, but who recorded many of my recordings like Elegy for Bill Evans. 


Bill used to come over every six or seven months and visit my apartment on Spring and Hudson. I wouldn’t say we were friends because we were on such different levels, but he was a mentor to me and we were pretty close. He was the finest, most intelligent, educated and just plain down-to-earth guy.


He was a great friend, and if he said he was going to do something, he did it. He borrowed $150 from me, which was a lot of money back then, but he promised to pay me back and he did. He had a little book which he used to keep track of all the money he owed people, and when he got paid, he would hire a cab and go around paying everyone back, one by one.


He was always looking for stuff to listen to and would ask me if I had any LPs for him. So one time I gave him my solo piano record Hubris, and he loved it. We would also play a little bit – I had a beautiful Steinway grand – and he would ask me what or how I’m doing certain things… he’s asking me! I don’t know if he really wanted to know, or if he was just trying to make me feel good. But that’s the thing, he made me feel so good. He would talk to me like an equal, even though we were on such different levels. He had that vibe where he was so secure he didn’t need to prove anything. 

To learn more about Richie Beirach, go to his website.
To watch a video of Richie playing Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight,” click here.
To watch a video of Richie performing “Leaving” with his trio, click here.
Click here to purchase a copy of Richie’s new CD, Leaving.


Pascal Le Boeuf

How Kind of Blue (and Bill Evans) influenced the latest Le Boeuf Bros. album

Photo by Shervin Lainez. Courtesy Pascal Le Boeuf

Q&A by Charles Levin

(Ventura, Calif.) — When last I spoke to pianist Pascal Le Boeuf in 2006, he was a fledgling student at the Manhattan School of Music. Safe to say he — and his identical twin brother, alto saxophonist and fellow MSM student Remy — hit the ground running back then, quickly making inroads with New York’s jazz scene. They soon found themselves jamming and gigging with established players in the Big Apple. In that interview, which included Remy, the Santa Cruz, California natives spoke with an earnest confidence, tempered by the knowledge that the jazz gene pool in New York would kick their butts.
It paid off.
Seventeen years later, the brothers have long exceeded the notion of landing on their feet, releasing a number of highly praised albums and racking up a slew of commissions, grants and awards, including a collective six Grammy nominations between the two of them. Besides his jazz bona fides, Pascal has gigged with pop and rock artists while also performing with saxophonist Jeff Coffin, jazz vocalist Allan Harris, and his jazz piano trio Pascal’s Triangle. Of the latter, JazzTimes said it boasted “the sonic calling card of a traditional piano trio but fully absorb(ed) contemporary influences ranging from art-rock to urban rhythms.” The New York Times called Pascal’s music “sleek, new” and “hyper-fluent” — as he blends the roles of composer, jazz pianist and electronic arts with works ranging from modern improvised music to strictly notation-based chamber music.
Pascal, 37, now teaches on the music faculty at Vanderbilt University in Nashville (likewise, Remy teaches at University of Denver in Colorado). But teaching has not dimmed a tireless energy for composing and performing. Over the years, Pascal began exploring modern classical music, composing for orchestras and string quartets. He’s also on the verge of completing a Ph.D. in music composition at Princeton University. Earlier this year, he was awarded a prestigious Guggenheim Fellowship with plans to use the fruits of that prize to explore new ways of examining orchestral composition.
The brothers’ signature ensemble, The Le Boeuf Brothers Band, continues to propagate new ideas, something I can attest to after hearing it this summer at Bar Bayeux in Brooklyn. The New Yorker described the group’s sound as “clearing their own path, mixing the solid swing of the jazz tradition with hip-hop, indie rock, and the complex techniques of classical modernism.”
Their newest recording, HUSH, featuring tenor saxophonist Dayna Stephens, bassist Linda May Han Oh and drummer Christian Euman, owes its sensibility to Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue. In sculpting this project, the brothers sought to engage listeners with a definitive mood — one that allows passive or active listening. Bill Evans, a critical touchstone for our interest in speaking with Pascal, played a role in their thinking. I’ll let Pascal explain. He responded to my questions by email from his home in Nashville.

Times Remembered: What was your first experience hearing Bill Evans and what was your reaction?
Pascal Le Boeuf:
I fell in love with Bill Evans after becoming acquainted with his 1961 live recording Sunday at the Village Vanguard with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. I don’t recall having a strong first reaction, but I remember how the subtlety of the record permeated my awareness as I listened repeatedly. It is one of those records that becomes more interesting as you dig into the details. One of my favorite things about this recording is that you can appreciate it when listening actively (like an audience member) or passively (while reading a book or talking with friends). The playing isn’t startling or overtly virtuosic, but conversational, resulting in a feeling or an impression. 
TR: How did Bill influence your own playing and composing?
The idea that music can function effectively on multiple levels came to me from listening to Bill Evans—specifically the passive/active listening experience I mentioned earlier. I began to look for this dual characteristic in other types of music. (For me, this led to other “jazz” artists like Aaron Parks, Brad Mehldau, Coltrane’s ballads, Jakob Bro, Stan Getz, but also minimalists like Meredith Monk, and electronic artists like Aphex Twin, Board of Canada, Prefuse 73— and gave me a new appreciation for Bach!) Ultimately this is what the latest Le Boeuf Brothers release HUSH is about—the music can function as a static vibe/feeling/impression for passive listening, but if you listen more closely, there are subtle details to latch onto that make the experience interesting for active listeners.
TR: You and Remy have said that Hush, the latest Le Boeuf Brothers recording was largely inspired by Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” In an interview with Radio France earlier this year, Remy said it was about creating a quiet, subtle mood where people “would want to sit in to feel good.” To which you added that the approach of playing close to mics at an extremely low volume would focus that sound. “Then you get a warm intimacy, like a whisper,” you added. I love Hush and can hear that approach, big time. When I came by Bar Bayeux in Brooklyn to hear you, I think you said in passing that Bill Evans played a role in influencing the album. Please talk about that.
The seeds for HUSH were first planted when Remy and I were discussing Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.” We agreed that its ability to conjure and hold a specific atmosphere was one of its chief innovations.  I remember listening to an NPR segment on “Kind of Blue” and drummer Jimmy Cobb said “It’s relaxing and it’s not hard…so people got a feeling from that record.” In the same segment, Steve Lacy said something about how it was cool because it wasn’t “startling” but “subtle.” I believe this was a result of Miles’ work with Bill Evans. The patience, impressionism and vibe that Evans lent to the conversation created a laid-back new sound that listeners and musicians could connect with. On HUSH, Remy and I pulled this concept into the present, and imagined our own peaceful and contemplative space as a counterweight to modern streaming society’s algorithm-fueled push for excitement. The technical approach—performing into close microphones at an extremely low volume—was a restriction we imposed on the music to help serve the feeling we wanted to create. 
TR: What I love about this recording is that it feels like you’re taking a lot of time between notes and ideas, milking each one for every ounce of sonic info before moving on. It reminds me of a quality in Brad Mehldau’s soloing where I find myself sitting on the edge of my chair eagerly waiting for that next idea. Was this a conscious decision? Talk about that a bit.
The time between the notes and ideas was a result of what the music needed—for us to create a consistent feeling or atmosphere, it became necessary to stay in one feeling, or to move gradually between ideas, rather than develop a climactic story with lots of peaks and valleys. This gave us a chance to take more time and develop ideas more carefully both as composers and improvisers. It was also the result of the influence of Meredith Monk.
TR: You’ve made a serious turn by adding modern classical music to your sonic palette. This includes getting a Ph.D. in Music Composition at Princeton. Take us through the evolution of that turn, what in your past listening played a role in that and how it’s influenced your jazz playing.
I’ve always been interested in music composition in general. It’s about understanding why something sounds good (subjectively!). Whether transcribing a Herbie Hancock solo, deconstructing a Portishead track, or studying a Joan Tower chamber piece, I want to know what are the technical devices that make me feel something? If I am moved by a piece of music, I want to understand why, so I can make moving music that I want to hear. This has served as a creative compass throughout my career as an artist. Following that compass has introduced me to a number of inspiring artistic practices and communities. The contemporary classical scene is what I am interested in right now. Some artists that moved me to explore this direction are Meredith Monk, David Lang, Michael Gordon, Julie Wolfe, Alarm Will Sound, Florent Ghys, John Adams, Andrew Norman, Matt Evans, Jennifer Higdon, Marc Mellits, Garth Knox, and Juri Seo. 
TR: I’m wondering if at some point (perhaps in more formative years?), you listened to the work of Gunther Schuller, who coined the term “Third Stream” to describe this nexus between jazz and modern classical music?
I haven’t spent much time with Gunther Schuller, though I am aware of his coining the phrase “Third Stream.” The jazz/classical records that really hit me early on were Raymond Scott; Danilo Perez, Motherland; Stan Getz, Focus; Dave Brubeck, Time Out; John Patitucci, Communion. I would also count a number of Mingus Records as jazz/classical crossover. He certainly experimented with this intersection which is in the music. (In 1953, he set up the Jazz Composers Workshop, a revolving ensemble of musicians from both jazz and classical backgrounds that prefigured “Third Stream” music.) 
TR: Improvisation was considered a vital component of Third Stream. On your newest recording, Ritual Being, I hear soloing by Remy. How much improvising are you calling for in this work for any of the other musicians? And, if not, what informs that direction? What were you looking for here?
Generally, I am looking for the musicians that form the ensemble to be highlighted by the composition/context I create for them. This means I want the string quartet to do what they do best, and I want the improvising musicians to express themselves by improvising. I don’t want to make classical musicians play chord changes, and I don’t want to make a jazz drummer play strict notation. My goal is to provide a context for musicians from different artistic backgrounds to play together without having to compromise their artistic integrity. That said, there are some boundaries that are fun to push. For example, a string quartet can improvise as a singular voice in a way that is unusual in a traditional jazz improvisation context. I like to look for opportunities to create freedom in the music especially when it is intricate or difficult to perform. 
TR: Third Stream emerged in the 1950s at a time when jazz was seeking wider recognition as a serious art form. European classical music was still considered the standard by which all music was judged. It feels safe to say that times have changed. Jazz has widespread recognition, especially when you consider the number of academic programs dedicated to it. Why do you think that has changed?
Times have certainly changed, but I think they are still in the process of changing. Even though there are a number of academic programs in jazz, positions in jazz departments rarely offer the same security and pay as similar positions in classical programs. I also wish there were more integration between these art forms within academia. We still have work to do. 
TR: In addition to composing, performing and some touring, you and Remy are both now working in academia. You’re teaching at Vanderbilt (Remy is at University of Denver). What led you to pursue this avenue?
I’ve always thought of teaching as part of being a musician. My wife Molly Herron is also a composer and we both got jobs at Vanderbilt at the same time (2021) so it made sense to move to Nashville to join the Vanderbilt community. The students and colleagues are wonderful, and the University is supportive of my work as a performer. Now that I am a father I want to be home with my family as much as possible and working in academia allows me to do this more easily. 
TR: You and Remy grew up in Santa Cruz, which has produced more than a few incredible jazz musicians: saxophonists Donny McCaslin and Paul Contos; drummers Kenny Wolleson and Jeff Ballard; bassists Mary Ann McSweeney, Stan Poplin and Dan Robbins; pianists Paul Nagel and Jon Dryden; trombonist Dan Marcus; singer Sasha Dobson. What do you credit this to? What’s in the water there?
In addition to those you mentioned… Tim Jackson has a lot to do with it via the Monterey Jazz Festival and the Kuumbwa Jazz Center. [Editor’s Note: Jackson was among the founding members of Kuumbwa and just retired from his post as Monterey Jazz Festival’s artistic director. He continues to run Kuumbwa.] These have brought world-renowned jazz artists to the community for many years. Ray Brown at Cabrillo College was an important teacher for us and others like Jeff Ballad and Ben Flocks; jazz pianists Murray Low and Steve Czarnecki, the late Smith Dobson and the late Gene Lewis—so many wonderful people helping others. I also believe the general culture of Santa Cruz is supportive of people who think differently—which is great if you want to be an artist of any kind. 
TR: You and your wife have just welcomed your first child. Congratulations! How has that changed life for you?
We are thrilled to be parents. Our son Baxter is a joy beyond measure! The biggest change has been regarding creative efficiency. Since Baxter was born, I have become more intentional about how I spend time so I can take advantage of the time I have to make music and the time I have to be with my family. 
Before Baxter was born, I would spend more time trying out initial ideas before deciding on materials for a composition. I have since learned that how you develop an idea is often the key so committing to ideas more quickly and fearlessly has been a big change. 
To learn more about Pascal Le Boeuf, go to 
To learn more about Remy Le Boeuf, click here.
To learn more about the Le Boeuf Brothers band, go to
Watch a video of “Wedding Planning” from the album HUSH.
To stream or buy a copy of HUSH, click here.
To stream or buy a copy of Ritual Being, click here.

NOTE: Normally we use hyperlinks to all websites, videos, purchase sites, etc. For reasons we are unable to figure out, the links to Pascal's website and the Le Boeuf Brothers website would not work. We recommend you paste the URL into your browser. We apologize for the inconvenience.

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Michael Wolff

On Tourette’s Syndrome, Bill Evans, Cannonball Adderley and surviving cancer 

Q&A by Charles Levin

Photo by Charles Levin

(New York, NY) — By any measure, pianist Michael Wolff should not be around today. He almost didn’t survive a rare cancer that derailed his career and left him all but certain to die. But an oncologist’s Hail Mary pass — prescribing an unproven drug — brought the 70-year old Wolff back from the brink, putting him firmly back on a piano stool, and recording and playing gigs again. Wolff recounts this horrific episode in his outstanding book, “On That Note: A Memoir of Jazz, Tics and Survival” (Redwood Publishing, 2022).
Hi, I’m Charles Levin, editor-writer of the Times Remembered Newsletter and co-author with Joe La Barbera of “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio.” I found Wolff’s tome equally uplifting and heart breaking. It’s frequently funny, often profane, but never boring. Saturated with heart and humanity, Wolff reveals the ups and downs, hopes and dreams, of life as a jazz musician.
It’s the story of a Jewish kid from the south, who falls in love with blues and jazz, migrates to Berkeley, California, with his parents, and launches a career in music. But he also must share the bliss of playing music with the challenge of Tourette’s Syndrome, a disorder marked by verbal and facial tics that provides as much hassle as it does life lessons.
From the time he was born, Wolff was surrounded by music with parents who encouraged his goals. His psychiatrist, jazz-loving father dabbled in clarinet and filled the house with recordings by Ray Charles, George Shearing, Count Basie, Oscar Peterson, Frank Sinatra, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Horace Silver, Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley (with whom Wolff would later play). During early childhood years in Mississippi and Tennessee, Wolff also heard gospel sounds from numerous Black churches while reveling in New Orleans bands during visits to a favorite aunt.
Wolff began gigging in high school, playing piano with saxophonist Bishop Norman Williams’ house band at San Francisco’s Both/And club. After two years of college, Wolff, then 20, joined Cal Tjader’s band. More gigs followed with ensembles led by percussionist Airto Moreira, tenor sax icon Sonny Rollins and the late jazz singer Nancy Wilson, for whom he served as music director. Through Wilson, Wolff met comedian Arsenio Hall, who hired him to lead the house band for his talk show.
It was on Hall’s show that Wolf met his wife, actress-director-writer Polly Draper (thirtysomething). The couple raised two boys, Nathaniel and Alex, both now successful actors and musicians. The kids got an early start as thespians with a 2005 movie called The Naked Brothers Band. Written and directed by Draper, the musical comedy focuses on a pop-rock band led by Nat and Alex, then 8 and 5, respectively. The movie led to an acclaimed Nickelodeon television series of the same name. Wolff composed the soundtracks while Nat wrote the band’s songs. (Inspired by Wolff’s life, Draper also wrote and starred in The Tic Code, a 1998 film featuring the late Gregory Hines as a jazz musician with Tourette’s. A 2018 movie,  Stella’s Last Weekend, written and directed by Draper, stars Nat and Alex as brothers with Draper as their mom.)
After 10 years of touring as a sideman and another five and a half years with Hall in Los Angeles, Wolff settled in New York, leading his own ensembles. His latest outing features his longtime trio with Ben Allison, bass; and Allan Mednard, drums. Their last recording on Sunnyside is 2019’s Swirl, and upon one listen, it’s clear that pianist Bill Evans’ conversational interplay between the trio members deeply influenced Wolff’s playing and composing. The two men were good friends, and Wolff devotes an entire chapter of his memoir to Evans. A new trio recording, Memoir, is slated for release in 2024.
Wolff currently teaches at New York University. The interview was conducted by email with Wolff in Los Angeles.

