Eliot Zigmund, American jazz drummer best known for being one-third of Bill Evans’ legendary Trio (as well as stints with Jim Hall, Chet Baker, Stan Getz and so many others), joins us this week on GITM. Zigmund describes auditioning for Bill Evans at the Village Vanguard in front of a live audience, the experience of gigging 5-6 nights per week and the art of playing with the incomparable Vince Guaraldi. Likening his role to that of a carpenter, Eliot shares thoughts on leaving space and adding color to the immortal Evans’ Trio performances.
This week we are also joined by jazz producer Nick Phillips!
Full Episode Transcription
Tom DeSavia [00:00:03] Hi, I'm your host, Tom DeSavia. Join me as I interview guests from music and entertainment from around the world about what they're up to right now. Stay tuned because we're gone in 30 minutes. Hey, everybody, and welcome to the latest episode of Gone In 30 Minutes. I'm your host Tom DeSavia and very, extremely humbled and honored today to have one of the great jazz musicians of this and last century spanning two centuries Eliot that's the great drummer, Mr. Eliot Zigmund, welcome Eliot, nice to have you join.
Eliot Zigmund [00:00:36] Thank you so much. Nice to see you again.
Tom DeSavia [00:00:39] And as my copilot, my co-host, The Wind Beneath My Wings, as they say, the man to make sure I don't fall flat on my face. A great, great, great jazz producer, Mr. Nick Phillips, who I might add has just compiled an upcoming boxset, Bill Evans boxset called Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans, which Mr. Zigmund is quite featured on. And that will be one of the things we'll be talking about today, but just to start things off as we discover more when we start the show. What are you up to right now, Eliot?
Eliot Zigmund [00:01:11] Oh, well, for the last year or so, I've been isolating. It's been a miserable period for live music for sure. Just recently, friends are getting vaccinated. I was vaccinated, so I've been playing a bit in the house. I've been doing a few little gigs here and there. Nothing to write home about. I guess the biggest thing is to be able to play in the house. Prior to the pandemic, I had lots of rehearsals here. I was leading my own band for a couple of years. We rehearse and just try to play at least three or four times a month, just sessions. I was saying before, there's a really fertile scene here in northern New Jersey, very close to Manhattan, Teaneck itself has always been known kind of as a jazz town. Sam Jones lived here and Nat Adderley, Milt Jackson lived here his whole life. Rufus Reid is here, Mike Richmond, lots of guys to call on. I can put a great session together just in my immediate neighborhood here. And so there's a lot of playing. I mean, the thing that makes this part of the country, this part of the world, unique among everything worldwide is the fact that people love to play and they don't equate music with money. And a lot of people of all ages are still interested in getting together and making music and exploring. So that's a wonderful thing. It's starting to open up a little bit, but honestly, I think my career has changed unalterably with this pandemic. I don't see myself getting on airplanes. I don't see myself doing the kind of touring I was doing pretty much until the pandemic hit. I was still going to Europe a lot each year, going to Japan, doing things that I was starting to question, you know, how much longer I can be doing this at my age. And the pandemic kind of said, well, I guess you're not going to be doing it much longer, don't worry. And it looks to me like it's going to affect life pretty drastically for at least the next couple of years. And I'm at that age where, you know, I'm ready to do things more, more locally and just even in my own house and feel content with that and do the occasional nice, nice concert, nice conditions, nice money, maybe a small tour somewhere once airplane travel solidifies a little bit, but I'm in no hurry to run out. I'm also a kidney transplant patient. So in spite of the fact that I was completely vaccinated, they still don't really know what my immune response is or anybody in my shoes, and there are thousands of us, millions of us probably in the country. And so I've got to be as cautious basically as I was prior to vaccination. So that's something to live with and something to deal with.
Tom DeSavia [00:04:15] Really quick on that and then I want to hand over to Nick, but it's funny, this has been a common theme on this show because it sort of came up as let's talk to people while covid is going on, and one of the, you know, silver linings, as it were, from this thing, is that it seems to be bringing back regionalism. Something that's been sort of wiped out by Starbucks culture. The idea of, you know, a local music scene and something really significant or, you know, a bunch of players getting together to play regularly, I mean, do you see that as a positive that could come out of this? Is that you'll be maybe playing more frequently? You said you come from a you know, the well sounds good there. Doesn't sound like you're going to wants to find people to play with.
