A Secret Chord

I heard there was a Secret Chord

that David played, and it pleased the Lord – Leonard Cohen

I’m falling in love with Bill Evans.

And Bill Evans is trying to kill me.

A casual listener of Mr Evans in my youth (my dad brought me up on the vaunted Ahmad Jamal), I have recently been exploring his oeuvre… and it. is. deadly.  How so, you ask?  Well, his  solo of ‘I Loves You, Porgy’ is so spellbinding that I actually ran my car off the road.

It happened, stupidly and banally.  A  chord change here, an arpeggio there, a space between the notes….. and suddenly my mind  completely blanked right the hell out. I closed my eyes… and savored the elegance and crystalline beauty of his music.  Trying to learn how he hears The Secret Chord that he wraps around my heart.

Which is fine if you’re sitting in your living room.  Maybe not so much if you’re driving down the road.  Luckily it was a straightaway of nothing but empty fields.  And I was so involved in his music I’d taken my foot off the pedal and was going a mere 25 and just.. drifted into the shoulder.  It’s a wonder I wasn’t mowed down by a passing cow.  (no cows, corn, cars nor I was hurt, btw).  Scared the crap out of me, though.  And even with that, I couldn’t stop listening.

I’m not a musician – I am a listener.  And his perfect sound is perfectly suited to how I listen to music. Warren Bernhardt (a friend and fellow pianist) famously said “I never heard him make a harmonic mistake. Never.  Not one wrong note”.  Even when he played his last gig less than 2 weeks before his (probably very painful and long in coming) death,  bleeding out in the back of a friend’s car, you can hear that precise, classically crafted, crystalline perfection.  Crystalline.  And true.  A younger Bill Evans, looking for all the world like Herbert Hoover’s accountant.   Still… there is that ‘something’… a sensuality in his eyes and in his mouth…. but it’s not for you.  It’s for the music. The notes, the music.  It loves him just as much as he loves it… possibly more. He’s having a love affair with every single note.  You’re just along for the ride. Into a field.

I am in love with Bill Evans.

And Bill Evans is Beloved.

When I first started listening to him in-depth, I kept thinking “I know what his music smells like”…yet I couldn’t yet put my finger on it.  His covers of standards (listen to him play ‘Haunted Heart’ – I dare you to not clutch your own heart to keep it from leaping out of your chest) are all tinged with more than a bit of heartbreak, amidst all that crystalline beauty.    It was “It Might As Well Be Spring” that identified Beloved.  In ‘State Fair’ it’s sung by a girl on the brink of young womanhood, a syncopated, bouncy tune.  Evans, at 33, plays a silken legato, as if by a much older person.  Someone who knows what love is, what loss is.. and, though they ain’t happy about it, is willing to take a chance on the former, knowing the latter is just waiting in the wings… it is so heartbreakingly beautiful that I listen to it, fearing I will shed a tear… hoping I still have enough love and hope in me that it is possible I will shed a tear.  Beloved, also precisely, classically crafted, is that tune, Christopher Chong’s love note to me (he just didn’t know it).  I’ve always thought of Beloved as a pale pink St John knit suit, worn by a Bergdorf Lady Who Lunches.. but she’s no airhead.  She’s a grown woman who’s known pleasure, pain.. privileged.. but also the knife edge of being left bereft.   Every time I wear Beloved I am aware of the pain.  It’s cocooned in exquisite beauty.. but it’s there.   I’m beginning to think both Evans and Beloved may be best enjoyed at a later time in life, when you can appreciate that dichotomy…  each simply the flip side of Life’s coin.

I’m also beginning to wonder if Bill Evans’s spirit lightly touched perfumer Bernard Ellena, at least for his crafting of Beloved. I can think of worse things to happen.

When musicians talk about Evans they use the words ‘seamless’, ‘sleek’, ‘elegant’, which is also how I feel about Beloved.  There are layers upon layers of nuance in that perfume, but little I can parse out – the one note I can always identify is clary sage – but as soon as I recognize it, it shimmers out of reach and flies into the air, effortlessly merging into the chiaroscuro of the composition.

 

I will tell you this, though:  I have been banned from ever listening to him whilst driving.

At least I can still wear Beloved.

And I can keep falling in love with Bill Evans.  Over and over again.

And I can hope that he loves that I love him….. just a little.

But he doesn’t.  He only loves the music.

for some insight into how he hears The Secret Chord, listen to him on Marian McPartland’s Piano Jazz here.  It’s a fascinating combo of hard-assed WORK (he speaks of developing his left hand  – nothing but pure discipline)  and heartbreaking emotion – and she is having FUN!

 

 

  • Ariel says:

    Thank you. I’m typically in New Orleans this time of year, and of course, the music is what I am missing the most. Such a lovely gift, this post, as so many of them are here in this beauty lovers’ haven.

  • Eldarwen22 says:

    Jeff Buckley did a fabulous rendition on Hallelujah, I think the best rendition. kd Lang did a pretty good version too. Beloved is lovely but doesn’t hold a candle to Lyric to me.

  • SpringPansy says:

    Bill Evans! He played “A Waltz for Debby” which my father used to play for me (that’s how I spell my first name–not the most common spelling). Thanks for mentioning him–I’d forgotten until now.

