The Troy Street Observer

Oct 30, 1979: Bill Evans, Dave McKenna at Lulu White’s

Lulu White’s, the jazz club on Appleton Street in the South End, had a good year in 1979—maybe its best year. And the end of October club owner Chester English went on a serious piano kick. He brought in local stalwart Dave McKenna and matched him with an array of great piano players.

Cover of Bill Evans LP
Bill Evans Trio at Lulu White’s, October 30, 1979

There were three pianists in the house on October 25-26, a Thursday-Friday engagement. McKenna shared the bill with the adventurous Joanne Brackeen, not long removed from Stan Getz’s group, and the conservatory-trained Polish pianist Adam Makowicz, who was to spend a considerable amount of time in Boston in the early 1980s.

Then for five nights the following week, October 30 to November 3, McKenna played opposite Bill Evans. McKenna played solo. Evans had his trio, with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera. It must have been an amazing week, listening to these two craftsmen, so different and both so brilliant.

I’ve spoken to only one witness to the proceedings at Lulu White’s. Reedman Dick Johnson, a frequent running mate of McKenna’s back then, spent every possible moment at the club. He recalled the two pianists enjoyed each other mightily, though the modest McKenna thought he didn’t belong on the same stage as Evans. And Evans? One night early in the week Johnson sat with him during McKenna’s sets. “Bill kept pointing over to the piano and saying, “Can you believe this guy? Can you believe this guy?”

It was getting late in the day for Evans. This turned out to be his last local club engagement, although he was back once more, on April 27, 1980, playing duets with John Lewis at Harvard’s Sanders Theatre. Evans died that September, meaning he missed the entire Age of McKenna at the Plaza Bar, and he certainly would have enjoyed that.

Wonder of wonders, though, some of music Bill Evans made on the night of October 30, 1979 surfaced, on the tape of a remote from Lulu White’s, originally broadcast over WGBH-FM. The tape sat on a shelf for 24 years before Steve Schwartz found it and played it on his show, Jazz from Studio 4, in 2003. The raw version of this broadcast, complete with Schwartz’s commentary and announcements, is available on various download sites. Then the Spanish Fresh Sounds label got a hold of the broadcast, cleaned it up, and released it on CD in 2010 as Live at Lulu White’s 1979.

A few of the Evans Trio tunes were posted on YouTube. Here, obnoxious crowd noise and all, is “The Peacocks,” composed by Jimmy Rowles, recorded 34 years ago tonight.

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