Lee Konitz and Bill Evans
There’s a beautifully-filmed performance on YouTube of Lee Konitz and Bill Evans playing “My Melancholy Baby” in Berlin in 1965. The two had played the standard six years earlier when Evans spelled Lennie Tristano for a couple of nights at the Half Note in a quintet that included Konitz and Warne Marsh, Jimmy Garrison and Paul Motian. “Melancholy Baby, which was first performed by Willam Frawley (Fred Merz of I Love Lucy fame) in 1912, had also been recorded by Evans with clarinetist Tony Scott in August 1959. On that session, released as Golden Moments, Evans utilized parallel octaves, the same single line played in each hand an octave apart. Evans's biographer, Peter Pettinger, called it a "tour de force...At the end of the improvisation, he went out on a final twinkle in tenths as if to say (in all modesty), 'How about that'?"
Here in '65, Evans eschewed octaves for a brilliant single line solo played exclusively in his right hand. He also does very little comping behind Konitz, which effectively makes Lee’s solo a trio with bass and drums, a setting he worked in to critical acclaim with Sonny Dallas and Elvin Jones on Motion. The Penguin Guide calls that 1961 Verve release "quite simply one of the great modern jazz records," and includes it in its Core Collection. Completing the quartet in Berlin was the 19-year-old Danish bass virtuoso, Niels-Henning Orsted Pedersen, and the great Alan Dawson on drums.
For Andy Hamilton's engaging 2007 publication, Lee Konitz: Conversations on the Improvisor's Art, Konitz reflected on the Half Note performances with Evans:
“I just listened again to the playing that Bill did with Warne and me on that date at the Half Note, and it sounded beautiful. But he seemed to be a little uncomfortable, not accompanying me for example. Listening to the record, I hear that I was sharp to the piano, which was frequently a problem with me. I felt that he probably didn’t play behind me for that reason. But they didn’t release that record for 37 years, because someone at the controls thought it was not a good representation of Bill Evans, apparently. As is frequently the case, the person who made that decision didn’t listen to the music very carefully.
"Though Bill played beautifully at the Half Note, he just didn’t play so much – two or three choruses on each song. I think he was intimidated by that situation somehow. He was playing in place of Tristano – very strange, as infrequently as Tristano played [out], that he would miss a night in order to teach. But I thought the rhythm section of Jimmy Garrison and Paul Motian were great and I thought Warne played especially well those nights."