Bill Evans Trio

Bill Evans

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Bill Evans

William John Evans, known as Bill Evans (pronunciation: /vns/, August 16, 1929  September 15, 1980), was an American jazz pianist and composer who mostly worked in a trio setting. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time,[1] and is considered by some to have been the most influential post-World War II jazz pianist.[2] Evans's use of impressionist harmony, inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repertoire, block chords, and trademark rhythmically independent, "singing" melodic lines continue to influence jazz pianists today. Unlike many other jazz musicians of his time, Evans never embraced new movements like jazz fusion or free jazz.

Born in Plainfield, New Jersey, Evans was classically trained, and studied at Southeastern Louisiana University. In 1955, he moved to New York, where he worked with bandleader and theorist George Russell. In 1958, Evans joined Miles Davis's sextet, where he was to have a profound influence. In 1959, the band, then immersed in modal jazz, recorded Kind of Blue, the best-selling jazz album of all time.[3]

In late 1959, Evans left the Miles Davis band and began his career as a leader with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, a group now regarded as a seminal modern jazz trio. In 1961, ten days after recording the highly acclaimed Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby, LaFaro died in a car accident. After months of seclusion, Evans re-emerged with a new trio, featuring bassist Chuck Israels.

In 1963, Evans recorded Conversations with Myself, an innovative solo album using the unconventional (in jazz solo recordings) technique of overdubbing over himself. In 1966, he met bassist Eddie Gomez, with whom he would work for eleven years. Several successful albums followed, such as Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival, Alone and The Bill Evans Album, among others. In 1973, he married Nenette Zazzara, with whom he had a son, Evan, who became a film composer.

Despite his success as a jazz artist, Evans suffered personal loss and struggled with drug abuse. Both his girlfriend Elaine and his brother Harry committed suicide, and he was a long time user of heroin, and later of cocaine. As a result, his financial stability, personal relationships and musical creativity suffered until his death, in 1980.

Many of his compositions, such as "Waltz for Debby", have become standards and have been played and recorded by many artists. Evans was honored with 31 Grammy nominations and seven awards, and was inducted in the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame.[4]


Early life

Bill Evans was born in Plainfield, New Jersey, United States, to Harry and Mary Evans (née Soroka). His father was of Welsh descent and ran a golf course; his mother was of Ukrainian Rusyn ancestry and descended from a family of coal miners.[5] The marriage was stormy due to his father's heavy drinking, gambling, and abuse.[6][7] He had a brother, Harry (Harold), two years his senior, and with whom he would develop a very close relationship.[7]

Given Harry Evans Sr.'s destructive character, Mary Evans would often leave home with her sons to nearby Somerville, to stay with her sister Justine and the Epps family. There, Harry began piano lessons somewhere between age 5 and 7. Even though Bill was deemed as still too young to receive lessons, he soon began to play what he had heard during his brother's class. Soon, Bill would also receive piano lessons.[8] [9]

Later, the Evans brothers began to take piano lessons in Charlotte with local teacher Randy Newman.[10] Evans remembered her with affection for not insisting on a heavy technical approach, like scales and arpeggios. He would soon develop a fluid sight-reading ability, but his teacher rated his brother as a better pianist.[10] At age 7, Bill began violin lessons, and soon also flute and piccolo. Even though he soon dropped those instruments, it is believed they later influenced his keyboard style.[11]

One night I got really adventurous on "Tuxedo Junction" and I put in a little "ping!" you know, that wasn't written, and this was such an experience! To make music that

wasn't indicated. That really got me into starting to want to think about how to make the music.
—Interview with Harry Evans. c. 1965.[12]

From age 6 to 13, Evans would only play classical music scores. He cited Mozart, Beethoven and Schubert as frequently played composers.[12] During high school, Evans came in contact with 20th-century music like Stravinsky's Petrushka, which he deemed as "tremendous experience"; and Milhaud's Suite Provençale, whose bitonal language he believed "opened him to new things". Around the same time also came his first exposure to jazz, when at age 12 he heard Tommy Dorsey and Harry James's bands on the radio.[13]

At the age of 13, Evans stood in for a sick pianist in Buddy Valentino's rehearsal band, where Harry was already playing the trumpet.[14] During that period, Evans reported his first deviation from the written music, in an arrangement of "Tuxedo Junction" while playing with the rehearsal band. Evans used to listen to Earl Hines, Coleman Hawkins, Bud Powell, George Shearing, Stan Getz, and Nat King Cole among others. He particularly admired Cole.[15]

Soon after, Evans began to play in flat dates like dances and weddings, throughout New Jersey, playing music like boogie-woogie and polkas for $1 per hour. As a result, his schoolwork suffered. He also formed a trio with two local friends. During the gigs, he met multi-instrumentalist Don Elliott, with whom he would later record. An important acquaintance during that period was bassist George Platt, who introduced Evans to the harmonic principles of music.[16]