Times Remembered: You open the book with a chapter on Tourette’s Syndrome, a disorder you’ve struggled with since early childhood. You were not formally diagnosed until your 30s, but you recount that in some ways, the tics — eye rolling, blinking, noise making, head shaking — helped teach you some life lessons. What are the realities and misconceptions about Tourette’s?
Michael Wolff: 
People look at people with Tourette’s Syndrome with fear and curiosity. Sometimes they’re just curious, and sometimes they are not nice.
I recently was in the audience for a Broadway play, Prima Facie, a one-woman show performed by Jodie Comer. Granted, it is a quiet show that you have to listen to. I was sitting next to two women who appeared to be in their 30s or 40s. I figured they would be understanding of the fact that I sometimes make noises when I’m in that situation. But they were very rude to me. They complained that it was hard for them to hear.
My son Nat was sitting on the other side of me, and he leaned over and said, “It’s Tourette’s Syndrome.” They doubled down on their attitudes. I’ve learned to mostly forgive people like that for doing those things. But it is embarrassing and infuriating. Hey, but it was a great play and performance!!
TR: The symptoms disappear when you play music. Can you tell us a little bit about that?
 When I play music it does relax me, and I feel the tics and noises mostly disappear. I was a friend of the neurologist Oliver Sacks who once told me it’s all about energy. He said he advised his patients to “Let it fly.” So I think that energy pours into the process of music making.
TR: In 1968, at age 15 while visiting your Aunt Nita in New Orleans, you go to hear a big band at Al Hirt’s club with your cousin. The piano player doesn’t show up and you suggest to your cousin that you should sit in. He goes and asks for you, and the band invites you up. Tell us about the impact that had on you as this appears to be a life-changing moment.
Getting to play with a professional big band at Al Hirt’s club in New Orleans when I was fifteen was a game changer. It was my first time playing with grown-up musicians who made their living playing music. I had so much confidence. I just sat down and played — like I’d been doing it for years. It felt better than I could have imagined, and I kept that feeling with me long into my career.
TR: Around that same time, Dick Whittington, your piano teacher during high school, turned you on to Bill Evans with the Sunday at the Village Vanguard session. You first heard Bill at Davies Hall in San Francisco with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell. In your memoir, you devote a whole chapter to Bill and recall introducing your dad to him backstage at the Village Vanguard. Your dad comes across as exuberant, saying “I’m so happy to meet my son’s favorite pianist,” to which Bill replied with high praise for your talent. Why was Bill your favorite pianist? How did his playing and music connect with you and what about his playing has influenced you?
Bill Evans was a musician beyond the jazz style that he played in. He was a consummate pianist and sight reader and composer and had his own approach to harmony and melody and rhythm. He fit that approach into the jazz of the time he was playing, primarily the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. I loved and love everything about him — his touch, his rhythmic interpolations, chords and compositions. He was my paradigm for a pianist playing in a trio with a bass and drums.
TR: Your major playing credits as a sideman are really impressive: Cal Tjader, Airto Moreira, Cannonball Adderley, Sonny Rollins and Nancy Wilson, for whom you were music director. But you single out Cannonball as the height of your sideman experience. Tell us why?
I loved playing with Cannonball because the feeling of blues was always underneath the sophistication of his music. He was a generous and warm person and bandleader who encouraged me at every turn. He combined science and soul.
TR: You discovered you had a knack for humor while still a teen over a bridge game. And later after settling in New York, you took a hard turn into comedy when comic Lewis Black suggested you try developing some humorous sketches at the piano. You agreed and tested it out at the West Bank Café, where Black was playwright-in-residence and curating the entertainment. Tell us about the kinds of sketches you came up with and what you got out of that experience.
When I did stand up, I began by coming up with “bits” utilizing the piano. Victor Borge was a great influence on how I could use being a musician to create comedy. I took music and talked about it while I played it and made it funny. I took a commercial jingle and found funny ways to play it in many classical styles. I took the standard “Autumn Leaves” and played it like I was playing in the style of different countries. I also did some impressions of musicians, including Willie Nelson. I loved doing standup but ultimately discovered my strongest talent was composing and performing jazz music.
TR: You met Arsenio Hall when he was an opening act for Nancy Wilson. You two really hit it off, and he eventually tapped you to be musical director for his talk show. The sheer diversity of artists the house band backed up is quite astounding: Ray Charles and Sammy Davis Jr., Grandmaster Flash and Dwight Yoakum, Yo-Yo Ma and Placido Domingo, Wayne Shorter and Herbie Hancock. Tell us a little bit about that experience and pick one of the more unique performances from that moment in time and tell us why it was significant.
When I was bandleader for the Arsenio Hall Show, I was so lucky to get to play with some of my heroes. I loved playing on one show all night long with Chick Corea, Wayne Shorter, and Airto, along with my regular house band. It was a magical treat. I also was blown away to get to perform with some of the musicians I had grown up listening to in my house as a kid. Ray Charles and Sammy Davis, Jr. were two of the most exciting experiences I had performing on the show. The best musical thing that happened was that I got to meet my hero, Miles Davis, and become friends with him. I’d always felt Miles Davis and Cannonball Adderley were the musicians I was most simpatico with, so meeting Miles was a lifelong wish granted.
TR: Another result of the show was developing a close friendship with singer-songwriter Warren Zevon, who wrote hits like “Werewolves of London,” “Poor, Poor Pitiful Me” and “Lawyers, Guns and Money.” At first blush, many folks would think you two couldn’t have been more different. But you actually had a lot in common. Tell us a little bit about that.
Warren Zevon and I were very close. Musically we were different, but we both appreciated the other’s talents and point of view. Warren sang on a couple of songs on my Christmas album, Christmas Moods, and I played keyboards on one of his albums. We also played together live at times.
But the thing that drove our relationship was the fact that we were both inveterate book lovers.  We both read and read and read, and had a lot of the same authors we loved in common: Ross McDonald, Norman Mailer and so many more. We ate lunch together three or four times a week at Hugo’s in West Hollywood, and often went together to our favorite book store, Book Soup.
TR: After arriving in NY, you decide it’s time to go out as a leader, so you form an ensemble that drew on numerous world music influences, featuring Badal Roy, tabla; Airto, percussion; and Alex Foster, sax. That’s followed later by Wolff and Clark Expedition with drummer Mike Clark. More recently, you’ve led a trio with Ben Allison on bass and Allan Mednard on drums. Is there a through line that connects these bands or do they demonstrate uniquely different musical visions?
The musical through line that connects my bands is my love of music and musicians. I love interacting with various types of musicians. And certain musicians influence the way I play and compose. I’m fairly flexible within a certain range, so different musicians inspire me.
TR: About 10 years ago, you were diagnosed with Stage IV follicular non-Hodgkin lymphoma but with a positive prognosis for recovery. It didn’t quite work out that way. Your health spiraled downward and about a year later, the diagnosis changed to a Stage IV soft-tissue cancer, called histiocytic sarcoma. Worse still, it was untreatable and rare — only 300 people were known to have been diagnosed with it. You recall the madness of it all in vivid and painfully disturbing detail, a blur of doctors, chemo, infusions, emotional plunges, ICU stays, nurses, drugs … and more drugs. But then your oncologist gets a promising genetic test and suggests using a drug not previously known for this cancer — and your symptoms start disappearing rapidly. It’s still a long slog back to a healthy life, but, in time, you’re playing gigs and even managing a short West Coast tour. Through all of this, a friend of your wife, who’s an oncologist, offers a telling observation: “It sounds weird to say this, but I tell all my patients that cancer is a gift.” You agree, stipulating it’s a gift if you survive. Please share what your gift was.
The gift I received from surviving a terrible four-year struggle with cancer was the gift of life.  And through that I had a different set of priorities in my life. I still love music and performing and composing. But what has been driven home to me is that it is the people I love who are most important.  My wife, my sons, my other family, the friends I’ve had for years, and some new friends, are all what life is all about for me now. It sounds obvious, but for most of my life I was so consumed by my music, I wasn’t always aware of what was most important.
Now, every day, I try to notice one thing that is special. Maybe it’s leaves on the trees or the color of the sky or something someone says to me. I also realize that my casual interactions with people in my life are so meaningful. A few words for the UPS guy I’ve known for 25 years, or the mailman, or the barber I walk by every day. Just saying hello or exchanging a couple of sentences means so much to me.
When I was very sick and was thought to only have months to live, my oncologist told me,  “Enjoy every second.” It’s hard to do but the best advice.
TR: So what’s next for you?
 As far as what’s next for me, who knows?  I did just record a new album with my current trio with Ben Allison on bass and Allan Mednard on drums.  It will be released in the spring of 2024 on Sunnyside Records. I’m working on a tribute album to Bill Evans with drummer Mike Clark and bassist Leon Dorsey. I’ve been writing music for piano trio and string quartet, which I want to record. I’m also working on a project with saxophonist Alex Foster, where we take classical pieces and play them in a free way.  I’m performing more, and just completed a small tour of Europe. I will be performing in the United States this summer and fall. I plan to do some touring next spring in support of my album. And I just completed the audio version of my memoir, On That Note. I’ll be excited to have it out on Audible in the fall.
But the main thing I’m hoping to do is be with the people I love, and try to be as open to life as I can. And every now and then I’d like to do something nice for someone. It can be as simple as giving someone a compliment, or showing them how much I appreciate them and what they do. It feels so good.

Michael Wolff leads a trio at Sam First Jazz Club in Los Angeles on August 3 with Joe La Barbera, drums; and Edwin Livingston, bass. Click here for tickets and more info. 

Click here to learn more about Michael Wolff.
Click here to watch a video of Michael Wolff playing a concert — solo and trio — marking the anniversary of Erroll Garner's birth.
Watch Memoir,” a short documentary about the making of Michael’s new record coming out next year. 
Michael’s most recent trio CD, Swirl, can be purchased on BandcampAmazon, Apple Music and other streaming services.. 
Buy a copy of Michael’s book, “On That Note,” here.

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Russ Ferrante

On the transition from church pianist to jazz artist, the Yellowjackets’ longevity, his new trio and the influence of Bill Evans

Photo by Guinara Khamatova, Courtesy of Russ Ferrante

Q&A by Charles Levin

(New York, NY) — I’ve listened to the Yellowjackets since the band’s seminal outing in the late 1970s as guitarist Robben Ford’s backup group. By 1980, the quartet — with pianist/keyboardist Russell Ferrante, bassist Jimmy Haslip and drummer Ricky Lawson — recorded as the Yellowjackets, ushering in a more distinctive approach to fusion: synth-heavy, deep-pocket grooves from R&B and gospel to African 6/8, but layered in complex harmonic changes and tongue-twisting rhythmic displacement.
Ferrante has been key to the band’s sound and evolution. Forty-three years in, he’s the remaining founding member— a band that has produced 25 albums; 17 Grammy nominations, including their most recent album, Parallel Motion (Mack Avenue Music Group); two wins; and numerous collaborations, including with singers Bobby McFerrin, Kurt Elling and Luciana Souza, and the WDR Big Band in Cologne, Germany. Personnel changes over the decades rendered an expansion in styles, notably the arrivals of saxophonist Bob Mintzer and drummer William Kennedy, who help facilitate the band’s deep dive into burning straight-ahead jazz. Dane Alderson holds down the bass chair.
Ferrante grew up in San Jose, began piano at 9 and played in church where his dad was the choir director. By high school, he’d branched out to pop, R&B and jazz and was soon gigging around the Bay Area. He moved to Los Angeles in 1977, continuing his work with Ford but also playing with saxophonists Joe Farrell, Wayne Shorter and Tom Scott, and singer-songwriter Joni Mitchell. He’s also collaborated for many years with singer-songwriter Lorraine Feather.
Last year (2022), I was fortunate to see the Yellowjackets twice, first at Birdland and later at the New Jersey Performing Arts Center in Newark where I caught up with Russ after the show. I mentioned the newsletter and “Times Remembered,” Joe La Barbera’s memoir about pianist Bill Evans, and Russ didn’t hesitate when I asked for an interview.

Times Remembered: When we talked after the show in New Jersey, you mentioned that your first experience hearing Bill Evans was the album Undercurrent with Jim Hall. Tell us about your reaction and where that led you with Bill Evans.
Russ Ferrante: 
My first exposure to Bill Evans was very formative. I had just begun my exploration of jazz piano and of course Bill Evans was one of the first jazz pianists I’d heard about. His record Undercurrent was one of the first few jazz LP’s I owned along with one by Oscar Peterson and another by Phineas Newborn Jr. I remember transcribing parts of Bill’s solo on “My Funny Valentine” and also his tune “Skating in Central Park.” Since that first encounter with his music, I’ve listened to almost all of his recordings. Of course his harmonic approach and beautiful voice leading has set the standard for almost every jazz pianist that followed. I had the opportunity to hear him live a couple times, once at The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco and later at the Roxy in Los Angeles.
TR: How did Bill compare with other jazz pianists you’d heard up to then? And how much of an influence did Evans play in your further studies, playing and composing?
 Bill was very different from the other more blues-based pianists (Oscar Peterson, Phineas Newborn Jr., Les McCann, Horace Silver, etc.) I was also listening to at the time. I loved his harmonic sophistication, beautiful touch, his ability to float on top of the time, and the strong emotional and introspective quality of his playing. I’m sure my playing has been influenced by all of those qualities along with his thoughtful and organized approach to composing, improvising, and his ability to make every note count.
TR: A few questions about your formative years … Your father was the choir director at a church, where you also played. What drew you to piano? And what other kinds of music did you listen to while growing up?
My mom and dad both loved music and made sure my sister and I took piano lessons. I started at age 9 and honestly was not that enthused about having to take time away from playing ball with my friends to practice our required hour per day. I have to credit my mom for insisting we stick with it. Only after I got interested in jazz and popular music in high school did I become obsessed with learning as much as I could about music theory and improvisation.
Growing up I heard primarily the hymns that we sang in church, an occasional serious choral piece like Handel’s Messiah, and a few LP’s my parents had. I remember my mom really liked Ray Charles. I didn’t really listen to any pop music till I was in my teens. Once my interest in jazz was kindled though, I sought out all kinds of music and ended up playing in a lot of blues and R&B bands in the San Francisco Bay Area.
TR: You started listening to jazz in high school. Who was the first jazz artist you heard and your reaction?
The first recording that sparked my interest in jazz was Swiss Movement by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. I loved the fusion of blues, gospel, jazz, and groove! Another early LP was Coltrane’s My Favorite Things. I was really drawn to McCoy Tyner’s chordal solo on the title tune. I also remembering hearing Miles Davis’ quintet with George Coleman, Herbie Hancock, Ron Carter, and Tony Williams. I had NO idea what they were doing but was SMITTEN by the sound.
TR: The Yellowjackets have logged 43 years and are still going strong. When I heard the band last year, I noticed that you’ve revamped some of the tunes. For instance, “Claire’s Tune,” when first recorded was synth heavy. Now you’re playing it from the piano, and the band, generally speaking, seems to bring a more acoustic, lighter touch, to the head. Are there other examples of reworking the repertoire? And what drives these changes?
 Yes, the band has been moving toward a more acoustic sound for some time. A big catalyst was the arrival of saxophonist Bob Mintzer in 1990. Another influence was the year we spent playing with drummer Peter Erskine. Peter was the one who suggested we leave the sequencer behind and reinterpret those songs acoustically. This approach has really helped the band develop a “conversational” style and allows the widest possible dynamic range. Also, I forget exactly when, but we started using acoustic piano in place of a weighted keyboard and racks of synth modules we used to carry. I think the airlines get some of the credit, too. We used to be able to tip a skycap $40 and get 20 flight cases checked onto the plane. When that ended, it was prohibitively expensive to fly all that gear around!
TR: You have a wonderful trio with bassist Mike Valerio and drummer Steve Schaeffer. I’m really enjoying Inflexion, the recording you did with them. Tell us how and why you formed this group and how it contrasts with the Jackets? Is another recording in the works?
 This group formed when we all got together to do some recording at Steve Schaeffer’s home studio. Rich Breen, the Yellowjackets’ longtime audio engineer, suggested Steve call me as he was assisting in troubleshooting Steve’s studio. I mentioned I had some music that wasn’t quite right for Yellowjackets, things that were more intimate, introspective, and quiet. Those tunes were “Inflexion D” and “Inflexion A.” Also, I love playing standards and that’s not really something we do in Yellowjackets. It’s been really fulfilling to have an outlet for this music. There are no concrete plans to make another trio recording right now but hopefully in the near future.
TR: A few queries about two artists … You’ve been a longtime collaborator (co-composer) with singer Lorraine Feather, whose output seems just endless. How did you wind up working with her and what do you enjoy about her lyrics and singing?
Lorraine used to be my neighbor. I love writing with Lorraine. Her lyrics are wonderful tales. She is so urbane, witty, and fearless. She always challenges me. As an example, I was sharing a Ligeti piano etude with her that was really abstract. Next thing I know, I receive a voice memo where she has written a lyric that’s spoken to that etude and she wants me to write something in that style! Recently she sent me a voice memo of one of her new lyrics spoken to a Bach fugue. Talk about intimidating, how are you going to improve on perfection! So the challenge is to capture that quality but in my own way.
TR: What stands out for you about working with Joni Mitchell? At what point in her career was this?
 I worked with Joni Mitchell in 1982-1983, first in the recording studio (Wild Things Run Fast), then on a world tour for almost all of 1983. I have always loved her music and have so much respect for her artistry. She’s the real deal! Joni respected all of us and gave us permission to be creative with her music. We rehearsed for a couple months before our tour and we got the chance to really explore her songs and change the arrangements to fit her band, which was Larry Klein on bass; Michael Landau, guitar; Vinnie Colaiuta, drums; and myself on keys. One of my favorite moments on the tour was getting to accompany Joni on “A Case of You” as I have always had a special affection for that song.
TR: You recently retired from the faculty of USC’s music department. I’m speculating this leaves you more time for your own projects. What’s next? 
Not sure! I have plans to practice more and be a student myself. Also spend more time in Boston where our daughter’s family lives. Yellowjackets will of course continue to be a focus of my creative musical life and who knows what other musical opportunities may arise? Always ready to learn and be challenged!

Click here to learn more about Russ.
Click here to learn more about the Yellowjackets.
Watch Russ with the Yellowjackets live in concert here.
Buy Yellowjackts CDs, songbooks and merch here.
Hear Russ with the Inflexion trio live at Sam First in Los Angeles. 
Buy Inflexion at this link.
Check out two of Russ' collaborations with Lorraine Feather here: “Feels Like Snow” and “The Hole in the Map."
Watch Russ perform with Joni Mitchell in concert at Wembley Arena in London. 

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Adam Nussbaum

On Bill Evans’ last performance, the value of childhood piano lessons, and his deep dive into Leadbelly  

Q&A by Charles Levin

Photo by Adam Nussbaum

(New York, NY) — I first heard Adam in the early 1980s with Michael Brecker’s band at Kuumbwa Jazz Center in Santa Cruz. Some years later, I saw him with guitarist John Abercrombie’s organ trio, featuring Gary Versace, at the Monterey Jazz Festival. In both settings, Nussbaum always met the moment, playing with empathy, tastefully applied chops and a deep sense of swing.

Safe to say, the list of jazz artists that drummer Adam Nussbaum hasn’t played with would be quite brief. His resumé includes stints with Stan Getz, Dave Liebman, Tom Harrell, John Scofield, Gil Evans, Steve Swallow, Gary Burton, Joe Henderson, Art Pepper, Sonny Rollins, Kenny Wheeler and innumerable others. Other collaborations include BANN with bassist Jay Anderson, saxophonist Seamus Blake and guitarist Oz Noy; We 3 with saxophonist Dave Liebman and bassist Steve Swallow; and The Impossible Gentlemen with pianist Gwilym Simcock, bassist Steve Rodby and guitarist Mike Walker. In 2018, Nussbaum released his first recording as a leader, The Leadbelly Project (Sunnyside Records), an homage to the late folk-blues icon.
Nussbaum has also worked as an educator, notably for his video (with Steve Smith) on playing with brushes. Born in New York City and raised in Norwalk, Conn., Nussbaum took up drums at 12, having studied piano for five years prior. He also played sax and bass as a teen. In 1975, Nussbaum attended the Davis Center for the Performing Arts at City College of New York.
Nussbaum, who lives in eastern Pennsylvania, also has the distinction of having seen Bill Evans’ last gig at Fat Tuesday’s (joined that night by pianist Richie Beirach). The band had opened a six-night visit on September 9, 1980, the night before. But Bill could not finish the run; pianist Andy LaVerne played the remaining shows with drummer Joe La Barbera and bassist Marc Johnson.
In Joe’s memoir, Nussbaum recounted his experience with a sober eye, noting that Bill “was in rough physical shape.” But when the music started, “it was a whole other thing. There was an incredible sense of urgency and creativity that was beyond what I’d heard from him in the past. It was on another level. Looking back, it was like he was looking death in the face and making a final testament, breaking through with an unbridled creativity.”
Our interview with Nussbaum, 67, was conducted by email.

Times Remembered: I’m sure you had no idea that seeing Bill Evans at Fat Tuesday’s was his final performance. In our book, you spoke quite enthusiastically about Bill's playing that night while also noting his physical decline. Tell us what happened that lead to you and pianist Richie Beirach to see the show that night. 
Adam Nussbaum: We were both big fans. We were happy to go out and hear him play.
TR: Like the rest of the jazz world, you found out the following week that Bill had passed. What was your immediate reaction? 
AN: I was very sad to hear the news. I was also not completely surprised having seen him that last night. Another giant cut down midstream.
TR: When did you first hear Bill Evans? And can you remember whether it was an album or live show? Either way, tell us about your reaction.
AN: My parents had a very diverse record collection, encompassing all kinds of idioms. One of the records was his first Riverside album “New Jazz Conceptions” with Teddy Kotick and Paul Motian. I remember hearing that record when I was about five years old. When you hear things at that young age, it has a deep impact.
TR: What from Bill Evans’ own work or that of his trio members (drummers or bassists) has influenced you and how?
AN: I’ve been affected in different ways by most everything that I’ve heard. Each trio he had brought something to the table.

