‘A beautifully written book’ – Intermission by Owen Martell

iomIn 1961, the Bill Evans Trio (Bill Evans on piano, Scott LeFaro on bass, Paul Motian on drums) played a series on concerts at the Village Vanguard in New York City. They culminated in two recordings – Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debbie – now considered two of the greatest jazz records ever made. Ten days later, Scott LeFaro died in a car crash. Evans was devastated and disappeared from public life for several months. Intermission is a fictionalised version of what happened during those months.

The novel is told from four different points of view – Bill’s older brother Harry, his mum Mary, his father Harry Snr and finally, that of Bill himself.

It begins with Bill’s older brother Harry reading about LeFaro’s death in a newspaper. Harry’s first reaction is to recall meeting LeFaro on the day of the recordings and consider what a talent has been wasted:

‘Scotty handled his bass with implausible, almost arrogant ease. The arrogant part of it wasn’t directed at the instrument itself though, nor even at the listening audience. It was more a comfortable disregard for all that he might have played, that which fell away as soon as he’d placed firm-sliding fingers where he’d always meant them to be. If Harry wasn’t able to hear him improvising, on a June afternoon, it was because improvising wasn’t the word. He was doing something else, something that wasn’t even audible in Bill’s playing.

And now he was dead.’

Finally, Harry thinks of his brother and, getting no answer on the telephone, sets off to find him.

We’re ten pages in before we first see Bill:

‘Tall, slightly buckled frame, hands thrust hard into the pockets of his jacket, as if he wanted to push the rest of himself into their protection too.’

As Harry follows him at a distance, he observes:

‘Bill didn’t look particularly good, that was certain, but that had been the case for a fair while already and the gauntness of his features, even in the paleful light, struck Harry with less force than it had when he’d seen him for the first time in New York. Then it was like looking at something cadaverous, eaten.’

Harry reveals that he knows Bill uses heroin. Something that is alluded to throughout the novel when Bill leaves his brother’s flat late at night and then his parents’ house for several hours during the day.

Throughout the novel, Bill is kept at a distance, the death of LeFaro making him withdraw further from his family who keep watch over him in their own ways, while telling us the story of Bill’s childhood. Even the final 20 pages, told from Bill’s perspective don’t give us much of an insight beyond that of Evans being someone quite introverted. As Harry Snr notes when he starts to wonder what’s troubling his son beyond LeFaro’s death:

‘Whatever it is…it is exacerbated by grief and a reticence that seems to have long since taken up residence in his reactive mind – a solid ball, dense and crusted over.’

It makes for a plausible telling of a man dealing with grief, addiction and crippling self-criticism.

Any Cop?: This is a beautifully written book that revels in the details of life, making this fictionalised account seem completely believable. However, the lack of connection with Evans could leave some readers feeling unsatisfied.

Naomi Frisby


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