Marty Morell Interview: Part 2
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Concluding our exclusive interview with Bill Evans' drummer (1968 -'74)


For those who may be unaware of drummer Marty Morell's contributions to Bill Evans music there is this from the Bill Evans biography "How My Heart Sings"-

"[Marty Morell} was an integral part of the Bill Evans Trio from late 1968 through 1974. Along with bassist Eddie Gomez, Marty's rhythmic precision and cool ambience egged the pianist on in new and creative ways, always stretching and growing during his time with the trio. Evans biographer Peter Pettinger, calling Morell "an unsung stalwart of piano trio history" wrote: "...he had been responsible for an exceedingly tight unit that could swing and drive relentlessly. His control of the twelve-bar sections in a number like "Twelve Tone Tune", for instance, was as snappy and precise as coulld be. At the same time,on ballads, he never failed to provide a listening cushion of the utmost delicacy, seeming to imbue his drums with the ability to breathe of their own volition, and always in expressive union with his leader." (Pettinger, p. 226)

On this website, we featured our first interview with Marty in 2005, covering the first part of his career-- and moving on with his joining the Bill EvansTrio, up until the Columbia Records "The Bill Evans Album". We now offer PART TWO to continue on in a somewhat chronological fashion, his years recording and touring with Bill Evans, and his currenrt CD and musical projects. The interview was conducted over several months in email, with several clarifications and additions done over the telephone.


-- Jan Stevens


Marty, let's start with you telling tell us about your own music in the past few years. First, how did this
"Marty Morell Jazz Quintet" album come about?

Well, this whole project was inspired when I first met Bill's son, Evan Evans. This would have been back in 2001. We had communicated prior to that, of course, but it was the first time we met face to face. I go into more detail on this meeting on my website. It was kind of inspirational, and I just felt that I needed to finally do my own CD, but I found it to be not an easy task. There’s lots of great music out there and I wanted my CD to hold its own. So, I had to really focus in on personnel, material and venue. It worked out really wel, though, but I wound up using the 'live' club tapes as opposed to the studio dates that I did with the guys. The club gig was a lot more exciting.

And also, you and I talked a lot about your composing. Tell us a little about that; when did you start writing?

I’ve been trying to write music since my Manhattan School of Music days.
I wrote lots of music for percussion ensembles back then. I always enjoyed trying to
come up with something different. In fact, after I joined the trio, Bill encouraged me to write.
After showing him some of the things that I was working on, he told me that a strong melody
was always built on a good rhythmic foundation and that I had the rhythmic
part together, but that I needed to work on the melodic part. He gave me a few
lessons on the 12- tone row approach to composing. It was really interesting!
Bill’s “Time Remembered” came out of a 12 tone row. He used that approach a
lot. After establishing a good row, he would work with the intervals and
come up with some really interesting melodic and harmonic variations. This
concept opens up all sorts melodic and harmonic possibilities. In fact, my tune,
“Blues News”
on my CD is built on a 12- tone row.

So, how is the next CD coming along? Is it also made up of some of your
own tunes?

I really want to do another CD but not sure which way to go with it
yet. I always seem to be sidetracked with other gigs and stuff I'm doing,
but I’ve been thinking of possibly putting an organ trio together with guitar or a
sax lead. I’ve been writing some tunes and many are done, so I'm thinking about
some charts I want to do for it. Hopefully it will come together soon. I’ll keep you posted.

Are there any other projects you’re working on?


Yes, in fact, I recently did a gig in Atlanta with a wonderful Japanese pianist
named Takana Miyamoto. She is a force to be reckoned with! We did a Bill
Evans tribute concert in Atlanta and we played a lot of Bill’s trio material. She did a
fantastic job with it. It was such fun to play all those tunes again!

That sounds great, and it's something Evans-related that we can all look forward to. Is there a recording coming?

Yes, we will be releasing a CD of that performance and we are also now planning a concert
tour of Japan. I’m going up there again in November. You will be hearing a
lot from her in the years to come. She is really special.