TR: What kinds of music were you exposed to growing up? 
AN: All kinds. As I mentioned, my parents had a very diverse record collection. Classical, blues, jazz, folk, flamenco, amongst others. I also grew up listening to everything that was on the radio: Rock, R&B, Soul, Latin.
TR: Your first instrument was piano. What were you playing?
I had a wonderful piano teacher from the time I was 7 until 12 years old: Katalin Stapelfeldt. She was very loving and tough at the same time. I played a lot of classical repertoire. She also had sessions with her students where we would all play different instruments together: piano, marimba, xylophone, drums. She had a major impact on me. We all learned how to listen and play with one another. I came to the drums from music.
TR: How did you make the transition to drums?
I was initially attracted to the drums as a little boy. I gravitated towards them. My cousin who is nine years older than me had drums. When I was five years old, I spent a weekend with him and his parents. I watched him play and it was monkey see, monkey do. I put on a stack of 45s and played along with the records. Once I was 12. I got my drums and just started playing with my friends.
TR: When and how did you discover jazz? Any particular artist that first got your attention?
I heard jazz as a little boy. My first jazz concert was seeing Dizzy Gillespie when I was eight-years old. That had a very profound affect on me. I remember how much fun he was having and how great he was playing and the positive energy. More than I realized at the time.
TR: You’ve embraced a number of really interesting projects, including BANN, The Impossible Gentlemen and We 3. There’s also your recording as a leader, The Lead Belly Project. What inspired this idea? And what was your reasoning for choosing the personnel for that group? 
The Leadbelly Project goes back to the very first records I heard as a child. I wanted to pay homage to what initially was one of my first influences.  My parents had his records and I was captivated by them. I chose the personnel for that project because they really know how to listen. That’s so important when you’re playing together with people.
TR: What’s next on the horizon? 
We’ll see…..I’m very grateful to have been able to play with so many of my mentors. I’ve learned from every situation that I’ve been in and I hope this can continue.

For more info on Adam and where he's playing, go to his website.
Check out these videos of Adam playing with The Impossible Gentlemen and Adam Nussbaum and BANN.
Purchase the The Leadbelly Project.

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Jon Mayer

On Bill Evans, Coltrane, Mel Lewis-Thad Jones and Jackie McLean 

Q&A by Charles Levin

Photo by Bob Barry Jazzography

The pianist Jon Mayer once found himself bearing witness to history. He was visiting New York and stopped by Rockefeller University Hospital to say hi to his former doctor, Marie Nyswander. She had developed the country’s first methadone program for heroin addiction, and Jon was a proud graduate, long since clean for many decades. As he stood in the hospital’s lobby, Jon noticed one of his heroes, pianist Bill Evans, another member of the program, walking into an elevator. Evans was looking for the doctor, presumably for methadone. Mayer instinctively wanted to say hello, but Nyswander, who was standing by him, admonished him from doing so. “No. Don’t say anything,” she said to him.
The date was September 15, 1980 and would end with Evans passing away in a Manhattan hospital emergency room. The pianist had strayed long and hard from the program, cheating with other drugs. Nyswander implicitly knew that Evans, by then, would not choose recovery. Why she urged Mayer not to speak with Bill is anyone’s guess. But it shook the younger pianist up. He idolized Evans, crediting him with opening doors for him musically.
Mayer, among Los Angeles’ most prolific bop-rooted pianists, recounted this poignant episode in our book, a fateful day when drummer Joe La Barbera drove Bill to New York along with Bill’s girlfriend, Laurie Verchomin. In fact, Joe and Laurie were waiting in the car outside for Bill. Joe would not learn of this amazing coincidence until many decades later when he and Mayer played a gig together.
Mayer, now 84 years young, rapidly rose up the ranks of the New York jazz scene, a graduate of the city’s famed High School of Music and Art. As a teen, he played in bands with drummer Pete La Rocca and would go on to gig with clarinetist Tony Scott (replacing Bill Evans!), John Coltrane, the Thad Jones-Mel Lewis Orchestra, Jackie McLean, Chet Baker, Sarah Vaughan, the Manhattan Transfer and Freddie Hubbard. These days he can be heard with his trio at Sam First Bar in Los Angeles, where his song list includes many tunes from Evans' lexicon, such as “Minority,” “My Foolish Heart” and “Never Let Me Go.”
Times Remembered: Can you recall the first time you heard Bill Evans play and in what context?
Jon Mayer:
Yes, I was privileged to hear and meet Bill in person at Minton’s Playhouse, the house that bop built, 118th Street in the Cecil Hotel. It was very exciting. Tony Scott had a six-night gig at Minton’s with Bill on piano. We went and got to hear Bill, me and a friend from Music and Art High School, who was a jazz clarinetist. I was 17 and still in high school. Clearly Bill was a great pianist. Like many experiences in the early days, I couldn’t put historical perspective on him at the moment. But this was part of something larger for me. It would include meeting Trane. We knew these were great players.
Bill had just moved to New York and was new to the scene, but people were recognizing his greatness. One night Horace Silver came in to hear Bill, who was always gracious and humble — at least with me. So he would ask Horace to come and sit in. Horace was, “Oh no, I just want to listen to you.” So I was a regular at Minton’s during that gig. I forget how I got to know Bill personally, but he would show up at other venues in town where I’d be playing, I was in the early stages of my career, but he would make you feel good about yourself.
TR: How important was Bill Evans to the transformation of the jazz piano trio? Did that impact you? If so, tell us how?
JM: He was magnificent. He had a touch all his own that I really focused on, and certain linear patterns that were his own. The piano trio format is my chosen go-to expression, and I’m sure a lot of that was a result of listening to Bill. I heard many of Bill’s trios, like the one with Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums. It had kind of a floating way of playing. Motian was a loosey-goosey kind of drummer, different from Philly Joe. I heard him around town play different rooms. Bill’s get-off-the-stand tune was “Five,” which was very complex. I never really tried to play it. It was outside my comfort zone. I recorded a few of his tunes.
When I was growing up in New York, I spent some time with the free-jazz players in the East Village. I was never that fascinated by it. Bill represented an opposing philosophy: tonal music, song music. I chose to go with what Bill was doing, getting the most out of tonal music. He was expanding the trio, and how it could express itself. I was happy to hear Bill play anytime. To this day, I carry the Bill Evans gene into my ballads.
TR: When Dr. Nyswander told you not to say hello, how did you feel at that moment?
JM: I was angry, disappointed at her for controlling the environment, my situation. I was just about on my feet to say hi to Bill but was stopped in my tracks. I was good friends with her and she treated me for years. When she said that, I didn’t know why. When he went in the elevator, she said, you don’t want to be talking to him right now. He’s been manipulated. He was on her shit list [for cheating on the program]. He was poly-addicted; he liked to dip into more than one category of drugs.
I didn’t know his condition at that moment. I didn’t know he was that close to death. Knowing that later, it made the whole episode more poignant for me over the years. One night when the trio with Marty Morell and Eddie Gomez played at Top of the Gate, Bill said to me, “I’m having a miserable time with smack.” I was several years into methadone treatment and leading a straight life. The program taught you how not to think about drugs. Methadone was a long acting drug, unlike heroin which was a short acting drug. I said, “You need to talk to this doctor at Rockefeller University Hospital. It’s a good thing.” — which he did do. I always feel that that conversation, probably in the 1970s sometime, extended his life a few years.
TR: How does that episode sit with you today?
JM: I still feel the same way. I was disoriented. I just followed her instruction because I knew there had to be a good reason. If she said something like that, it was a serious thing. And I could not have affected the dynamics of the situation at that moment. I didn’t know until recently that Joe and Laurie were waiting outside in the car. I guess I would have liked to have had one last chance at a conversation with Bill, but it wouldn’t have changed anything.
TR: You replaced Bill Evans in Tony Scott’s Quartet. How did you feel stepping in to the job following Bill?
JM: I was just very excited to be inside the music scene in Manhattan. There was so much energy. I used to follow Tony around to recording sessions, big band and otherwise. Bill was on some of these sessions. Bill was getting some studio work, including at Webster Hall, which was a famous RCA recording studio downtown. There was one session where I don’t remember the tune, but I remember the playback and marveling at Bill’s solo. It was a head-turning experience. There was a Tony Scott gig at the Metropole, where they had a modern jazz room upstairs. One night, the MJQ came in to hear Bill cause the word had gone out about him. I remember the looks of astonishment from (vibraphonist Milt) Bags (Jackson) and (pianist) John Lewis as they discovered his talent.
Talk a little bit about your formative musical years. You initially played sax. What inspired that? Why did you switch to piano? I was attracted to alto cause I heard Bird at Jazz At The Philharmonic. I was raised on Jazz At The Philharmonic. I discovered Bird in junior high school and I said, “Gee, I’d like to do that.” I forced my mother to buy me a horn, and then I took the exam for the High School of Music and Art on alto. I also played clarinet, but I never considered myself a good player. Eventually, I decided I didn’t want to carry a sax. It was too much. It was because of how much it weighed. Little did I know at that time, I would be called on to play a lot of piano-shaped objects, horrible instruments that were reportedly pianos. I drifted into being a piano player. What I had was a good sense of time and rhythm in jazz music. I was a big fan of drummers. I came up through high school with drummer Pete La Rocca. We were in a kid band together.
On Sunday afternoons, there were Battle of the Band contests for kid bands. Our band, which was run by saxophonist George Braith, would always win those concerts. Our personnel was based on Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers with trumpet and alto sax. We had some energy going on. First prize was a Monday gig at Birdland, which was an interesting gig for a high school kid. We won all of them.
TR: Please give us you immediate reaction to a few artists you played with.
John Coltrane …
JM: I adored John Coltrane. We would go down to the Café Bohemia to hear Trane with Miles and Cannonball. I loved his linear approach, the “sheets of sound.” I was very influenced by the sheets of sound. It influenced my freedom to play wrong notes. Trane was at the top of the list. I would go to hear him wherever I could.
TR: Mel Lewis-Thad Jones Big Band …
JM: Best big band I ever played in. I got calls from Sir Roland Hanna to sub. There was such a great synergy in that band.
TR: Jackie McLean …
JM: I adored Jackie. I adored his presence on the bandstand. He was drenched in New York bebop material. His idol was Bird, but he carved out his own sound. “Confirmation” was his signature tune, his battle tune. He would never be bested on “Confirmation.”

For more information, check out Jon's website. His latest recording is Live at the Anthanaeum, which you can buy at CDBaby or Amazon. Check out “All The Things You Are” from that session with Darek Oles, bass; and Roy McCurdy, drums.

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Warren Bernhardt

On Bill Evans in his own words

Photo by Dave King

Warren Bernhardt, a wonderfully versatile pianist with boundless musical interests, died on August 19, 2022 in Bearsville, NY. He was 83. Warren’s playing credits were vast, spanning jazz, fusion and classical to more commercial gigs. A short list of his resumé includes Steps Ahead, L’Image (with Mike Mainieri, Tony Levin, David Spinozza and Steve Gadd), Carly Simon, Jeremy and the Satyrs, Gerry Mulligan, Clark Terry, Simon and Garfunkel, Don McLean, George Benson and Steely Dan (during the band’s 1993-94 tours). According to an obituary posted on WBGO’s website, he logged at least 1,000 studio dates in his career. 
On January 4, 2015, I interviewed Warren for Joe La Barbera’s book, “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio.” We knew Warren would be one of the book’s most critical “witnesses” as he and Bill roomed together in the 1960s. So we valued his memories and insights. Due to unforeseen circumstances beyond our control, we were not able to include his thoughts in the book. In his memory, we present them in this edition of the newsletter (they will also be available online at the book’s website). 

- Charles Levin 
Here is Warren in his own words …
When Bill was my roommate, there was 12 hours a day of music. We played four-hand stuff for one piano — Mozart, Beethoven and Haydn symphonies. It was kind of a mentor-protégé relationship. He’d never teach me anything, but we sure played a lot.
He played “Green Dolphin Street” in all 12 keys to figure out which worked best. Same with “My Foolish Heart.” I never heard him make a harmonic mistake, which was scary.
During one of the nights at the Village Vanguard sessions (for the album Turn Out the Stars), they played “Quiet Now,” and it was incredible. There’s a stairway in the back by the kitchen and bathrooms that leads out to the back alley. We were hanging out on that stairway to talk. I said, “Wow! You guys sound great.” It was almost like hearing God play because he had such a command of everything. He said, “This is the best trio. This is even better than the trio with Scott (LaFaro) and Paul (Motian).” I was surprised because everyone thought the best trio was the one with Scott and Paul.

Upon reading the comment about Bill’s “Last Trio,” Joe responded with the following for use in the book which also was cut:
I am equally surprised and embarrassed by this comment, but this quote from Bill during an interview in 1979 may shed more light on why he loved this trio so much. In the interview on WBEZ in Chicago, radio host Dick Buckley asked Bill how he dealt with out-of-tune pianos.
“The chemistry of this trio is very good. When something is negative, this trio is such that it works you out of it. And whereas if the chemistry wasn’t good, I might have gone downhill. Instead I kept going uphill and by the third set, I was really enjoying myself, despite the fact that the piano was out of tune.”
Bill’s comment to Warren in a book I’m writing might seem self-serving. But Bill’s comment to Buckley shows that it was the chemistry of the three musicians that drove this renewed creativity in Bill, not necessarily the individual talents. I think all of Bill’s trios were great because they had a great piano player!

For more information on Warren, check out his website. Here's a video of Warren performing with L’Image in Tokyo, 2009. The personnel is Warren Bernhardt, keyboards; Mike Mainieri, vibes; David Spinozza, guitar; Tony Levin, bass; Steve Gadd, drums. Here's a link to Warren's obituary on WBGO's website.

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Marc Johnson

There were many things I learned from working with Bill: Concentration. Focus. Professionalism.

Q&A by Charles Levin

(New York, NY) — Marc Johnson ascended to the bass chair in pianist Bill Evans’ trio at the age of 25. With a youthful face that would allow him to pass for a high schooler, Johnson was in fact — at that time — a seasoned veteran. He’d graduated from University of North Texas, where he played in the school’s famed One O’Clock big band, performed with local symphony orchestras and been road tested in Woody Herman’s Thundering Herd. Johnson was the critical third leg in Evans’ ensemble, recounted in Joe La Babera’s memoir, “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio.” I spoke to Johnson for an interview via email from his home in the New York area.

Times Remembered: You joined Bill Evans’ group at 25. When did you first experience his music?
Marc Johnson:
My dad, Howard Johnson, introduced me to Bill’s music. I was 15 or 16 when I really got into Bill’s album, Alone. After that, I checked out everything with [bassists] Eddie Gomez and then Scott LaFaro — all the trios.
TR: What kind of impact did that have on your interest and growth in music?
The bassists in Bill’s trios were doing something different and especially when they took solos. I was still a student, having taken up the bass at age 16, but the influence of those trios on me can’t be measured. It was huge in terms of conception and just an example of what was possible on the instrument.
TR: How did you get the gig with the trio?
I auditioned for the gig at the Village Vanguard. I was touring with Woody Herman at the time and through pianist Fred Crane, with whom I had been working in Dallas, Texas, prior to joining Woody, I arranged an audition. Bill had me sit in with his trio one night at the Vanguard for the last set of the night. Chuck Israels was playing the week with Bill and Philly Joe Jones was on drums. I flew myself and my bass to New York when I had a couple nights off from Woody’s band. It was April of 1978. Bill liked what he heard enough to hire me for another couple of gigs and from there, he made a commitment to me for a year to see how things would develop. I was with him from then until he passed away in September of 1980.
TR: What was your great musical takeaway from working with Bill?
There were many things I learned from working with Bill: Concentration. Focus. Professionalism. But musically, I was impressed by how much preparation Bill had made in the presentation of the music. Each piece was much the same night to night: the presentation and set-up of the improvised solo sections, the length of the solos and the whole architecture of the piece. There was enough prepared material in a piece that as a new bassist in the group, over a period of weeks of live performance, I could build on that repetition of the prepared material to raise my performance level and creative involvement in the music. Solo forms were structured to be the same length night after night, so we could construct the improvised sections knowing how long they would be from start to finish, where the peaks and destinations would be.
TR: Your father was a pianist, jazz buff and music educator and your mom sang in the church choir, so I’m thinking it’s safe to say they encouraged music. But I know little else about your formative years. What was your first musical memory?
Probably hearing my mom sing children’s songs to me and coaxing me to sing them. Beyond that, I discovered some 78 rpm records my parents had when I was 5 or 6. One of them was Dave Brubeck’s nine- or ten-piece band performing “You Go To My Head.” I remember listening to that over and over, crossed legged in front of the old Webcor portable record player, fascinated by the sounds coming from that recording.
TR: You played cello at one point. I’m thinking that you started playing classical music first and jazz followed. Is that right? Talk about that and the transition to bass and jazz.
I started cello at age 11 in Omaha, Nebraska. My parents made sure I had private instruction with weekly lessons with a reputable teacher. When I was 15, my parents moved to Denton, Texas, because my father decided to work towards a Ph.D. in music theory at North Texas State University.
I switched to double-bass at age 16 because the high school director was losing his bass section to graduating high school seniors. Again, my parents found me the best teacher they could. In this case, it was Ed Garcia, who at the time was the principal bassist in the university orchestra and was winning concerto competitions around the Texas area. Classical instruction was key to my early development as a bassist.
But I was also in the high school jazz band, which met after school two or three days a week. My father was a big influence at home with his interest in jazz pianists. I remember hearing Bill Evans, Oscar Peterson, Gene Harris and Dave Brubeck. He also loved vocal jazz groups like The Hi-Lo’s.
I spent my high school years every Saturday morning in rehearsals with the Fort Worth Youth Orchestra under the baton of John Giordano. When I got to the university, I was still primarily a classical player and student of the classical solo repertoire. But I was playing in jazz combos after hours in sessions off campus. In my second year at North Texas State University, I was given the opportunity to play in the Fort Worth Symphony, and sometime during my senior year of college, the conductor, again, John Giordano, told me I would have to make a choice between classical and jazz. I was playing six nights a week in Dallas by then with pianist Fred Crane, who mentored me in the art of accompanying.
Having matriculated through the [university’s] One O’clock Lab band with [pianist] Lyle Mays, I was hooked on being a jazz bassist. I probably was always going in that direction, but my first real success with the instrument was in the classical arena, so I was taking things as they came, all the while developing a feel and conception for jazz bass playing and eventually opportunities presented themselves.
TR: After Bill, you’re working with a lot of different musicians and you form Bass Desires, which is playing everything from Trane’s swinging “Resolution” from A Love Supreme to tunes with a funk or Americana kind of vibe. Can you talk a little about what you were thinking at the time in forming the band that led to the personnel (guitarists John Scofield and Bill Frisell and drummer Peter Erskine) and concepts?
Really, I made a conscious decision in about 1983 that if I ever got the opportunity to put a band together, I wanted to do something completely different than a piano trio. I had been going to hear live music in New York and one night at a place called the Jazz Forum, I heard John Scofield and Mike Stern in the same band. There were horns in the band, too, but from there, I thought a two-guitar quartet with bass and drums would sound really cool. I knew about Bill Frisell from rehearsing with Paul Motian and Joe Lovano in early 1981. And I had been aware of Scofield’s playing for awhile, even before the night at the Jazz Forum. I had just been introduced in 1983 to Peter Erskine through John Abercrombie when John asked me to join him and Peter to play in John’s trio. I felt that Bill and John would be perfect together and I was right. Plus, we were all of the same generation, but steeped in the jazz tradition. Peter had just finished his tenure with Weather Report. An opportunity arose for me to put a band together in early January of 1984 at a place on West 46th street called The Silver Lining. The guys were all available and wanted to do it. I hired someone to record the two nights and sent an edited tape to Manfred Eicher at ECM and the rest is history.
TR: You’ve had many interesting musical relationships that speak to so many areas of jazz: the late guitarist John Abercrombie, the great Italian pianist Enrico Pieranuzzi, pianist Eliane Elias, to whom you’re married. Can you talk a little about what ties those different leaders and their music together and perhaps how you get something different from each of them?
John Abercrombie was just so open and loose. He allowed us to freely create the music with him, and we often did just that every time we played together. The structures he presented to play off of allowed for that. It was challenging to put ourselves on the spot like that and rise to a high level of coherent spontaneous creation, but that’s what we were doing. It was exhilarating. Enrico and I got together at about the same time in 1983. I was immediately at ease with his rhythmic feel and jazz sensibility. Between Joey Baron or Paul Motian on drums, it was a continuation of the Bill Evans Trio for me. I feel that some of my most adventurous, interactive playing has been in trio with Enrico. 