College, army, sabbatical year

I have always admired your [Magee's] teaching as that rare and amazing combination exceptional knowledge combined with the ability to bring that same knowledge, that lies deep within the student, to life. You were certainly my biggest inspiration in college, and the seeds of the insights that you have sown, have in practice born fruit many times over.
—Bill Evans talking about Gretchen Magee[5]

After high school, in September 1946, Evans attended Southeastern Louisiana University on a flute scholarship.[17][18] He studied classical piano interpretation with Louis P. Kohnop, John Venettozzi, and Ronald Stetzel.[19] A key part in Evans's development was Gretchen Magee, whose methods of teaching left an important print in his composition style.[5]

Around his third year in college, Evans composed his first known tune, "Very Early."[15] He was a founding member of SLU's Delta Omega Chapter of Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia, played quarterback for the fraternity's football team, and was part of the college band. In 1950, he performed Beethoven's Piano Concerto No.3 for his senior recital, graduating with a Bachelor of Music degree, majoring in piano, and Bachelor's in Music Education. Evans regarded the last three years in college as the happiest in his life.[20]

During college, Evans met guitarist Mundell Lowe, and after graduating, they formed a trio with bassist Red Mitchell. The three relocated to New York. However, their inability to attract bookings prompted them to leave for Calumet City, Illinois.[21] In July 1950, Evans joined Herbie Fields's band, based in Chicago. During the summer, the band did a three-month tour backing Billie Holiday, including East Coast appearances at Harlem's Apollo Theater and shows in Philadelphia, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. The band included trumpeter Jimmy Nottingham, trombonist Frank Rosolino and bassist Jim Aton. Upon its return to Chicago, Evans and Aton worked as a duo in clubs, often backing singer Lurlean Hunter. Shortly thereafter, Evans received his draft notice and entered the U.S. Army.

During his three-year (195154) stay in the army,[14] Evans played flute, piccolo, and piano in the Fifth U.S. Army Band at Fort Sheridan. He also hosted a jazz program on the camp radio station and occasionally performed in Chicago clubs, where he met singer Lucy Reed, with whom he became friends and would later record. He also met singer and bassist Bill Scott, who became a close friend. Evans's stay in the army was traumatic, and he had nightmares for years. As people criticized his musical conceptions and playing, he lost his confidence for the first time.[22] Around 1953 Evans composed his most well known tune, "Waltz for Debby", for his young niece.[23] During this period Evans began using recreational drugs, occasionally smoking marijuana, even though he realized it affected his memory.[24]

Evans was discharged from the Army in January 1954, and entered a period of seclusion, triggered by the harsh criticism he had received. He took a sabbatical year and went to live with his parents, where he set up a studio, acquired a grand piano and worked on his technique. The self-critical Evans believed he lacked the natural fluidity of other musicians. He visited his brother Harry, now in Baton Rouge, recently married and working as a conservatory teacher.[8]

Return to New York and first jobs

In July 1955, Evans returned to New York and enrolled in the Mannes College of Music for a three-semester postgraduate course in musical composition. He also wrote classical settings of poems by William Blake. Along with his studies, Evans played in mostly low-profile "Tuxedo gigs" in Friendship Club and Roseland Ballroom, as well as Jewish weddings, intermission spots, and over-forty dances. However, better opportunities also arose, such as playing solo opposite the Modern Jazz Quartet at the Village Vanguard, where one day he saw Miles Davis listening to him. During this period, Evans also met Thelonious Monk.[8]

Evans soon began to perform in Greenwich Village clubs with Don Elliott, Tony Scott (musician), and Mundell Lowe; as well as with bandleader Jerry Wald. While Evans may have played on some of Wald's discs, his first proven Wald recording was Listen to the Music of Jerry Wald, which also featured his future drummer Paul Motian.[8]

In early 1955, singer Lucy Reed moved to New York to play at the Village Vanguard and The Blue Angel, and in August she recorded The Singing Reed with a group which included Evans. During this period, he met two of Reed's friends: manager Helen Keane, who, seven years later, would become his own agent; and George Russell, with whom he would soon work. This year, he also made his first recording, in a small ensemble, in Richie Garcia's A Message from Garcia. In parallel, Evans kept with his work with Scott, playing in Preview's Modern Jazz Club in Chicago during DecemberJanuary 1956/7, and recording The Complete Tony Scott. After the Complete sessions, Scott left for a long overseas tour.[8]

Work with George Russell

It was one of those magic moments in your life when you expect a horror story, and the doors of heaven open up. I knew there and then he wasn't going to get away.
—George Russell upon hearing Bill Evans for the first time.[8]

Evans had met George Russell during his tenure with Lucy Reed. Russell's first impression of Evans was negative ("this is going to be like pulling teeth all day"), but when he secretly heard Evans play, he completely changed his mind.[8] Russell was then developing his magnum opus, the treatise Lydian Chromatic Concept of Tonal Organization, in which he exposed that the Lydian mode was more compatible with tonality than the major scale used in most music. This new concept was ground-breaking in jazz, and would soon influence musicians like Miles Davis. Evans, who had already been acquainted with these ideas before, began to work with him in 1956.[8]

