Celebrating Bill Evans’ Birthday

Posted by on August 16, 2016 in Special Announcements | 0 comments

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William John "Bill" Evans was born August 16, 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey.  According to WIkipedia's biography, his older brother, Harry, began piano lessons somewhere between ages five and seven. Even though Bill was thought to be too young to receive lessons, he began to play what he had heard during his brother's class. Soon both brothers were taking piano lessons.

He would quickly develop a fluid sight-reading ability, though his teacher rated his brother as a better pianist. At age seven, Bill began violin lessons, along with flute and picolo. Even though he dropped those instruments, it is believed they later influenced his keyboard style.

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' bands on the radio. At the age of 13, Bill stood in for a sick pianist in Buddy Valentino's rehearsal band, where Harry was already playing the trumpet. Soon, Bill began to perform for dances and weddings throughout New Jersey, playing music like boogie woogie and polkas for $1 per hour.

Evans told the story of how one night he got really adventurous plahing Tuxedo Junction and he put in a little "ping!" that wasn't written, and this was such an experience! To make music that wasn't indicated. That really got him into starting to want to think about how to make the music.

In 1955, he moved to New York, where he worked with bandleader and theorist George Russell In 1958, Evans joined Miles Davis' 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.

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 1963, Evans recorded Conversations with Myself, an innovative solo album using the unconventional (in jazz solo recordings) technique of overdubbing over himself. Several successful albums followed, such as Bill Evans at the Montreaux Jazz Festival, Alone and others. 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 at age 52. 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.

Bill Evans is seen as the main reformer of the harmonic language of jazz piano. Evans' harmonic language was influenced by impressionist composers such as Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel.  His versions of jazz standards, as well as his own compositions, often featured thorough reharmonisations. Musical features included added tone chords, modal inflections, unconventional substitutions, and modulations. One of Evans' distinctive harmonic traits is excluding the root in his chords, leaving this work to the bassist, played on another beat of the measure, or just left implied.

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 BeatJazz Hall of Fame.

Here he is in a live concert playing Someday My Prince Will Come.

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