Shock, horror, Bill Evans records “Nardis” 41 times! (learning tunes properly…)

Shock horror – jazz genius recorded “Nardis” 41 times (as far as we know)…
I wonder why? Perhaps he wanted to go deeper.

I have heard many famous jazz musicians advocating the necessity to learn a lot of repertoire. Nameless esteemed artist number one recently encouraged students to know at least 100 tunes, while esteemed artist number two advocated just 20 – and that some musicians are just “tune nerds” (not very helpful).

Number two misses the deeper and more useful point which is about and memory and the challenge to be thorough enough in our practice so that song-forms present as few problems as necessary, while we deal with the principal issues of improvising and expression. Many aspiring jazz musicians struggle with the repetition required in order to internalise, often losing focus and moving their attention to another new tune, the next good idea or something they have heard at a gig or on Spotify. it is worth noting that Bill Evans recorded “Nardis” at least 40 times, and quite possibly played it on most gigs. I encourage you to welcome the sensation of boredom with a form, and see it instead as indication of the right time to go deeper.

Click here for a practice strategy for learning tunes – thoroughly and usefully.

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  1. Nardis ( an excerpt from The Big Love ~ Life & Death with Bill Evans )

    Internal strength entwined fragile beauty
    The iron fist in the velvet glove

    Bill’s left hand heavy with the frustration of fitting in
    Drops onto smooth ivory
    Ancient remains of elephants passing through

    Alone at the Vanguard, last set of the night. Bill’s trio on the bandstand and me squeezed into the bench against the wall of the room. Bill closes the set tonight with an extended version of Nardis, his seven minute solo intro a distorted exploration of the Miles Davis tune he has been revisiting for 20 years now.

    No one recognizes the melody; the discord has his head rearing up, an angry mane of thick gray hair framing his broad forehead, eyebrows raised in astonished agony.

    Here is Bill, crucifying himself. Finally exploring his suffering in public, no longer able to contain his passion, freely expressing the distortion he is directly experiencing.

    He translates this distortion for us, his listeners, so that we too can recognize this dichotomy of what is and what is not.

    My heart is witnessing this public display of our private agony. How is it that our perfect love, pure being, pure light is tangled up in human ideas of perfection?

    Bill describes this distortion with such fury and a great sadness. He knows the score; he knows he is checking out. He is integrating all that he has witnessed, concocting some kind of rocket fuel for his zenith.

    He does not know his departure date, but his readiness is made evident to those who know how to listen.

    I am waiting patiently at the back of the Vanguard tonight wondering if today is a good day to die. For surely once Bill goes, my work will be done too.

    This is how I see the ending. I see myself checking out with him. I see myself staying inside the satori of our pure love, and I cannot even imagine a life beyond this vision.

    Bill closes the tune with heavy chords and a question mark.

    All rights reserved Laurie Verchomin 2009

  2. He recorded “Nardis” on innumerable albums and reworked the piece with modal explorations each time it served as the final tune of his performances. Just a week before Evans’ death on September 15, he recorded “Nardis” between August 31 and September 8, 1980 at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner on an eight-CD set. His closing signature “Nardis” is heard here in six different versions in one week, each of them with a different exploration, from a brief seven-minute version to a last performance that stretches as his swan* song of nearly 20 minutes with extended unaccompanied introductions on the piano. He summarizes his entire musical experience, from jazz to Bach’s contrapuntal strictness to Bartok’s sense of dissonance. Evans introduces the tune: “We’ve learned from the potential of the tune, and every once in a while a new gateway opens and it’s like therapy.” Here he gives birth to a new music that goes beyond anygenre distinction!!

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