Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 10: Bill Evans, "Turn Out The Stars"

Artist: Bill Evans
Song: "Turn Out The Stars"
Album: Intermodulation
Year: 1966

CLICK HERE TO LISTEN (will open in new tab)

While almost every instrument within the world of jazz has its own long list of innovators and influences, few have as diverse a group as the iconic pianists that can be found throughout history.  From the more mellow, reflective sounds to the wildly experimental and heavy approaches, the piano is without question one of the cornerstones of the genre, and yet it is within the diversity in sound where the true beauty of the instrument resides.  Though many performers have made their legend in front of the keys, few musicians have carved out as individual and unique a place in history as that of the great Bill Evans.  In many ways, Evans' approach to the piano has created an entire school of performance around him, and one would be hard pressed to find any later player who did not take some of their style from his influence.  Bringing a far more relaxed, almost more intellectual approach to the traditional notion of jazz piano, there is a mood within the songs of Bill Evans that is rarely found elsewhere.  The combination of these fantastic textures with the extraordinary level of sheer talent that he brings to every note cannot be overstated, and both in studio and live performances, Evans knows few, if any peers.  Due to his exceptional level of talent and innovation, Bill Evans' catalog is filled with countless songs that have become standards, but few can measure up to the beauty and impact of his 1966 composition, "Turn Out The Stars."

Throughout his career, Bill Evans recorded many different takes of "Turn Out The Stars" in both studio and live settings, but oen can argue that the most pure and certainly the most melodic arrived on his 1966 duet album with guitarist Jim Hall, Intermodulation. The song had first surfaced a few months earlier during a live recording (Bill Evans At Town Hall), and this fragment was explored far deeper as part of the studios sessions that followed.  From the moment the track begins, the delicate texture is firmly in place, and there is an amazing level of soul that comes forth from the arrangement.  As "Turn Out The Stars" progresses, it is the light, almost vocal-like playing from Jim Hall that gives the track much of its depth.  The mix on Intermodulation helps to emphasize the emotion form Hall, as it plays mostly in the left channel, dancing brilliantly in the ear of the listener.  Though in most cases such an acoustic imbalance would detract from the song, in the case of "Turn Out The Stars" it manages to work perfectly, and there is truly no way to explain the difference in this from other recordings.  As Hall spins his superb progressions, the overall bliss of the song increase, and yet he also injects an ample amount of tension and release in the most subtle of ways.  It is the way in which Hall is able to so perfectly match the approach of Evans that sets this version apart, and one cannot deny the amazing level of chemistry between the pair.

However, while Hall's performance is vital to the overall impact of "Turn Out The Stars," it is Bill Evans that is the star at almost every moment on the song.  Whether he is taking the lead or moving to the side, it is both his technique as well as the emotion with which he plays that makes this such a special recording.  There is not a note anywhere on "Turn Out The Stars" that seems the least bit forced, and it is this free-flowing, almost meandering sound that in many ways defied the notions of jazz at the time.  While other musicians were attempting to squeeze in as many notes as possible, or rearrange the tone and mode with which they played, Evans' performance on "Turn Out The Stars" reaffirms the idea that there is much to be said for using variances in feeling over form.  The somber, almost mournful mood can be easily felt and increases as the song plays out, and this is rather fitting as the live incarnation of the song suggests that it is partially a tribute to Evans' father.  Furthermore, "Turn Out The Stars" has far more of a ballad-like structure than almost any other jazz recording, and the structure of the song is far more accessible to listeners of almost any musical preference.  The fact that the emotion is so clearly and completely expressed in such a straightforward and non-pretensions manner furthers the appeal of the song, and this in many ways defines the entire performance persona of Bill Evans.

Strangely enough, many of Evans' most memorable songs were never covered during his lifetime, and this is true in the case of "Turn Out The Stars."  Perhaps out of sheer respect to this master of his instrument, within a short time after his passing, a myriad of new versions of "Turn Out The Stars" appeared, yet none came close to the power and presence of the original.  One can even argue that the later versions recorded in both studio and live settings by Bill Evans failed to match the subtle impact of the original, and this is perhaps the most telling sign of what a truly special musical moment can be experienced on this track.  There are moments during Evans' performance where one can hear traces of Dave Brubeck's "In Your Own Sweet Way," and this makes a great deal of sense, as if there was any other artist remotely similar to the style and sound of Evans, it would certainly be Brubeck.  However, even more than three decades after his passing, no other performer has been able to capture emotion on piano quite like Evans, and it is much the reason that he stands in a category all his own.  Having played alongside everyone from Miles Davis to Cannonball Adderley to Charles Mingus, there are few musicians of any era with as impressive a resumé, and yet it is within his own recordings where the finest work of Bill Evans can be heard.  Standing out among many of his songs that have become true jazz standards, one can understand everything that makes Bill Evans the piano icon that he remains to this day within his extraordinary 1966 composition, "Turn Out The Stars."


dominc said...

Great post. I agree with your sentiments, Turn Out The Stars is one of his greatest compositions. Amazingly, there are no trends or common devices that I can find among Evans' pieces. Each of them seems to be completely unique, although he did love modulating to multiple minor keys, and using bass pedals, both of which feature in T.O.T.S.

My favourite recording of this tune? The take from Serenity (1970) with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell. Truly beautiful.

Greg Burrows said...

Turn Out the Stars,is nothing more or less than a classic, ornate Tin Pan Alley-style tune if you slow it down. 500,000 songs were written in this style petween 1920-1940. it's Evans' ornate, emotional playing itself (as implied above) that give the tune its unique impact and beauty.