By this time, RCA Victor had begun a series of recordings called Jazz Workshop, and soon Russell, through the intervention of McKustic and Jack Lewis, was granted his own record date. Then, Russell assembled trumpeter Art Farmer, guitarist Barry Galbraith, bassist Milt Hinton and Evans for three recording dates, along with rehearsal sessions. In these, only the bassist was given a written part, while the rest were left, and, according to Farmer, "took the parts at home and tried to come to terms with them". The album took a year to do, and it was successful enough to enable Russell to escape his penurious lifestyle.[8] Evans performed a notable solo in "Concerto for Billy the Kid".[14]

In September 1956, producer Orrin Keepnews was convinced to record the reluctant Evans by a demo tape Mundell Lowe played to him over the phone. The result was his debut album, New Jazz Conceptions, featuring the original versions of "Waltz for Debby", and "Five".[8] This album began Evans's relationship with Riverside Records. Although a critical success that gained positive reviews in Down Beat and Metronome magazines, New Jazz Conceptions was initially a financial failure, selling only 800 copies the first year. "Five" was for some time Evans' trio farewell tune during performances.[8] After releasing the album, Evans spent much time studying Bach scores to improve his technique.[25]

In 1957, Russell was one of six musicians (three jazz, three classical composers) commissioned by Brandeis University to write a piece for their Festival of the Creative Arts in the context of the first experiments in third stream jazz. Russell wrote a suite for orchestra, "All About Rosie", which featured Bill Evans among other soloists.[25] "All About Rosie" has been cited as one of the few convincing examples of composed polyphony in jazz.[26] A week before the festival, the piece was previewed in TV, and Evans's performance was deemed "legendary" in jazz circles. During the festival performance, in June 6, Evans became acquainted with Chuck Israels, who would became his bassist years later. [27] During the Brandeis Festival, guitarist Joe Puma invited Evans to play on the album Joe Puma/Jazz.[28]

That year, he also met Scott LaFaro while auditioning him for a place in an ensemble led by trumpeter Chet Baker, and was impressed by the young bassist. Three years later, LaFaro would join his trio.[29]

Evans also appeared on albums by Charles Mingus, Oliver Nelson, Tony Scott, Eddie Costa and Art Farmer.

Work with Miles Davis, Everybody Digs Bill Evans, and Kind of Blue

Main article: Kind of Blue

In February 1958, Russell, at Miles Davis's urging, drove Evans over to the Colony Club in Brooklyn, to play with Davis's sextet. By that time, the band consisted of John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers and Philly Joe Jones. Evans knew it was an audition, and that he might replace the recently fired Red Garland. By the end of the night, Davis told Evans that he would be playing their next engagement in Philadelphia.[30][31] While the band used to play a mixture of jazz standards and bebop originals, by that time Davis had begun his venture in modal jazz, having just released his album Milestones.

Evans joined the group in April 1958. The band appeared in radio broadcasts on Saturday nights and, on May 3, the new formation made its first broadcast from Café Bohemia (its usual locale). On May 17, the radio material would be recorded on the album Makin' Wax, the first documented evidence of Evans with Davis.[32] By mid-May, Jimmy Cobb replaced Philly Joe Jones, with whom Evans had developed a close friendship. In May 26, Evans made his first studio album with Davis, Jazz Track.[33]

A performance of the Ballet Africaine from Guinea, in 1958, had originally sparked Davis's interest in modal music. This music stayed for long periods of time on a single chord, weaving in and out of consonance and dissonance.[34] Another influence was George Russell's treatise. Both influences coalesced in Davis's conception of modal jazz offering an alternative to chord changes and major/minor key relationships, relying instead on a series of modal scales. He realized that Evans, who had worked with Russell, could follow him into modal music. At the same time, Evans introduced Davis to European classical music.[14]

The band's mostly black followers did not react favourably to the replacement of the charismatic Garland with a white musician.[8][30] Also, the delicate Evans seemed not to fit very well in the band. Davis used to tease him, and some members, such as Coltrane,[8] did not approve of the presence of a white person.[30] However, the band began to find a new, smoother groove, as Adderley noted. "When he started to use Bill, Miles changed his style from very hard to a softer approach."[30]

Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall. I had to change the way the band sounded again for Bill's style by playing different tunes, softer ones at first.
—Miles Davis[35]

In July 1958, Evans appeared as a sidesman in Adderley's album Portrait of Cannonball, that featured the first performance of "Nardis", specially written by Davis for the session. While Davis was not very satisfied with the performance, he said that from then on, Evans was the only one to play it in the way he wanted. The piece would come to be associated with Evans's future trios, that played it frequently.[8]

By the end of the summer, Davis knew Evans was fast approaching his full professional development; a decision to depart seemed imminent.[30] This year, Evans won the Down Beat International Critics' Poll for his work with Davis and his album New Jazz Conceptions.[36]