Well keep us posted! So, at the end of our last interview, we ended up by talking about the grammy-winning
Columbia “Bill Evans Album”, which now leads us into the second project for that label, “Living Time”. That was
Biill with you and Eddie Gomez -- and, of course, the George Russell Orchestra in 1972. Now, we know
that Bill commissioned Mr. Russell, his old friend from the mid-fifties -- specifically to write
the work, but it is generally acknowledged to be the strangest album Bill ever did – what with
its avant-garde character, its strange instrument groupings, and of course, its often dissonant parts.
By all accounts, it created quite an ill feeling from the fans and from the jazz the press at the time (1972)
From the liner notes, there also seemed to be some rather heated moments during the sessions. Having
been there for all that, what can you tell us about the project – the rehearsals, the sessions, Bill’s feelings
about the music and yours and Eddie’s roles in it?

Well, I can tell you this: it certainly caused some ill feelings towards our
label at the time, Columbia Records. They dropped Bill after that project. The first album
we did for them ("The Bill Evans Album") won two Grammy awards. Columbia was happy
with that, of course, so they gave Bill a really big budget for the next album. Not sure if it
was all Bill’s idea to do this kind of “epic” project but in my estimation
the project was a disaster. I think it was Bill’s least successful album to date.
I do recall Bill talking to Eddie and me about the upcoming project.
Now you must remember, Eddie and I were only sidemen, so we really had no say about
any recording projects. We just supported Bill in what ever he wanted to
do. Bill had said that George Russell was going to compose a work for the
trio and a larger ensemble for the date but we later found out that George
had already written the piece! So, when he was asked if he would compose a
work for Trio and a large ensemble, he just stuck in a few trio sections and
called it a composition for trio and large ensemble. I just think that George used
the opportunity to have his already- written composition recorded --and I
don’t believe that he really had the trio in mind for it at all. In my opinion, it’s
evident when you listen to it. That is, if you can get through it all! Eddie and I --
and even Bill -- kept looking at each other during the date with confused
expressions as if to say “what is going on?”



Actually, for me personally, doing this record was an interesting experience
because I had a chance to work with Tony Williams. Wow, he was something else!
But overall I would say that "Living Time" was a record that would not make jazz
history and ultimately, it would get The Bill Evans Trio bumped from
Columbia Records -- one of the biggest labels of that time, or any time.

But then, Bill got picked up by Fantasy Records.

Right. It was pretty soon after, if I recall.

Marty, please tell us about the trio's tour of Japan 1973. It was reported that Bill and
Eddie and you were treated like real "stars" -- what with all the media attention there, and
Japan's love for American jazz musicians. The concert that was later released as the first album
on Fantasy Records, "The Tokyo Concert", had the trio in rare form. There's lots of precision and
energy and inspiration in the performance! Comments?

Well, I must say that that was a very memorable tour and yes, we were treated
royally. The Japanese people are wonderful to perform for. They are so attentive
and they just love the music, and they especially loved Bill. Conditions for
performing were as good as they could possibly be. Every piano was better than
the last one. Bill was loving it, and he was always turned on by a great piano,
a great audience and great accoustics. So, it’s no doubt that the “The Tokyo
Concert” is a great album. We were playing in nearly perfect conditions and the
recording was done by Sony -- with all of the latest high- tech equipment
of that time. It was recorded at the end of a three- week tour so we were all well
rehearsed and on a performance high. I really enjoyed it!

That was also was the first recordings of both Jerome Kern's lovely
waltz, "Up With the Lark" -- which Bill played till the very end -- and a pop
tune by Bobbie Gentry called "Mornin' Glory", which stayed in the repertoire
until the time of the Johnson-LaBarbera trio. We know Bill didn't
rehearse his trios much, if ever, except once in a while for a concert recording and such.
But in general, how did Evans introduce his own new tunes to you all, and how
were endings decided on when new tunes were added, as well as the rhythmic
hits -- or when you all would trade fours and whatever?


Actually, there was never too much said with regard to the
arrangement for any particular tune. Bill always had everything
worked out on his own before we played a new tune, and so everything
always fell into place. We just played and somehow Eddie and I knew the chart instantly.

Seems like the interplay concept was very much back in the playing with that particular trio.
You guys were often were so tight that it does sound rehearsed.

Well, I think we all seemed to think alike when it came to new material. Working with Bill Evans for
all those years -- and having listened to him for many years before -- then actually working with
him, gave me kind of a "Bill instinct" that served me well during those years. It was really all about
listening and reacting to the music spontaneously and not being scared to just go for it!

The next year, in August of 1974, the trio did two performances with the
legendary Stan Getz; one in Holland and one in Belgium. There was at least one
rehearsal for these; what was that like and what can you tell us about
the concerts?


