From early on, Macalester-Groveland pianist Larry McDonough and Highland Park guitarist Joel Shapira were captivated by the music of Bill Evans and Jim Hall. Pianist Evans and guitarist Hall collaborated on two jazz albums of note, “Undercurrent” in 1962 and “Intermodulation” in 1966.

McDonough and Shapira honor those recordings with their new CD, “Intermodulating Undercurrents Live at the Kos: The Music of Bill Evans and Jim Hall.”

Shapira and McDonough
Joel Shapira (left) and Larry McDonough play a number from the songbook of Bill Evans and Jim Hall. Photo by Christine Wisch

The CD was recorded at an outdoor concert last October in Minneapolis. McDonough and Shapira will perform selections from that CD during a Bill Evans Birthday Bash at 7 p.m. Monday, August 15, at the Dakota, 1010 Nicollet Mall in Minneapolis. They will be joined in concert by the Larry McDonough Quintet.

“The music (of Evans and Hall) is historically valuable,” McDonough said. “Both of these guys are building blocks of the evolution of jazz. And when you listen to this music—because it’s quieter and not bombastic—you can focus in on it. It’s a real opportunity to get inside the music.”

   

“The music (of Evans and Hall) is historically valuable,” McDonough said. “Both of these guys are building blocks of the evolution of jazz. And when you listen to this music—because it’s quieter and not bombastic—you can focus in on it. It’s a real opportunity to get inside the music.”

McDonough and Shapira had talked about doing a recording of Evans and Hall’s music for years. “We’d performed some of the music at the Black Dog and other places,” McDonough said. “I was at a point where I thought, ‘Yeah, we should go in the studio and do this,’ and then the pandemic came. But last fall, we set up at an outdoor house party with the idea that maybe it’ll work, maybe it won’t. There was one song we didn’t use because an airplane went over. But for the most part, everything was good.”

McDonough has been enthralled by the music of Evans since he was 10 or 12. “I became aware of the album ‘Kind of Blue’ by Miles Davis,” he said. “I checked out the album from the library and really liked it. Then I became interested in the musicians who were on it. I saw that there was only one white guy on the album, Bill Evans.”

 

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McDonough found another album at the library featuring Evans. “I was pretty shocked that on the cover he looked like an accountant—very short hair, clean cut and wearing a suit. I thought, ‘this can’t be the right guy.’ But I asked the librarian, and she said he was the right guy. So I checked it out, and I was amazed at how much his playing sounded like Rachmaninoff.”

McDonough said he was fortunate to see Evans perform a few times in small clubs when he was in high school. “I was too shy to say anything to him, but I followed his career and got a lot of his albums and was kind of heartbroken when he died in 1980 at age 51. He became my favorite jazz pianist. He is my favorite jazz composer.”

Shapira was 14 or 15 when he first heard Hall perform. “I was just starting to get into jazz,” he said. “I saw him in concert when I was in high school, and I was really taken with his playing. He was well beyond me harmonically with his whole concept of music and the instrument and what he was doing. But as I progressed, and as I heard the music more and more, I began to understand it in a deeper way.

“Years ago, when I lived in New York City, I’d run into Hall on the street,” Shapira said. “He lived on 12th Street in Lower Manhattan, and I was there a lot. When I ran into him, I’d ask him for a lesson. I also heard him in person numerous times, as much as I could afford to. I’d go to Sweet Basil, which was a jazz club on Seventh Avenue down from the Village Vanguard. I’d go there on a Monday night after I got done working at Tower Records. And there’d be like six people there listening, four feet in front of Jim, and every one of them was a guitarist.

“One of the tunes we do on the CD is ‘Skating in Central Park’ from ‘Undercurrent,’” Shapira said. “Last week I was listening to KBEM, and I heard what I knew had to be the Jim Hall-Bill Evans version of that tune. It was 6:15 a.m. or something, I was driving, and just a couple of measures of Jim Hall’s guitar and I knew it was that tune. It was so inspiring. ‘Undercurrent’ is one of the pinnacles of dual jazz interplay.”

In addition to the music of Evans and Hall, the CD includes “My Funny Valentine” by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart, Gershwin’s “My Man’s Gone Now,” “Blue in Green” by Evans and Miles Davis, Shapira’s “Solace” and McDonough’s “Tuscarora.”

Tickets for the August 15 concert are $15 and $20 and available at dakotacooks.com. Copies of the CD may be purchased for $15 at larrymcdonoughjazz.homestead.com or joelshapira.com.

— Anne Murphy

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