In September 1958, Evans recorded as a sideman in Art Farmer's album Modern Art, also featuring Benny Golson. All three had won the Downbeat poll. [36] Later, Evans would deem this record as one of his favorites. During this period, despite all the successes, Evans was visiting a psychiatrist, as he was unsure whether he wanted to continue as a pianist.[37]

Evans left Davis's sextet in November 1958 and stayed with his parents in Florida and his brother in Louisiana. While he was burned out, one of the main reasons for leaving was his father's illness.[37] During this sojourn, the always self-critical Evans suddenly felt his playing had improved. "While I was staying with my brother in Baton Rouge, I remember finding that somehow I had reached a new level of expression in my playing. It had come almost automatically, and I was very anxious about it, afraid I might lose it."[37]

Shortly after, Evans moved back to New York, and in December he released Everybody Digs Bill Evans with Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones. This was Evans' second album as a leader, since New Jazz Conceptions, recorded two years earlier. While producer Orrin Keepnews had many times tried to convince Evans to make a second trio recording, the pianist felt he had nothing new to say... until then. Also, Evans had been too busy traveling with Davis to make a record.[38]

One of the pieces to appear on the album was Leonard Bernstein's "Some Other Time". Evans started to play an introduction using an ostinato figure. However, according to Keepnews, who was present, the pianist spontaneously started to improvise over that harmonic frame, creating the recording that would be named "Peace Piece". According to Evans: "What happened was that I started to play the introduction, and it started to get so much of its own feeling and identity that I just figured, well, I'll keep going." However, Gretchen Magee claims that the piece had been penned as an exercise during his college years, while Peri Cousins says that he would often play the piece at home.[39]

However, Evans came back to the sextet in early 1959 at Davis's request to record Kind of Blue, usually considered the best-selling jazz album of all time.[3][40]

As usual, during the sessions of Kind of Blue, Miles Davis called for almost no rehearsal and the musicians had little idea what they were to record. Davis had only given the band sketches of scales and melody lines on which to improvise. Once the musicians were assembled, Davis gave brief instructions for each piece and then set about taping the sextet in studio.[41]

During the creative process of Kind of Blue, Davis handed Evans a piece of paper with two chords – G minor and A augmented – and asked "What would you do with that?". Evans spent the next night writing what would become "Blue in Green". However, when the album came out, the song was attributed exclusively to Davis. When Evans suggested he might deserve a share of the royalties, Davis offered him a check for $25.[8][42] Evans also penned the liner notes for Kind of Blue, comparing jazz improvisation to Japanese visual art.[41]

By the fall of 1959, Evans had started his own trio with Jimmy Garrison and Kenny Dennis. However, the trio soon broke up.[29]

Sometime during the late 1950s, most probably before joining Miles Davis, Evans began taking heroin. Philly Joe Jones has been cited as an especially bad influence in this aspect.[8][43] Although Davis seems to have tried to help Evans kick his addiction, he did not succeed.

Evans's first long-term romance was with a black woman named Peri Cousins (for whom "Peri's Scope" was named), during the second half of the 1950s. The couple always had problems in booking in hotels during Evans's gigs, since most of them did not allow inter-racial couples. By the turn of the decade, Evans had met a waitress named Elaine, who would become his partner for twelve years.[43]

Trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian

We needed people that were interested in each other, so that we could spend a year or two just growing, without ambitions, just allowing the music to grow. And allowing our talents to merge in a very natural way.
—Evans in interview with George Clabin, 1966

In mid-1959, Scott LaFaro, who was playing up the street from Evans, expressed to him his interest in building and developing as a trio. LaFaro suggested Paul Motian, who had already appeared in some of Evans's first solo albums, as the drummer for the new band.[29] This trio, with LaFaro and Motian, was to become one of the most acclaimed piano trios and jazz bands in general of all time. With this group, Evans's focus settled on traditional jazz standards and original compositions, with an added emphasis on interplay among band members. Evans and LaFaro would achieve a high level of musical empathy.

In December 1959, the band recorded its first album, Portrait in Jazz.

In early 1960, the trio began a tour that brought them to Boston, San Francisco (at Jazz Workshop club), and Chicago (at Sutherland Lounge). After returning in February, the band performed at the New York City Hall, and then settled in Birdland, Count Basie's headquarters. While the trio did not produce any studio records in 1960, two bootleg recordings from radio broadcasts from April and May were illegally released, something that infuriated Evans. Later, they would be posthumously issued as The 1960 Birdland Sessions.[8]

In parallel with his trio work, Evans kept his work as a sideman. In 1960, he appeared along Paul Chambers and Jimmy Cobb in singer Frank Minion's album The Soft Land of Make Believe, featuring lyric versions of some tracks of Kind of Blue. That year, he also recorded The Soul of Jazz Percussion, with Philly Joe Jones and Chambers.[8]