Playing with Bill and Stan Getz was something really special. They were a
deadly combination. The two of them complemented each other so well -- as is
evident on the recording your talking about ("But Beautiful"). These concerts were
being recorded for radio -- not for release on any label. But much later on, when [Bill's manager
and producer] Helen Keane heard the tapes of the concert she wanted to release them immediately
because she felt that they were something pretty special. However, Stan wanted a bunch of money
-- I think it was $25,000.00 -- to allow anything to be released. So, Helen wasn’t able to put a deal
together until she got clearance from Stan’s estate after his passing. That concert was one
of my all -time favorites and it’s still one of my favorite jazz recordings. Actually, Eddie and I
were totally unaware that we were being recorded and not feeling at all inhibited about any
kind of recording, we just went out there and played our tails off.

Helen Keane later wrote how upset Bill was when Getz called
"Stan's Blues", which, she wrote, was not one of the rehearsed tunes.
Bill refused to play on it, and I'd suspect that might have surprised you
and Eddie. Being that it was just a simple blues number, and that the
concerts were being recorded, presumably for release --why do you think Bill did
that? Dd he say anything about it afterwards, or were there repercussions over it?

Well, yes, it’s true that Bill and Stan were feuding a bit then. They both had very
strong egos. Actually, the original billing for the concerts was "The Bill Evans Trio
with special guest, Stan Getz".

We rehearsed the tunes we were going to play with Stan before the first concert
came running out on and had the program all planned out. But when Stan was
introduced after intermission, he came out on stage and yelled “OK guys- Blues
in C” and proceeded to count us in. I could tell that Bill wasn’t too pleased. Eddie and I just started to
play. Bill kind of just tinkled a bit but ultimately laid out for the rest of the tune. I wish that he had played
because it’s a great track --and of course, would have sounded better with piano. I just hink Bill was
upset because
Stan seemed to just take over. I don't think that Bill wanted this concert to become
a jam session.

Also, Bill really didn’t like to play in the blues format much, as you know. Anyway, Eddie and I had
a good laugh after the concert about it all. Of course, once things settled down, the rest of the
concert was great! A few days later, we played the second concert and it just so happened to be
August 16th --Bill’s birthday. So, I guess Stan felt a bit of remorse for having upset Bill the last show,
and he decided to bring out the sweet side of his personality. Maybe you heard this, but there was
a funny line about Stan floating around the music biz. and that is “Yeah, I know Stan, he’s a nice
bunch of guys” . During the second concert, Stan behaved like an angel and played that way too.
He even played "Happy Birthday" for Bill, which you can hear on the album. If anyone, hasn’t heard
this album, please do check it out because those two guys together were incredible. This is a very
special album and I am very proud and honored to have played on it.

Wow, what a story! Marty, Peter Pettinger's book cites this, and several other writings over
the years often refer to some of Bill's mid-seventies period as almost sounding like the group could
have been called the "Eddie Gomez Trio". It's certainly evident from some
live recordings that Eddie solos very often and sometimes even takes more
choruses than Bill does. His playing is just so prominent within the
body of the tunes, even during Bill's solos. Do you think, as others have said,
that Bill was losing steam around this time, and that his level of
inspiration was at a low point?

No. Not at all, and anybody that says it sounded like the “Eddie Gomez Trio”
is in my estimation, being unkind. Bill loved Eddie’s playing and always
gave him an open platform to express himself. It is somewhat insulting
to Bill to hear it that way. I think Bill knew what he was doing. If it
had blame for him he certainly would have said so and done
something about it. Also, the notion that Bill was "losing steam" is, again,
just unkind. He gave more to the jazz world than most. Mind you, he may have
occasionally been tired, which is normal given his hectic touring and recording schedule.
Also, he always had problems with his personal life and that would have been
somewhat draining too. After all, he was “human”
. A few years ago, I met a sax player who
told me that when he had gone to hear Bill for the first time and that he was unbelievably
disappointed in Bill’s playing. In fact, this guy went on to say that he thought Bill’s playing was
way overrated. When I heard that, smoke almost started coming out of my ears. I
proceeded to ask him what he had contributed to the world of jazz. Of
course “nothing”. It’s so unkind to base an opinion on just one set. Hey, man!
Give a guy a break. Even the greatest of the greats have a bad set now and then.