Eliane Elias’ music presented a different challenge for me, because of the Brazilian rhythms and feel. Again, she’s someone who digested all the great pianists who preceded her from Art Tatum and Erroll Garner to Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. She trained as a classical pianist alongside her jazz explorations and by the time she arrived in New York in 1981, was ready to make her mark on the jazz scene. Because of those jazz references and classical sensibilities for sound production and composition, we have a lot of affinity. Through her patience and diligently notating the bass parts in those early years of our working together, I have made some progress towards understanding and functioning in a more authentically “Brazilian” way in her ensembles. I’m still learning from her and feel inspired every time we play together. I feel so blessed.
TR: Your most recent recording is the solo bass album, “Overpass” (ECM). Dave Holland’s “Emerald Tears,” another solo bass album, was a big influence on you and, according to your website, “Overpass” “builds” on that influence in an “imaginative way.” Please elaborate on that a little more? Or any other incentives for pursuing this recording?
After hearing Dave Holland’s works for ECM Records, I felt inspired to reach for something, musically and professionally. Overpass is the culmination of my lifelong vision for making a solo bass album and traces a long arc of my career and life in music, from my earliest days in church choirs to hearing Miles Smiles at age 13  to my university days and later to my tenure with Bill Evans and after that through my associations with ECM Records.
TR: With Bill, “Nardis” often functioned as a dramatic up tempo set closer and a showcase for both you and Joe La Barbera. You reprise it on the solo album with a stately, elegiac kind of approach. Is there a through line conceptually linking the performances with Bill and this solo piece? If yes, give us your thoughts on that. If not, explain why it’s different now …
“Nardis” is where playing an unaccompanied bass solo really started for me. We played it every night when I was with Bill Evans and he presented the piece as an opportunity for three, unaccompanied solos with trio interludes to sort of sew it together. I used that platform to go deeper into an understanding of song form. The modal harmonic structure and the 32 measure A-A-B-A form was a perfect launching pad for improvising on. Playing this piece helped me to internalize the distance of an eight-bar segment of time. It freed me up to play different phrase lengths and rhythmic shapes through the structure . Over the years, whenever I’m asked to play an unaccompanied piece, I choose “Nardis,” because I can always rely on it. I know I’ll get into it and explore the harmonic and rhythmic tensions and resolutions that the form and my vocabulary allow for. This was a first take and I especially like that the melody is not overtly stated but rather, alluded to.
TR: What’s next in the pipeline for you?
Getting back to touring again after the long hiatus from the world pandemic. At this point in my life, I’m trying to balance more family time with touring. I’m not creating any new things of my own right now aside from producing projects with Eliane. We collaborate on just about everything and that keeps my creative juices flowing.

To learn more about Marc Johnson and “Overpass,” go 

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A Teen Discovers Bill Evans 

By Brian Bruman 

Photo courtesy of Brian Bruman

Editor's Note: I recently had dinner with the retired French Horn player Brian Bruman, whose wife, cellist Julie Green, was my classmate at CalArts in the early 1970s. Brian had read “Times Remembered,” which brought back memories of hearing Bill Evans live for the first time. As with many folks, it was a magical experience. I so enjoyed his story, I asked him to to put in down in writing for us. Enjoy! - Charles Levin

In 1965, I was a young French Horn student at the High School of Music and Art in New York City.

One Sunday that spring, and still very much a Queens kid, I was playing stickball with friends in the schoolyard when my dad came by. Uh oh, what did I do now?

But Dad had a smile on his face.


“Just got a call from Lester (my horn teacher). If you want, there’s an opening at a summer arts camp called Indian Hill. They need a horn player, full scholarship, and he recommended you. But we have to go into the city by 4:00 this afternoon. The guy who's auditioning you is only around today.”


‘The guy’ was staying at an apartment on Tenth Street near Grace Church. This was different. I had never been announced by a doorman before. Up Dad and I went. The door opened.

“Hi. Are you Brian? I’m Chuck Israels. I play bass. Come on in.” Ignorance is bliss!

I must have played well enough because a few weeks later, I was in the Berkshires. Indian Hill was a magical place and was about to get even better.

The founders of the camp, Mordecai and Irma Bauman, Chuck Israels, the counselors and teachers, and the great artists who visited and performed at the camp that summer are too numerous to mention. But one stands above all others.

One evening, everyone gathered for a performance in the meeting room of the camp’s main building. Not a huge space, we sat in chairs or stood, circling informally around a piano, drum set, clarinet stand, and string bass lying on its side. When Chuck Israels suddenly walked in with this tall fellow and two others, I had no idea what to expect but was all ears.

The moment Bill Evans sat down, bent over the keyboard and struck the very first chord, I knew that I had entered a unique and beautiful musical world I had never been in before.

Anyone who has read “Times Remembered” and was blessed enough to attend a Bill Evans Trio concert knows the effect this wondrous music had on all of us.

That night, and that summer were the gifts of a lifetime.

Brian Bruman, after careers in classical music and business, has happily reinvented himself through writing every day. 


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Alan David Gould

The “Quietude” of Bill Evans

{Photo courtesy of Alan David Gould

[Editor's Note: Every so often, I stumble on a social media post that so beautifully articulates the magic of Bill Evans. Please check out this one (found on Facebook) by Sarasota, Florida-based composer, writer and poet Alan David Gould.]

I had a conversation with the legendary Bill Evans once back in 1977, during a break between sets at one of Bill's appearances at The Airliner in Miami. We spoke about an album project that he had worked on with Claus Ogerman and about playing inside the changes.
It was certainly a moment I'll never forget. He was studied, in much the same way one would see him at the piano; quietly intent on reaching for the thought, as if he was pulling it out of thin air. There was a certain monochromatic look that Bill had in conversation, reflective, somewhat shy, almost distant. His sincerity, however, was obvious, and his reverence for Claus Ogerman was evident. I gathered that, as complex and multi-faceted as Bill was as a pianist, he had been blown away with the orchestral arrangements of his songs. There was little doubt that he felt The Maestro had taken his project to another level.
Bill was famous for that deeply introspective style and his ability to take the tune to another place; to think about the music out loud and redefine it in a myriad of thoughtful ways. I asked him about playing inside the changes and his response was a moment of non-verbal affirmation; a solemn nod which confirmed his ongoing sympatico with that style of playing and that way of being. At the bottom of it all was Bill's intense quietude, which seemed to demand a search for the note, and the need to find his own personal salvation in the music.

To learn more about Alan David Gould, go 

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Pianist Marc Copland

It wasn’t so much the harmony or lyricism or the great swing he had ... it was about heart. I don’t know anybody at the height of his or her powers that played with any more heart than Bill. His music brought me to tears more than once.

Q&A and Photo by Charles Levin

(New York, NY) — On April 21, 1979, pianist Marc Copland got called to sub for Bill Evans at the Washington, D.C., jazz club Blues Alley. Evans learned the day before that his brother Harry had died. Overwrought with emotion, Evans backed away from the keyboard barely a few minutes into the first song on the fourth night of a six-night stand. He was unable to continue the performance. Copland was living in D.C. at the time, a period during which his musical M.O. morphed from saxophone to piano. Copland recounted the gig in Joe La Barbera’s recent memoir, “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio.”
Nowadays, the New York-based Copland can be found locally (and recently in Europe) performing with his latest project, a quintet co-led with trumpeter Randy Brecker and saxophonist Dave Liebman. Bassist Drew Gress and drummer Joey Baron round out the ensemble. At a recent show at Birdland (with Vanguard Jazz Orchestra saxophonist Billy Drewes subbing for Liebman), the group effortlessly worked its way through a variety of tunes from Duke Ellington’s ethereal and pulsating “Mystery Song” to Brecker's cleverly titled “There's a Mingus Amonk Us” (the trumpeter's take on a fantasy tune co-written by Mingus and Monk; it works!). Much of the set’s songlist can be found on their new album, Quin5T, released on InnerVoice Jazz, the label Copland founded about six years ago.
A Philadelphia native, Copland started piano lessons at 7 but switched to alto saxophone at 10, studying and playing alongside his high school pal Michael Brecker. Copland returned to piano in 1973 and has since loaned an exquisite and sensitive sound to a variety of ensembles from duos to quintets. Over the years — before and after his debut album as a leader, Stompin’ With Savoy (1995, Savoy) — Copland has garnered wide acclaim for his work with guitarist John Abercrombie and bassist Gary Peacock (both deceased). Of late, his musical collaborators include trumpeter Ralph Alessi, Liebman, Brecker and saxophonists Chris Doxas and Robin Verheyen. 
Times Remembered: You got called to sub for Bill at the last minute at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. You recount that in the book, but for those who haven’t read it yet, please walk us through that episode. How did you get called and what followed?
Marc Copland:
Bill’s brother Harry passed away during a six-night run, and Bill felt he couldn't continue to play that week, which is very understandable. I was living in Washington, D.C. during that time, so I got the call on Thursday or Friday to sub for him Friday and Saturday nights with Marc Johnson and Joe La Barbera. In the end, for business reasons, the club and Bill decided I would play with my local trio. In a way, it felt a little daunting at first, but it was a good trio and the two nights went well.
I should add that I’d moved to the D.C. area to play piano on a steady gig with a terrific band down there, and it kind of worked out. The lifestyle was more laid back than N.Y., and I liked that and stayed for a decade. During the first two or three years, every week my friend Dave Wundrow, a great bassist, would come out and play. We did a lot of ballads, sort of starting where I felt Bill left off, and that was the foundation of my approach to the instrument. Lots of textures, working with voicings in the middle register of the piano, and keeping feeling in everything. Dave was into all the same stuff, it was a great way to get going.
TR: When did you first experience hearing Bill Evans and what was your reaction? Ultimately, what impact did Bill have on you as a player and composer?
Oh, I’d heard him for years, but I didn't get it. I was a horn player and just wanted to burn out. But when I switched, Bill was a revelation. If a jazz pianist is interested in improvising harmony, you can’t ignore Bill Evans, nor, for that matter, Herbie Hancock, who acknowledged his debt to Bill years ago in an interview. But for me, as time went on, it wasn’t so much the harmony or the lyricism or the great swing he had — for which he took a lot of heat, unjustifiably — it was about heart. I don't know anybody at the height of his or her powers that played with any more heart than Bill. His music brought me to tears more than once.
TR: You started out on saxophone but switched to piano after you felt the instrument had limitations. Tell us a little more about that.
Look, I love saxophone. I have such a great musical time playing with Dave Liebman, Robin Verheyen, Chet Doxas and others. But back in my early 20s, I heard non-sax sounds in my head — colors, textures, orchestral gestures — and piano was the best vehicle for that, much better than sax, so I switched. Took some extra time, but the move was very gratifying and centered me so that I could clearly see the path going forward. 
TR: You had been highly visible with Gary Peacock and John Abercrombie’s groups (both now deceased) as well as collaborations with Randy Brecker and your band Zenith with Ralph Alessi. More recently is the quintet with Brecker and Dave Liebman. What is the common denominator that ties these bands together? What distinguishes them from one another?
The distinguishing characteristics are kind of intuitive. The trios are more intimate. The quartets and quintets keep the intimacy, interplay, and harmonic bent but add more groove and swing. The common denominator would be what it’s always been with Abercrombie or Peacock or my own bands: Everybody listens to each other before jumping in; we allow room for individual expression and support each other, while also looking for ways to create stuff together. And we do our best to play what we hear and what we feel and nothing else — all of which makes the whole unit stronger. 
TR: You started your own label, InnerVoice Jazz, about a half dozen years ago. What led to that decision and how’s it going? What’s the advantage to running your own label? Are there any downsides?
We’re making progress every year in what is, globally, a down market, given the slow death of CDs, vinyl, and even downloads, and the rise of streaming. The upside is the creative freedom the label allows.  
TR: It appears the nucleus of the label revolves around the Liebman-Copland-Brecker Quintet and a few others. What are your goals here?
The full “roster,” as such, also includes Drew, Joey, Ralph (as you mentioned), Robin Verheyen, and Mark Feldman — quartets with the latter two are already in the can, and new trio recordings are planned. There’s really no “goal,” other than to record and release the best music possible.

Learn more about Inner Voice Jazz here.

Purchase CDs from Inner Voice Jazz here.
Watch Marc perform “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” solo at La Villette, Paris.

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Garry Dial

Talking Bill Evans, Ira Sullivan & Red Rodney, Charlie Banacos, Duke Ellington's Unheard Masterpieces, Recording Pandemic Style from St. John, and Teaching Former Yankees Centerfielder Bernie Williams!