Eliot Zigmund [00:04:56] Yeah, there's no problem with that whatsoever. And yeah. I mean, looking forward, I really I'm into it, you know, it seems to me a much more logical way to proceed at this point. And for me at this point in my career, as opposed to when I was younger and really hot, to be out there and get as much exposure and play with people that I've never played with, I'm fine with with a more mellow approach to it. And just, there are so many great unknown musicians of this world. And with all that's going on in college education there's just more every year. These young guys just get better and better with the educational tools and the people that are teaching them are giants, you know, and it is just, you know, if anything, the problems, on the other end, that there is no market to accommodate these guys. And what are they going to do as they get older with this current live music situation and the fact that there just isn't enough work, you know. So they all they all have their solutions. Everybody's got a way of getting by. Musicians are very resilient and very creative. But it's not like it was when I was a kid, unfortunately. But to answer your question directly, yes, I look forward to an active scene here whether I can travel around the block or around the world. Scott Robinson lives a couple of doors down for me. He always stops in when there's a session. There's just guys like that all over town, not to speak of the guys in Manhattan, of course, the George Washington Bridge.
Tom DeSavia [00:06:32] I think it's healthy for the next generation to wake up and have consistent music around them as opposed to consistent music being thrown all throughout the world. It's having it be in your neighborhood, having to sort of seep into the culture, which I think it has for years and years, and sort of stopped when technology took over. And I understand it. And I think now we're sort of, you know, going back a little bit to just feeding our soul in a different way. And I think that's going to be one of the benefits of this thing.
Eliot Zigmund [00:07:05] Definitely. Definitely. Yeah. I mean, the big equation is, are people going to have enough money to survive, to be able to practice, to be able to practice their art. And that's really a concern among a lot of young kids who are learning how are we going to make a living, especially now. And fortunately, I'm at that point in my life where I don't have to worry about that like I did when I was in my, you know, raising my kids, and up there, schlepping around with drums everywhere I could make a dime. Somehow I survived that.
Nick Phillips [00:07:38] Well, speaking about schlepping drums here for a second. So, you know, do you remember the first time you played with Bill Evans and what was that like?
Eliot Zigmund [00:07:49] Oh yeah. I probably remember that clearer than stuff that came after to me so striking. Well, to show you how things have changed back then, Bill would basically hold open auditions at the Village Vanguard. And he had a week of auditions and he basically spent the week auditioning drummers. I was one of those drummers I arranged with Helen Keane, his manager, to get a set. And coincidentally, I was working a trio gig for months at that point. So my trio chops were in pretty good shape. It was kind of like a commercial jazz group that would expand to a show band on the weekends. But basically it was piano, bass and drums at least five nights a week and we played a lot of jazz tunes. Jazz was still part of the so-called pop repertoire. And so I went from the Purger Room that night. I remember I played the first set there. I borrowed the other drummers sizzle cymbal because in my mind I remembered the early records with Bill, where the sizzle cymbal was just kind of swishing away in the background and made my way down to the Village Vanguard. Being a lefty, I had to turn the drums around, which is always a total, total embarrassment and play not that comfortably because the small tom is on the other side of the set, where it's not supposed. It's supposed to be right front of me. But I think because I was playing every night and because I kind of knew Eddie and Marty and I didn't know Bill, but I had followed these guys and I think I was fairly comfortable and I fit right into the trio. And I had a very good feeling about the set. And Bill, let me play the whole set and came over to me after and said, yeah, I really dug it. I'll probably give you a call, you know, and he was very brief, very not unfriendly, but very noncommittal as well, and I couldn't sleep basically for 48 hours until he finally called. I mean, you got to understand back then getting a gig like that with somebody was the difference between night and day, between being in the basement and being on the 100th floor of a skyscraper. You know, it was just, it was magic, you know, and so when he called, I was just, you know, I was knocked down. So when you ask me do I remember, God, do I remember that day, you know, as opposed to once I joined the trio, I mean, things just blur together, playing so much in so many different places.
