Bill Evans and Progression through “Waltz for Debby”
Photo Source: Wikimedia Commons
Bill Evans was one of the biggest reasons I took “History of Jazz” at my college as an elective. I grew up listening to his albums during mealtime at home. While he was not the only artist that influenced my love of jazz (Dave Brubeck and Stan Getz come to mind), he was the one that got me interested in learning the history of the music genre and taking it at college. Throughout the course, I have even been able to explore more jazz music as well as more of Bill Evans. In my research, I found the progression of three versions of “Waltz for Debby” to be the most fascinating. One may assume that each version would be completely similar to each other, but each track has its own tone and handling of the melody. Between 1956 and 1961, “Waltz for Debby” evolves with Bill Evans. Each has something different and fetching about them, but the final version, “Waltz for Debby (Take 2)” is exemplary. It takes every development brought about by the past two songs to create a memorable track.
The first rendition of “Waltz for Debby” on his album New Jazz Conceptions from 1956 features only his piano rendition of the melody, and it is decidedly the shortest piece in the trio, running at only one minute and nineteen-seconds. This track is also the only one in the set that features only his piano. The track feels more like a prototype than a fully realized idea (making the album title “New Jazz Conceptions all the more appropriate) almost as if it was apparent that this would not be the last time that Evans would work on “Waltz for Debby”. Even hearing the song makes me think of a fully written and tattered notebook of notes ready to be turned into a full project.
The second rendition would be from Evan’s 1961 album Know What I Mean (with Cannonball Adderley). The track is much longer, with a track time of five minutes and fifteen-seconds. Evans reprises his role on the piano, and he is accompanied by Cannonball Adderley on the alto saxophone, Percy Heath on the Bass, and Connie Kay on the drums. This allows each instrument to fulfill different roles, rather than Bill Evans having to carry every role with only his piano. This track definitely develops on the ideas brought forth by the first track while creating its own atmosphere and tone. However, it also makes this take a bit more removed from its source material. The solos taken by Adderley and Evans is exemplary, but it may not fit as being a development off of the original “Waltz for Debby”. Adderley and Evans begin by staying true to the original “Waltz for Debby”, but it then descends into wonderfully rich jazz solos on both the piano and saxophone parts. However, when it comes to the song, it is hard for me to see it as a development of “Waltz for Debby”; rather, it felt as if it was its own song that happened to contain “Waltz for Debby”.
The final rendition to be presented is “Waltz for Debby (Take 2), taken from the 1961 album Waltz for Debby. Even though this came out the same year, this version of “Waltz for Debby” holds a completely different feel and tact than the version on Know What I Mean, though it is not necessarily better or worse. This time, Bill Evans’ band is a trio with Bill Evans on piano, with Scott LaFaro on the bass, and Paul Motian on the drums. This track stands as the longest version in the set, running at seven minutes. The tone here in this piece feels reserved but upbeat, and it felt as if the track happily married the best parts of its previous incarnations. It feels the most finished and complex of the three incarnations. Each solo and refrain feels deliberate and perfectly executed, taking me on a musical journey.
The third version of “Waltz for Debby” stands as my favorite version because of the structure of the song and the interaction between instruments. While Know What I Mean does develop upon the bare bones of the New Jazz Conceptions version, Adderley’s solo becomes the focal point of the piece instead of the main melody. While I would not expect there to be absolutely no deviation from the melody of “Waltz for Debby”, I felt as if a little bit of the spirit of the original was lost in the second version. The third version, however, was a happy marriage between the bones brought from New Jazz Conceptions "Waltz for Debby." Evans was sure to include more refrains of the melody of “Waltz for Debby” while all the while including a fantastic bass solo by Scott LaFaro. It was as if the spirit of the original melody was kept the entire time, but it was also developed into something novel and fresh. Bill Evans remains as one of my favorite jazz musicians of all time, and through understanding the development and progression of “Waltz for Debby”, I was able to gain a newfound respect for his work. Evans’ work piques my interest because even his albums and development seem like they are telling a story in their own right. “Waltz for Debby (Take 2)” would not have been conceived if not for New Jazz Conceptions or Know What I Mean (though all three are wonderful jazz songs).