Reclusive Island Records, #1: My Foolish Heart/Waltz for Debby by the Bill Evans Trio

I’ve not got many specific aspirations in life, but one thing I’d love to do is go on Desert Island Discs, the Radio 4 show on which you get to have your eight favourite pieces of music become the basis of an amiable conversation with Kirsty Young. Other people aside, music is the thing in life I’m most thankful for, and has provided me with endless amounts of comfort, consolation and joy throughout both good and harder times. So, in preparation for my inevitable eventual appearance on the august airwaves of the BBC, I’ve decided to start a little series sharing pieces of music which have meant a lot to me in my life, and which I also think have the potential to enrich the lives of others.

To kick things off, I’d like to draw the reader’s attention to the opening two tracks of the Bill Evans Trio’s 1961 live album Waltz for Debby. Now I know that when I’m invited onto the aforementioned radio show I’ll have to limit myself to only one of these two tracks, but given that no such constraints exist on the online paragon of freedom and expression that is Gen Y Bother I’m picking both of them here. I think this is fortunate, because these two pieces fit together and complement each other delightfully.

‘My Foolish Heart’ is the album’s opener, and is the more downbeat, melancholic piece of the two. The music, like the track’s title, conjures up a mood of wistful regret, but also one of warmth and of longing, particularly after a couple of minutes when the double bass of Scott LaFaro starts to play a much more prominent role. This evocative piece does prompt me to feel certain regrets for past mistakes and misfortunes, but it also makes me feel more compassionate towards the younger, less time-worn and tested person I was at these moments. I think that we all ought to be a little less harsh towards ourselves for anything we may regret, and also towards others for their flaws and mistakes. After all, what are humans if not endlessly foolish and imperfect, but at the same time infinitely empathetic, creative and forward-looking?

It’s those last two adjectives which come to mind when I listen to the track ‘Waltz for Debby’, which comes directly after ‘My Foolish Heart’ on the album. Evans was inspired to write this waltz by his three-year-old niece, with whom he spent a lot of time after being discharged from the army in the mid-1950s. It’s appropriate, then, that this relaxed and genial piece seems to capture some of the playful joy and innocence of childhood, providing a welcome tonic to the introspectiveness of the previous track. The drums, bass and piano intertwine gorgeously and improvise with apparent effortlessness throughout the piece’s shifting time signatures, meaning that the music feels at once warmly familiar and delightfully unpredictable – the only certainty being its wholly benign effect on the state and peace of mind of the listener.

These opening two tracks, however, only my personal favourites of a sublime selection – the album as a whole is more than worth devoting some time to. I think the record is particularly well-suited to late, solitary evenings; the music is beautiful and inventive enough to encourage introspection without pushing the listener too far into sadness or melancholy. What’s more, the live nature of the recording means that one can sometimes hear the clinking of glasses or snippets of conversation above the music. In some contexts this may be an annoyance, but here it serves to reinforce the music’s sociability and conviviality, as well as evoking enticing images of the 1960s Greenwich Village jazz club in which it was recorded. Waltz for Debby was the first jazz album I bought and really listened too, and remains my favourite; but regardless of whether you’re a total newbie or an aficionado of the genre, I’d put money on you finding something to enjoy in this memorable collection.

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