In May 1960, the trio performed at one of the Jazz Profiles concerts, organized by Charles Schwartz, and during the summer, they appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival. Around this time, Evans hired Monte Kay as his manager. During one of his concerts at the Jazz Gallery, Evans contracted hepatitis, and had to retreat to his parents' house in Florida. While recovering, Evans recorded, as sidesman, in The Great Kai & J. J., and The Incredible Kai Winding Trombones. In May and August 1960, Evans appeared in Russell's album Jazz in the Space Age, while in late 1960, he performed in Jazz Abstractions.[8]

In 1961, Evans produced three albums in rapid succession. The first, Explorations, was recorded in February 1961. According to Orrin Keepnews, the atmosphere during the recording sessions was tense, Evans and LaFaro having had an argument over extra-musical matters; in addition, Evans was complaining of headaches and LaFaro was playing with a loaned bass.[8] The disc features the first trio version of "Nardis", since Evans had recorded it with Cannonball Adderley. Apart from "Nardis" and "Elsa", the album consisted of jazz standards. Ironically, after recording, Evans was utterly unwilling to release it, believing the trio had played badly. However, upon hearing the recording, he changed his mind, and later thought of it in very positive terms.[29]

In February 1961, shortly after the Explorations sessions, he appeared as a sidesman in Oliver Nelsons The Blues and the Abstract Truth.

Finally, in late June 1961 the trio recorded two albums, Sunday at the Village Vanguard, and Waltz for Debby. These albums were live recordings from the same recording date, and are routinely named among the greatest jazz recordings of all time.[44][45] As with the previous Explorations, Evans's preliminary impressions were very negative. However, he later showed special satisfaction with these recordings, seeing them as the culmination the musical interplay of his trio.[29]

After LaFaro's death

LaFaro's death, at age 25, in a car accident, ten days after the Vanguard performances, devastated Evans. He did not record or perform in public again for several months.

In October 1961, persuaded by his producer Orrin Keepnews, Evans reappeared on the musical scene with an album with Mark Murphy. With new bassist Chuck Israels, they recorded in December Nirvana, with flautist Herbie Mann,[5] soon followed by Undercurrent, with guitarist Jim Hall.

When he re-formed his trio in 1962, two albums, Moon Beams and How My Heart Sings! resulted. In 1963, after having switched from Riverside to the much more widely distributed Verve (for financial reasons related to his drug addiction), he recorded Conversations with Myself, an innovative album which featured overdubbing, layering up to three individual tracks of piano for each song. The album won him his first Grammy award.[46]

Evans's heroin addiction began in the late 1950s, possibly before his tenure with Miles Davis,[43] and worsened following LaFaro's death. By the time he met his future manager, Helen Keane, in 1962, it was in full bloom. His girlfriend Elaine was also an addict, Evans habitually had to borrow money from friends, and eventually, his electricity and telephone services were shut down. Evans said, "You don't understand. It's like death and transfiguration. Every day you wake in pain like death and then you go out and score, and that is transfiguration. Each day becomes all of life in microcosm."[14][47]

His drug addiction also started to affect his playing, as can be heard in the uneven The Solo Sessions, Vol.1 and Vol.2, recorded in January 1963 but released posthumously.[48] While injecting heroin, he hit a nerve and temporarily disabled it, performing a full week's engagement at the Village Vanguard virtually one-handed.[8] During this time, Helen Keane began having an important influence, as she significantly helped to maintain the progress of Evans's career in spite of his self-destructive lifestyle, and the two developed a strong relationship.[43]

In summer 1963, Evans and his girlfriend Elaine left their flat in New York and settled in his parents' home in Florida, where, it seems, they quit the habit for some time.[8] Even though never legally married, Bill and Elaine were in all respects man and wife. At that time, Elaine meant everything to Bill, and was the only person with whom he felt genuine comfort.[8]

Though he recorded many albums for Verve, their artistic quality was uneven. Despite Israels's fast development and the creativity of new drummer Larry Bunker, they were ill-represented by the perfunctory album Bill Evans Trio with Symphony Orchestra, featuring Gabriel Fauré's Pavane. Some recordings in unusual contexts were made, such as a big-band live album recorded at Town Hall that was never issued due to Evans's dissatisfaction with it (although the jazz trio portion of the Pavane concert was made into its own somewhat successful release), and an album with a symphony orchestra that was not warmly received by critics.

Evans meets Eddie Gomez

In 1966, Evans discovered the young Puerto Rican bassist Eddie Gomez. In what turned out to be an eleven-year stay, Gomez sparked new developments in Evans's trio conception. One of the most significant releases during this period is Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1968), where he won his second Grammy award.[46] It has remained a critical favorite, and is the only album Evans made with drummer Jack DeJohnette.

Other highlights from this period include "Solo In Memory of His Father" from Bill Evans at Town Hall (1966), which also introduced "Turn Out the Stars"; a second pairing with guitarist Jim Hall, Intermodulation (1966); and the solo album Alone (1968, featuring a 14-minute version of "Never Let Me Go"), that won his third Grammy award.[46]

In 1968, drummer Marty Morell joined the trio and remained until 1975, when he retired to family life. This was Evans's most stable, longest-lasting group. Evans had overcome his heroin habit and was entering a period of personal stability.

