Written By: Chad Berndtson
:: Interview - Bill Evans ::
New York City has the Allmans at the Beacon, Bowlive and plenty of other traditions at
this time of year. But the sleeper
jam-scene residency of the early spring is the one at the sardine-tight Blue Note: the
return of Bill Evans
Describing Soulgrass is a classic “dancing about architecture” challenge – they’re way
better experienced, felt, absorbed
than written about. They look like a jazz combo with a banjo, but when sax wizard Evans,
drummer/singer Josh Dion,
guitarist Mitch Stein, bassist Dave Anderson and banjoist Ryan Cavanaugh really get up to
no good, genres and cross-
genres go out the window and serious group improv takes hold, stitching together jazz,
blues, rock, bluegrass, soul and
R&B as if they never had any business being described as separate.
The excitement around what Evans has accomplished has helped him invite some of the best-
known scene players to
expand the Soulgrass collective as guests. This year’s Blue Note stand
nights and six shows (8 pm and
10:30 pm each night): February 27, February 28 and March 1. Eric Krasno, Neal Evans and
Tim Carbone join Soulgrass
tomorrow, with John Popper and John Medeski climbing aboard for the 28th. March 1
brings back Popper and adds
The wily Evans obliged us with an interview as he gets ready to pack the Blue Note yet
JAMBASE: Soulgrass at the Blue Note is a spring tradition now. Have you been
surprised by the attention paid
to these shows?
BILL EVANS: Surprised? No. If you put great musicians on a stage, eventually people
have to take notice. You
can only pretend you don’t see the big elephant in the room when it’s really there.
Someone is going to say, “Whose
elephant is that? Why is it in this room?” And then later on they say, “Far out! Why
didn’t I think of that?”
I love putting musicians together who are not normally playing together. I’m inspired by
that. I want to have a charity
concert in the future, in New York, and have musicians from rock, jazz, jamband, bluegrass
all on one stage making
music. That would be fun. We can call it, “An Evening of Soulgrass featuring musicians
from the planet Earth.”
JAMBASE: How do you select guests for Soulgrass? You wouldn’t ask just anyone to do
BE: Criteria to play with us: you have to play your ass off and be open-minded and
not take yourself too
seriously. We’re all only one step away from working in the circus. I know plenty of
clowns, contortionists and lion
tamers pretending to be world-class musicians. They’re all just really good at concealing
their day job.
JAMBASE: Talk a little bit about what this year’s guests bring to the table.
BE: Sure. Eric is supposed to bring the dessert, Neal the main course...sorry!
Everyone is such an individual.
Combined they all have soul, vibe, chops, huge ears and a severe case of wanting to play
great music. John Medeski, for
example, is a fan of all kinds of music and really brings a certain kind of joy to the
stage whenever he plays with us. I’m
humbled by all the talent these guys possess.
JAMBASE: How much are you interested in bringing guests into your material --
Soulgrass and Bill Evans
material -- versus being a bit more deferential and playing their songs?
BE: Everyone at a certain level writes their own music. It’s fresh for us to play
their music and fresh for them
to play it with us, and vice versa. It also gives fans a chance to hear songs they might
be familiar with played differently.
Everyone interprets music differently. What’s humorous to some is serious to others. And I
don’t care if it’s funk, soul,
rock, folk or the Flintstones.
Our music is different every set. When we solo, it’s never the same, ever. That’s a good
thing. Never boring. That’s why
we studied jazz for so many years – so that we could speak the language on the highest