Q&A and Photo by Charles Levin

(New York, N.Y.) — In the late 1970s, pianist Garry Dial often played in his 44th floor Manhattan apartment with friends and peers. Bassist Marc Johnson, on one such occasion, remarked that the apartment would be the perfect spot for Bill Evans’ upcoming 50th birthday party. Dial was more than happy to agree. The party, documented in Joe La Barbera’s memoir, “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio,” reads like a who’s who of jazz luminaries. In attendance were Joe Lovano, Marc Johnson, Joanne Brackeen (who played some duo piano with Evans), and numerous others.
Dial is often best known for his tenure with the Red Rodney-Ira Sullivan band. Later, he spent 30 years teaching at Manhattan School of Music and The New School. Dial continues to teach at New Jersey City University online via Zoom, alternately from his New York digs and a second home in St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands. He’s also heading up a new music program at his high school alma mater, St. Benedict’s Prep in Newark. Meanwhile, Dial is active with numerous other projects.
Interviewing Dial was a comparatively easy commute. We live in the same building where he still resides in the flat where he hosted Bill Evans’ birthday party. In fact, when I showed up to shoot some photos, he immediately launched into “You Must Believe in Spring,” and other gems from Evans’ songbook. We started with how he first heard about Bill Evans.
Times Remembered: The story of hosting Bill Evans’ birthday party was little known outside those who attended it. Had you ever met Bill before? What was your reaction when he arrived? And what was so important about Bill Evans, the musician, for your growth as a musician?
Garry Dial: When I was in high school, I went to a place called Saint Benedict’s Prep in Newark. While there I met Mary Lou Williams, who took me under her wing and I studied with her during my high school years. It was my first introduction to jazz.
Later my mother — also a pianist — took me to hear Peter Nero in concert, and we asked his recommendation about the best college to study jazz. He advised me to go to Berklee College of Music, and I took his advice, enrolling in a seven-week summer program after my junior year of high school. It was there I met Gerard D’Angelo, my dearest friend, who turned me on to Bill Evans.
When I came back for my senior year to finish high school, Gerard was living on Long Island, and his dad would take us to the Village Gate to hear the Bill Evans Trio. And that’s where my life completely changed. It was like, Oh my God, this is like the greatest music. Those events had a profound effect on me.
After finishing high school, I enrolled at Berklee where I met my buddies, pianist Kenny Werner and drummer Joe Hunt. Joe had played with Bill. He took me under his wing, teaching me the art of conversational trio style. Up to then, for me, it was hearing Mary Lou or Oscar Peterson, pianists that had the piano playing in the center of the music with minimal conversational elements. Joe took me on gigs around Boston. Frequently, I would sneak into the Jazz Workshop in Boston and just sit there and eat popcorn and be mesmerized once again by Bill Evans. While there, I also met my teacher, Charlie Banacos, who was a complete Bill Evans fan, too.
My first gig with Ira Sullivan and Red Rodney was a live recording session at the Village Vanguard. I walked down the stairs and the first person I met was Bill Evans. But now I was a player and not a high school kid at the club to hear him. So when Bill walked in the door at the 50th birthday party, he’d obviously seen me at the Vanguard performing. He said, “Oh, you’re that guy.” But I don’t think he recognized me as the kid sitting as a fan every night.
I'd like to mention one more thing, which was embarrassing for me. Red and Ira got signed to Elektra Musician, which at the time was a new label started by the late Bruce Lundvall. There was a promotional party for the label’s opening at the Village Vanguard. It was closed to the public, but Bruce and several record industry types were there. There was a large TV screen with Bruce speaking on it. He was talking about the new label. The band got extra special attention because we were playing there at the time. Lundvall singled me out, saying “he’s a protégé of Bill Evans.” I was so embarrassed and my heart sunk because it was not true.
TR: Most jazz fans outside of NY and your teaching practice associate you with Red Rodney and Ira Sullivan’s band. What was your great takeaway from playing in that band?
GD: I have to say that was incredible training. Ira would teach us how to make an arrangement up on the spot. They were never preconceived; they were always spontaneous. He would not tell us the name of the tune we were playing. On the gig, we’d see him pick up the trumpet. He usually would start off at a very, very fast tempo and then blast away for two or three tunes, and then he would switch to alto sax to give his chops a rest. Red, on the other hand, was very disciplined in his solos and the construction of the set. They were opposites but worked well together.
For the first three months, it was jazz standards. Then they heard my tunes and fell in love with them. The repertoire ended up being 95 percent my material. This was an incredible gift to me because I learned how to write for five people. Ira played trumpet, flugelhorn, flute and saxophone. It was astonishing to see someone able to pick up any of those instruments and make the style change as well — from McCoy Tyner to Wayne Shorter to Ornette Coleman.
TR: Your teaching career has touched numerous players. Since we first spoke for your interview for Joe’s book, “Times Remembered,” I’ve met numerous musicians who’ve studied with you and talk about that experience with a deep reverence. What do you think you’re doing that imbues your students with this reaction? And is this related to your longtime studies (37 years) with the late Charlie Banacos? If so, what was so special about his approach to teaching?
GD: When I met Charlie Banacos in my first year at Berklee, I immediately knew that he would probably be my teacher for life. First of all, his approach was so very detailed and methodical. But the difference between Charlie and me is that Charlie was a recluse and he never gigged after age 23.
As for my approach, like Charlie, I’m methodical, but teaching music to me is about teaching the student. I’m more inclusive. I taught classes at the New School and Manhattan School of Music for 30 years and I became friendly with my students. To this day I’m very close with a lot of them because I’m much more social and I also still have a playing career — maybe not as much as in my 30s, but I still continue to make records and tour. The big difference between Charlie and myself is that I have been more social and also have performed professionally with them as well.
TR: You’ve been spearheading a recording tribute to Banacos, involving several of his former students. The recording, due for release this year, features his compositions and covers an amazingly varied terrain of styles, given the players involved. Please talk about how that project came about and what you hope it will accomplish.
GD: Charlie was not known at all as a composer; he was known as a teacher. He told me once that he composed every day, but he burnt the music in a little fireplace downstairs. And I said, “Are you out of your mind?” And he’d say, “It’s already in the air, so it’s gone now.”
But in his teaching, he never had any tunes, so when he did a composition lesson, he would write four bars of an example that gave you the information to see what the lesson was. You would compose the rest.
After he passed away, I inherited his online practice at the request of his family. I noticed that there were many courses I hadn’t studied and one of them was called Funky Blues. The blues were one page of one chorus of a blues that he wrote, but every note was written out with the voicings and bass lines.
I realized this is the only course that actually contains a full song from beginning to end and it’s a blues, so I thought about using it for a tribute for Charlie and getting his students to play it. So I asked the family’s permission and they said this would be a great idea. I enlisted Rich DeRosa, who has been my musical partner since we were in our twenties. I met Rich on the Gerry Mulligan band. He’s the head of composition at University of North Texas and also once auditioned for Bill Evans’ trio on drums.
Rich is a great arranger and composer himself. So I asked him if he would like to do this project and he arranged the first chart. He took all of Charlie’s voicings right off the page and orchestrated it for five horns with myself, Dick Oatts and trumpeter Terrell Stafford as the soloists.
I then thought I needed to “re-image” the rest of the charts if I was going to do them because I didn’t want to put out a record of every song that sounded exactly like the original. So I took melodies and made them longer. I crafted the chords so they were in different musical styles.
The tunes were tailored to each artist’s style. The players included saxophonists Jerry Bergonzi, Dick Oatts and Gary Smulyan; guitarists Mike Stern and Wayne Krantz; bassists Jeff Berlin and Joe Hubbard; pianists Gerard D’angelo and Helio Alves; and steel pan artist Victor Provost. The styles run the gamut from swing to funk, ballads to Brazilian samba, and fusion.
I just thought it would be a beautiful tribute to Charlie’s influences because we all studied the same information but we took it in our own way.
TR: An interesting “Pandemic” project is your recent duo recording, Living a Dream We’re Not In (SteepleChase), with bassist Jay Anderson. He lives in New Paltz, NY and the recording took place remotely while you were hunkering down in St. John Island to ride out the pandemic. Yet the spontaneity of the music — the conversational playing between you and Jay — sounds like you’re both in the same room. Tell us about how that happened and why it worked so well.
GD: Jay and I have known each other since the Red Rodney band. We were in that band for 10 years and then he was doing many other projects, but we played so much music together, so much of my own music, so many gigs. Any chord I’d play, he could hear what I wanted and he played the right bass note. He’s one of those guys, so there is no need to talk about it.
Fast forward 40 years, and I’m in Saint John and we had just suffered through Hurricane Irma, and it destroyed our islands. There was another tropical storm coming, and I was helping to put up storm shutters when, for a relief, I started to record a bunch of solo piano things. I put them in a little folder called Tunes For A Tropical Storm. One tune was called “Basic Sadness,” which actually came from a Charlie Banacos lesson. I sent it to Jay in New Paltz as a gift and he said, “Man, this is so beautiful. Would you mind if I put a bass part on this?” It was meant to be solo but I said, “Please do.” So that was the beginning because he put on this beautiful bass line, and it sounds like we’re playing together.
I said, “Let’s do a date.” And so then it started through the mail and each tune had its own challenges. For some of them, I would play an introduction and then go into time. When I did that I’d put down a synthesized bass to give the feel of the song. Then I sent that to Jay and we’d take my bass out, and he’d put his part on. Sometimes I’d say, “I want you to play bass on the front end and then go into a rhythmic feel and I can take it from there.” It was definitely a challenge because we had mixed meters going on and rubato tempos and stuff.
Jay and I never spoke of the details of music, meaning chords and things like that unless there was a mistake made and we needed to clean it up. But this process — because I was in Saint John and Jay in upstate New York — was our first time being so detailed. Because of the pandemic, we had nothing else to do, so we actually found it fascinating because we had the time to go back-and-forth and talk about the music. That's something that was new for us.
TR: The 2017 CD, Rediscovered Ellington: New Takes on Duke's Rare and Unheard Music (Zoho Music), teams you up with saxophonist Dick Oatts, arranger Rich DeRosa and the WDR Big Band. But the roots of these tunes go back to Ruth Ellington, Duke’s sister, who asked you to record the composer’s entire catalog. That revealed many previously unheard tunes. Please tell us a bit about how that came about.
GD: Early in my career in New York, Kenny Werner referred me to Ruth Ellington, Duke’s sister, who needed a pianist to archive all her brother’s catalog.
So I went over to her apartment at 72nd Street and Park Avenue, and there was Duke’s white piano in the apartment. I was walking into history. Ruth said she wanted me to record all of Duke’s music from A-to-Z on tape because if anyone wanted to buy a tune or record a tune, the family would have a snapshot of how the music sounded.
She didn’t ask for arrangements — just me playing one chorus and then the next tune. And in her apartment, I saw the filing cabinets of all his music from the standards to the Sacred Concerts.
My initial reaction was skeptical, thinking she needed someone like Tommy Flanagan or Hank Jones who knew the music better than I did. Initially, I told her I would help oversee the project. But she said, “Do you want the job or not?" And I said, “I’ll take the job.”
Every day I went to the house and I’d start recording. It was a challenge because sometimes there was only a melody. I’d have to assume what the bass line might be. Sometimes there would be no chords. Sometimes there would be a sketch. Sometimes there would be an actual score and that was another thing I learned about. Duke Ellington wrote his music on piano scores, and he would write the names of the guys he wanted soloing right on the score. He would put their names over the top where he would then have them play.
Eventually, I borrowed Ruth’s reel-to-reel tape recorder and photocopied the songs, 100 at a time for a week, and recorded them at my apartment. Eventually, I had all the music copied and so when I got to recording about 350 compositions, she asked, “When is this going to be over?” and I said, “I’m recording 30 of them a day for you. I don’t know how I can work any faster than that.” She said, “We’re running out of money.” So she actually stopped the project, but they got a lot done from me. It ended and I kept all the music.
Years later, I wanted to do another project. And I thought there’s all these tunes, why not do an “Unheard Ellington” recording? Ruth, by then, had passed away. So I got permission from her son, Stephen James and also a letter of support from Mercedes Ellington, Duke’s granddaughter.
With this new project, I didn’t want to try to be Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and have an “Essentially Ellington” repertory band. I wanted to re-image the music in my own way.
So I brought on Dick Oatts as a writer and soloist and Rich DeRosa as the arranger. I picked out tunes with Rich. We pulled out the ones that hadn’t been recorded, about a dozen. We gave a few to Dick who also did re-imaging. Those went to Rich who orchestrated them for the WDR Big Band. Rich was WDR’s conductor and chief arranger for two years; that’s how we got the gig there.
In a way, the end result was disappointing. We got good reviews. But we were going to do a concert in Bryant Park, a kind of New York premiere, on Duke’s birthday. But the concert didn’t come to pass because of the pandemic. The record didn’t go far, which was puzzling with the concept of unheard Ellington tunes and the backing of the Ellington family and other scholars. That was a little disappointing.
TR: You’ve taken your musical skills to philanthropic efforts by founding the Garry Dial Fund with the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine at Mount Sinai West Hospital in New York City. The fund supports a full time music therapy program for radiation cancer patients. More than 350 patients have benefited from this. What led to this and why and how does it work?
GD: I was so influenced by the spiritual part of music and why we do it. I always felt that music heals; it’s a nice thing to say, you know, but who knows? I believe it’s true.
I had a cancer scare 13 years ago and the doctor who was treating me said, “I’m trying to bring a music therapy program to Mount Sinai West and it would be part of the Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine. Would you be interested in trying to raise some funds? And I’m thinking, “How can I say no?”
The doctor tells me that the science now proves that music heals. What we’re doing is in radiation oncology and all other sorts of chemotherapies especially with brain surgery. We’re finding that specialized music therapy lowers anxiety levels too, and we don’t even need to treat patients with drugs.
I said I’d love to get involved. At the time I had one student who didn’t pay me for a lesson. After two phone calls for the check, her mom sent me one for about $6,000! She owed me $100. I Googled her family name, and it was one of the top hedge fund managers in the country.
So I wrote to her and asked if she would consider donating to this new fund, and she dropped $150,000 right there. Then another student’s parents, who also had their own foundation, donated a lot of money.
Then lots of other friends of mine gave to the fund with donations of $3,000 or $5,000. Soon we got Bernie Williams, the former Yankees centerfielder, to tape a fake CAT scan promotional video.
Now every year since then, they’ve had a gala to raise money. I play for the gala and John Faddis is always involved and sings Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World.” Over the years we’ve had many great musicians honored, among them Roy Haynes, Dionne Warwick, Wayne Shorter, Bonnie Raitt and Norah Jones. The Louis Armstrong Center for Music and Medicine presents an award every year for outstanding work in music.
TR: Bernie Williams, the former New York Yankees centerfielder and accomplished guitarist, was your student at Manhattan School of Music. And your other private students have included Bette Midler, Alexa Joel (daughter of Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley) and Ben Stiller. Can you share a favorite story about teaching any of these folks?
Sure. I have one about Bernie Williams. As we know, Bernie was a celebrated player with the New York Yankees. But he also studied classical guitar at the School for the Performing Arts in Puerto Rico. During baseball season, he’d always take his guitar along to games. When he retired from baseball, he’d sit in with bands in clubs up in Yonkers. He started getting the bug about jazz, so he decided to enroll at Manhattan School of Music.
But there is another pianist, Lisa Yui, on faculty at Manhattan, and she is a classical prodigy. She’s a good friend of mine. Bernie would always say to me that he had no talent, that it was all work ethic. He would say, I was there at the ballpark before the game started and stay after, continuing to working out.
I’d say to Bernie, “Come on. You had to have talent, a little bit.” He said, “I don’t have the talent of Derek Jeter.”
Now Lisa told me the same thing. She would say, “I had no talent. My sister had talent.” And I’d say, “What are you talking about? You practiced 14 hours a day since you were three,” and she’d say, “Actually, yes I did.” But then she added, “My sister had more talent.” And I cracked up.  Then reading in Joe’s book, Bill Evans said he didn’t have much talent!
So I’m walking downstairs at Manhattan School of Music one day with Bernie Williams and run into Lisa. I said, “Lisa, this is Bernie Williams. He has absolutely no talent.” And then I said, “Bernie, this is Lisa Yui, and she has no talent at all.”
And I like to tell that story. It’s inspiring to those who think they might be so talented and that’s enough. But it’s not. It’s the work ethic that gets you to that higher level. Charlie Banacos said the same thing, that the talent was the work ethic. At Charlie’s funeral, his brother told me that Charlie would practice one note for 10 hours without stopping. He said he begged him to stop.

For more information, check out Garry's website. 
Stream some tunes and concerts and listen to Gary remember Charlie Banacos ...
Garry Dial and Jay Anderson — Living a Dream We’re Not In
Garry Dial, Dick Oatts, Rich DeRosa and the WDR Big Band — Ellington Unheard Live Concert Part 1 
Garry Dial, Dick Oatts, Rich DeRosa and the WDR Big Band — Ellington Unheard Live Concert Part 2 

Garry Dial Remembers His “Teacher for Life,” Charlie Banacos 
St. Benedict’s Prep School, Garry’s High School Alma Mater, on 60 Minutes 

Saint Peter’s Church

Home to New York City's Jazz Community Since 1965
Site of Bill Evan's Memorial Service 

Photos and text by Charles Levin

When Bill Evans passed away on September 15, 1980, mourners gathered at Saint Peter’s Church in Manhattan four days later to express their grief and celebrate his life and music. Choosing this venue wasn’t a fluke. Saint Peter’s has championed jazz and provided gigs for musicians since 1965, when the late Rev. John Gensel started its longtime Jazz Vespers services. Gensel, who died in 1998 and was widely known and revered in New York as the “Jazz Priest,” officiated the service. Besides Joe La Barbera, the service featured performances by other Evans alumni, like Chuck Israels and Eddie Gomez, and also appearances by Barry Harris, Lee Konitz, Joe Puma, Andy LaVerne, Phil Woods, Jim Hall and others.
The Jazz Vespers concerts, infused with liturgical sermons, continue to this day every Sunday at 5 p.m. In the photos below, violinist Meg Okura was the featured artist in a month-long residency in March. Joining her was the Brooklyn-based guitarist Yotam Silberstein.

For more information on these artists go to and

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Below is the program for Bill Evans' funeral service on September 19, 1980, at Saint Peter's Lutheran Church.

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Reverend John Gensel

The Jazz Priest of New York City

Duke Ellington and Rev. John Gensel, 1973, in an Associated Press photo. Courtesy of Saint Peter's Church. 

Rev. John Gensel’s tenure before and during his time at Saint Peters was marked by the creation of a jazz ministry. Born Juan Garcia Velez in 1917 in Puerto Rico, Gensel moved to Pennsylvania to live with a childless aunt at age 6 (he eventually took his uncle’s surname). At age 16, Gensel heard Duke Ellington’s orchestra, a moment that proved life changing; he was immediately seduced by America's classical music. While taking a class about jazz at the New School for Social Research, Gensel frequented many of Manhattan's most celebrated clubs like the Village Vanguard and Village Gate. Musicians, wary at first of a man with the collar (many churches denigrated jazz as the Devil’s Music), soon warmed to him. In time, he'd forge close relationships with Ellington, John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Dr. Billy Taylor. 
“The word was soon passed around from one musician to another that this unusual minister was not only hanging out at these nightspots for their music; he was there for them as well,” wrote Rev. Dale Lind, Gensel’s close friend and successor at Saint Peter’s, in a biographical paper.
Eventually, musicians sought out Gensel for counsel with myriad problems: money, sickness, drug abuse. It was no secret that some musicians lived on the margin, lacking access to health insurance or pension plans. Encouraged by Ruth Ellington, Duke’s sister, Gensel formed a jazz outreach ministry, which he brought to Saint Peter’s. As for the "Devil’s Music" argument, Gensel’s reply was always the same: “Well why let the devil have all the good tunes?”

Gensel launched his jazz ministry at Saint Peter's after convincing the Board of the Mission of the American Lutheran Church that the idea was not "too far out." The first Vespers service commenced on October 5, 1965 in the basement but later moved upstairs to the sanctuary. Early performers included pianist Randy Weston and trumpeters Howard McGhee and Joe Newman. Later concerts included saxophonist Donny McCaslin, trumpeter Dave Douglas and singer Catherine Russell.
“His jazz ministry gave dignity to jazz musicians, which they never had before,” Lind, 84, said by phone from his Brooklyn home. This also extended to funeral services — not just for Evans but including memorials for John Coltrane, Miles Davis, Clark Terry, members of the Basie and Ellington bands and numerous lesser known but equally talented musicians, he added. Over the years. memorial services have featured performances by guitarist John Scofield, trumpeter Wynton Marsalis and bassist Ron Carter.

Saint Peter’s first opened in 1862 on the same location — Lexington Avenue and 54th Street — it inhabits today. Construction to build a Citibank skyscraper on that site began in 1972 with the caveat that the project include a new home for the church, which was razed for the financial giant's new complex, according to Sarah Moga, Saint Peter’s director of development.

The church's main sanctuary unfolds under an airy, high-vaulted ceiling with lightly colored walls amidst spartan blond wood pews and pulpit. Billy Strayhorn's Steinway piano (a gift from Ellington's most famous collaborator) stands majestically on the floor below the pulpit. A dark gray, stone baptismal pool sits to one side of the chapel. The smaller Louise Nevelson Chapel, where the church holds a weekly classical music series, features wooden wall sculptures by the late famed artist.

“The (tower and church's) architect, Hugh Stubbins, sought to morph the idea of what we recognize as a church, playing with the concepts of interior and exterior and prioritizing transparency and light,” Moga said. “The overall idea of the campus (church and tower) was the smooth flow of life from faith to work to socializing and back and forth.” 

Pastor Jared Stahler
“When You Sing, You Pray Twice” 

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Today Saint Peter’s is led by Pastor Jared Stahler who came to the church in 2005 as an intern with multiple degrees in music, divinity and liturgical studies (Oberlin Conservatory of Music, Yale). He assumed senior pastor duties in 2020 and continued the legacy of the church under Gensel, taking a holistic approach to a community in need: providing meals for seniors and offering concerts in jazz and classical music.
Here’s a short Q&A with Pastor Stahler on Saint Peter’s, his work there and its relationship to the community it serves.

Your online bio says you are interested in the “interface of religion and society,” paying “particular attention to the voices or viewpoints of persons placed by the powerful on the margins of church and society.” This sounds a lot like Rev. Gensel who saw the jazz community in a similar light: on the margins. Is this coincidental? Or were you aware of Rev. Gensel before you came to Saint Peter’s? And, if so, did that in some way influence your taking the job?
Saint Peter's is committed to people who are otherwise marginalized -- that's in the lifeblood of this place. Because of that, it's not a surprise that John was called here and that he thrived here. My own passions and sense of what the church is led me to a place like this. And being in this context cultivates these things in me. It's not just the pastors, it's the leadership and the people.
You have a degree in music from Oberlin. How does that influence your work? And did that influence your decision to come to Saint Peter’s? 
One hopes and dreams to serve a place that promotes who we are. And in my case, music and art are a part of me. It's a great gift that Saint Peter's takes the arts so seriously. This community finds solace in the arts and finds the divine in the arts. It's who we are. Of all the reformers, Luther embraced the arts. For Luther, the arts are theology -- they are primary, not secondary. That's been true for me. I agree with Ella Fitzgerald when she said, “When you sing, you pray twice.”
Please talk about the relevance of providing live music, whether the ongoing Vespers series or Thursday classical concerts, for your congregation and the greater public.
Live music gathers people together from a variety of walks of life and it's crucial to the building of a society. A millionaire and a person on the margins experiencing a moment of beauty together -- that crafts us as humans and as a society. The capacity to build community is so strong in the arts and that's why we do it.
How does it fit with Saint Peter’s holistic mission of outreach to the community?
Saint Peter's does not exist for itself, it exists for the good of others. if we were just a religious community we would be coming up short on what it means to be "church." At its best, the church is a dynamic actor concerned about the well being of others.
Anything else you’d like our readers to know about you or Saint Peter’s that I haven’t thought to ask?
The spirit of jazz has a past, present, and future. It will always be shaping society. It shaped John Gensel and the community at that time; it shapes us now; and it's going to shape us into the future. That's what we're committed to doing. Jazz has a capacity to transcend time and space. It's not just a show. It's not a money maker. It has a deep human purpose. I think John believed that and that's what we believe.