Between 1969 and 1970 Evans recorded From Left to Right, featuring his first use of electric piano.

Between May and June 1971 Evans recorded The Bill Evans Album, which won two Grammy awards.[46] This all-originals album (4 new), also featured alternation between acoustic and electric piano. One of these was "Comrade Conrad", a tune that had originated as a Crest toothpaste jingle and had later been reelaborated and dedicated to Conrad Mendenhall, a friend who had died in a car accident.[49]

Other albums included The Tokyo Concert (1973); Since We Met (1974); and But Beautiful (1974), featuring the trio plus saxophonist Stan Getz in live performances from Holland and Belgium. Morell was an energetic, straight-ahead drummer, unlike many of the trio's former percussionists, and many critics feel that this was a period of little growth for Evans. After Morell left, Evans and Gomez recorded two duo albums, Intuition and Montreux III.

In the early 1970s, Evans was caught in a New York airport with a suitcase containing heroin. He was not charged, but he had to begin methadone treatment along with Elaine.[43]

In 1974, Bill Evans recorded a multimovement jazz concerto written for him by Claus Ogerman entitled Symbiosis. The 1970s also saw Evans collaborate with the singer Tony Bennett on 1975's The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album and 1977's Together Again.

While working with in Redondo Beach, California in 1973, Bill Evans met Nenette Zazzara; and fell in love with her, despite his long-term relationship with Elaine.[8] When Evans broke the news to Elaine, she pretended to understand, but then committed suicide by throwing herself under a subway train. Evans's relatives believe that Elaine's infertility, coupled with Bill's desire to have a son, may have influenced those events.[7] As a result, Evans went back on heroin for a while, then got into a methadone treatment program and stayed away from drugs for almost the last decade in his life. In August 1973, he married Nenette, and, in 1975, they had a child, Evan. The new family, which also included Evans's stepdaughter Maxine, lived in a large house in Closter, New Jersey.[8] However, the marriage did not last, possibly because of his drug addiction, and Evans was soon living by himself in Fort Lee. Nevertheless, both remained very close until his death.[8]

In 1976, Morell was replaced by drummer Eliot Zigmund. Several collaborations followed, and it was not until 1977 that the trio was able to record an album together. Both I Will Say Goodbye (Evans's last album for Fantasy Records) and You Must Believe in Spring (for Warner Bros.) highlighted changes that would become significant in the last stage of Evans's life. A greater emphasis was placed on group improvisation and interaction, and new harmonic experiments were attempted.

Gomez and Zigmund left Evans in 1978. Evans then asked Philly Joe Jones, the drummer he considered his "all-time favorite drummer" and with whom he had recorded his second album in 1957, to fill in. Several bassists were tried, with Michael Moore staying the longest. Evans finally settled on Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. This trio would be Evans's last.

Last years

In April 1979, Evans met Canadian waitress Laurie Verchomin, with whom he would have a relationship until his death. Verchomin was 28 years younger.[43]

At the beginning of a several-week tour of the trio through the Pacific Northwest in the spring of 1979, Evans learned that his brother, Harry, who had been diagnosed with schizophrenia, had committed suicide aged 52.[7][14][43] This news shocked him deeply, and some of the concerts had to be canceled. His friends and relatives believe that this event precipitated his own death the following year.[7][43]

Marc Johnson recalled: "This fateful trip marks [...] the beginning of the end. Bill's willingness to play and work decreased noticeably after the death of Harry, actually it was just the music itself that held him upright. He fulfilled his obligations because he needed money, but these were the few moments in his life when he felt comfortable - the times in between must have been depressing, and he barely showed a willingness to live."[5]

In August 1979, Evans recorded his last studio album, We Will Meet Again, featuring a composition of the same name written for his brother. The album won a Grammy award posthumously in 1981, along with I Will Say Goodbye.[46]

Drug addiction and death

During the late 1970s, Evans became addicted to cocaine. He started with one gram per weekend, but later started taking several ounces daily.[43] His brother Harry's suicide may have also influenced his emotional state after 1979. For example, he bought three plots in a Baton Rouge Cemetery, where Harry rested.[7] It is also known that he voluntarily quit his treatment for chronic hepatitis.[7] Laurie Verchomin has claimed that Evans was clear in mind that he would die in a short time.[43]

On September 15, 1980, Evans, who had been in bed for several days with stomach pains at his home in Fort Lee, was accompanied by Joe LaBarbera and Verchomin to the Mount Sinai Hospital in New York, where he died that afternoon.[43] The cause of death was a combination of peptic ulcer, cirrhosis, bronchial pneumonia, and untreated hepatitis.[8] Evans's friend Gene Lees described Evans's struggle with drugs as "the longest suicide in history."[8] He was interred in Baton Rouge, next to his brother Harry.

