Building A Jazz Library Part 2

Bill Evans at Riverside Records and Verve

By Dennis Davis


In Part One of this series, I concentrated on Coltrane’s Atlantic recordings and while Trane might not seem like the most obvious starting point for a jazz library, it wasn’t a random choice. Even those who don’t count themselves jazz fans, more than likely own at least one Coltrane recording – Kind Of Blue. Although headlined by Miles Davis, KOB features a stellar line-up that brought together several of the most important and influential artists of that era. Coltrane’s tenor sax might represent a leap into the deep end, but this time around, another KOB titan, pianist Bill Evans, will take center stage.

Evans released almost 80 albums during his short 51 years, and more releases followed his death. Building a library, however, means something more refined than simply running together a collection of everything an artist recorded, although many of us find ourselves slipping into that groove now and again. Before the internet changed the way records are marketed, marginalizing the neighborhood record store as a source of anything that can be sold on eBay, you could assemble such a collection at little cost and great enjoyment. Today, except for the occasional lucky “score,” newly minted re-issues are more often the best bet to building a library of classic titles. With shortages caused by the Pandemic and other factors, timing is everything when it comes to filling a gap in your collection. Re-issues of desirable titles are scarce after the initial run, which quickly sells out. Wait a few years and those newly minted re-issues become high priced collectable. Now, building a library more often means collecting some of the best work by an artist as those titles come up for release.

Evans’ best-known records, and the place any collector starts, are Sunday At the Village Vanguard (SAVV) and Waltz For Debby. These two classics come from Evans’ years as a Riverside Records artist (1957 through 1962). Both albums derive from live recordings at the Vanguard on June 25, 1961 and feature the last performances of the trio with bassist Scott LaFaro, who died shortly thereafter. The original plan for the sessions was to create a single album release (SAVV), but when LaFaro died, Riverside compiled a second album and released it as Waltz For Debby. Widely considered among the best work Evans ever recorded, and among the best sounding, originals are rare and expensive. Whether you are spending Euros, Pounds, or Dollars, expect to part with several hundreds of them for a playable original pressing.

Analogue Productions has offered several excellent re-issues of Waltz For Debby over the years. Kevin Gray and Steve Hoffman mastered a two record 45 RPM set and Doug Sax mastered a 33 RPM version. However, those limited-edition platters sold out long ago. The 45 RPM version is technically “available” as a 22-disc 45 RPM box set of all the Riverside titles. The word available is in quotes, because, like many reissues these days, the box set has been in backorder status for quite some time while supply chain issues hold up some of the record covers needed for completion of the set. Chad Kassem of Analogue Productions assures us that the set will soon be available.