I know what you mean. It's just my opinion, but don't think Bill Evans was ever sounding "bad" in
performance I mean,, in the larger sense.

Right. Personally, I never heard Bill play a bad set. Maybe not always his best, but he could
never really be bad. You know how it is, people say things off the top of their heads and don’t
really think about what they're saying. But the“Eddie Gomez Trio” -- how insulting is that?
I wonder how Bill would have felt about it. Actually, he probably would have had a good laugh.

What were a few of your favorite gigs with Bill and Eddie, or perhaps, your favorite albums that
you did with the trio?

Actually my favorite gig with Bill was “all of them”! And I guess my favorite recordings
are generally the ones that were recorded without us knowing that we were being recorded.

Marty, you said that leaving the Bill Evans trio was one of the hardest
decision you had to make. Was it the pressures of touring, or personal
considerations? What were the circumstances surrounding you're moving
on?

Well, after all those many years, I felt that I wanted to check out
some other avenues in the music business. Working with Bill was
artistically rewarding, but you can’t raise a family or buy a house with artistic
rewards. When I first left the trio and settled in Toronto, it was kind of
rough at first. But then I started to get really busy and getting calls, and doing all
sorts of gigs -- jazz dates, jingles, Recordings, radio, TV stuff and theater. It was great!

I have been blessed to have been able to sustain myself, raise my family, and create a good retirement,
all while playing with some of the finest musicians in Canada and the USA. For most of the 25 years that I
worked and lived in Toronto, I didn’t have to travel. This was a big plus when it came
to raising a family.

On a personal level, can you talk a little about what Bill was like in the "down times",
perhaps between gigs, when you were with the trio? And what do you want to tell us about any
conversations you may have had, like while traveling?

To tell you the truth, Bill was a very private person during the
“down times” between gigs.
We basically didn’t socialize much away from the
gig. I had my own thing to take care of, and
so did Eddie. Actually, Eddie and
I saw each other a bit during the down times, because we had
a group with
[flautist] Jeremy Steig and we usually scheduled gigs when the trio was off. Eddie’s then
wife Amy and my wife Craigey were friends, so we did socialize a bit with
them.


What would you say did you may have learned from Bill about jazz, or the music business
while you were with the trio? And how do you feel regarding his continuing popularity, his legacy
and his place in jazz history ?

What I learned from Bill about music and life is difficult to put into
words. It would probably take another interview to cover that. But I
can tell you, it was a lot. Basically, I would say I learned from Bill to be
yourself and play from the heart. This was not from anything he said, but
from just how he was. Music that is played from the heart and is honest,
always reaches people because it communicates so much feeling. It doesn’t have
to be sweet or pretty. Jazz is not always sweet or pretty. There are
many other emotions that are projected through Jazz. John Coltrane and
Miles were great examples of honesty in music. They projected their souls
through their music and it was really something special. Bill possessed those
qualities as do many other Jazz greats. I think this is what makes them
great. There are many parts to being a great musician. First, you need to
master your instrument -- and this takes years of work and dedication, and it’s an
on going process. You have to find the joy in this process. Bill had it
big time. He loved to work on his music and always stayed on the path of
development until the end. I heard Bill up in Toronto one month before
he died and he never sounded better! I sat in with him, and I’ll tell you, the
earth
shook when we played -- and it had been five years since we shared a
bandstand. I
said to myself “ Oh! that’s right! That’s how it’s supposed to be”

I think Bill’s popularity will continue to grow in the years to come.
He is
constantly being discovered and rediscovered and that is so cool. I
love
it. In my estimation, his status will always be up there as one of the
truly
great and innovative jazz artists of all time.

Oh! and by the way Jan, I just want to thank you for all of your hard work and
dedication in
keeping “The Bill Evans Webpages” going . I know that for you,
it’s a labor of
love and you have done and continue to do, a superb job. Your attention to
detail and accuracy is most appreciated, and it’s so nice to know that
with
your help, Bill’s legacy will live on for many years to come.

Why, thank you Marty, that's really nice of you to say. And thanks again for your taking
the time to do this, it's been great.

My pleasure!


Be sure to visit MartyMorell's myspace.com page for more information


This interview is © Jan Stevens 2006. Cannot be reproduced electronically or textually without permission of its author. All rights reserved.


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