Petaluma / Wine Tasting / The Music of Bill Evcans / Family & Friends
I think that Love Theme from Spartacus (from the 1960 film Spartacus) is one of the most beautiful movie theme songs. The jazz world has taken on the song a number of times but the most powerful and beautiful interpretations of the song is by two of its legends: saxophonist Yusef Lateef and pianist Bill Evans. (We posted the Yusef Lateef version of the piece on this page of the Midnight Oil site. We now post the Bill Evans version of this gorgeous piece of music.
The song is off his 1963 album Conversations with Myself, recorded with Glenn Gould’s piano, Evans uses a new method in jazz of overdubbing three different yet corresponding piano tracks for the song. The album earned Evans his first Grammy Award in 1964 for Best Jazz Instrumental Album, Individual or Group. It received a 5-star review in Downbeat magazine in 1963.
The original score for Spartacus was composed and conducted by six-time Academy Award nominee Alex North. It was nominated by the American Film Institute for their list of greatest film scores. It is a textbook example of how modernist compositional styles can be adapted to the Hollywood leitmof technique. North’s score is epic, as befits the scale of the film. After extensive research of music of that period, North gathered a collection of antique instruments, while not authentically Roman, that provided a strong dramatic effect. These instruments included a sarrusophone, Israeli Recorder, Chinese Oboe, lute, Mandolin, Yugoslav flute, kythara and bagpipes. North’s prize instrument was the ondioline, similar to an earlier version of the electronic synthesizer, which had never been used in film before. Much of the music is written without a tonal center, or flirts with tonality in ways that most film composers would not risk. One theme is used to represent both slavery and freedom, but is given different values in different scenes, so that it sounds like different themes. The love theme for Spartacus and Varinia is the most accessible theme in the film, and a harsh trumpet figure was created for Crassus.
The piece is an example of what media theorist Marshall McLuhan might term cool or participatory. Here, the compositional style invites this participation by musicians in recreating the gorgeous piece of music that confirms that beauty is still present in modernist music. In film scores, of all things. It’s important that composer Alex North researched the music of the period of Spartacus (111–71 BC) using antique instuments. It is given an Eastern interpretation with the snake charmer saxophone of Yusef Lateef. In this version, the participatory invitation of this spellbinding music offers just the vehicle for pianist Bill Evans. An incredible intermixture of the various pianos, all played by Bill Evans.
At thirty four years old in his life, it was time to have this “conversation with myself.” There were so many different Bill Evans to talk to in many ways. The basic chord structure calls out for various interpretations of what it really means. It is a beautiful song but in some ways it seems an unfinihsed piece of music, waiting for someone to attempt to finish it. Attempts have always fallen a little short of this beautiful composition. But Evans comes closer than others in reaching the meaning of this song it seems to me.
(Johh is founder of Midnight Oil and author of Spirit Catcher: The Life and Art of John Coltrane)
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Out here in the Sonoma wine country. Staying at the old landmark Hotel Petaluma, built in 1923. Celebrating it’s hundredth birthday next year.
The southern part of the the Sonoma County wine region.
But around the town of Petaluma where we’re staying, in the southern part of Sonoma County, it’s mostly the fields of farmers and ranchers that surround the town. Not wine vineyards. It has been a dry winter and there are days in the 90s in mid-May when we’re visiting. Not towns surrounded by wineries further north in the county.
Latest post to my Midnight Oil site. Sipping a great Chardonnay as I write this from Wilson Winery in Healdsburg. We were at a few days ago. A fantastic boutique winery along Dry Creek Road, somewhat the Napa Highway 29 of Sonoma,
The post below is latest to Midnight Oil written after over a week out here. I began thinking about McLuhan’s cool and hot terms and concepts and discuss this about the composition itself, inviting participation, as MM quoted Bacon saying in UM. Do some original works invite reinterpretation more than others? Are some original works of art cool (inviting participation) while others are hot (not inviting participation)?
Anyway, the suggestion about the coolness of the piece, inviting participation in remaking it. Here, Bill Evans answers the call to participate in the revisionings of one of teh most gorgeous and evocative songs ever written. Here is Evans at perhaps the peak of a particular spirituality and awakening he had in his life. Appropriately, the recording date provides the rare opportunity for Evans to have conversations with himself, as the name of the album says.
The beautiful piece has three overdubbings in it which means that Evans was playing piano against what he had just recorded, adding an additional track to the music. It is one of the first overdubbings of a jazz track in jazz history. It serves Evans incredibly well here, allowing him to play his various genius personalities off against each other. The music reaches higher and higher throughout the pieceL A little more than a minute into the piece, Evans takes a short happy interlude by chaning the rhythm and mood of the piece. This short joyous sidetrack moves back to the main mood and style of the piece. But it has been a worthwhile short departure onto a different side path.
Listen to Evans playing against himself. Keeping this in mind, you can began to hear the incredibly wide spectrum of his musical brilliance and exploration. It represents another peak in the various peaks of his career. This peak seems a spiritual one for Evans. Unlike an original piece of music, there is something about the inviting nature of Love Theme from Spartacus that pulls Evans towards it to – ultimately – make it his own piece. It is a piece whose music theme and cadences and mood are just what Evans needed at this time in his life. To continue on his musical journey. After this piece, on a higher level in many ways.
A Review from the UK
Exploring musical connections one track at a time
Love Theme From Spartacus
xperimentation is a big part of jazz, and I’m not talking about drugs (though Evans was no stranger to those). Released on Verve, Conversations with Myself is so called because Evans plays three piano parts on top of each other. By the early ’60s overdubbing had been used in recording but was virtually unheard of in jazz, whose purists took a dim view of such manipulation – and as I’m sure we’ll see many times on this blog, every musical revolution is inevitably met with some resistance.
What I find interesting about this project is that its conception was not so much a technical decision as a creative one. Inspired by the near-telepathic interplay he achieved with his famous trio, Evans realised that playing with himself (minds out of the gutter please) would create the most simpatico trio imaginable. “If there is one man who can read the mind of Bill Evans, it is Bill Evans,” Gene Lees writes in the sleeve notes. I love the elegance of that logic; it sounds obvious but takes a mind like Evans’ to envision.
It also takes a musician like Evans to execute. He would play one piano track, listen to it back while adding a second, and then a third, and the result is dazzling to behold. Three Bill Evanses (one in the left channel, one in the right, the other in the centre) improvise interweaving, cascading lines, gracefully moving from a classical style to swing and back again on ‘Love Theme From Spartacus’. Listen to the way one Bill Evans will finish a thought introduced by another, or echo each other’s phrases like ripples on a pond. It’s at once unfathomable that this is all one person, but impossible that it could be anything else.
At the end of the session Evans apparently shrugged and said: “Well, I always wanted to be an orchestra.” The word genius gets bandied about a lot, but listening to Bill Evans here, no other conclusion seems plausible.