Tony Bennett & Bill Evans
Few listeners realized that Tony Bennett was as much of a jazz singer as almost anybody; he had already made a handful of albums in a small jazz combo format, but these were far lesser known than his big chart hits. Then, in 1975, he made what would be his supreme statement in the jazz field, the first of two albums with the remarkable pianist Bill Evans. Evans (1929-1980) was the jazz piano superstar of the ‘60s, who had already inspired a whole generation of younger players and disciples with his sensitive touch, unending lyricism, and rich harmonic palette. Bill Evans was one of those extremely rare players whose work defines an entire era. But for all of his love for The Great American Songbook, Evans had hardly ever worked with a singer. The only notable, full-length collaboration he had done as such was an LP with the Swedish Monica Zetterlund, a project that was barely known outside of Scandanavia.
Bennett and Evans had first met in 1962, when both were performing (though not yet together) in a special jazz event on The White House lawn (during the Kennedy years).
In 1968, Evans offered a written testimonial to Bennett in a special issue of Billboard magazine celebrating the singer’s 20th Anniversary in show biz. It was the jazz and theater singer Annie Ross, who had known both men for many years by the early ‘70s, who supposedly came up with the idea that Bennett and Evans should do an album together.
In June, 1975, Tony Bennett and Bill Evans finally got together at Fantasy Studios in Berkeley; not only were there no bassist or drummer present, but practically no one else was there either. As Tony later related: “I said to Bill, ‘Listen, it will just be the two of us – you don’t bring your cronies and I won’t bring mine!’” Apparently, the only people in the studio were the two principals plus engineer Don Cody and Evans’s manager, Helen Keane. While Ms. Keane was nominally credited as producer, it’s clear that it was Bennett and Evans who selected the tunes, worked out the arrangements semi-spontaneously, and picked the final takes to be used. The result of this session was The Tony Bennett Bill Evans album; Together Again followed a year later.