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Book Reviews

Bill Evans, The Pianist as an Artist

By Published: March 8, 2004
The Pianist as an Artist
Enrico Pieranunzi
Continuum Books
ISBN: 0826457967

Many professional musicians possess a great talent, but only a few achieve a level of true greatness. The legendary pianist, Bill Evans definitely fits into this second category. Evans left an indelible mark on the history of jazz. Even now, twenty-two years after his death, his recordings still influence musicians around the world. Unfortunately, his talent was counterbalanced by a dark side, which manifested itself in self-destruction. Throughout his life, he was tortured by self-doubt and loneliness. To combat his inner-struggle, Evans became dependent on drugs.

With Bill Evans, The Pianist as an Artist, Enrico Pieranunzi provides a compelling look at this influential musician. Pieranunzi, a talented pianist himself, provides an insightful glance into the life of Bill Evans. More than simply providing biographical data, though, he shows how Evans became an such important figure in contemporary jazz. The Pianist as an Artist also discusses the drugs and psychological problems, but doesn't dwell on them. Rather than sensationalizing Evans' problems, Pieranunzi praises his musical accomplishments.

Anyone with even a moderate interest in jazz knows that Evans played on Miles Davis' landmark album, Kind of Blue. Of course his career and subsequent influence went far beyond this album alone. The Pianist as an Artist provides an in-depth study of Evans' career, which easily appeals to anyone from an average listener to a seasoned academic. Here Pieranunzi proves that he is equally adept at writing as playing.

Pieranunzi obviously covers some of Evans' most important work, including his trio recordings with bassist Scott LeFaro and Drummer Paul Motian. This trio would prove to be a major period in Evans' career. The interplay among these musicians allowed Evans to explore new musical territory. The Pianist as an Artist also shows that in spite of his quiet and intellectual demeanor, Evans definitely knew how to swing.

Evans possessed a unique talent, which deserves consideration. During a period when jazz was frequently becoming more abstract, Evans offered a structural counterbalance. His background in classical music allowed him to explore the depth of traditional jazz music. He believed that "freedom in music only makes sense when there is a solid foundation; otherwise you get lost in arbitrary disorder and reduce the aesthetic of the piece."

Accompanying the text, The Pianist as an Artist also contains a companion CD. Here Pieranunzi does more than present a musical tribute to Evans; this CD enhances the text, allowing a new dimension of understanding. Pieranunzi's skill as a musician proves to be a valuable asset in understanding Evans' place in jazz history.



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