Saint Peter’s Classical Music Series

A recent Thursday concert in the church's Louise Nevelson Chapel featured a performance by Jonghee Yoon, an organ scholar based in Greenville, North Carolina. Bálint Karosi, Saint Peter's musical director, curates the church's classical concert series.

The chapel, home to the only remaining fully intact sculptural environment by Nevelson, is now undergoing a restoration. To learn more about this project, the chapel and the concert series, go to

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François Lacharme

"If you think that music is the ultimate form of art expression, then make it happen, give it your best shot, create and hone the musical tools to this end: That’s the lesson Bill Evans has bestowed upon us."

Q&A by Charles Levin

(New York City, N.Y.) — When Joe La Barbera and I began looking for photos for his memoir, “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio,” we reached out to François Lacharme. A French journalist based in Paris, Lacharme did point us in a few directions but also mentioned that he’d written an essay about Bill. Would we be interested in reading it and including it Joe’s book? Of course, we said. The essay, "Sorrow in Soho," was stunning. A deeply moving and poetic story of a then-teenaged Lacharme, enthralled with Evans, and his experience of seeing the trio at Ronnie Scott’s in London. We included the essay in the book’s appendix.


Many readers of "Times Remembered" — in fact, many jazz lovers — have never heard of Lacharme. In an interview conducted by email, I asked him to introduce himself to our audience.


TR: A lot of our newsletter readers will not know you. We found you as a possible source for photos. And during that conversation, you volunteered your essay for our book. Please introduce yourself to our readers. Tell us about your background as a music journalist.

François Lacharme: I started my professional activity as an English teacher, specializing in business and economics. After reconsidering a career opportunity in an international organization in the mid-1980’s, I was offered a position as artistic director of a jazz club in Paris, a part-time occupation I was to continue until the mid-1990’s in other venues, while contributing articles and reviews for Jazz Hot magazine. In 1989, owing to an unexpected twist of fate, I was appointed editor-in-chief of Capitale Jazz, a 52-minute program on French cable TV.


Being also a compulsive reader, I grew more and more dissatisfied with what I read in the jazz press. So in 1992, I decided to create a journal called Jazzman, which soon became the number one jazz monthly in France by its circulation. I remained its publisher and ad director for 25 years. Aside from this press activity, I also was involved with Disneyland Paris as talent and casting specialist, advising on various artistic matters including the opening of the Walt Disney Studios. Between 2007 and 2017, I directed the jazz programs of the famous Châtelet theatre in Paris.


I currently work as music adviser for jazz and world music at La Seine Musicale, and I host the Club Jazz à FIP show on French national radio twice a month. I am also acting president of the Didier Lockwood Music Centre and the French Académie du Jazz, a non-profit institution devoted to the recognition and promotion of jazz artists worldwide.


In the course of this rather full jazz life, I also was given the opportunity to produce a number of records for various companies with artists such as Ron Carter, Richard Galliano, Tom Harrell, Buddy de Franco, Hal Singer, Kenny Werner, Lee Konitz, John Abercrombie, Andy LaVerne, Peter Erskine, Jean-Luc Ponty, Stanley Clarke, Biréli Lagrène — a humbling but fascinating experience.


TR: When and how did you first hear Bill Evans? What was your reaction?

FL: I first heard a record of Bill Evans at my father’s house in the mid-1970’s. My father, an industrialist who lived in Bordeaux, a connoisseur of classical and jazz music, was himself a fairly good guitarist and he used to invite musicians of all stripes to jam at his place. That day, he had invited a classical guitarist and music critic who rummaged through my dad’s record collection and he dug out the LP “Exploration” of the Bill Evans trio with Paul Motian and Scott La Faro on the Riverside label. We were all listening to “Israel,” “Haunted Heart,” “How Deep is the Ocean” when at one point I was struck by a chord Bill Evans played. I found this chord very beautiful and very dark at the same time. I immediately turned to my father’s friend and asked him how this particular chord was constructed. He sat at the piano in the living room and played the sequence of chords, explaining that it was a typical Bill Evans harmonic choice. From then on, I listened to Bill Evans’ music with only one goal in mind: finding again the same strange impression that struck me on that particular day. And indeed I found many opportunities to re-live the same emotion in the ensuing years. Up to now that particular episode has remained a landmark in the development of my ear and musical tastes.


TR: Has your love and appreciation for Evans changed in any ways over the years? If so, how?

FL: Yes, it has. Up until the Ronnie Scott’s concert, I had thought that the art of Bill Evans consisted mainly in his probing, refined, harmonic sense. Also, I had always considered him a very lyrical and romantic player. I also think that he is very underrated as a composer : I can think of at least 10 tunes he wrote that should be in the Real Book. But as time passes, I realize that perhaps the main ingredient in Bill Evans’ music is his ability to project emotions. I think this particular quality stems from the incredible intensity and concentration he puts in his playing, as if every note or chord was the result of an excruciating decision. Harmony, phrasing, are just means to an end. Never mind that the tempo of his latest performances was sometimes unstable with a form of irrepressible acceleration, I still consider that the emotional charge in his music is the main reason why he reaches out to us so strongly.


TR: The essay you contributed was about a trip to Ronnie Scott’s in London to hear the Evans Trio with Joe and Marc. How did that trip come about? The essay was, in part, about a photo you took of the trio at a concert in Bordeaux. Please tell us about that show. Was it the first time you heard Bill? And why was it so important to give Bill that picture?

TR: At the time of the Ronnie Scott’s concerts, I was a student working in London as a trainee in a local government office. Before I departed from Bordeaux for this summer assignment, my father and I agreed it would be a good idea to give Bill Evans a photograph of him I took at his Bordeaux concert in December 1979. As I explain in my article on the Ronnie Scott’s concert, the photograph had no real artistic value per se but there was something about it – a pervasive mood of some sort – that I knew Bill Evans would probably appreciate. I enlarged the photo before leaving my home town and took it with me on my trip to London. The rest of the story is in the article.


About the show in Bordeaux, a couple of things need to be clarified. Firstly, Bordeaux has always been a jazz hub. It started in WW1 when soldiers (including conscripts of color) were sent to Bordeaux from the USA to participate in the war, mainly as support regiments. Among these soldiers, a number of them brought their music and rhythms inherited from their African ancestors, and this historical fact marks the first contact between what would later become “jazz” and the local population. Quite a few important jazz festivals took place in Bordeaux in the wake of the Hot Clubs co-created by French critic and producer Hugues Panassié in the early 1930’s. At the time of the Bill Evans Trio performance, Bordeaux was a regular landing point for many jazz musicians on tour. On that particular night of December 1979, the jazz buffs and all the Bill Evans fans (including my father and his friends) discovered a renewed version of the tightly knit and conversational approach conveyed by his earlier groups. I remember that, apart from the repertoire which contained a quite few additions to the evergreens Bill liked to perform, the controlled energy deployed by Marc Johnson and the constant flux of ideas he produced impressed the audience. Also the fact that Joe LaBarbera was able to enrich the musical dialogue in such an unobtrusive way and his artful use of the brushes were another proof that the strongest statements are not necessarily the loudest ones …


TR: Do you have a favorite Bill Evans recording?

FL: No, but I do have my septet of favorite recordings :

-Bill Evans Trio “Explorations” (Riverside)

-Bill Evans – Jim Hall “Undercurrent” (Solid State)

-Bill Evans “Alone Again” (Fantasy)

-Bill Evans and Eddie Gomez “Intuition” (Fantasy)

-Bill Evans – Toots Thielemans “Affinity” (Warner Bros.)

-Bill Evans “New Conversations” (Warner Bros.)

-Bill Evans Trio “The Paris Concert” - Edition 1 (Elektra)


TR: When you think of Bill Evans today, what comes to mind? 

FL: As I explained before, I think being a true jazz musician has to do with the quality of your involvement. I believe also that there is a direct connection between your life and the music you make: Strong emotions can be conveyed into your music and consequently to the audience if there are not too many filters in the way (social, psychological, technical …). That is also why an open mind and a readiness to accept and appreciate someone else’s musical statements are paramount in the relationship between the artist and the public. Although beauty may be in the eye of the beholder, it must reveal itself unfettered and true to the artist’s inner personality. Bill Evans is the perfect embodiment of this noble idea. If you think that music is the ultimate form of art expression, then make it happen, give it your best shot, create and hone the musical tools to this end: That’s the lesson Bill Evans has bestowed upon us.

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Guitarist Joe Puma
Reflecting quietly; Inspiring greatly

By Charles Levin

(VENTURA, California) — Getting a great gig in the music business always seems reliant on one tried-and-true axiom: Word of mouth.


And so it was for drummer Joe La Barbera, who recounted in his memoir, “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio,” how he landed his dream gig with the iconic pianist.


Evans had been scouting for a new drummer as “Philly” Joe Jones (one of Evans’ favorites) planned to move on. So Evans took a referral from guitarist Joe Puma, whom the pianist  recorded with (they were also known to frequent the race track together). Puma recommended La Barbera, relatively new in the Big Apple but already working with Jim Hall, John Scofield, Hal Galper, and Michael and Randy Brecker.


Soon after, Evans and his longtime manager, Helen Keane, showed up unannounced at Hopper’s in New York City, where La Barbera was playing with harmonica master Toots Thielemans. La Barbera sensed they came to check him out. Sure enough, Keane soon called to gauge Joe’s interest and, in January 1980, he auditioned at the Village Vanguard (between set breaks with Thielemans a few blocks away at Hopper’s!).


The rest is history — for La Barbera and Evans. But Puma, whose passing in 2000 at age 72 merited a brief obituary in the New York Times, lived a successful but relatively modest career as a rank-and-file jazz musician — celebrated for a “quietly reflective style.” And, according to some, an occasionally curmudgeonly personality.


 “Playing a guitar he designed and built himself, Mr. Puma earned accolades across half a century for his versatility, from his light, restrained sound and jaunty persona as a soloist to his exceptional collaborative technique as an accompanist,” The Times said in an unbylined piece.


“A superior guitarist for a half-century, Joe Puma had a steady if low-profile career, uplifting many sessions without getting famous himself,” Scott Yanow wrote in


Low-profile might seem like a pun here. Puma racked up major credits, finding himself in high demand by A-list artists: singers, such as Tony Bennett, Peggy Lee and Morgana King, and instrumentalists like Herbie Mann, Artie Shaw and Gary Burton. Puma also led his own bands, recording several albums (some with Evans on piano) for the Bethlehem, Dawn, Jubilee and Columbia labels. He also co-led a duo with guitarist Chuck Wayne for about five years, starting in 1972. A year later, they appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival.


La Barbera met Puma on pianist Bernie Leighton's gig at Jimmy Weston’s, a club in Manhattan’s Midtown East neighborhood. As La Barbera recalled in “Times Remembered,” Puma walked in with his amp and guitar. LaBarbera reached over his drums to shake hands. Puma eyed the drum set and pointed to his ear. “This is an ear,” he said, then pointing at the drum kit and adding “That is a cymbal.” The message was duly noted. By the end of the gig, the men were pals, Puma obviously impressed with La Barbera’s dynamic control.


The exchange was a great example of Puma’s sometime crusty humor. “He was very funny,” noted drummer Bill Goodwin,” also a presence on the scene back then. “But everyone I knew was trying to top each other (with humor). Part of the hang was we tried to be clever.”


Goodwin, a veteran of Gary Burton’s and Phil Woods’ bands, never played gigs with Puma but often jammed with him and guitarist Sam Brown (another Burton alum) into the wee hours at one of the guitarists’ homes. “I’d play brushes on a suitcase,” Goodwin said by phone from his home in Delaware Water Gap, Penn.


That quirky sense of humor extended to at least some musical projects, such as the Columbia album, “Like Tweet.” All the tracks on the Teo Macero-produced session were inspired by bird calls featuring Puma and The Audiobon Society.


“He was a really solid, swinging player — bebop but much more in the category of pre-boppers in a way, but, nonetheless, a modern jazz guitar player,” Goodwin said. Puma’s style seemed more aligned with Barney Kessel or Herb Ellis as opposed to Brown, a strong jazz guitarist who also excelled in rock and folk music, Goodwin added.


But Puma’s jibes could also be seasoned with salty verbiage. Warren Odze, a drummer who played numerous live and recording dates with Puma for singer King, recalled the pair often bickering.


“Joe and Morgana had a love-hate relationship” Odze said in an emailed interview. “They would go years without playing a gig, and then he was back on the scene. They were both strong willed and hot blooded.”


On one recording session, Puma showed up with a small amp, not much bigger than a boom box, Odze recalled, adding that the band always played quietly behind her.


“She looks at the amp and now they’re fighting about the amp and how it was going to be too loud,” Odze said. “Eventually they settled down and we had a great gig. Joe sounded great with her, and I remember loving how soft and beautiful it was. He was swinging and a great accompanist to her. You would have to be because she was very demanding musically.”


Odze found Puma as somewhat “guarded.” “Some tough guy Bronx kind-of-thing," Odze said. "He was crusty but underneath it all, a nice guy.”


Indeed. It seems that Puma, while elevating other artists musically while playing, inadvertently elevated others, like La Barbera, to even greater professional heights.


Evans recorded with the guitarist on the 1957 date, “Joe Puma: Jazz,” according to Marc Myers’ JazzWax. In fact, from 1954 to 1958, Evans played on more than 20 albums as a sideman, a time when he was in high demand for such jobs, Myers reported.


That Puma recommended La Barbera to Evans was no surprise, Odze said.


“I think even if that didn’t happen, Bill would have stumbled onto Joe as Joe was a real vibrant cat on the scene and someone would have suggested to Bill that Joe come down and play. But I’m sure it didn’t hurt that Bill’s buddy made the suggestion. Word of mouth is still the best way to get from here to there.” 


Click on the following links to hear Joe Puma.

Panic in the Birdcage,” Like Tweet, Columbia 

Mother of Earl,” Joe Puma: Jazz, with Bill Evans, piano; Oscar Pettiford, bass; and Paul Motian, drums.


John di Martino
Seeking The Poetic Element

Q&A by Charles Levin

(Ventura, California) — Some really important moments happen just by chance. For instance, it was just by chance that while playing a jazz cruise, Joe La Barbera learned that pianist John di Martino was in the audience at Joe’s first gig with Bill Evans. Then a Philadelphia teenager, di Martino, already on his way to a career in music, took a girlfriend to hear the jazz piano giant. Joe immediately asked di Martino to contribute his thoughts about that night for “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio.”


Today, the 62-year-old di Martino’s resume spans a whole lot of great collaborations: Latin-Jazz with Ray Barretto; Brazilian music with singer Janis Siegel; bluesy bop with Houston Person; and recordings of his own. Much of that career, I learned, was due to an older brother’s influence. But in an interview conducted by email from his New York-based digs, we first talked about that Evans gig at the Bijou Café.

Times Remembered: You heard Bill Evans in Philadelphia as a teenager. It turned out that it was Joe’s first gig with Bill. What drew you to go that night? How much of an influence was Bill up to then?

John di Martino: At that time I was 19 years old, I was studying with Lennie Tristano and obsessed with the music of his school, artists like Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh. I was always very intrigued by Bill Evans. I remember hearing him the first time on a TV broadcast and his harmonic concept fascinated me. In high school, I listened a lot to the duo album “Intuition” and then later in my mid-twenties I spent a lot of time listening to what most of us think of as Bill's watershed recording, “Explorations.” Bill's innovations are a great influence on me and all pianists. His influence is felt indirectly as well because it is so pervasive.


When I think about the timeline of the development of jazz piano, Bill Evans is the next important artist chronologically after Bud Powell. I hear the energy of Bud Powell in the early playing of Bill Evans, yet Bill always had a unique approach.


TR: What impact did that concert have on you going forward, that is, how did it impact your musical growth?

JdM: I was very inspired by the performance at the Bijou Cafe in Philadelphia. I think of jazz improvisation as a meditation guided by the form of the song. I felt the same way listening to Ravi Shankar at that time in my life.


TR: Your brother, who’s nine years older, appears to be the catalyst for a lot of your growth and interest in pursuing music seriously. He played a lot of Broadway musical soundtracks that captured your interest. As a social worker, he brought you into the local Latin-American community where you discovered your passion for Afro-Cuban jazz and salsa. But it looks like one of the most critical moments came when he played you Frank Zappa’s “Hot Rats.” Can you talk a bit about what you experienced on hearing that recording and where it ultimately pointed you?

JdM: Frank Zappa's “Hot Rats” inspired me to study either the violin or the saxophone. I still listen to the track “It Must Be A Camel,” and it still fascinates me! I wanted to take up saxophone, but there were none available at my public junior high school, so I chose the violin at 12 years old. Until today these are my favorite instruments, though I play them only vicariously as a composer and arranger.


TR: There was a time when musical theater was a primary feeder of tunes for jazz artists, particularly in the Great American Songbook. Did any of the music from the plays you listened to as a kid become part of your repertoire? If so, how did you choose to interpret them?

JdM: When I hear any music from West Side Story, I have a very intense emotional reaction. It brings me back to my childhood. I was a comical 8-year-old kid singing songs of Anthony Newly: “Once In a lifetime, a man knows his moment...” and selections from Marat/Sade! My brother also introduced me to Baroque music, such as Bach and Vivaldi.  


My mother was an amateur singer and we would leaf through the fake book of standards. I would accompany her. I learned thousands of songs this way, and I developed my accompaniment skills which have been a blessing throughout my professional life in music. Now I produce recordings and arrange music for singers. I feel a close connection to the Great American Song Book. My relationship with these songs is like my relationship with people: always discovering something new about them!


TR: You apparently took to Afro-Cuban music quickly. You became so good at it that you were soon subbing in a Latin band at the Rainbow Room in NY that alternated with a jazz group you played in as well. Tell us about that and where that’s taken you.

JdM: Some friends introduced me to Afro-Cuban music in high school. I fell in love with the music. Many of the greats I listened to, I later played with, like Ray Barretto and Carlos "Patato" Valdes, among others 


I was 15 years old when I played with my first Salsa band. The music became a formative influence for me. This early musical influence emerged for me again when I moved to New York. I started playing with the Latin dance band at the Rainbow Room. There were some great players in that band: Mauricio Smith, Victor Venegas and Virgilio Marti. This led to my long association with Bobby Sanabria and later I played with Ray Barretto’s New World Spirit for many years and made four CDs with Ray. I wrote an arrangement of the classic, “Lamento Borincaño,” which features Eddie Gomez and Kenny Burrell for Ray's CD, “Portraits In Jazz And Clave”


TR: Standards and jazz classics are often interpreted by Afro-Cuban artists. Mark Levine, a wonderful pianist in San Francisco, recorded albums focused on that. Ever play a Bill Evans tune in that style? Does it work?

JdM: I am currently working on a Bill Evans project with a classical singer. I am arranging some of Bill's lyrical melodies in both Bolero and Bossa Nova styles. The melodies work well in these treatments.


TR: You also play a lot of Brazilian music, particularly with singer Janis Siegel of Manhattan Transfer. How did you get interested in that genre?