Nick Phillips [00:10:38] So this was, you said it was an audition at the Village Vanguard, but it was an audition in front of a live audience?
Eliot Zigmund [00:10:45] Oh, yeah, you played in front of a live audience and there might be two or three guys that auditioned before you. Depends on what set it was. Back then they did three sets a night and probably it was the third set because I had already done half the gig at the Purger Room. So I think that night Ed Soph had auditioned and I forget who else, but I mean, everybody was auditioning that week. Bill Goodwin, other cats and, you know, I was very lucky. I was very lucky in the sense that I had done a lot of trio playing on that Purger Room gig. Also with Vince Guaraldi. I lived in California for four years just prior to that period, and worked with Vince pretty extensively. Another great learning lesson and a way to develop my trio chops. So I had a lot of experience and I was relaxed enough that night to kind of give it my best shot as opposed to being uptight and nervous and kind of blowing it, you know. And I was very lucky. You know, I think back to some of the recordings we've done. You know, You Must Believe In Spring comes to mind. I was just talking to somebody about that last week because that's being reissued. And that was a case where, you know, through hook and crook and luck. We got the trio at its best, you know, and it was a very good trio with lots of good performance, but a lot of times you go into the studio, there's no audience, there's no feedback. And you may get a good thing. You may get a mediocre thing. And that was one of the few albums I did where I walked away thinking we really caught the trio at its best on this album, you know, and it's lucky when it happens. And it was lucky for me that night that I was relaxed enough to give Bill my best shot, you know?
Nick Phillips [00:12:32] Yeah, well, that's an all-time classic. Bill Evans Trio album is one of the great ones.
Eliot Zigmund [00:12:36] Yeah. Yeah.
Nick Phillips [00:12:37] Did you guys ever rehearse? Obviously, you had no rehearsal when you did the audition, but did you actually rehearse or was it more about developing the repertoire over night after night on the road.
Eliot Zigmund [00:12:50] Yeah, it was the latter. We never rehearsed. I mean occasionally, for a record date, we go in a couple hours earlier, run the tunes in the studio, but I think once in my whole period with Bill did we go out his place in New Jersey and have a rehearsal, but I can't even remember what it was for, might have been for a record as well. But generally, we didn't, no. Bill, I think assumed by that point in his career that whoever he hired had pretty extensive knowledge of his repertoire. And if he hired you, he was happy with what you would bring to the band and yeah we'd just develop. He had a very, very consistent first and second set. So if it was a concert, you pretty much knew they were going to be 10 to 15 tunes that you played a lot. So by the second month with the band, you kind of knew what was happening. If it was a club, maybe the first and half of the second set were pretty set. And they've got most exciting and clubs on the second and third sets when he starts pulling out things that you knew from records but you never played with him, and that was like a dream come true. I can't I mean, you know, it was like, you know, the introduction to autumn leaves or something, you know, like, wow, you know, here I am playing with Bill Evans and so the clubs were really exciting. And the great thing about that period was we still got amazing opportunities to play in clubs most of the time. So you'd go on a road not for two days or three gigs or one week. You go on the road for six weeks, you know, in four and a half of those weeks was playing five, six nights a week in a club. So it was just, you know, nothing to compare it to. The music became completely conversational, and after a minute, we weren't playing music anymore, we just kind of bullshitting each other on the band stand. I mean, significant bullshit. But you know what I'm saying? You know.
Tom DeSavia [00:14:55] Define significant bullshit. You were talking earlier about being relaxed for the audition. Were you just naturally a chill cat? I mean, how were you relaxed? Like you knew you were facing a life changing moment there?
