Bill Evans is a famous jazz pianist and composer most known for his influential style of playing classical jazz. He started playing classical piano at a very early age and this would have a large influence on the way he played and composed. Although he spent his career as a piano player, he actually attended college on a flute scholarship, and it was during this time he discovered and started playing jazz music.
After a short stint in the military from 1951 to 1954, during which time he played small gigs in Chicago, he began his career as a musician in earnest and moved to New York City. He quickly caught the attention of many and recorded his first album as a leader, New Jazz Conceptions, in 1956. This album featured several of Evans’ original compositions, including his most famous “Waltz for Debbie.”
A short time after, Bill Evans was hired to be part of Miles Davis’ band, at which time his career really began to take off. It was during this time that he played on Davis’ groundbreaking album Kind of Blue. After being replaced in Davis’ band, Evans would spend the rest of his career playing almost entirely in trios.
His trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian was considered his best and also one of the best jazz groups of all time. The group released three albums, although their time together was sadly cut short when LaFaro died in a tragic car accident at only 23 years old.
Evans continued to record and perform throughout his entire life, despite many personal and drug abuse issues. He was quite a prolific recorder even despite his issues and his life ending short, and critically acclaimed as well- winning 7 Grammy awards and being named to the Down Beat Hall of Fame.
Bill Evans was a famous American jazz musician and composer who is considered to be one of the most influential jazz pianists since World War II. He was born on William John Evans on August 16th, 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey and first began studying classical piano at the age of 6.
Although he first learned classical piano, he quickly went over the fence to play jazz piano. He quickly developed a completely unique sound through his harmonic and melodic playing, which was based on large block chords, perfect touch and lyrical phrasing, combined with moderate swing and melancholy tones.
Bill Evans worked as both pianist and composer until 1980, when he died at the age of just 51. He is probably best known for his involvement in the famous Miles Davis album Kind of Blue, recorded in 1959. After this point he would spend most of the rest of his time playing in jazz trio with bass and drums. From 1959 to 1961 he created his first trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. This trio would record three very well known albums, including the famous Sunday at the Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby.
Unfortunately Lafaro died in a tragic car accident in 1961, which completely devastated Evans, who did not play publicly again until years after, when Chuck Israel took on LaFaro’s role as bassist.
Evans kept mostly to the trio format in his lifetime, in trios consisting of Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell, Eliot Zigmund and Gomez, bassist Michael Moore and Philly Joe Jones, and finally Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera.
He composed a number of classic works. “Waltz for Debby’ is his most famous; it first appeared on his very first album, New Jazz Conceptions, recorded in 1956, but he never stopped playing it in concert. It has since been covered by many famous jazz musicians. Other important compositions by Bill Evans compositions are “Turn out the Stars,” “Very Early,” and “Re: Person I knew.”
He also had his own list of favorite songs from the standard repertoire, which he expanded a bit over time.
Bill Evans had a distinctive style when he sat at piano – his hands almost flat out on the keys, his back bent and his face almost touching them- made the impression on people that he was a very inward man. This could to some extend be due to the use of drugs, both heroin and later cocaine. In the late 1970’s, he began to struggle heavily with his drug problem, especially following his brother Harry’s suicide in 1979.
Even when his health was deteriorating, Evans played jazz until the very end. There are even a few recordings made in the last few days before he died. He died in 1980 from a combination of cirrhosis of the liver and hepatitis amongst other things, all of which was brought on by his drug addiction. Despite dying at 51, he is still considered to be one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time and his work has influenced many of the jazz greats that followed.
Bill Evans is most well known for his harmonic interpretations of classical jazz, and his piano playing was strongly influenced by the great jazz musicians who came before him such as Stan Getz, Bud Powell, Miles Davis, and his favorite, Nat King Cole. He would later meet some of his idols such as Theolonious Monk and he would go on to work with Miles Davis in the late 1950s. While with Miles Davis’ band, he helped record Kind of Blue, which is the highest selling jazz album of all time.
It was these musicians and the time spent with Davis that really influenced Evans own interpretations of jazz, although he never strayed far from classical jazz. In fact, he avoided the electrification of jazz that was common in many of his peers, and would also steer completely clear of jazz fusion as well. He even mentioned how it disappointed him watching Davis’ transition into a more jazz fusion style of playing. Evans was strictly classical jazz piano, although with his very own unique and influential style.
He was quite well known for playing many block chords and harmonic clusters, while leaving out roots and delegating them to the bassist. He was also able to develop his own unique way of transitioning from one chord to the next with ease and almost no movement of his hand.
Evans’ style and use of harmonies reformed and changed the way classical jazz piano is played still to this day. Although his playing style and compositions were strongly influenced by previous jazz greats, his initial background was playing classical musicians such as Mozart and Beethoven and this also helped shape harmonic style. He would later admit that Bach had a huge impact on the way he looked at playing the piano and composing.
Evans was also influenced by other more modern impressionists composers like Claude DeBussy and Maurice Ravel, and all of this is evident is his harmonic use of the piano. His style was so unique he is considered the best and most influential post-bop jazz pianist.
Videos and Recordings
Bill Evans plays But Beautiful
Bill Evans Trio plays Autumn Leaves: