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Earl Zindars and Bill Evans

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To fully understand the music of pianist Bill Evans, it's essential to know the works of composer Earl Zindars. Evans recorded several of Zindars's songs, including Elsa, How My Heart Sings, Mother of Earl, Lullaby for Helene, Quiet Light and Sareen Jurer and the two were close friends. Today, Zindars' pieces sound like the spirit of Evans's soul.

Zindars was born in Chicago and studied classical music, eventually becoming an orchestral composer. Zindars and Evans met in the service in 1951. After Evans was inducted into the Army's Special Services division, he began at the Navy School of Music in Washington, D.C. There, musicians of all armed-froces branches studied together. Attending the school was Zindars. Zindars told Evans's biographer, Peter Pettinger, about their first meeting: “I had this arrangement of September in the Rain and I gave it to Bill, who gave it to the guys in the Army band. The Army and Navy bands were in heavy competition with each other—a band fight. He wrote to me when I got back to Chicago and said, 'We won the fight, and your arrangement was fantastic.' “

Evans first recorded a Zindars composition in 1961. The song was Elsa, and it appeared on Evans's Explorations album. Zindars had sent it along to Evans, as he had done with earlier classical orchestrations for the pianist's opinion. Going forward, whenever Zindars's originals arrived, Evans gave them a careful reading and seems to have brought a special level of sensitivity when recording Zindars's works. 

The two were close throughout the 1950s, with Evans serving as best man at Earl and Anne Zindars's wedding. Anne (nee Bohigian) had been a member of the Axidentals jazz-pop vocal group. Earl and Anne met in New York during a run by the Axidentals at Radio City Music Hall in 1958. Earl was a timpanist in the hall's orchestra. Lullaby for Helene was written for Earl and Anne's daughter.

Earl and Helene Zindars provide two pieces of important information about Evans in Pettinger's book. In one, Helene Zindars relates how Evans liked to talk in detail about his passion for Pepperidge Farm molasses crisp cookies. By decoding the serial numbers on packages in different stores, Evans could figure out which ones held cookies that were burnt around the edges, a personal favorite.

More important was the citing of an interview Win Hinkle conducted with Earl Zindars. Win asked the composer about the authorship of Blue in Green, which has been credited to Miles Davis and appears on the trumpeter's Kind of Blue album. When Win asked Zindars if the song was entirely an Evans composition, Zindars replied: “Definitely. I know it is, because he wrote it over at my pad where I was staying in East Harlem, a fifth-floor walk-up, and he stayed up until 3 a.m. playing those six bars over and over. It was lovely, but it turned out to be only six bars! But sill it was all perfect, it's all there. Those are Bill's changes in there."

Why didn't Evans records more of Zindars's compositions? We'll never know. Earl Zindars died in 2005.

Fortunately, other great pianists have done so. In the years since Evans's death in 1980, four in particular have recorded spectacular albums of Zindars' works. Here are four albums in particular:

The Return (1990) features Don Haas (p) Larry Grenadier (b) and Scott Morris (d) recordings Zindars's works, with Zindars playing on one track—Mediation. Go here.

And Then Some (2001) was produced by Zindars and features two trios—Larry Dunlap p), Seward McCain (b) and Akira Tana (d) recording Heads or Tails, Walkin' By, City Tune, My Love Is an April Song, Three Times Around, Song for Artie and Gurdgieff. The second trio features Don Haas (p), Bill Douglas (b) and Scott Morris (d). They play on Quinn Essence, Songtus, When You're Far From Home, Lil' Evan, E.Z Breeze, Earl's Blues, How My Heart Sings and I Always Think of You. Go here.

At Home With Zindars (2010) is a solo album by pianist Luciano Troja of Zindars's works, recorded at home between 2006 and 2009. Go here.

JazzWax clips: Here's Vasa featuring the Don Haas Trio...



Here's Songtus featuring the Don Haas Trio...



Here's Luciano Troja playing Mother of Earl...



And here's Bill Cunliffe and his group playing Elsa...



Bonus: Here's a radio broadcast in 1953 featuring Sgt. Bill Evans on piano and trumpeter Cpl. Johnny Reichart (who took the photo of Evans in uniform at the piano above)...

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This story appears courtesy of JazzWax by Marc Myers.
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