Posts Tagged ‘musical genius’

The hauntingly beautiful voice of Eva Cassidy

January 21, 2018

American singer Eva Cassidy

Have you ever heard of Eva Cassidy, or heard her sing? Eva Marie Cassidy (February 2, 1963 – November 2, 1996) was an unpretentious humble girl from small town Bowie, Maryland. She worked hard with her mother in their nursery growing flowers and plants. But Eva also sang. She had the voice of an angel, and delivered songs with purity, passion, and power. She accompanied herself on guitar, and also sang with a band. She would immerse herself in the words, she “connected to the lyric” and lived the songs. Her voice communicated directly to the hearts of her listeners. Rarely was there a dry eye in the place.

In the film Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice, Carrie Grant, a British vocal coach who worked with top recording artists in the UK and US, was amazed when she heard Eva’s voice. After listening to Over The Rainbow, she said, “I cannot imagine what Eva Cassidy was thinking of when she chose to make it sound the way it does. But it’s just genius!” She describes how she redefines the song in unexpected ways, “yet for some reason it just works.” She also explained the effect that Eva’s voice had on listeners. “She sounds like she’s singing just to you. And that is what makes it so intimate. And that becomes even more profound once you know she’s no longer alive. Because it’s haunting. And it’s personal.”

Eva sang the songs that she liked, regardless of genres, which is why record companies would not sign her during the days of manufactured music. They couldn’t slot her into a specific category. She sang blues, jazz, gospel, folk, old standards, and more. At first she was extremely shy, didn’t care for stage presence or how she dressed. With the help of local musicians she performed at Blues Alley, a local jazz spot in Georgetown, Maryland. One of her shows was later recorded. She sold two locally produced CDs out of the trunk of her car.

We might wonder how her singing was recorded in the first place when no company would sign her. One comment on Ain’t No Sunshine explained that the world owes Chris Biondo a debt of gratitude. Chris worked as a bassist, guitarist, keyboardist, recording engineer, and producer. He owned a studio in the 80s and 90s, and Eva would come in for session work. He recognized her ability, and said he “would just roll tape and stay out of her way.” At one point they were romantically involved. Chris “was the one who recognized her transcendent, ageless genius.”

In 1986 Chris began recording the then-unknown singer Eva Cassidy. For the next ten years he worked with Eva to develop her as a recording artist, producing most of her recordings available today. In the years since Eva’s death in 1996, her recordings have sold more than 10 million copies and achieved international renown, including three albums that reached number one in the UK charts. Chris has received numerous Gold and Platinum records in the U.S. and internationally for his work with Eva.

Bill Straw of Blix Street Records signed her up and continues to release and reissue her music, like the 20th anniversary of the new 32 track/2CD Nightbird album, The Best Of Eva Cassidy, Simply Eva, and eight other collections listed there that you can sample.

Her performances of Over The Rainbow, What A Wonderful World, Songbird, Falling Leaves, Time After Time, Sting’s Fields of Gold, and more are legendary, many recorded live in a club. Sting himself was blown away when he heard her rendition of his song. He put a copy of her Songbird CD into record producer David Foster’s hands who quoted him saying, “‘If you want to hear the greatest version of my song ever’—he didn’t say it in an egotistical way—he said, ‘listen to Fields Of Gold with this girl, it’ll change your life.’ And her voice is life-changing, she’s that spiritual.”  I love that song and remember hearing it on an airplane’s music channel during a flight. It was astounding! I had to find out who this singer was.

A relatively unknown singer in America at the time, somehow her music made its way across the Atlantic. From the first time Sir Terry Wogan, a BBC radio broadcaster, listened to Eva sing, he knew “she was an outstanding talent.” He said, “It was pure sound. A bell-like voice. She had this perfect pitch.” He couldn’t wait to play it on the radio. His was the most listened to program in the country at the time. It created a huge response from many of their seven million listeners wanting to know who she was. Unfortunately she had died two years earlier of cancer at the young age of 33.

When Mark Hagon, a Top of the Pops BBC (TOTP2) producer at the time, agreed to play that homemade video of Eva Cassidy singing Over The Rainbow, people kept calling in for weeks wanting to know her name. The listening public created a demand for her music. It was a groundswell! Sales of her CDs went from a hundred thousand to over a million in the UK. “Radio broke it. Television exploded it.”

At one point five of her CDs became top sellers at the same time, a feat usually held by the Beatles and Rolling Stones. She was then discovered back home in the USA. ABC Nightline in Washington, DC  researched and produced The Eva Cassidy Story (18:40). It was shown in many countries around the world and within a week of it airing her CDs went to the top of the local charts.