JdM: My passion for Brazilian music starts early. I was a teenager when introduced to Elis Regina, Antonio Carlos Jobim, Joao Gilberto, and the great arranger Claus Ogerman! The esthetic of Brazilian music is a great influence on my composing and on my playing. I am always seeking what I call the “poetic element” in music. Poetry, unlike conversation, is the distilled essence of the idea and the feeling you want to express. It's done with a minimum of words. I like to approach music with a poetic sense of space and brevity!


TR: In one of the interviews with you that I read, you mention your one-time interest in Baháʼí Faith. Please talk a bit about your involvement there and what, if any, spiritual paths you’ve gone down and how any of them have influenced you as a musician and human being?

JdM: I strive to live my life according to the most fundamental Baha'i principles: The oneness of mankind and the importance of the unity of mankind, and also the equality of men and women. The focus on individuals not only as they are now, but seeing the potential of what they can become. This enables their growth. The idea of realizing your own God-given uniqueness, not following the footsteps of our “for-fathers and sires.”


I have also practiced SGI Buddhism (Soka Gakkai International), which in essence is the “law of attraction.” I think about this phenomenon: for example, I did have the opportunity to work with many of the artists I listened to so intensely as a youngster, including singers Jon Hendricks and Janis Siegel.


TR: Who excites you right now in music? Who are you listening to and what do you like about their work?

JdM: I love the pathos in the voices of Gregory Porter, Karyn Allison, Kurt Elling, Raul Midon and Samara Joy. I enjoy listening to the musical imaginations of Joe Locke, Geoff Keezer, Gerald Clayton, Benny Green and Bill Charlap. I love all music genres. As a composer, it's great to have many colors on your palette! 


TR: Your playing credits are vast, covering multiple genres and spanning instrumentalists and vocalists. Anyone out there you haven’t played with that you want to work with?

JdM: I would love to play with Wayne Shorter who is one of my idols along with Herbie Hancock.


TR: What personal project are you most excited about right now?

JdM: I am composing music now for a project with a double quartet: a jazz quartet with a string quartet. 


TR: Do you have a video of a performance you’d like to share with our newsletter readers?

Check out John with his Quartet of the Americas, playing "East of the Sun." John di Martino, piano; Leo Traversa, bass; Vince Cherico, drums; and Peter Brainin, saxophone. For more info, go to


Andy LaVerne
Pianist, Composer, Bandleader, Educator
Subbing for Bill Evans, Playing duos with Chick, Backing up Sinatra. He’s done it all.

Q&A By Charles Levin
November 1, 2021

Photo by Chris Sulit. Courtesy of Andy LaVerne.

(Ventura, California) — As a teenager, Andy LaVerne lucked out big time and wound up taking a few lessons with Bill Evans. Fast forward to September 1980 and LaVerne got the call of a lifetime: subbing for Bill, who by then was too ill to finish his last-ever shows at Fat Tuesday’s in New York. In the course of a lengthy career, LaVerne, who lives in Westchester County, NY, has worked with a smorgasbord of jazz megastars, including personal heroes —from Dizzy Gillespie to Elvin Jones — as well as pop legend Neil Sedaka, who hired LaVerne for his sparkling accompaniment and inspired soloing.


LaVerne took up piano at 5 and almost immediately began composing. By junior high school, he played in Top 40 bands while studying classical music at the Juilliard School's preparatory division. He attended NYC's famed High School of Music and Art (now Fiorello H. LaGuardia High School). Then he rapidly progressed through Ithaca College and Berklee School of Music, finishing his formal education under the tutelage of Jaki Byard at New England Conservatory and turning full-time pro.

In an interview conducted by email, LaVerne proved to be a detailed and articulate subject. We started with Bill Evans … of course.


Times Remembered: Your musical life vis a vis Bill Evans feels like a pair of bookends: Lessons with Bill while you were still in high school and studying at Juilliard’s preparatory division. And then years later, you famously subbed for Bill on his last gigs at Fat Tuesday’s when he was too sick and no longer able to perform. In our book, you detail the events that led to these two different opportunities. What impact do you think these had on you when you step back and look for a bigger picture? The impact on your playing? How you teach? Maybe something else?


Andy LaVerne: There’s no doubt that Bill Evans had a profound impact on my musical life. I was enthralled with his playing even before I met him at the Village Vanguard in the 1960s. Meeting him and the subsequent lessons were life altering. I didn’t realize until several years later how those lessons would chart my musical development. I think Bill’s approach of explaining and demonstrating concepts rather than showing me specifics was quite effective. Bill was adamant about not imposing style. He felt that evolving one’s own voice was at the essence of playing jazz. It wasn’t until I wrote “Handbook of Chord Substitutions” that I realized that many of the concepts in that book were the result of what Bill conveyed to me. So many of the magazine articles I’ve written, the instructional videos and the numerous reharmonizations of tunes I’ve done owe a big debt to those lessons with Bill. I incorporate his concepts into my teaching, along with the specific details of jazz theory.


Subbing for Bill in September of 1980 at Fat Tuesday’s in NYC was one of the highlights of my career. Although I was at first reluctant to play the gig, with some cajoling from Brian Bromberg, I decided to do it. I was expecting the club to be empty by the time I got there, but it was packed. The audience was supportive and enthusiastic, and it was a complete delight playing with Marc and Joe. I ended up doing the last four nights of the six-night gig for Bill. It was the day after the gig ended that Bill passed away. The entire NYC jazz community was in a state of shock. I went from elation to despair in an instant. It took years for me to comprehend the impact of Bill’s lessons, so it was with subbing for him on his last gig. At the time I wasn’t aware of the importance of being in that position. It proved a turning point in my playing, so instead of suppressing Bill’s huge influence I acknowledged it and let it come through. I never considered myself a Bill Evans clone. The cumulative effect of those lessons, the time I spent with him listening to and discussing music, and the countless hours spent listening to him play in person and on recordings, resulted in my absorption of some of his musical sensibilities into my own playing.

TR: You have devoted much of your career to education: writing columns for trade magazines like Keyboard, recording videos for, authoring textbooks and holding prestigious faculty positions at The Jackie McLean Institute of Jazz in The Hartt College of Music, and now at SUNY Purchase. You also teach at the Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshops. You are clearly a committed educator. What led you to this avenue? And what do get out of it?


AL: I started teaching very early on as soon as I gained a modicum of skill and knowledge about playing jazz. As long as I knew a little more than the students, I was eager to share that information with them and help them improve. It’s very gratifying seeing students progress and be inspired to hone and develop their skills. Of course there’s also the pragmatic aspect of providing another income stream, which is helpful in the challenging world of making a living as a creative artist. I never planned to teach, write books or make instructional videos. All those activities evolved over time, one leading to the next. The benefit to me, aside from the monetary, is that all these endeavors keep me thinking, growing and exploring musically. In order to teach effectively in whatever medium, one has to understand what it is they do and how they do it. The intangible is the intuitive part of playing. Much of that is inborn but can also develop from experience playing music with others. Stan Getz used to say, when playing music the ultimate goal is to attain the “Alpha State.” Knowledge, skill, practice and intuition can help get you there.


TR: You’ve been at this for a long time and watched students study, graduate and attempt to forge a path in professional music. How has that world changed? Are you optimistic about their opportunities in today’s environment?


AL: Many of my students have gone on to very successful careers in music, not all exclusively jazz. Musicians of my generation had opportunities to play with the creators of this music. Those days of apprenticeship are coming to a close, which leaves today’s students on their own. But as things have evolved, musicians my age and younger have helped create the jazz education industry, itself a form of apprenticeship. This has yielded a crop of highly skilled jazz musicians. The competitive nature of the music business along with limited opportunities has pushed many musicians into tangentially related areas. The advent of technology has also opened up new avenues to play and create music that had heretofore not existed. While it might not be feasible to create a career in jazz similar to what Bill Evans had, it’s possible to find fulfillment and success in new musical horizons. I’m optimistic about aspiring musician’s opportunities in today’s environment and in the music’s continuing evolution and development. And then there are the exceptional exceptions who achieve jazz nirvana.


TR: While you are clearly a jazz musician, you have ventured along a wide latitude within that label and straddled a few other areas as well. Your resume is nothing short of a Who’s Who of luminaries: Chris Potter, Jerry Bergonzi, John Abercrombie, Dizzy Gillespie, Branford Marsalis, Frank Sinatra (while you were on the Woody Herman band). You also recorded duets with Chick Corea after meeting him on a Stan Getz gig. But you’ve also worked with pop singer Neil Sedaka and won a prize from the John Lennon Songwriting Contest (JLSC). What connects all these different experiences?


AL: As I entered my teen years, my focus gradually shifted from classical music to jazz. During my pre-teen years from the late 1950s through the mid 1960s, I also listened to the pop music of the day, including Neil Sedaka. Neil was also a Juilliard trained pianist, and early on he considered a career as a concert pianist. His singing and songwriting talents took him in another direction. He became aware of my playing through a CD I recorded with his daughter Dara, who was singing standards. Hank Jones was working with her in Japan and was not available to do the recording, so I got the call. I hired George Mraz and Danny Gottlieb to complete the group. Dara played the recording for Neil, he really liked it and decided to do his own CD of standards. Neil called and asked me to do that project, but he preferred electric bass, so I got Will Lee. Months later, I got another call from Neil asking me to go to England for a tour. About halfway through his show, he inserted standards into the program. He’d call me out from backstage, introduce me to the audience, and I accompanied him and played short solos. After a while I tired of waiting backstage and asked the guys in his band if I could join them in the rest of the show. They agreed, so I played parts on electric keyboards until Neil brought me forward to play the standards on piano with him. Tours in the US, England and Japan followed. I did select gigs for six years. It was a fun gig.


Regarding the other musicians you mentioned, some are very close friends whom I’ve played with for many years, and some called me to be a sideman. All are great jazz musicians I’ve been lucky to play with.


Although the JLSC sounds like a rock competition, they actually have several categories of music, jazz being one, which I won.


So, the short answer to the question of what connects all these people and experiences is jazz!


TR: Out of all those gigs, can you talk about a few that stood out over the others and why?


AL: So many gigs over so many years. A dozen standouts in chronological order:


• Frank Sinatra “The Main Event,” live TV broadcast from Madison Square Garden, with Woody’s Thundering Herd plus orchestra. This was the culmination of a six-week tour we did with Sinatra. Twenty-thousand adoring fans, beautiful music and arrangements with Sinatra in top form. After the first rehearsal I went to Sinatra’s dressing room and asked if there was anything in particular he wanted from my playing. He said, “Just play the way you play.”  Most exciting gig I’ve done. You can see it on DVD or just listen to it on CD.


• Stan Getz tour of Israel. One of my first gigs with Stan’s quartet with Mike Richmond and Billy Hart. We were all unexpectedly moved to be in Israel. Three Jews and one honorary Jew, who knew? You can witness some of the festivities in the 1978 documentary “Stan Getz: A Musical Odyssey.”


• Stan Getz with the Buffalo Philharmonic. I’d been playing with Stan for a few years when one day he asked me if I write for orchestra. I responded, “Sure Stan.” Then he asked me to write a piece for him to perform with the Buffalo Philharmonic. Needless to say I hadn’t written any orchestral music, so I contacted my friend and great arranger Dave Berger to help with the orchestration. I ended up composing a three-movement piece entitled “Designed Desires.” The orchestra, under the direction of Julius Rudel, was all encompassing. Stan sounded great and was thrilled. I was in a state of disbelief and wanted to give up piano and just compose orchestral music. Reality eventually took over.


• Stan Getz at L'espace Cardin, Paris, France. Stan’s quintet and Bill’s trio were on tour in Europe, crossing paths several times. Bill played the same hall and piano with Marc and Joe the previous evening, which was recorded and released as the wonderful LP’s "The Paris Concert Edition One and Two.” It was thrilling to be playing that beautiful Hamburg Steinway Concert Grand that Bill’s hands had graced the night before.


• Subbing for Bill Evans with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera at Fat Tuesdays Sept. 11-14, 1980. Bill was right about this trio: a joy to play with and a very exhilarating experience. The three of us clicked so well that we recorded three projects on the IPI label: a trio, a quartet with Tom Harrell, and a quartet with Jerry Bergonzi.


• “A Simple Matter of Conviction.” My concert at Carnegie Recital Hall in fulfillment of my first NEA jazz performance grant, which was a tribute to Bill Evans. Musicians were John Abercrombie, Eddie Gomez, Peter Erskine (Shelly Manne was going to play, but sadly passed away a couple of weeks before the concert), and The Essex String Quartet. My mother, sister, and aunt came up from Florida to attend. Helen Keane was the moderator. If you’d like to know more about it and hear the music, it’s all on my CD “Liquid Silver.”


• Chick Corea duo piano recording at Mad Hatter Studios. While not exactly a gig, an excerpt from the recording was released on my CD “Andy LaVerne Plays The Music of Chick Corea.” Imagine the thrill of sitting across from one of your all-time heroes and playing intently for two-plus hours; that’s what it felt like. So inspiring!


• Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, Moscow, Idaho. Trio with Brian Bromberg and Elvin Jones. Playing with Elvin, another incredible experience and dream come true. He called me “the architect of music," which I took as a huge complement and also thought it was very insightful for two reasons. One, I think architecturally when constructing my solos. Two, when I was younger, I wanted to be an architect. I continue to have great interest in that field. Brian is a virtuoso bassist who I first met when he auditioned in my NYC apartment at the age of 19 for the Stan Getz group. Of course he blew us all away and was hired on the spot. And it was thanks to Brian’s encouragement in that very same NYC apartment that I accepted the gig to sub for Bill at Fat Tuesdays!


• So many great gigs with John Abercrombie, but for a multitude of reasons I have to pick our first tour in Russia with Igor Butman (who I met at the Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival), Steve LaSpina, and Danny Gottlieb. Music was great. We traveled the length and breadth of Russia, an enormous area. This is a country of extreme dichotomies, experienced in hotels, food, travel, pianos and venues. A memorable visual was the stunning bright red concert grand piano. The beautiful concert hall had no heat, and we had to rehearse wearing our winter coats. The people were all fantastic. I met Putin at one of the gigs. He was an up and coming politician at the time. He and Igor used to play hockey together. A couple of clips are on YouTube.


John Abercrombie playing the “Red Piano.” Photo courtesy of Andy LaVerne.

• Royal Albert Hall, London, with Neil Sedaka. My first gig with Neil. I was backstage waiting to be called to the stage. Neil and the band had already played several numbers. When I got the call, I walked out onto the stage in virtual darkness. Then a spotlight on me when Neil introduced “The Great Andy LaVerne.” As I sat down at the piano, I glanced out at the audience. It was a huge hall, filled to capacity. I don’t know what I was expecting, but it wasn’t that. Took me by complete surprise.


• Tour of Italy with “Andy LaVerne’s One of a Kind," my piano-organ trio. One of my best ideas was to form this groundbreaking instrumental combination, with Gary Versace and Danny Gottlieb, two great friends — a band of brothers! Our first CD was “Epiphany," which referred to how I felt when the idea for this group occurred to me. Gary and I went on to record five more CD’s with various drummers due to Danny’s busy schedule. Have to mention another great friend and drummer Jeff Brillinger, as he was the trio’s first drummer, and also played with me in Woody’s band and Stan’s band.


• “Shangri-La”— not the mythical location, but my CD of the same name. Once again, not a gig as such, but a most memorable musical event. I brought together two phenomenal horn players, Alex Sipiagin and longtime friend Jerry Bergonzi, along with another longtime friend, virtuoso bassist and constant musical companion Mike Richmond. Propelling the group is the extraordinary drummer Jason Tiemann. I thought it was a major accomplishment getting Alex and Jerry together, akin to Woody Shaw and Joe Henderson on Larry Young’s “Unity.” I think the music proves me correct.

TR: You also won an award for the John Lennon Songwriting Contest. An award named for the late Beatle suggests that there’s an interesting story there. Please tell us about how that came about and a bit about the song.


AL: The song is “Shania," named for Shania Twain. I happened on a live concert of hers on TV one day and was captivated by Shania and her music. I had never heard of her prior to that. The music was clever, melodic, well constructed, sophisticatedly arranged and produced. I quickly got to a point where Shania was all I was listening to. When I put on Trane, Wayne or Bill, they sounded jarring and dissonant. That presented me with a conundrum. How could I continue to play jazz if all I wanted to hear was Shania? After much consternation, I came up with an escape route. I wrote a tune that was influenced by Shania’s music, and named it “Shania.” While it had pop elements, it still had a jazz sensibility with touches of jazz harmony. That tune was my bridge back to jazz.


Shortly after, I was teaching at the Aebersold Summer Jazz Workshop. I brought the tune to a faculty concert rehearsal, and it sounded really nice. The band enjoyed playing it. At the concert, the tune got a very positive response from the audience, and after the concert, many people told me how much they were moved by the tune, some even brought to tears. I’ve written scores of tunes over the years, this one stood out in terms of response. While playing “Shania” at a Neil Sedaka soundcheck, it caught the ear of Emily Bindiger, Neil’s backup singer at the time. We talked about it, and Emily agreed to write lyrics for it. The lyrics fit the music well with a good narrative. I submitted “Shania” to the JLSC, and it was declared a winner in the jazz category. Subsequently, I recorded it with Kevin Mahogany on my CD “Process of Illumination.” I also wrote an in-depth article on the song for Piano Today Magazine titled “Shania - Behind The Music.” If you’d like to play or sing “Shania,” it’s in the Aebersold play-along “Secret of the Andes” Vol. 101, a collection of some of my originals. A few years later, I wrote a tune with lyrics called “Peace of Mind” and entered it in another songwriting competition, the International Songwriting Competition aka ISC, and it was a winner in their jazz category. I recorded that tune with Chiara Civello on vocals for my CD “Peace of Mind,” and followed that up with another Piano Today article.


TR: As a composer, you contributed 60 tunes to Stan Getz’s repertoire. In a DownBeat profile shortly after leaving Stan’s band, you mentioned that you liked composing even more than playing (you were 32 at the time). Are you still turning out that much material? And do you still feel the same way?


AL: To quote Jamil Nasser, “I am primarily a composer.” Of course all jazz musicians are composers; they compose each time they solo. I think of composition as improvisation in slow motion. I started composing music when I first took piano lessons at the age of 5. Unlike Mozart at that age, I had no idea what I was doing. Perhaps it was my desire to compose music that lead me to jazz. I was in the composition class at the High School of Music and Art. That class focused on classical composition and was taught by the composer Mark Lawner, who was an excellent instructor. One of my assignments was to compose a fugue. I was awarded the composition award for that piece, and it was published in the 1965 yearbook, my senior year. I continued my composition studies with renowned composer Karel Husa from Ithaca College and Cornell University.


When I transitioned to jazz, I retained my interest in composing, and started writing tunes. Writing music is part of my musical DNA. I usually come up with a tune every few days. Some key influences who have informed and inspired my writing are: Bill Evans whose tunes have very solid construction and feature melodic patterns and harmonic formulas largely set in standard song forms. John Abercrombie and I used to get together to play through our new tunes. John’s tunes are characteristically short, odd-measure forms, sparse, lyrical melodies, creative mixes of functional and non-functional harmonies, and deceptive cadences. After a while, my tunes started to sound like his, and his started to sound like mine. We recorded many of our tunes on our CD’s and videos. Other influences include Wayne Shorter, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, McCoy Tyner, Joe Henderson, John Coltrane, and the French Impressionists.


