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03.12.08

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Foot the Bill: Brazilian jazz pianist Eliane Elias pays tribute this Monday to the late great Bill Evans.

Divined Intervention

Inspired by a found recording, Brazilian pianist and singer Eliane Elias decided to pay tribute to her hero Bill Evans.

By Andrew Gilbert


For decades the ravishing music of pianist Bill Evans haunted Eliane Elias, so when she finally received a visitation from beyond the grave, she knew just what to do.

The Brazilian-born jazz pianist is married to Marc Johnson, a superlative bassist who first gained widespread acclaim in the late 1970s as a member of Evans' last trio, a group that recorded prolifically. While rummaging around his closet last year, Johnson came across a cassette tape that Evans had given him containing sketches of songs in progress that were left unfinished at the time of the pianist's death in 1980.

That tape led Elias to her new Blue Note album Something For You, a sublime tribute to Evans featuring Elias' exquisite piano work and lilting vocals.

"It was so incredible the way the project developed," says Elias, who performs Monday at Kuumbwa with Johnson and the brilliant drummer Billy Hart. "Marc was looking through some things and he came across the cassette that Bill had given him one week before passing away. He didn't want to touch it for years, he was so close to Bill at the time."

One of jazz's most influential pianists, Evans seemed to emerge in the late 1950s as a fully formed player. Combining supreme lyricism with dazzling harmonic sophistication, he possessed an immediately recognizable ringing tone. After gaining attention as a sideman with adventurous players such as George Russell, Lee Konitz, Jimmy Giuffre and Charles Mingus, Evans cemented his reputation as a visionary during his yearlong stint with Miles Davis by making an essential contribution to the seminal 1959 album Kind of Blue.

As a jazz-loving teenager growing up in São Paulo, Elias devoured Evans recordings, studying his phrasing and harmonic voicings. When his cassette suddenly surfaced in her house, Evans seemed to be interceding in her life, much as he did when she first began absorbing his influence. The tape appeared just as she was reaching a career crossroads. If she continued with Sony/BMG, the label wanted her to devote herself to pop music. But once again inspired by Evans, she approached her former label, Blue Note, about doing a tribute to him.

"I heard it and it was so emotional," Elias says. "Bill was playing some new tunes he was working on, and he had comments on some. Of course he was a very strong early influence--that's one of the reasons I fell in love with this music. I really felt so strongly that it was the time to do this tribute."

On Something For You Elias ranges far and wide through the Evans catalog, interpreting his original compositions like "Waltz for Debby," "Five" and "Blue in Green" and standards that he continually revisited, such as "My Foolish Heart" and "Detour Ahead." Rather than stretch out on each track, she delivers every piece with telegraphic precision, never running over five minutes and often taking less than three. She concludes the album with "Here Is Something for You," a piece from the cassette that may be the last thing Evans wrote.

While the album features the resourceful drummer Joey Baron, he was unavailable for the tour, so Elias was pleased to rejoin forces with veteran trap master Billy Hart. Their musical relationship dates back to the mid-'80s, just a few years after Elias moved to the United States.

"Billy is a beautiful drummer who is so sensitive to the other players," Elias says. "He's very creative and relates to this music beautifully. He and Marc worked together with Stan Getz and we did a lot of touring in the '80s with Mingus Dynasty. We also worked as a trio with Buster Williams. We go back a long time."


ELIANE ELIAS, with Marc Johnson and Billy Hart, sings and plays Bill Evans on Monday, March 17, at 7 and 9pm at Kuumbwa Jazz Center, 320-2 Cedar St., Santa Cruz. Tickets are $22/$25; 831.427.2227 or www.kuumbwajazz.org.


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