Eliot Zigmund [00:15:15] I don't know how I was relaxed, to be honest with you, other than the fact that I had played that night already. I don't know. I mean, the other thing is The Vanguard is such an ideal place to play with a trio. I had never worked at The Vanguard up until that point. And so it was just very, very comfortable. Eddie was very supportive, smiling at me, kind of giving me a nod. "Yeah, you know, you're cool, man." And it just felt good, you know. Yeah. I mean, I'm pretty chill, you know. I mean, I may be anxious inside, but I don't always show it, you know, I guess my exterior is pretty chill. But yeah, I was definitely excited, but I wasn't so excited where I blew it, you know, and that's happened to me. I know what that feels like to be uptight, to be nervous, to not be able to do your best, you know. So fortunately, like I said, you know, I really think the gods were smiling down on me. That whole period of my life actually was wonderful. You know, I got plucked, I mean, I also should preface this by saying in New York, at that point, it was much more an all around freelance thing. So tonight I might play jazz. Tomorrow night I'd be playing some club date out in Brooklyn for Hasidic people. The next night, I might be backing a singer somewhere. So although I love playing jazz and that was my main thrust, I didn't necessarily see myself becoming a jazz musician. I did a fair amount of studio work at that time. And I think if any of those things had opened up an opportunity to me, similar to playing with Bill, I might have I might have ended up going in that direction. A lot of my friends at that time became really hot shot studio drummers, moved to the West Coast, whatever, you know, and, it just, jazz was smiling on me in a way, and I, you know, I love jazz. I mean, certainly it was probably my my favorite way to go if I had a choice. But at that point, I was open to whatever I could do to have a relatively middle-class life and still be able to be a player.
Nick Phillips [00:17:24] You played and toured and recorded with Bill Evans, you know, starting from about '75 to around '78, a few years. What was your sense of your role in that trio? I mean, you listen to the great Bill Evans trios throughout the years, including the one with you and Eddie, and they all sound different, but there's also that conversational style. And how do you feel that you fit into that trio in particular that with Eddie playing bass and Bill?
Eliot Zigmund [00:17:53] I think I was very influenced by the early trios and I was also influenced by, I guess Live at Montreux with Jack DeJohnette and Eddie, so from my standpoint that influenced me, but I also I love the way Paul played. I love the way he played time. I love the way he left space. And I think at that point, I was very interested in leaving a lot of space. Jackie DeJohnette, not necessarily laying down real heavy swing beats. So I think those were the things that were on my mind, to add color to the trio, to leave a bunch of space and also to slow it down a little bit. I noticed with Marty and Eddie over the years, it got kind of rushed. It felt like the band was rushed. It didn't feel like Bill was always relaxed. And I feel there's a lot of space in my ride between the beats. And somehow when Eddie and I hooked up, I think it allowed Bill to just breathe a little freer and to maybe take his time. I think the tempo slowed down a little bit. And they didn't get, the didn't, we weren't speeding that same way. I mean, occasionally on an up tempo, we could gather some steam. But still, the tempo has remained pretty near to where they started. And Bill felt relaxed. I mean, I really wanted my whole feeling in the trio is this: I want everybody to feel comfortable and relaxed. And I have no trouble being the subservient guy. I have no trouble carrying water for Bill Evans or Michel Petrucciani or Vince Guaraldi or any of these guys, that's that's what I love about being a drummer. I'm the guy underneath that helps that I see being a drummer kind of a little bit as being a carpenter. You know, you put up that bare frame and then you let the bass player and the piano player put the sheet rock on, hang the pictures, do whatever they're going to do, paint the molding. But I want that foundation to be secure. You know, I want these guys to feel comfortable. You can walk over there. You're not going to fall through the floor, you know, and I think it worked, you know, and I get a lot of feedback about it. You know, people sort of heard that trio as somewhat of a return to the past. I dug that aspect of it because it was a little more modern too, like I said, Jack was a really, really big influence on me. The way he got colors out of the drum set.
Tom DeSavia [00:20:30] I'd be remised if I didn't ask because for many of us, especially many from my generation, our introduction to jazz came really in two ways, it was, you know, from the great standard singers that were still doing TV, obviously, it'd sort of seep in and you'd come to understand, oh, that jazz, I guess. But how jazz really came into my life was through Mr. Guaraldi. Through Charlie Brown.
Eliot Zigmund [00:20:54] Ah, okay.
Tom DeSavia [00:20:56] Charlie Brown. It was like, if it was cool enough for Peanuts, it was cool enough for us. And that was when you could really you really got the sense that this is jazz. What was it like? How did you two meet up? And was that as playful and joyful of an experience as I want it to be? And if it wasn't, please, lie.
