A SATURDAY NIGHT, ABOUT FIFTY YEARS AGO: JIMMIE ROWLES, BILL EVANS, ELLIS LARKINS (Carnegie Hall, July 7, 1973)

I don’t know where you were on that Saturday night at 8:30 PM. Perhaps you didn’t exist. But I was in Carnegie Hall, close to the stage, for a Newport Jazz Festival in New York concert called SO-LO PIANO.

Even then, I couldn’t bear the evanescence of the beautiful sounds I heard in person, so I had been an illicit tape-recordist, if that is the term, for two years. My methods were coarse and direct. I had an airline bag over one shoulder, my father’s gift, inside it a portable cassette recorder, a decent Shure microphone, perhaps extra batteries.

In those innocent times, I was never stopped going in to a concert hall or club, and there were no metal detectors. When I got to my seat, I positioned the bag in my lap, connected the microphone, slid it and the wire down my jacket sleeve so that the ball of the microphone was concealed in my hand. When the lights went down, I pressed RECORD, sat very still, did not speak and did not applaud. Several friends may remember my odd behavior, all in service to the art.

When I got home with my aural treasure, I transferred it to reel-to-reel tape to edit it, however crudely, and it was the way I could make the mortal, the transient, immortal — something that would never go away and could be visited any time.

What follows is precious to me — a glimpse into a world that no longer exists. And since I have yet to find a more formal source, it seems irreplaceable.

BUT, and it is a huge pause, if the listener comes to it expecting clean digital sound, they should, to quote Chaucer, turn over the leaf and choose another page. The cassette recorder had a limited range; there is a good deal of “air” in the aural ambiance, and the undercurrent of some 3600 people inhaling, exhaling, gently shifting in their seats. The good news is that the piano seems well-tuned, and the only amplification is of master of ceremonies’ Billy Taylor’s microphone. (Carnegie Hall’s sound crew had done violence to pianos in the 1972 concert series; they had learned well by July 1973.)

So, please: if your first response is, “Michael, why didn’t you learn how to improve the sound?” or “Send me that tape and I will fix it for you,” read Hawthorne’s THE BIRTHMARK or get up from your chair and watch the cardinals at the feeder. Or simply imagine you are hearing precious music from another room, and be grateful that it exists. End of sermon.

I offer you thirty-five minutes of joy and wisdom and splendor, captured illicitly and with love. You will notice the audience applauds when they “recognize the tune.” But there were adults in attendance, thus reverent silence during performances. I don’t hear program-rattling or coughing. Blessings on my fellow July 1973 concert-goers. AND the heroes onstage.

Jimmie Rowles: THE MAN I LOVE – BEAUTIFUL LOVE – JITTERBUG WALTZ / EMALINE / LIZA – MY BUDDY //

Bill Evans: I LOVES YOU, PORGY / HULLO BOLINAS / BUT BEAUTIFUL //

Ellis Larkins: HOW’D’JA LIKE TO LOVE ME? / I WANT A LITTLE GIRL / BY MYSELF //

Is it too self-absorbed of me to be happy I was there on that July evening and am still working for this music, in awe? Perhaps. But I hope you are happy that this tape was created and that it can be shared.

May your happiness increase!

2 responses to “A SATURDAY NIGHT, ABOUT FIFTY YEARS AGO: JIMMIE ROWLES, BILL EVANS, ELLIS LARKINS (Carnegie Hall, July 7, 1973)

  1. Treasure indeed. And you can almost hear the sound of the time having passed. It’s mysterious, and beautiful. >

  2. Thank you. Your comment is a piano solo in itself.

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