Interview with Nenette Evans by Jan Stevens
working with his trio at a club in Redondo Beach, California in 1973,
Bill Evans met one Nenette Zazarra. At the time, he had still been living
with his long time partner Ellaine in New York, but was deeply taken
by the beautiful and younger Nenette and the two fell in love. They
were married August 5, 1973 at a Lutheran Church in Manhattan and after
some time in Riverdale in NYC, later bought a home in suburban Closter,
NJ (where this author -- an ardent Evans fan living in that town at
the time -- first met them in 1978). a short ride from New York City.
In 1975, Nenette gave birth to a son, Evan, now a successful film composer
living on the west coast. He and his wife, also a composer, recently
became the parents of a new baby boy.
A few years later, after Bills drug problems resurfaced, there
was strain on the marriage, as his wife was quite concerned about Bills
continuing cocaine use and its effect on their children (Nenette also
had her daughter Maxine from a previous marriage). Bill rented an apartment
in nearby Fort Lee, NJ and Nenette moved to the New Haven, Connecticut
area. When Bill wasnt traveling the globe however, they continued
to spend much time together and with the children in both places. They
remained very close until the very end.
Nenette now lives in California and administers The Bill Evans Estate.
She was gracious enough to contact THE BILL EVANS WEBPAGES, and after
a series of conversation, and in the interest of preserving the musical
legacy of the great pianist, agreed to an interview, which we now proudly
when Bill was around the house, did you hear him practice a lot? And
if so, was it any classical stuff? Or jazz improvisational stuff,
reading through tunes,.etc. And did you hear him working on anything
he was writing that later became one of his originals that got recorded?
NE: Yes, Bill did play piano at home. He would call me ahead and
tell me to have the piano tuned, so that it was ready when he walked
through the door. Sometimes he never touched the piano, but it was
knowing that he could and might that concerned him. When he played
at home, it was primarily classical. Several times he and Warren [Bernhardt]
played four- handed pieces. Bill had a vast amount of sheet music,
some he would look at, others not. I rarely, if ever, heard him play
jazz at home.
Its rather well known that Bill was possessed of a great wit,
and a very dry sense of humor. What can you tell us about that?
NE: I don't know why this comes as a surprise that Bill was humorous
or that he loved humor. He had a good mind for it and remembered jokes
and adages. He could be sarcastic or down and dirty. He loved Richard
Pryor and Steve Martin to name a few. He was a huge fan of stand up
comedy. The only other person I'd ever known to have such a great
sense of humor was my grandfather, Ed Peterson, who was a New Yorker
and who, by the way, had a jazz combo way back when.
When Bill was home and not on the road, did you and he like to
go out and hear music anywhere? Did you go to any jazz clubs, or other
music venues? Or did you mostly stay at home? Do you know if he had
any favorite TV shows or other entertainment? .
NE: Yes, Bill loved sports on TV primarily. Also, he watched Johnny
Carson and late night TV since that's when he was able to watch it.
Bill and I never went to hear other artists that I recall. While traveling,
if he was in the mood, he might have a listen at a festival, or should
I say that he overheard music at a festival. So that would probably
be a no. We went to movies primarily. He took [his stepdaughter] Maxine
and her friends to Broadway shows.
Did you and he ever talk to you about rock and pop music? Was there
any non-jazz musicians or current pop songs or songwriters of that
time that he might have enjoyed?
NE: Yes, he hated rock, period. He enjoyed Broadway shows and certain
pop songs that he might be able to incorporate or expand upon in his
Were you still in close touch with him right before he passed on?
How aware were you that he was very sick once he returned to NJ from
San Francisco in September 1980? Did you get a chance to talk with
him or see him at all around that time?
NE: Yes, we spoke almost daily when possible or through the manager
[Helen Keane]. Bill's health had been deteriorating for some time
and had a prescription for chest pains which was pneumonia. He had
visited several emergency rooms on the road at that time but was unable
to get proper care for whatever reason. Unfortunately, he was not
in control of his health and perhaps was misdiagnosed or under- reported
his symptoms. We were extremely concerned, but an addict has certain
fears. Anyhow, these were a few of the contributing factors. Bill
and I were always in communication.
Knowing Bill as well as you did, what are YOUR thoughts on Pettingers
(and others) idea that Bill, in the later 70s, was almost committing
sort of a slow-motion suicide and that he knew he was
not going to be around much longer? Do you know if he was possibly
averse to getting medical treatment towards the end, when it seemed
that he was not at all well?
NE: Of course, when one is killing oneself for decades with one
drug or another, death is an ever-present possibility. He was self-medicating
for decades. There were peaks and valleys with the drug abuse but
in many instances he surrounded himself with the wrong people. He
also had a dangerous philosophy about drugs. He denied that drugs
had certain moral implications, even around children. He should have
been hospitalized for drug dependency many times, but he was unable
to look at the causes and when he did seek help in that direction,
it was too ineffectual and his illness was too severe. Each episode
chipped away at his luck.
Nenette, maybe you can address the issue some people (not me)
have with releasing artists recordings that they might not have
wanted released in their lifetime. There have been some who have said
Bill would never have let a lot of material thats out there
to be released. I think that these recordings are important to his
legacy, and to jazz history, since he was such a consistently high-quality
artist anyway, and was rarely if ever, not in top form. Your opinions
NE: My feeling is that these rare recordings are instructive, fresh
and very important. I think Evan is doing a great job. He is working
with some folks who were especially close to Bill. Connie Atkinson
and Earl Zindars, [both long-time friends of Bill's] for example,
have been very supportive to Evan's projects. Of course, Bill would
never have let any work out at all if he wasn't compelled to support
a career. However, I enjoy listening to it all and I know sincere
listeners do too. Everyone is entitled to their opinion..
Did Bill ever speak to you about his ideas for upcoming recordings?
And if so, shortly before he died, is it true that he was talking
about doing a project with Oscar Peterson? And maybe one with Michel
NE: I'm not sure about any of these supposed plans.
Might you know what his favorite place to play was in Europe or elsewhere?
Considering the almost reverential treatment he got from European
audiences, was he more happy to play there, rather than here in the
NE: I would say that he believed that there were many wonderful
venues all over the world. I think above all he loved the Japanese
audiences. Whenever a great piano was provided, he was normally ecstatic.
Since Bill Evans had a such an amazing life in the so-called golden
period of jazz of the 50s and 60s, and worked with so many jazz
legends, do you know if he ever planned on writing a memoir of any
kind? Or passing on any of he would some day be thought of as a jazz
legend, which he now is?
NE: Actually the only memoir he ever considered was with poet Bill
Zavatsky. [Zavatsky wrote the "Elegy" that appears on the
album "You Must believe In Spring" on Warner Bros.]
Thanks Nenette, we really appreciate it.
NE: My pleasure, thanks.
© 2001 The Bill Evans
Estate. Used by exclusive permission. All rights reserved.
The above Photograph © 2001 Nenette Evans.
Used by permission. All rights reserved.