Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings
However, Evans, a fundamentally decent man, never descended into the total amorality usually associated with heroin addicts. On one occasion when Evans tried to borrow money, Lees blew up at him, saying he didn't even have enough for himself to eat; Evans called back an hour later to say he now had enough for both of them to eat. Keepnews said he found it difficult to turn down Evans' request for money because of "the sweetness of his nature and his immense moral decency," unlike other musicians whose turpitude made them easy to turn down. Evans would just quietly wait in Keepnews' office until he relented and gave him some cash.
Lees points out, however, that when Keane got Evans signed to Verve Records and negotiated a large advance from Creed Taylor, Evans took the money and meticulously paid back everyone what he owed them. He came by for Lees in a cab and went from apartment building to apartment building, with Lees holding the cab, armed with his cash and card file, and took care of all his debts. He reimbursed Lees $200 for pawning his record player and some of his records, even going so far as to find Zoot Sims in Stockholm to give him $600, a debt Sims had forgotten.
How My Heart Sings also sheds some unflattering sidelight on Evans' contemporaries. Pettinger faults Philly Joe Jones with being the most to blame for enticing Evans into heroin usage, commenting sardonically: "Bill and Philly Joe became great junkie buddies over the years." A little noted aspect of John Coltrane, who also played with Davis on Kind Of Blue, is revealed. Coltrane's reputation as a gentleman and enlightened soul suffers somewhat when we learn how displeased he was with the presence of a white man in the band. He was apparently never reconciled to sharing the bandstand with Evans, an attitude that undoubtedly contributed to Evans' decision to leave the group after only seven months. However, during this brief but productive period the band recorded ten albums.
Like an inter-racial love affair, Evans' sojourn with Davis was fated to be something of a Romeo And Juliet story. Unquestionably, there were magic moments, but ultimately it didn't work because the cast of characters was not going to let it work. Evans had constantly to deal with racism, and he remembered what he called the silent treatment he received from the band's black audiences. And lest anyone discount this as merely the subjective perception of a hypersensitive person, Pettinger points to a private tape of a performance at the Spotlite Lounge in Washington, DC, that appeared on a pirate Italian CD called Four-Play, which documented this prejudice. For his solo on a tune named "Walkin,'" notes Pettinger, Evans "received noticeably less applause than the other soloists, and for that on 'All Of You,' none at alland they were both good excursions."
This issue was roiled all over again with Evans' fans after Ken Burns' film Jazz was released in 2001 (three years after How My Heart Sings was first published). A typical complaint found on The Bill Evans Web Pages is resentment at "the fleeting perception left by ... Burns that Bill Evans sprung fully formed from Miles Davis' rib only to evaporate after Kind Of Blue was 'in the can,'"
Jan Stevens, the site's webmaster, points to the film's "zealous Afro-centrism" and attributes this to Wynton Marsalis, a consultant on the film, whom Burns referred to as "the backbone of the film." Stevens notes that Stanley Crouch, Marsalis' admitted mentor, was once overheard giving a diatribe against Evans at a symposium of jazz critics. Evans could not swing, according to Crouch, and there was no trace of the blues in his playing.
Stevens further notes that writer Albert Murray, who also appears in Jazz, is, like Marsalis and Crouch, a "staunch advocate of the orthodoxy of jazz as intrinsically an African-American musica classicist viewpoint of great inherent merit, yet by being racially exclusionary, one which leaves major jazz innovators like Evans languishing on the periphery." The reason for Burns' short-shrifting of Evans (and other white, Latino and Brazilian musicians), concludes Stevens, "may lie with the Marsalis/Crouch/Murray idea that the European and classical traditions ... are of much lesser import to jazz, and are thus dispensable."
To anyone familiar with Miles Davis and his personality, it is less than surprising to learn of Davis' own race-baiting of Evans. Throughout his career, Davis often showed a mean streak, and he did little to assuage Evan's racially grounded discomfort. According to Evans, when on one occasion he attempted to join in an after-hours musical discussion, Davis abruptly cut him off, saying: "Hey, cool it. We don't want no white opinions." While Davis and his apologists claim that he was just kidding around, others might find this a cruel sort of fun, especially given Evans' sensitive nature.