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!