In Timeless Voice, Terry Wogan concluded, “You’d have to say about Eva Cassidy that her talent was pretty timeless. The voice has a quality of timelessness about it. Anytime you would hear it, whether it was thirty years ago, or thirty years from now, it’ll still be worth listening to, and still strike a responsive chord in most people’s hearts.” Mick Fleetwood of Fleetwood Mac who knew Eva said, “She was brilliant. She had the magic. And I call it, It. She had It!”

You can listen to her music on the YouTube Eva Cassidy channel. A book about her was written (Sept 29, 2003) by Rob Burley and Jonathan Maitland called, Eva Cassidy: Songbird: Her Story by Those Who Knew Her. Another book, Eva Cassidy Behind the Rainbow, was written (February 1, 2012) by art critic and music lover Johan Bakker.

Watch The Eva Cassidy Story on ABC Nightline (18:40).

Watch the documentary film: Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice (58:06).

Watch the trailer to Eva Cassidy: Timeless Voice, before/after the film.

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Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia

September 1, 2017

I discovered jazz in high school and soon became aware of Bill Evans. An accomplished musician educated in classical music, he chose to become a jazz pianist instead, and took elements of those influences to create his own unique style.

As a young man, Evans went on to compose and perform modal music with Miles Davis. Miles praised Bill’s contribution in the groundbreaking Kind of Blue LP released in the summer of 1959 by Columbia Records, often considered the best-selling jazz album of all time. Evans later left Davis to play solo, and form his own jazz trios. Bill Evans became one of the true jazz legends of our time.*

In this intimate 1970 interview and concert at the rural home of Finnish host Ilkka Kuusisto, a very wealthy and very highly regarded classical musician, with jazz musicians in the family, Evans was asked if his group practiced. He explained that “the trio has never rehearsed. … All the things that we play have grown out of performance.” They shared “a natural development through common desire to make it more musical all the time as much as we can.” It was “freedom with responsibility…to the total performance.”

In his solo work, Bill Evans’s Peace Piece is musical onomatopoeia. The calming repetitive left hand chords juxtaposed with the right hand animated notes evoke fluttering doves of peace calling to each other. Pure genius! It reminds me of the French impressionistic sounds of Erik Satie, Claude Debussy, and Ravel, but this is distinctly his own music.

“Peace Piece” was an unrehearsed modal composition he recorded for his Everybody Digs Bill Evans LP released in early 1959 on the Riverside label. It’s been hailed as one of the most beautiful and evocative solo piano improvisations ever recorded. I totally agree. One of the most beautiful jazz recordings I’ve ever heard. A peaceful masterpiece. A masterpiece of peace!

In this 1966 documentary, Bill Evans talks with his composer brother Harry about the creative process and self-teaching. Evans spoke of a Universal Mind. “I believe that all people are in possession of what might be called a universal musical mind. Any true music speaks with this universal mind, to the universal mind in all people. The understanding that results will vary only in so far as people have or have not been conditioned to the various styles of music in which the universal mind speaks. …”

Click SHOW MORE under that video to read the rest of the transcription. Evans also analyzes the melody and harmonics of Star Eyes, and performs other pieces, in between musical discussions with his brother.

*Bio excerpts from Jazz Musician Archives

Bill Evans (August 16, 1929–September 15, 1980) was one of the most famous jazz pianists of the twentieth century. Along with McCoy Tyner and Oscar Peterson, he was the force behind the biggest evolution in jazz since Art Tatum and Bud Powell.

Evans won seven Grammys during his career, the first for Conversations With Myself (1963), [which I had bought back then] although not for his most celebrated work, Sunday At The Village Vanguard (1961) with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian.

His use of impressionistic harmony, his inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, and his syncopated and polyrhythmic melodic lines influenced a generation of pianists, including Herbie Hancock, Denny Zeitlin, Chick Corea, and Keith Jarrett, and his work continues to inspire younger pianists such as Fred Hersch, Bill Charlap, and Lyle Mays, as well as other musicians such as guitarist John McLaughlin.

In 1994, Bill Evans was posthumously awarded a “Lifetime Achievement Award” by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences (NARAS) “for altering the course of jazz piano with his lyrical, impressionistic solo and trio recordings, characterised by the understated intensity, distinctive chord voicings, and unique harmonic sensibility that opened up the vocabulary of modern jazz.”


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