Music and style

Bill Evans is seen as the main reformer of the harmonic language of jazz piano.[14][53] Evans' harmonic language was influenced by impressionist composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel. [54] His versions of jazz standards, as well as his own compositions, always featured thorough reharmonisations. Musical features included added tone chords, modal inflections, unconventional substitutions, and modulations.[54]

One of Evans's distinctive harmonic traits is abandoning the inclusion of the root in his chords, leaving this work to the bassist, played on another beat of the measure, or just left implied. "If I am going to be sitting here playing roots, fifths and full voicings, the bass is relegated to a time machine." This idea had already been explored by Ahmad Jamal, Erroll Garner, and Red Garland. In Evans's system, the chord is expressed as a quality identity and a color.[8][55] Most of Evans's harmonies feature added note chords or quartal voicings.[53] Thus, Evans created a self-sufficient language for the left hand, a distinctive voicing, that allowed the transition from one chord to the next while hardly having to move the hand. With this technique, he created an effect of continuity in the central register of the piano. Laying around middle C, in this region the harmonic clusters sounded the clearest, and at the same time, left room for contrapunctal independence with the bass.[8]

Evans's improvisations relied heavily in motivic development, either melodically or rhythmically.[53] Motives may be broken and recombined to form melodies.[56] Another characteristic of Evans's style is rhythmic displacement.[8][57] His melodic contours often describe arches.[58] Other characteristics include sequenciation of melodies and transforming one motive into another.[58] He plays with one hand in the time signature of 4/4 and the other momentarily in 3/4.[59]

At the beginning of his career, Evans used block chords heavily. He later abandoned them in part.[60] During an interview, Marian McPartland asked:

"How do you think your playing has changed since you first started? Is it deliberate or is it just happening to change?"
Bill Evans: "Well it's deliberate, ahh but I stay along the same linesI try to get a little deeper into what I'm doing. As far as that kind of playing goes, [jazz playing rather than an earlier example where he played Waltz for Debbie without any improvisation or sense of swing], I think my left hand is a little more competent and uhhof course I worked a lot on inner things happening like inner voices I've worked on."[61][62]
The first line of "Time Remembered", as penned by Bill Evans in the early 1970s.

At least during his late years, Evans's favorite keys to play were A and E.[15] Evans greatly valued Bach's music, which influenced his playing style. It helped him gain good touch and finger independence. "Bach changed my hand approach to playing the piano. I used to use a lot of finger technique when I was younger, and I changed over a weight technique. Actually, if you play Bach and the voices sing at all, and sustain the way they should, you really can't play it with the wrong approach." Evans valued Bach's Well Tempered Clavier and his three-part inventions as excellent practice material.[25]

Views on contemporaneous music tendencies

Evans's career began just before the rock explosion in the 1960s. During this decade, jazz was swept in a corner, and most new talents had few opportunities to gain recognition, especially in America.[63] However, Evans believed he had been lucky to gain some exposure before this profound change in the music world, and never had problems finding employers and recording opportunities.[63]

Evans never embraced new music movements; he kept his style intact. For example, he lamented watching Davis shift his style towards jazz fusion, and blamed the change on considerations of commerce. Evans commented "I would like to hear more of the consummate melodic master [Davis], but I feel that big business and his record company have had a corrupting influence on his material. The rock and pop thing certainly draws a wider audience. It happens more and more these days, that unqualified people with executive positions try to tell musicians what is good and what is bad music."[30] However, Evans and Davis kept in touch throughout their lives.[43]

While Evans considered himself an acoustic pianist, from the 1970 album From Left to Right on, he also released some material with Fender-Rhodes piano intermissions. However, unlike other jazz players (e.g. Herbie Hancock) he never fully embraced the new instrument, and invariably ended up returning to the acoustic sound. "I don't think too much about the electronic thing, except that it's kind of fun to have it as an alternate voice. (...) [It's] merely an alternate keyboard instrument, that offers a certain kind of sound that's appropriate sometimes. I find that it's a refreshing auxiliary to the pianobut I don't need it (...) I don't enjoy spending a lot of time with the electric piano. I play it for a period of time, then I quickly tire of it, and I want to get back to the acoustic piano."[30] He commented that electronic music: "just doesn't attract me. I'm of a certain period, a certain evolution. I hear music differently. For me, comparing electric bass to acoustic bass is sacrilege."[30]

Personal life

Bill Evans was an avid reader, in particular philosophy and humorous books. His shelves held works by Plato, Voltaire, Whitehead, Santayana, Freud, Margaret Mead, Sartre, and Thomas Merton; and held a special fondness for Thomas Hardy's work. He was fascinated with eastern religions and philosophies including Islam, Zen, and Buddhism. It was also Evans who introduced John Coltrane to the Indian philosophy of Krishnamurti.[8]

Evans liked to paint and draw.[37] He was also a keen golfer, a hobby that began in his father's golf course.[8] Evans had a fondness for horse racing and frequently gambled hundreds of dollars, often winning.[64] During his last years he even owned a racehorse named "Annie Hall" with producer Jack Rollins.[43]


