Q&A: Eliot Zigmund
I feel fortunate to be old enough to have grown up in a time where listening to the radio and buying albums was one of the activities you looked forward to. Each week my friends and I ventured into San Francisco and hit the Tower Records store on Columbus and Bay Street with hopes of buying a hot new record…or cassette or 8 track…whichever we could afford. We combed through the new release shelves, which were front and center, then checked out our favorite artists’ albums and finally, went through the discounted cut-out bins (remember those?). One such Saturday, I stumbled upon a cut-out priced Bill Evans Trio cassette tape entitled You Must Believe in Spring. Although I didn’t make a habit of buying cassettes, I did purchase this tape because it was a new release that I had heard a lot on the radio. It was also the first Bill Evans Trio album released after the pianist’s death and featured bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Eliot Zigmund … and it was only $3.99.
You Must Believe in Spring turned out to be a keeper and one of my all-time favorite Bill Evans Trio albums and one that I still return to for enjoyment and inspiration. It always works. I recently played the album after not having heard it for some time, and it again just floored me. What an amazing work and what a brilliant trio. I thought it would be cool to explore this album in a greater context and interview one of the remaining trio members and see if this session was as special to him as it was to me and hopefully you. So I reached out to the great drummer Eliot Zigmund who graciously agreed to discuss this work as well as his distinct approach to jazz drumming. Enjoy this behind the scenes look at one of the greatest trios and recordings in jazz history.
Tell us about your approach to drumming?
Eliot Zigmund (EZ): My approach to the drum set from day one was to play with whatever was going on around me and find ways to play. I always had a real good light touch from the beginning. I learned to play brushes very early and intensely when I first started playing because I only had a snare drum and then a snare drum and a hi-hat. For long periods at a time I only worked with a snare drum and hi-hat and then a bass drum and then finally a ride cymbal and eventually a couple of toms. My parents bought me my drum set one piece at a time. My technique was secondary and I never thought of myself as a virtuoso drummer. I always saw myself as part of the team. As a supportive player, I tried to be as expressive as possible. I’ve felt my role as a drummer was as a team player to enhance, any way possible, what was going on around me. The difference in a trio and a bigger group is the communication between the players because they don’t have to function as just a rhythm section. The relationship becomes a little more intimate. There’s things that can be assumed or omitted and there’s greater potential for abstraction.
How did you approach drumming with Bill’s trio?
EZ: I was very influenced by the music that was going on around me particularly Tony Williams and Jack DeJohnette. There was basically a revolution in drumming going on at that point. I really liked the way Jack had played with Bill. He was very abstract, used colors a lot. So I was thinking that way musically at that time and tried to bring a lot of color and expressiveness. I was just trying to give Bill and Eddie what I thought worked in that context.
Tell us about the session for You Must Believe in Spring (1977)?
EZ: It was a very positive session and that is a great record. We had a lot of great performances with that band. When the band was happening and the acoustics and conditions were right, that band played well a lot of the time. We were just very lucky to capture one of those performances on record because a lot of times that magic may or may not happen to that degree on a record. You’re kind of lucky when it does. There’s actually a bootleg from that period in Europe of a live concert (Bill Evans- In His Own Way) where the band plays great and in a little bit of a looser fashion but with the same types of nuances but with a little more swing because it was a live performance . I think we had a very high level when it was happening and it was also compared a lot to Bill’s first trio.
Is there a specific track that holds a special meaning to you?
EZ: The whole record is special but I didn’t like that Warner Bros. added those three extra tracks when they reissued the album (“Without A Song,” “Freddie Freeloader,” “All of You”). That was a complete mistake and Bill definitely didn’t want them on the record. One of the great things about the record was Tommy LiPuma was a great producer and he really had an ear to what was happening. We never played most of that music before so it was really fresh but yet we knew how to play together really well and we were excited to record. The album is unique and there are moments in all of it. It’s just one of those records that almost sounds composed in a way. The whole thing is kind of a suite and that really gets me. We also got lucky because the trio played great and you don’t always capture that in the studio. If it’s not the right vibe, the right piano, the right producer… there are so many elements that go into it. Everything was just right for this recording and everybody was feeling pretty good.
Tell us about the chemistry between you and Eddie Gomez?
EZ: We really dug playing together. We did have something special and we were a good match at that point. He had a certain unique way of playing and I was trying to accommodate him too. Eddie and Bill were big stars in my eyes and people I had been listening to for years and I certainly felt like the low man on the totem pole in that band.
Can you share your reflections of Bill?
I see Bill as a 20th century equivalent to Mozart. He had that kind of genius and that kind of ear, that kind of ability to sit at the piano for 40 minutes and make an incredible arrangement of a standard tune that would stick in your mind for the next 40 years! He had that kind of talent and it was incredible. And the older I get the more aware I am of it. My fondest hope would be to go back now and play with Bill Evans and really give him what I think he was looking for and I am frustrated that I can’t. I feel now that I understand much more of what he was looking for in a drummer and what he was trying to achieve and I think I could do these things now that would help him more than I did back then.
Bonus question: Tell us about your drum set up for the recording?
EZ: The ride cymbal was an old cracked K-Zildjian that I had in my collection and it wasn’t my regular cymbal but somehow I had it with me in Los Angeles. I may have brought it as an alternative in the studio but it ended up sounding really good. It was 20-inch pretty light and cracked almost like a cymbal you’d dump in the basement and forget about it. I think I was with Paiste at that point so the hi-hats and crash cymbal were probably Paiste. I had a set of Sonor drums and an endorsement with Sonor at that point. I mean it is actually amazing that I use to travel with my own drums. Can you imagine bringing your own drums to a record date in California?