  • gwenyth says:

    I can hardly express in words how I love your post, Musette. Your writing is lovely and precise and does such a wonderful job of describing the almost-indescribable reactions to beautiful music that can be experienced by human ears.
    I just read a fantastic article entitled “Why Does Great Music Give You the Chills?” https://slate.com/technology/2016/05/getting-chills-when-listening-to-music-might-mean-youre-a-more-emotional-person.html — it is fascinating and helps to explain what I’ve experienced many, many times as a devoted music lover.
    I play the piano, organ and sing and have loved music ….forever.
    I’m also a devoted Perfumista and I ADORE Amouage Beloved!
    Thanks So much for your words today. I’ve read this post three times already and I’ve listened to Bill Evans’ music all morning.
    You (and the others on PerfumePosse) are a treasure and you help to make my days brighter — and my wallet poorer. Love you.

    • Musette says:

      omgosh. this made me cry (happy cry). Thank you so much for sharing these lovely thoughts with me and the rest of the Posse. I’m going to read that Slate article asap. xoxoxo

  • rosarita says:

    Listening now on Spotify and my heart is dancing. Thanks so much Ms A.

  • March says:

    Well, YOU are the one who got me listening to Bill Evans, and very recently! I liked him very much from the start, but the more I listen, the more I love it. I had to stop work yesterday when … something Gary came on (Gary’s theme maybe?) I thought it was so beautiful. Although I admit I laughed when I asked Google and she gave me that title, so innocuous. Thank you for the introduction.

    • Musette says:

      see, that’s how he gets you. and it’s why you can’t listen to him in the car. You’re minding your own business and suddenly… everything stands still.

      and yes, it is Gary’s Theme – here’s a description from improcat1 on ‘tube “Gary’s Theme is a composition given to Bill Evans as a birthday present by his friend the late jazz arranger and vibes player Gary McFarland. It was Evans who gave it the title ‘Gary’s Theme’.”

  • Queen-Cupcake says:

    I sometimes forget that Bill Evans did a lot of playing with Miles–their personalities could not have been more different. I too love Ahmad Jamal’s playing–it always struck me as optimistic, sunny even. Like Cannonball Adderly, who brought the joy. Thanks, Musette, for the excellent links! Of course I had to go and listen. What a treat! The comments under the Evans interview with McPartland are very interesting too.

    Meanwhile, Beloved goes on my must-try list, which I have pared down drastically, in the belief that I will never get to actually wear all the ‘fumes I already own. I’m very glad that you were okay after your driving incident–goodness!

    • March says:

      YESSSSS on the comments! Jazz nerds nerding out! So much great information.

      • Musette says:

        and when you listen to the segment… omg. can you imagine where you’d have to be in music in order to take a class from him? He talks about sliding around chord changes… wth? It’s like listening to Data (from Star Trek). for all that emotion, he knows persackly what he’s doing to create that emotion.

    • Musette says:

      Miles knew PERSACKLY what he was doing when he brought Evans along. Vocalist Jon Hendricks said Bill gave Miles an elegance – and Miles (who was all about the music) recognized that. xoxox

    • Musette says:

      And.. your comment on Cannon is perfect. He did bring the joy! Maestro Jamal always brought the joy, as well. I think of him as an ‘outward’ player, whereas Evans is an ‘inward’ player. Both geniuses, with very different energies. xoxoxo

  • Cinnamon says:

    Oh. My. Goodness. My heart. A beautiful post but also prescient. I’ve not listened to a full CD/album for years. No real idea why. I listen to random stuff, but somewhere along the line I stopped fully engaging with music. I know, how horrible. Anyway, yesterday it occurred to me that maybe I needed to be going a new direction with music, that what I was listening to previously had stopped speaking to my soul so I decided that on a quieter day soon (Mondays and Tuesdays aren’t quiet) I would take down all the CDs and go through them, putting aside to be boxed and put away the ones that didn’t immediately make me sigh with desire. After that, I thought I would start to look at new things to add in — very slowly. In any case, I now know where I’ll start. (And I’ll need to get a sample of Beloved.)

    • March says:

      I feel like this could be a whole post …. how music changes over our lives? How streaming music has changed our listening? I used to listen to CDs. A couple of years ago the boys nagged me into getting/paying for YouTube music (formerly known as Google Play) and the devices and I admit, it’s been lovely exploring new genres and realizing that I’m listening differently.

    • Musette says:

      well, and thank you! And I do hope Bill Evans is on your list. Grab a glass of wine.. and listen to his Explorations CD (you can ‘tube it – that’s what I did before I bought it). Watch your heart, though. He’ll snatch it right out of you! 😉 xoxox

  • Dina C. says:

    What a beautiful essay on Beloved and Bill Evans. His jazz piano is so complex, I’m out of my depth listening to it. I’m a lifelong musician, but a singer and choirster, so I’m all about the simple delivery of melody, harmony and lyrics. Major kudos to Mr. Evans and those who take the art form to such lofty levels! I’m off to go listen to some more of his music.

    • Musette says:

      Honey, I’m so out of my depth that it doesn’t even matter – I just throw myself, backwards, into his music. Just not in the car 😉

      xoxoxo

  • Tara C says:

    Beloved is an exquisite scent. Sometimes it feels too fancy for me, but I love wearing it.

  • Pam says:

    Oh, Musette, I listen to Bill Evans too. But never in a moving car. He is exquisite. Now I must try Beloved. But as a musician myself, I know it can’t top Bill Evans.

  • Portia says:

    WOW Musette,
    What a fabulous post.
    Beloved is lovely but now I really want to hear some of this Bill Evans…..
    Portia xx