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Artist Profile: Pianist Bill Evans


Artist Profile: Pianist Bill Evans
Courtesy of Ojc

August 16th, 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey


September 15th, 1980 in New York City, New York

Everybody Digs Bill Evans:

Pianist Bill Evans’ contemplative and intimate style has made him one of the most influential pianists in jazz. Evans fused classical moods and harmonies with virtuosic improvisation, helping to expand the emotional palette of modern jazz. He moved to New York in the 1950s, where his talent was discovered by some of the biggest names in the business.

Riverside Records:

While performing as a sideman with musicians such as bassist Charles Mingus and saxophonist Oliver Nelson, Evans caught the attention of producer Orrin Keepnews, whose Riverside Records included Randy Weston and Thelonious Monk on its roster. Evans recorded his debut album, New Jazz Conceptions in 1956.

Miles Davis:

In 1958, Miles Davis hired Evans to be in his sextet, which included saxophonists John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley, drummer Jimmy Cobb, and bassist Paul Chambers. Evans’ tenure with the group was only eight months, but it proved to be one of the most important periods in jazz history. In 1959, the sextet recorded Kind of Blue (Columbia), one of the best-selling albums in jazz.

An Intimate Approach:

Evans’ lush and pensive command of harmony greatly contributed to the famously melancholy mood of the album. After Evans left the group, he concentrated on developing this sound, which he explored in his 1958 album Everyone Digs Bill Evans (Riverside). Evans usually performed in a trio setting, but sometimes recorded solo, such as on the 1963 album Conversations With Myself (Verve).

Revolutionary Trio:

In the early 1960s, Evans was primarily devoted to creating a new approach to the piano trio. He performed with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. The trio played songs from the standard repertoire with a gravity that resembled that of classical music. It is also credited with having revolutionized the trio setting, abolishing the conventional hierarchy that designated the drums and bass roles as mere accompaniment.

In Bill Evans’ trio, each member was on an equal level, and the resulting performance technique is a collective improvisation. In 1961, the trio recorded the seminal album, Sunday at the Village Vanguard.

So cohesive was the trio’s bond, that when Scott LaFaro was killed in a car accident ten days after recording the album, Evans was so devastated that he went for months without playing. He resumed performing in 1962, and continued to form trios, playing with bassists Michael Moore, Eddie Gomez, and Marc Johnson, and drummers Marty Morell, Philly Joe Jones, and Joe LeBarbera.

Death and Influence:

Evans’ career was marked continual honing of uniquely introspective and subtle playing, but also by chronic drug use. As his improved his intricate approach to improvisation, his health declined, and in 1980 he died of cirrhosis of the liver and pneumonia. Despite having been cut short, Bill Evans’ career has had a lasting influence on jazz pianists, and in modern jazz in general. The emotional depth and subtle complexity he brought to his music is a ubiquitous feature of jazz today.
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