Music critic Richard S. Ginell noted "With the passage of time, Bill Evans has become an entire school unto himself for pianists and a singular mood unto himself for listeners. There is no more influential jazz-oriented pianist—only McCoy Tyner exerts nearly as much pull among younger players and journeymen."[65]

Many of Evans's critics have commented on his detachment from the original African American roots of jazz, believing that the European and classical traditions are of much lesser import.[8]

During his tenure with Davis, Evans had problems with the mostly black audience. For example, Peter Pettinger has pointed out that in a recording, for his solo on a tune named "Walkin'," Evans received noticeably less applause than the other soloists, and for that on "All Of You," none at all.[8]

When the miniseries Jazz was released in 2001, it was criticised for neglecting Evans's work after his departure from Miles Davis's sextet.[8] Wynton Marsalis was the artistic director and co-producer of the series.

Legacy and influence

Evans has left his mark on players as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, John Taylor, Steve Kuhn, Don Friedman, Marian McPartland, Denny Zeitlin, Bobo Stenson, Warren Bernhardt, Michel Petrucciani and Keith Jarrett, as well as many other musicians worldwide. The music of Bill Evans continues to inspire younger pianists like Fred Hersch, Bill Charlap, Lyle Mays, and Eliane Elias[66] and arguably Brad Mehldau[67] early in his career.

Conversations with Myself and Further Conversations with Myself were innovative solo performances involving multiple overdubs of Evans.

Many of his tunes, such as "Waltz for Debby," "Turn Out the Stars," "Very Early," and "Funkallero," have become often-recorded jazz standards.

During his lifetime, Evans was honored with 31 Grammy nominations and seven Awards.[46] In 1994, he was posthumously honored with the Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award.

List of compositions

Main article: List of compositions by Bill Evans

Evans' repertoire consisted of both jazz standards and original compositions. Many of these were dedicated to people close to him. Some known examples are: "Waltz for Debby", for his niece; "For Nenette", for his wife; "Letter to Evan", for his son; "NYC's No Lark", in memory of friend pianist Sonny Clark; "Re: Person I Knew", an anagram of the name of his friend and producer Orrin Keepnews; "We Will Meet Again", for his brother; "Peri's Scope", for girlfriend Peri Cousins; "One for Helen" and "Song for Helen", for manager Helen Keane; "B minor Waltz (For Elaine)", for girlfriend Elaine; "Laurie", for girlfriend Laurie Verchomin; "Yet Ne'er Broken", an anagram of the name of cocaine dealer Robert Kenney; "Maxine", for his stepdaughter; "Tiffany", for Joe LaBarbera's daughter; "Knit For Mary F." for fan Mary Franksen from Omaha.[68]

Tribute albums

Main article: Bill Evans tribute albums


Main article: Bill Evans discography


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  2. (2008) The Penguin Guide to Jazz Recordings 9th edition, Penguin.
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  4. (August 31, 1983)"1981 Down Beat Critics Poll".
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 5.4 Petrik, Hanns E. (1989). Bill Evans Sein Leben, Seine Musik, Seine Schallplatten, OREOS Verlag. The quotes extracted from this book have been re-translated into English from the German original.
  6. Wilson, John S. "Bill Evans, Jazz Pianist Praised For Lyricism and Structure, Dies; 'In Touch With His Feelings' Trouble With Scales", The New York Times, September 17, 1980. Retrieved June 30, 2009. "Mr. Evans, who lived in Fort Lee, N.J., toured in Europe this summer."
  7. 7.0 7.1 7.2 7.3 7.4 7.5 7.6 (2011) The two brothers as I knew them.
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  43. 43.00 43.01 43.02 43.03 43.04 43.05 43.06 43.07 43.08 43.09 43.10 43.11 43.12 Verchomin, Laurie (2010). The Big Love, Life and Death with Bill Evans.
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  • Shadwick, Keith [2002] (2002). Bill Evans Everything Happens To Me - a musical biography, Paperback, Backbeat Books.
  • Verchomin, Laurie [2010] (2011). The Big Love, Life and Death with Bill Evans, Paperback, Amazon.
  • Pettinger, Peter [1999] (2002). Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings, New Ed, Yale University Press.

External links

Wikiquote has a collection of quotations related to: Bill Evans

  • The Bill Evans Webpages
  • Bill Evans at Find a Grave
  • Bill Evans entry Jazz Discography Project
  • "Remembering Bill Evans" by Ted Gioia,, January, 2008.
  • Bill Evans Musical Style at
  • Letter From Evans edited by Win Hinkle newsletter dedicated solely to the music and the life of Bill Evans, published 198994. Link is to all issues.
  • "Bill Evans: Twelve Essential Recordings by Ted Gioia"
  • The Bill Evans Memorial Library
  • Jazz wax-Interview with Laurie Verchomin

This page was last modified 21.04.2014 17:04:29

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