Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b 16 August 1929, Plainfield NJ; d 17 September 1980, NYC) Piano, composer. Worked with Jerry Wald, Tony Scott, in Miles Davis combo; his contribution to Davis's epochal Kind Of Blue '59 was very great: he should have received some writing credit. Played in film soundtrack Odds Against Tomorrow '59 (score by John Lewis). Debut album as a leader '56 was a trio set; his lyrical albums '60s found many fans in and outside jazz, often solo, usually with trio, creating intimate moods of distinctive delicacy and harmonic approach. Lalo Schifrin compared Oscar Peterson and Evans to Liszt and Chopin: Peterson/Liszt conquered the piano, Evans/Chopin seduced it. He practised a kind of Zen on the piano, such as trying to draw vibrato out of it: it's impossible, 'but trying for it affects what comes before it in the phrase' (quoted by Gene Lees). He was a heroin addict most of his adult life, his career erratic because of ill health but marked by a loyal following among critics and public alike. He published several books of original compositions and transcribed solos, made many jazz festival appearances, TV (especially in Europe); won innumerable polls as well as several Grammys, e.g. for Conversations With Myself '63 (accompanied himself by means of double-and triple-tracking), Live At Montreux '68 (both on Verve), The Bill Evans Album '71 on Columbia (all his own tunes).

He had a talent for finding superb bassists: the trio with young wizard Scott La Faro and drummer Paul Motian was legendary (Portrait In Jazz '59, Sunday At The Village Vanguard '61 etc). There was Gary Peacock in the mid-'60s, and his collaborator '66-79 was Eddie Gomez (b 4 October 1944, Santurce, Puerto Rico; albums as leader on Denon, B&W, Stretch). He often performed duo with a bassist, e.g. with Gomez including Intuition and Montreux III '74-5 on Fantasy. Undercurrent '59, a duo LP with guitarist Jim Hall on UA, then Solid State, later on a Blue Note CD, had one of the best-known sleeves of the LP era, a photo of a woman in a filmy gown floating in a lake taken from underneath her by Toni Frissell.

There were records as a sideman with Bobby Brookmeyer (Ivoryhunters), Oliver Nelson (Blues And The Abstract Truth), Tony Bennett (The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album, Together Again '75-6 are duets, voice and piano), also with Lee Konitz and Jimmy Giuffre, George Russell, others. Evans's own Empathy '62 is with Shelly Manne, Trio '64 with Peacock, The Bill Evans Trio Live '64, Trio '65, Bill Evans At Town Hall '66, Intermodulation '66 with Hall, A Simple Matter Of Conviction '66 with Manne and Gomez, Further Conversations With Myself '67, California Here I Come '67, Alone '68, What's New '69 were all on Verve; Montreux II '70 on CTI; Living Time (big band arranged by Russell) and Live In Tokyo '72 on CBS labels; Symbiosis '74 on Verve has a big band with strings, composed and arranged by Claus Ogerman. Also on Fantasy: Since We Met and Re: Person I Knew, both '74 at Village Vanguard; solos Alone (Again) and Eloquence, both '76; Quintessence '76, a quintet set with Harold Land, Ray Brown, Kenny Burrell, Philly Joe Jones; Crosscurrents '77 a quintet with Konitz and Warne Marsh; From The '70s and You Must Believe In Spring '77 and I Will Say Goodbye '79 are all trio sets. On New Conversations '78 he overdubbed himself a third time; Affinity '78 was a quintet with Toots Thielemans (nominated for Grammy) included Phil Markowitz tune 'Sno' Pea'; We Will Meet Again '79 was another quintet, all on WB. The Paris Concert '79 was two LPs on Elektra/Musician, recommended by Lees in his Jazzletter: '...He had begun to evolve and grow again ... on the clear evidence of these albums, was in his most fertile period when we lost him.' Lees wrote lyrics to Evans tunes, including 'Waltz For Debby'. Some titles were anagrams: 'Re: Person I Knew' for Orrin Keepnews, the boss at Riverside; 'N.Y.C.'s No Lark' for Sonny Clark, who Evans said was an influence.

Over 70 single CDs in print by this much-loved artist included the first, New Jazz Conceptions '56, also included in complete Riverside/Milestone recordings, issued '85: solo to quintet sessions included some previously unissued; 151 tracks included complete '61 Village Vanguard sessions. The Secret Sessions '96 on Milestone was an eight-CD set compiling tapes made by an admirer Mike Harris at the Vanguard '66-75. A box of the complete Fantasy recordings has 98 tracks '73-9 solo to quintet plus a previously unreleased Paris concert '76 and an interview with Marian McPartland. Another box, The Complete Bill Evans On Verve, contains 18 CDs and copious notes, if you could crack open the ludicrous metal safe in which it was packaged.

Live At Art D'Lugoff's Top of the Gate with Gomez and Marty Morell on drums was recorded in 1968 in the room above the Village Gate; incredibly, Thelonious Monk and Charles Lloyd were sharing a double bill downstairs: those were the days. 22-year-old George Klabin did such a good job that the 2-CD set sounds as good as any of Evans's live recordings; two sets were recorded, some of the tunes repeated, but never played the same way twice. Klabin was finally able to release his work on his Resonance label in 2012

Classical pianist Jean-Yves Thibaudet released Conversations With Bill Evans '97, playing transcriptions of Evans's solos and other music as a point of departure to the concert hall, attempting to break down the boundary: Evans himself once played Ravel on the radio.

Evans's last bass discovery '78-80 was Marc Johnson (b 1953, Nebraska) who later recorded on ECM with John Abercrombie, had his own quartet Bass Desires with two guitars and drums, albums Bass Desires and Second Sight '87-8 on ECM; other albums as leader Right Brain Patrol '92 on JMT, The Sound of Summer Running '98 on Verve.