Eliot Zigmund [00:21:12] No, I loved playing with Vince Guaraldi. Vince Guaraldi was one of the all time great swingers man, he just swung his butt off. You know, he'd sit down. I mean, we played these clubs like Basin Street East or Basin Street West. He always had a nice gig on the strip there, whatever it was called, what is it called in San Francisco? I forget the main strip where the jazz clubs are.
Nick Phillips [00:21:34] Broadway.
Eliot Zigmund [00:21:34] OK. And he always had a nice concert somewhere that we drive to and one of the suburban cities or, you know, out a little bit of a distance and it was just fun. And I actually got to meet Charles Schulz. I did one of the Peanuts TV shows, it was a great experience. And I just I loved working with Vince. I was really broke up to hear when he passed, you know, and he was a really sweet guy, that took good care of his musicians and loved to swing. I mean, if I had to describe him in three words, that would be it you know, he was a real swinger and real fun to swing with. No issues about tempo and speeding. You know, really loved to swing.
Tom DeSavia [00:22:24] And did you realize at the time, like, we're reaching, we're spawning a whole generation of jazz musicians, through these cartoons, because it was the consistent. It didn't matter if the voices changed. It didn't matter if the actors change. But, you know,
Eliot Zigmund [00:22:40] well, I'm not sure if I was if I was aware of that. But I mean, he certainly got a good response wherever we went, you know, I mean, I moved to California as a hippie, more as a hippie than as a jazz musician. We moved to Sonoma County for two years. We completely dropped out and then finally needed to come back to reality, came down to San Francisco. So working with Vince at that point was like, I don't know, it was an elevation akin to working with Bill in New York, you know, I mean, I was just kind of, you know, grubbing along out there again. I had no idea what direction I was going. And, you know, there was so much social stuff going on back then. And jazz was part of it for me. But for the vast majority of people I knew, nobody was relating to jazz. It was all The Grateful Dead or whatever, Janis Joplin, I even did some rock playing out there. But, you know, jazz was my love at that point. Vince Guaraldi might knock. Ron McClure was out there. I did a lot of playing with Steve Swallow out there. Art Lande was out there. I played with him a lot. It was a very fruitful period. And also I left New York with my young wife and we had a baby out in California. New York seemed overly oppressive at that point. I didn't feel like I could break through in New York. There were just so many great musicians here and so many people who so, so, so, so serious about the music. I felt like I just needed a change of pace and California would really, really help. You know, it's a good place to be at that time. So when I moved down to San Francisco, I was kind of like a big fish in a small pond, you know, somebody that knows something about bebop you know. It was interesting.
Nick Phillips [00:24:22] What made you move back to New York after finding your California self?
Eliot Zigmund [00:24:25] I moved back to New York in late '74, right before I joined Bill's band. My wife at the time wanted to go back to school on the East Coast. I wouldn't have moved. I would have stayed out there and probably made a career out there. But she really wanted to come back. New York when I was living in California seemed tremendously ominous, like a big, big, dark cloud from the East Coast. But, you know, sure enough, we came out, we settled in Park Slope. Life was cheap at that point. You could have an alternative lifestyle without somebody in the corporate world and survive. I remember living in Brooklyn and driving to Great Gorge, New Jersey, to make forty eight dollars at the Playboy Club, and it was actually worth my while to do it. So that gives you an idea of where rents and salaries were. I mean, my my rent on the first apartment in Park Slope was eighty five dollars a month, you know, like a sixth floor through. It probably rents now for three grand, you know. So you could have a life back then without worrying about fiscal disaster. Again, for young musicians now, fortunately, those times are gone, you know.
Nick Phillips [00:25:40] Circling back to the Everybody Still Digs Bill Evans box set, in which you're very well represented because the entire disc number five is a previously unreleased live performance of the trio you were in with Bill. Do you remember anything about that night, or that year?
Eliot Zigmund [00:26:02] You know, I've listened to that before, but refresh me. Where, where was that done? Oil Can Harry's OK. Yeah, Vancouver. I remember the gig because it was a wild place. I don't remember the music. I mean I remember the gig in the sense that I remember the physical aspects of the club, but I don't remember anything that happened and I'm sure none of us were aware it was being recorded. It's a miracle that it surfaced and that through the good graces of you and Concord, we got paid! Because let me tell you, man, I'm on a lot of European bootlegs that I've never seen a dime for, and every two years, they come out on a different company's label and it's amazing.
