Our interview with NENETTE EVANS

Interview with Nenette Evans by Jan Stevens

While 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 Bill’s drug problems resurfaced, there was strain on the marriage, as his wife was quite concerned about Bill’s 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 wasn’t 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 present.

Bill and Nenette Evans. Copyright Nennette EvansNenette, 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.

It’s 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 own repertoire.

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 Pettinger’s (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 artist’s 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 that’s 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 on that?

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 Legrand?

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 US?

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.