Inspired to play the piano by the lessons his elder brother Harry was taking, the frail-looking six-year-old Bill Evans soon followed suit and a year later also took up violin before winning a scholarship specialising in the flute from South-eastern Louisiana College. Graduating in 1950 with a degree in piano performance he spent the next four years in the Army and following his discharge in 1954 he enrolled at New York's Mannes College of Music to study composition. After playing with guitarist Mundell Lowe, clarinettist Tony Scott and singer Lucy Reed he signed to Riverside Records. In 1956 Evans and his trio (featuring bassist Teddy Kotick and drummer Paul Motian) released the highly acclaimed debut New Jazz Conceptions, an album that featured one of his most famous pieces 'A Song For Debby'. This was soon followed by the excellent Everybody Digs Bill Evans
and two years later he joined luminaries John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley in the legendary Miles Davis Sextet and played on the seminal and
highly influential album Kind Of Blue in 1959 before leaving to form another of his renowned trios. Supported by bassist Scott LaFaro and returning drummer Paul Motian the band released the impressive studio albums
Portrait In Jazz (1959) and Explorations (1961) as well as the live recordings Sunday At The Village Vanguard and Waltz For Debby (both 1961). Considered hugely important releases it can only be guessed at as to what the trio may have achieved if it had not been for the tragic early death of Scott LaFaro in a car accident in July 1961. This trio unquestionably defined as the 'ultimate jazz trio' and all units of piano, bass and drums that have appeared since must surely aspire to this remarkable group.
Devastated by the loss of his gifted friend and closest musical collaborator LaFaro, Evans retreated deeper into heroin addiction and only reappeared in 1962 with Moonbeams which featured bassist Chuck Israels alongside Evans and Motian. The sessions would also yield the album
How My Heart Sings which was released later the same year while the record Interplay found him working in a rare quintet setting featuring his former colleague from the Miles Davis Sextet, drummer Philly Joe Jones plus a young Freddie Hubbard on trumpet, Jim Hall on guitar and Percy Heath on bass. The pianist's next significant release was 1963's outstandingly delicate Conversations With Myself, an album that allowed him to utilise counterpoint and interplay through the use of studio double tracking. The Bill Evans Trio continued to record and while the personnel changed several time the quality remained high on albums including; Time Remembered and At Shelly's Manne-Hole (both 1963 with Israels and drummer Larry Bunker), A Simple Matter Of Conviction (1966 with Eddie Gomez on bass and Shelly Manne on drums),
Quiet Now (1969), The Bill Evans Album (1971), My Foolish Heart (1973) and Since We Met (1974) (all featuring Gomez and drummer Marty Morell).
Constantly exploring the parameters of piano lead jazz in different settings, Evans continued to work with different line-ups and instrumentation and while with hindsight his most favoured and satisfactory format was his trio he was clearly comfortable in all permutations. Not at all precious he was also happy to play the role of sideman and collaborator and highlights of this prolific part of his career include; Art Farmer's
Modern Art (1958), a shared billing with Bob Brookmeyer on The Ivory Hunters (1959), Know What I Mean" (1961) by Cannonball Adderley with Bill Evans, the Creed Taylor produced Empathy by Shelly Manne and Bill Evans (1962), Bill Evans and Jim Hall (1963),
Stan Getz & Bill Evans (1973), the wonderful < The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album (1975) and the hugely informative Marion McPartland's Piano Jazz with Guest Bill Evans (1978).
Constantly playing, the geeky-looking Evans worked with numerous musicians in one capacity or another and others to benefit from his unique
talents include Charles Mingus, George Russell, Toots Thielemans, Oliver Nelson, Kai Winding and J.J. Johnson. So prolific was Evans that it would come as some surprise to the casual listener to learn that he continued to battle heroin addiction for many years. (This is brilliantly documented in the excellent biography How My Heart Sings by Peter Pettinger). Although his early use of marijuana had little apparent impact his later heroin problem was not only debilitating, but even despite kicking the habit it almost certainly lead to his latter day health issues and an early death from a bleeding stomach ulcer in 1980. Bill Evans was able to effortlessly combine his innovative modal approach and amazingly light fingered technical skills without sacrificing either melody or harmony and always serving the music he generously encouraged bass guitarists to move the instrument beyond its traditional limitations. His style was incredibly influential and generations of subsequent keyboard players have followed in his footsteps with Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Keith Jarrett, Hampton Hawes, Paul Bley and Michel Petrucciani being prime examples. The title (and closing) track on Evans' final studio album released during his lifetime We Will Meet Again (1979) provided a fitting farewell from one of jazz's greatest and most visionary musicians.
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