“It was late in the evening, after dinner and Debby, before Harry got a chance to open the paper.”
OWEN Martel told me that Dylan was probably not the greatest Welsh writer called Thomas, but only the second, or perhaps third best after…Wikipedia lists seven notable literary Thomases….
In the same way Bill may not be the best known Evans to surface in America, Wikipedia lists more than 50 pages to choose from. Ostensibly this is the story of the jazzman’s traumatic silence after the death in a car crash of his bassist Scott LaFaro. Equally it could be the story of Welsh expatriates like Bill’s father, Harry snr who might, after a few glasses of whisky, mention that it was a pity Wales did not follow the Irish secession from Britain in 1916. Instead he and many other families headed to New York…
Some background: Bill Evans was the pianist for Miles Davis. He formed his own trio which recorded one of the seminal jazz albums Sunday at the Village Vanguard. Days after, the double bassist Scott Lafaro died in a car crash. Evans went into shock and called a hiatus which is the story, or parenthesis in his life, of this book.
One mark of a good writer is that he/she can write about anything, so “the meeting of eyes had something zoological about it, a scoping out of caged beasts”.
The story is told from the perspective of each of the Evans family who dance obliquely around Bill’s silences, careful not to upset him like he is a prized piece of fragile family porcelain…a trip to the golf course becomes an event, a small triumph. The only person he really responds to is his niece Debby, for whom another album from the sessions Waltz for Debby was taken. The little girl tends him with imaginary lemonade and efficient kindness.
The piano is also a part of this story. “The white keys, exposed again to the lamplight, are oysterous, the black lace with silver where his fingers, for all their apparent glide, have left snail-trail deposits”. And so is summer in New York. “The heat hit him like waves, yielding the day’s accumulation slowly, like a poisoner dosing his victims”.
It is also a story about a blank, nothing happening, faithfully, nothing happens, although Evans real life was not short of dramas like heroin addictions, running off with a young waitress, and older brother and narrator here Harry’s ultimate schizophrenia and suicide.
Martell waves a flag for jazz and for Welsh writing.
Btw: StuffAboutNames.com tells me there are 75 other Owens listed as writers, but only four other Martells and while we are on the etymological, Windmill is an imprint of the galactic Random House, dedicated among other things to exceptional new talent. Good tilt, boys and girls.