Laurie Verchomin was only 22 when she met jazz piano legend Bill Evans while she was waitressing at a gig in Edmonton, her home in 1979. He was 49, cocaine addicted, twice married and a musical genius that could make jazz fans weep. She was, in her own words, "like soft wax, waiting to be impressed," ready to learn and grow, ready to follow him to New York where she lived with him in a world of sex, drugs and jazz until his death in 1980. He impressed her with his kindness, his presence -his passion.
"We kept that respect for each other," she said. "We were on the life raft together." Both were aware that Evans was dying, his body compromised by drug addiction.
Their love story is told on the pages of The Big Love, Life & Death with Bill Evans, self-published by Verchomin last year, in commemoration of the musician's Sept. 15 death in a New York hospital. Although the book opens with Verchomin still clutching his blood-stained jacket, it is not a tragedy. It is truly a love story.
When the young woman first moved in with the musician, their days together were tender, yet intense and expansive. In one stunning section of the book, Verchomin expresses the infinite possibilities of love.
"I am swimming into it, diving to the bottom to fetch the key - and there is no bottom. All of this love is limitless," she said.
The author discovered at an early age what some search for all of their lives: how to love.
Today, Laurie Verchomin of Roberts Creek considers herself still in a relationship with Evans, despite his death in 1980 and despite her current relationship with another man.
"My boyfriend is kind of a Bill figure in my life. They tolerate each other really well," she smiles.
It's taken nearly 30 years and the encouragement of a local writing group to put her story into words. At first, it was going to be a biography about Evans' last years, but the writing group encouraged her to write herself into the story. It was an inspired decision, as it's given the book depth and meaning.
Working on the memoir brought up darkness and a lot of emotion for the author.
"I had to face it again - all those life lessons were so in my face: sex and drugs, it was like a big acid trip," she recalls. "My life has never been like that since."
Yet the relationship provided, as she describes it, "the seed starter kit for my whole life."
And the original music of Bill Evans remains to haunt, including the love song, Laurie, that Evans wrote for her.
This book is a natural for the Pender Harbour Jazz Festival coming up Sept. 16 to 18. Verchomin will be at Bluewaters Books in Madeira Park on Saturday, Sept. 17, from 1 to 3 p.m. to sign books and talk to jazz fans about Evans.
The story has touched people all over the world who have connected with her through her website or through memorial events. Verchomin launched her book in New York last year, Evans' home turf. She also held a launch in Sechelt at the Sunshine Coast Arts Centre last May, but the biggest venue so far has been Edmonton, where they first met; it was held last August on Evans' birthday. About 250 people packed a hall to hear her read and to listen to music by jazz pianist Charlie Austin, an Evans aficionado and the former chair of the piano department at Grant MacEwan University where Verchomin once studied dance and jazz.
The most satisfying part of the event for Verchomin was having her mother and father attend; they had read the revealing true story but did not judge.
The Big Love is available locally at Bluewaters in Pender Harbour and Woods Showcase in Gibsons for $19.95. You can read an excerpt at www.laurieverchomin.com.