Nick Phillips [00:26:50] Concord and Craft Recordings definitely give the musicians the respect they deserve.
Eliot Zigmund [00:26:55] Yes, yes, yes.
Tom DeSavia [00:26:57] And the box set looks beautiful.
Eliot Zigmund [00:27:00] Yes! I have it. I have it. I just haven't gotten around to put that one on the, but I've heard it previously somewhere, you know, so but I will listen to it.
Nick Phillips [00:27:12] Yeah, it was originally recorded for a radio broadcast.
Eliot Zigmund [00:27:16] Oh, okay.
Nick Phillips [00:27:16] So you and the audience members heard the performances that night and then whoever listened to that broadcast. But then after that the tapes were archived and now it's going to be heard for the first time by everyone else who's interested.
Eliot Zigmund [00:27:31] That's wonderful? Yeah, great. I'm looking forward to it.
Tom DeSavia [00:27:37] I can't believe it. But as we predicted, this was going to go really fast and we're nearly out of time. That's why I said it's part one of twenty seven. I have so many, I'm glad I got my Guaraldi question in there. That's been tugging at me. Before we say our goodbyes though, just for our audience that still is tethered a bit to home, wondering if you have any recommendations. What we should be reading, listening to, watching, looking at, eating?
Eliot Zigmund [00:28:10] I don't know. I mean, I don't listen to anything specifically, I fall in and out with a particular classical piece. Like that I'll stick with for a month listening to, I'm really into Bach choral music, Mozart's choral music. I love Mahler. I'll stick with a symphony of his. Anything that turns me on. There's some great radio stations in New York, too, WKCR and WQXR. And so, I mean, a lot of times I'll just turn on the radio, one of their jazz shows and Phil Schaap is on that archive on that station. In terms of reading, I read whatever I can get my hands on. Right now I'm in the process of reading John Updike's and the whole Rabbit series. I got fascinated by that. That's a four book series. So I've been really involved with that. It's fascinating. And what happens to me at this age when I'm not that active, especially with the pandemic, is I start to feel like the characters in the book are somehow the stories or the feelings sift through me. So I end up dreaming about them, fantasizing about them, feeling a lot of the times the way they feel in their books, you know. So that's really interesting too. And you know, I watch my share of Netflix and Prime Video. I mean, we're hotly involved in watching Borgen now. I don't know if you guys watch that on Prime Video. So, yeah, I mean, we enjoy that stuff at night, my wife and I. You know, I mean, listen man, I'm half way on my way to being an old fogy. You know, what can I tell you? I've got three grandkids and, you know.
Tom DeSavia [00:29:50] I can't wait to get to Jersey to see you play. So that's going to be one of the things, and I can come up and say, we did a podcast, remember me? remember me?
Eliot Zigmund [00:29:58] Yeah, I hope you get out here man. Yeah. And by the time you do, hopefully there will be shows happening. I actually have something at the Jazz Forum next month with Mark Martinelli's new place in Westchester. So, yeah, you know, I'm hoping things get a little bit more back to normal this year.
Tom DeSavia [00:30:17] Well music is going to help us get there, my friend, as it always does.
Eliot Zigmund [00:30:19] Yes, I'm sure.
Tom DeSavia [00:30:22] Mr. Zigmund, Mr. Phillips, thank you both for taking the time.
Eliot Zigmund [00:30:27] Oh, thank you.
Tom DeSavia [00:30:27] This was really fun. And everybody. That's it. We're gone in 30 minutes. We'll see you next time, say goodbye gentlemen.
Eliot Zigmund [00:30:34] Great to see you guys. Thank you so much. Goodbye.
Tom DeSavia [00:30:37] Thank you everybody, bye.
Tom DeSavia [00:30:38] This show was presented by Craft Recordings. Thanks for joining us for Gone in 30 Minutes. Produced by Laura Saez. I'm your host Tom, and we'll catch you next time.