You have a two week run with Chick Corea coming up at the Blue Note billed as “Further Explorations of Bill Evans”, which includes former Evans drummer Paul Motian. Can you elaborate on how this project came together and what you would like to achieve musically with it?
Well, Chick called me and actually didn’t elaborate on what we were going to do, although I assumed there would be some kind of connection with Bill Evans. Usually I try and stay away from Bill Evans tributes for various reasons, but I love Chick and I know that he’s one of the few guys that can give it some real credence and validity, so therefore I’m looking forward to it and I think it’s going to be great. I’m not going to do anything different than I always do with any of my groups, or with any other group. Bill is one of the people in my heart all the time when I play, whatever it is, whatever genre of music it is. So he’s not going to be any more or any less in my soul and spirituality for this project. But I’m looking forward to this, it will be interesting and certainly very compelling to think about what the results might be with Paul there. Paul and I both worked with Bill at different times, he was part of that first wonderful, innovative trio with Scott LaFaro. I came about five or six years later I guess, I joined Bill in ’66.
And Chuck Israels played in between.
Right, Chuck Israels, and also Gary Peacock and Teddy Kotick. There were really some wonderful musicians with Bill in between the initial innovative trio and myself.
Let me ask you about your time with Bill. How did he shape you as a bassist and musician in your eleven years with him?
He didn’t consciously shape me, but for me just being around him was really a huge lesson. His idea of growth and development, pretty much, was showing up for the performances and letting it happen, letting it all hang out on the performance. That was the essence of the development, and really the performance was kind of like the rehearsal, actually going out there and doing it. It’s like theatre I guess. I’m not an actor, but I think about the metaphors of theatre and sports, as well as other disciplines. I think it’s much like that, you go out there and you do it. You come prepared of course, but you let it happen and you let it be different when it can be different. You try different approaches.
One of Bill’s mantras was that the freshness and the creativity happened because you were doing more or less the same thing all the time, the same repertoire. It did change over the years depending on recordings and what was going on, but basically the repertoire didn’t change drastically and there were always certain key pieces of music that we revisited. So the growth happened onstage, during performance, in the club, in concerts. And certainly that’s how it happened for me, just by doing it a lot, just by the sheer work of all that playing, all that intensity, to make something happen every time you went out and played. It took me a while to get to that place where I felt like, well, I’m kind of comfortable here. It took a while to get to a comfort zone. In the beginning I was really raw, I had just come out of Julliard.
Your beginning with Bill?
Right, the beginning with Bill. I had already played with a lot of people like Gerry Mulligan, Benny Goodman, Buck Clayton, Paul Bley, and Marian McPartland, and had played quite a bit of orchestral music and a lot of different kinds of music. But it took me a while to really feel comfortable with being in the Bill Evans trio. The growth was probably happening all along, but it took me a while to get my legs under me and feel like this is some place where I belong and maybe I can make a contribution.