When I joined Stan’s band, I came to my first rehearsal with a handful of originals. One of the first things Stan asked me was if I write. The first tune we played together was my original “Sabra," a blues with a bridge. I could sense that he really liked it by the lengthy solo he played. That first night at Blues Alley in Washington, D.C. we played “Sabra," which led to Stan adding more of my tunes to his repertoire. I’m very appreciative that Stan gave me the opportunity to write for him. That catapulted the development of my writing skills and confidence. Of the 60 tunes I wrote during the four years I was in the band, Stan recorded several, including “Sabra.”


Since then, I’ve written scores more, aided and accelerated by the Yamaha Disklavier and music notation software, first Encore, then Sibelius. I haven’t kept count but on my computer I have 593 Encore files, and 1,508 Sibelius files. Those totals don’t include any of the tunes I composed and hand notated prior to using that technology. I’ve been fortunate to have recorded many of my tunes, and look forward to writing and recording more. As Rick Laird used to tell me, write on!


Short answer to your questions, yes and yes.


TR: If you could pick one video of your playing you’d like us to include on the website, which one? And why? 


AL: That’s a very difficult decision. Given the context it’s asked, I choose the performance of my composition “Crystal Night” with my longtime friend and musical comrade John Abercrombie. John and I met in Boston decades ago, and became fast friends when we discovered our mutual love of the Bill Evans and Jim Hall duo recordings. We were lucky to have Bill and Jim as role models for our own decades-long duo. As a duo we recorded several CD’s, videos, and played many concerts and clubs. This video is from our DVD “The Art of the Duo.” John came up with that name. I really miss him.


Listen to "Crystal Night" here.

I’d like to add this link to a tune from my most recent CD “Rhapsody.” “Waltz for Debby” is IMO Bill’s signature composition. Out of all the reharmonizations I’ve done, this was the most challenging. It was like trying to re-harmonize Mozart, but thanks to those lessons with Bill, I was able to break through harmonically, bringing all I’ve learned from him full circle. If you’d like to play simpler arrangements of “Waltz For Debby,” “Very Early,” “Time Remembered,” and others with his original harmonies, they’re all in my book “Bill Evans 19 Arrangements for Solo Piano.” I’ll close with the voice prompt that turns off the lights in my home: “Alexa, Turn Out The Stars.”


Listen to "Waltz for Debby" here. Zach Brock, violin; Mike Richmond, bass; Jason Tiemann, drums.


Thanks for your thoughtful and thought-provoking questions.


TR: It’s our pleasure. Thanks!



By John Livingston 

Guest columnist


(Santa Cruz, California) — In 1974, I worked as a volunteer DJ at KUSP Santa Cruz. My show was 1950’s and 60’s jazz. At that time, there were several really good jazz venues in San Francisco, and I liked to take full advantage of those, traveling there frequently to hear and interview my favorite artists. When I heard that Bill Evans would be playing the Great American Music Hall, I called them immediately to request a press pass and an opportunity to interview one of the great jazz masters.


I arrived at the Music Hall with great anticipation, and sat through Bill’s first set. Eddie Gomez was playing bass, Eliot Zigmund, drums. It was classic Bill Evans with no words or acknowledgment for the audience or his fellow musicians other than subtle musical cues indicating which tune would be next. 


After the set, I headed backstage for my prospective interview. I was met at the green room door by a very daunting woman, who, after I introduced myself, stated in very blunt terms that “Bill doesn’t do interviews.” Something told me that going head to head with her was not the best move, so I said “I understand. It is not that important,” and I started to walk away. The next thing I heard was “wait,” and she indicated I should follow her.


The woman, whom I later discovered was Helen Keane, known as one of the toughest managers in the business, led me to a seated Bill Evans whose first comment was, “Do we really have to do this?” Again, I said “No. It is no big deal, but could I ask you one question?” I proceeded to ask him a musical question and hit the button on my recorder.


What followed was one of the most fascinating discussions I can remember. Bill would listen carefully to the questions, and then disappear deep in to the far reaches of his mind for quite some time. He would then eventually come out with an extremely thoughtful answer to each one. I asked him if he thought about specific chords while he was improvising, and he said, no. His only interest revolved around creating moods. His knowledge of the instrument was so complete that there was nothing between him and the sounds he sought. I also asked him about what he was focused on in his career as a musician, and he said that at this point in his life, he was not trying to innovate, and again he referenced expressing his moods and trying to convey them.


When I went back to my seat in the audience for the second set, I was acutely aware of how the audience perceived Bill’s music. The mood he conveyed was very much the twilight space between consciousness and the unconscious. A good number of audience members seemed to be dozing off, as they had slipped over to the edge.


Bill Evans was a unique enigma, who altered the course of music in his youth and set a standard that influenced pianists and all jazz musicians since his time.

John Livingston owned and operated Logos Books & Records in Santa Cruz for 48 years. Livingston is an avid jazz guitarist and a former board member of the Kummbwa Jazz Center.

Creating The Mood
Bill Evans Transports Listeners To A Twilight Zone

Laurie today.jpg

Laurie Verchomin: 

On Dancing “The Twist” to Bill Evans

Q&A by Charles Levin

October 1, 2021

Photo by Brad Montchar. Courtesy of Laurie Verchomin.

(Ventura, Calif.) — Every die-hard Bill Evans fan knows the story. How Evans met Laurie Verchomin, then 22, waitressing at his gig for the Edmonton Jazz Society in 1979. Evans invited her up to his hotel room after the show. “I’d love to,” she replied. “Can I bring my boyfriend? He’s a big fan of yours.” Evans chuckled. “That’s not what I had in mind,” he said.


They repaired to Laurie’s apartment with a host of fans where she served him tea. Bill left her his phone number on the back of his manager’s card. Soon after, Verchomin moved to New York and stayed, becoming Evans’ romantic partner until his untimely passing on September 15, 1980.


Every month in our Newsletter, we introduce you to someone in the orbit of Bill’s (and Joe’s) life. On the stage for Bill, it was Joe and bassist Marc Johnson. But at home and often on the road, it was Verchomin.


Verchomin, who lives in British Columbia just north of Vancouver, is a writer of prose and poetry. Her book, “The Big Love: Life & Death with Bill Evans,” has been translated into four languages. In researching my interview (conducted by email), I noticed that Verchomin has a musical background. It occurred to me that most folks — even ardent Evans fans — might not have known that or much else about her formative years. I started there.


Times Remembered: What is your first musical memory? And how did it make you feel?

Laurie Verchomin: My first memory of music is dancing to “The Twist” (by Chubby Checker) in 1962. I was 5 years old, and I was at a family gathering at my paternal grandmother’s house. These gatherings usually had live music in the form of piano and violin. Everyone in my father’s family could play an instrument, mostly classical and some Ukrainian folk music, but on this one occasion my uncle had put on a record of “The Twist” and I went crazy dancing to it. I felt the power of the music then and there.


TR: Sounds like you played an instrument as a kid?

LV: At my mother’s urging, I started piano in 1963 and studied the Royal Conservatory Curriculum for six years with Mrs. Nichols. Around that time, I made a deal with my mom that I could quit piano if I took up some other music activity. So, in 1972 I began voice lessons and joined a couple of choirs, one which my mother was the accompanist for. From this time forward my Mom was my accompanist when I had to rehearse or perform.

TR: What was your home life like in the way of music and culture in general?

LV: My mom was a professional musician. She had been classically trained on piano and had studied voice as a young woman. In her early thirties she began offering lessons and accompaniment on piano from our home, joined the Edmonton Opera Chorus, accompanied the Columbian Girls Choir (which I was a member of) and raised four children. She enjoyed a wide range of music, but was very moved by opera and musical theatre. She introduced me to West Side Story, Madam Butterfly and Phantom of the Opera.


My dad had been a semi-professional musician, playing violin with the Edmonton Junior Symphony, but he gave up playing music when he got out of high school. His musical tastes were jazz and classical. He introduced me to Stan Getz and Joao Gilberto.


My older brother John refused to play an instrument but had a deep love for soul music. He introduced me to Motown, Marvin Gaye and Stevie Wonder. My own taste at the time was purely Joni Mitchell. I collected all her albums, learned all the lyrics by heart and bought a guitar just to learn some of her tunes.


TR: When did you start listening to jazz?

LV: I really got into jazz in 1977, when I began the dance program at Grant McKuen University in Edmonton. It was the very first year of the jazz program, and I was encouraged by the musicians I met there to audit the jazz theory classes, use the practice rooms and collaborated with several on music for my dance choreography. I learned to read charts and recognize the standards. A formative and fertile year.


TR: When you met Bill, you were waitressing at a concert for the local jazz society that presented Bill’s trio. Were you familiar with Bill’s music when you met him that night?

LV: I was introduced to Bill’s playing on (Miles Davis’ album) Kind of Blue just a few weeks before I met him while I was tripping on an acid with a friend. I remember how primal the sounds were, so spacious and free. When I heard Bill play live that bitterly cold night in Edmonton, I fell into a trance like everyone else in the room. It was impossible to do otherwise!


TR: Did getting involved with Bill and immersed in his music change how or what you listened to over the years?

LV: Once you discover Bill Evans it is impossible to separate his influence from your life. I hear this from every Bill Evans fan I meet. His influence is so universal. He is the widest channel I know of.


But for me his influence is also so very personal. I have been blessed with so many ordinary moments with Bill, epic memories that became the touchstones of my existence. Funny things like how he liked to dry himself after a shower, his system of starting with his extremities and working back toward the heart. I still do that! And profound things, too!


Bill demonstrated to me the Oneness of the Universe though his sense of compassion and extraordinary quest for truth and beauty.  And then there is the music. Bill introduced me to Stravinsky, Scriabin and Lili Boulanger. He had a stack of Bartok children’s music I could read through when he wasn’t around on his beloved Chickering piano!


On September 15th, 1980, after Bill ascended, I felt stranded here on earth. My life became extremely difficult. I was homeless, penniless (Bill died with a mountain of debt and $10 cash in his wallet, all his credit cards were pulled, hadn’t paid his rent in months, etc.) and pointless.


I had no one to process my experience with — except Bill and his music. One of his first gifts to me was for me to meet my first husband, John Ramsay, a jazz drummer who was traveling with Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers. We met on Bill’s birthday August 16, 1981, in Vancouver, Canada. I left Vancouver to return to the East Coast with John, settling in Boston, where John was teaching percussion at Berklee College. Once again, I was surrounded by great musicians and got a first-hand education at the school of post bebop.


I listened to Bud (Powell) and (Thelonious) Monk and Dexter (Gordon) and (John) Coltrane and Dizzy and Charlie Parker as well as the entire school of the Jazz Messengers. I spent 12 years in Boston before returning to Vancouver to begin again …


TR: Do you still play?

LV: I recently purchased a guitar and have been studying primarily on YouTube! Back to my folk roots. I have a couple of friends I can play with here who are so encouraging! We are having a ball.


Over the years I have cohabitated with various acoustic pianos.  Recently I had an art gallery with an old Heinzman that my sons and I all enjoyed. My son Niko was teaching me the Bill Evans voicings he learned from Charlie Banacos.


Some tunes I like to play on piano:

 “B Minor Waltz”

“Peace Piece”

“Blue in Green”




TR: In 2009, when journalist Marc Myers asked whether it was frustrating not being able to get Bill to quit drugs, you said you weren’t “trying to influence or control his life … I knew that the only thing I could do for him was to be there emotionally, to observe and help if something was beyond his control. I was there to cover for him … Look, when you meet someone who has terminal cancer and is dying, your energies aren’t spent trying to save them. You spend your time doing what you can to help comfort that person.”


There’s a real logic to your answer here, especially for a person who’s only 23 at the time. It’s compassionate and mature. Looking back now all these years later, do you feel in any way differently about this?

LV: No. Only now I have the wisdom to understand what it means to be a witness. To stand beside someone. In fact, how to stand beside yourself and witness your own process, without judgement. I do this meditation every day. It’s called Awakening the Witness. It’s a meditation that was developed by Oscar Ichazo, the founder of the Arica School. Once I had this understanding of true responsibility it was very easy to write my book and release myself from the underlying pain I was carrying.


TR: Another comment you made in Myers’ Jazz Wax was, “My life became that ascending song after his death. Everything evolved from that experience, from the trauma of his death.” That’s a beautiful observation. Please talk about that evolution. What are some examples?

LV: I think the evolution is toward a Oneness of humanity. How we are in relation to one another. A kindness revolution.


TR:We just passed the 41st anniversary of Bill’s death. How did you spend that day?

LV: I played “Peace Piece” on my guitar (or at least two chords of it – reharmonized ).


TR: Anything you want to share about Bill that I haven’t thought to ask?

LV: I have a new translation (of “The Big Love”) coming out in Japan with DU in Tokyo. I’m working on a second book of free writes from my writing group. Mostly prose. Beat poet that I am.


TR: Laurie also responded to this last question by asking if we could include an excerpt from her book, “The Big Love” …. I particularly like this one:



Bill floats effortlessly above his body on the emergency room table. Fluorescent lights no longer compete with the diminishing breath of his physical body.


We are in union now. Bill watches over me sitting in the waiting room clutching his blood soaked jacket. He follows me to the bathroom and helps me to empty the last of his cocaine stash — barely a gram — into the trash.


He encourages me to record my impressions of this moment — which stretches out into eternity. He stands beside me between lives — making an opening for me. Never abandoning me — continuing his gentle encouragement.


I see the void he has entered and desire with all my heart to join him in his entry into bliss. This I am denied by my youthful body and unfinished work.


I remain behind to reabsorb our perfect love into the extra chamber I have created in my heart (5/4). The extra beat to carry me over the bar.


No one knows about this special internal rhythm I now carry.


It is our secret.


Our perfect love — no one can touch it.


It is ours for eternity.


We are locked together, in this embrace of love and death and blood.


Bill is remembering his life, stories flood into his evolving consciousness seamlessly flowing toward an understanding. Beliefs disintegrate and the stories become colors and then music and finally the insight he has been reaching for makes him laugh.


The perfection, the beauty, the radiance.


He begins again.


TR: Thanks for speaking with us, Laurie …

Excerpt from “The Big Love — Life & Death With Bill Evans” is reprinted with the permission of the author.


When did I play that gig? 

Tonino Vantaggiato: The Italian Bassist Documenting Bill Evans' Itinerary

By Charles Levin
September 1, 2021

(New York City, N.Y.) — Ever try to remember where you were 40 years ago? Better still, if you could vaguely recall the actual episode, could you really nail the date it happened? That was the conundrum facing Joe La Barbera when he worked on his new memoir, “Times Remembered: The Final Years of the Bill Evans Trio.”


When exactly did I play that show with Bill in — was it Madrid? —  in 1979? Or was that 1980? Good luck, when you’re asking that question in 2014!


How Joe and I solved this problem was an act of serendipity. Enter Tonino Vantaggiato, a 28-year-old bassist in Italy and a big Bill Evans fan.


In writing a book that’s largely a chronological narrative, dates are critical — even if it’s only the month and year. In researching dates of concerts, itineraries proved scarce. Joe had a few (and some concert posters), but efforts to find others over the trio’s life span fizzled. A search online through the Bill Evans Archive at Southeastern Louisiana University (Bill’s alma mater) came up dry.


When we got stuck on dates, sometimes we’d reach out to Laurie Verchomin, Bill’s romantic partner in his final years. Frequently, she knew the answer; she lived many of those moments. On one occasion, she couldn’t but suggested contacting Vantaggiato, who was compiling an itinerary of Bill’s gigs. I emailed him and he responded quickly.


Turned out,. in 2012 (about the same time Joe asked me to collaborate on his book), Vantaggiato began researching a tome on Evans, whom the bassist cites as a critical influence. Unbeknownst to me, Vantaggiato had exchanged some emails with Joe prior to my query. And while discussing Bill in cyberspace, they also talked concert dates, a moment he now believes was destiny. Vantaggiato finally met Joe in 2016, when he performed with Italian pianist Dado Moroni and bassist Eddie Gomez at a jazz festival in Matera, Italy.


In an email interview, Vantaggiato recalled peppering Joe with questions about Evans. But he soon noticed that Joe asked most of the questions. “It did surprise me that Joe would understand my own true, sincere and deep interest regarding Bill,” Vantaggiato said by email. It took on more importance when the subject of itineraries came up.


Vantaggiato described his research on Evans as “exhaustive.” He contacted concert promoters, fans who attended concerts, journalists around the globe, librarians  — the latter, he said, who granted access to rarely seen, hard-to-find newspaper articles. In addition, he combed the Internet for old magazine calendar listings. Friends like French videographer Léon Terjanian loaned a helping hand; so did Verchomin. A few times, he said, our research informed his — “priceless help!” The result is a list of roughly 200 concerts — from small clubs to large theaters — in the appendix of “Times Remembered” by the trio featuring Joe and bassist Marc Johnson.


Vantaggiato came to music early, taking up saxophone at age 3, followed by drums, guitar, piano and finally, in 2004, bass (he still plays some piano and drums). His earliest musical memories also date to that tender age when he watched a 1996 broadcast of the Sanremo Blues Festival. American R&B artists, like Eddie Floyd, Rockin’ Dopsie and Leon Ware riveted his attention.


By 2006, however, he stumbled on Evans’ solo album, “Alone.” Not too long after, he discovered a re-issue of “Sunday at the Village Vanguard,” Evans’ groundbreaking album with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. With that recording, “I started to fully understand the musical and emotional language of Bill and of the ‘Original Trio,’ ” Vantaggiato said. “Unique. Incredible. Extraordinary. Then I studied with Mr. Eddie Gomez, and that changed my life completely.


“I understood that what moved me about (Evans’) playing beyond all the things was his ability to feel the full deepness of the human soul, investigating it at the deepest and highest possible level, humanly and musically, and returning it to the listeners, by his unique great inimitable musical universe and way to play,” Vantaggiato said, something he considers “unequaled” by any other musician.


Eventually Vantaggiato pursued formal studies. He’s earned diplomas in classical bass (Conservatorio “Tito Schipa,” 2017 ) and jazz bass (Conservatorio “Nino Rota,” 2020). In a profession marked by a perpetual supply and demand issue (lots of musicians; too few gigs), he has always worked as a freelance bassist, playing duos, trios, quartets, quintets and more. Among his favorites were trio dates with the late pianist Gianni Lenoci, a group that leaned hard on tunes by Carla Bley and Ornette Coleman.


Meanwhile, Vantaggiato’s research on Evans continues. He still plans to write a book on Evans with his friend Terjanian. And he hopes to document all of Evans’ gigs.


Normally quite private about his research, Vantaggiato said he was eager to contribute to Joe’s memoir. “I did it for Bill, who deserves that his history is much better known, for Joe, a friend who, with care, love, respect, has been preserving his own memories of those wonderful times that he lived and finally bringing together in this marvelous book and last, but not least, for me. For me, this is a reason for great pride and satisfaction.”


To Tonino Vantaggiato, Joe and I offer a resounding Grazie! for his help and invaluable research. Check out this video of Tonino with Gianni Lenoci’s trio at the Freedom Jazz Festival, Mesagne, Italy, July 4, 2016.

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