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Artist Profiles

Bill Evans: 1929-1980

By Published: August 27, 2004
Miles found Evans a very quiet, self-effacing person, so he wanted to test Evans' musical integrity. After all, Evans was the only white guy in a powerful, prominently black band. Miles needed to see if he would be musically intimidated, so he said to Evans one day,

"Bill, you know what you have to do, don't you, to be in this band?"

He looked at me puzzled and shit and shook his head and said, "No Miles, what do I have to do? I said, "Bill, now you kow we all brothers and shit and everybody's in this thing together and so what I came up with for you is that you got to make it with everybody, you know what I mean? You got to f... the band." Now I was kidding, but Bill was real serious, like Trane [John Coltrane].

He thought about it for about fifteen minutes and then came back and told me, "Miles, I thought about what you said and I just can't do it, I just can't do that. I'd like to please everybody and make everyone happy here, but I just can't do that. I looked at him and smiled and said, "My man!" And then he knew I was teasing. (Davis, 226)

So Evans passed the test. Here's why Miles liked Bill's playing:

Bill had this quiet fire that I loved on piano. The way he approached it, the sound he got was like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall. I had to change the way the band sounded again for Bill's style by playing different tunes, softer ones at first. Bill played underneath the rhythm and I liked that, the way he played scales with the band. Red's [Garland] playing had carried the rhythm but Bill underplayed it and for what I was doing now with the modal thing, I liked what Bill was doing better. (Davis, 226)

Evans made 10 albums with Miles in less than a year they were together, February to November, 1958. But Evans was uncomfortable in the group after seven months. He wanted to form his own-so did Adderley and Coltrane. They would all eventually become leaders in the field, and Miles' group, despite the fact that it was at the top of the jazz field, was hemming them in. In addition, Evans disliked all the travelling, and the harrassment he was getting from black fans about being the only white musician in the group was getting to him-it was disturbing to Miles too. There was also the annoying criticism that he didn't play fast enough or hard enough, that his playing was too delicate.

Evans' Second Album as Leader

Evans had his second outing as a leader, once again for Riverside, in December 1958. He had officially left Miles' group by that time. For this recording he chose Miles' drummer Philly Joe Jones, with whom he worked many times after that, and Dizzy Gillespie's bassist Sam Jones (no relation), who went on to a longterm relationship with Cannonball Adderley. The influence of his stay in Miles' band is clear from his driving version of "Night and Day" as well as his choice of and performance on the hard bop tunes "Minority" by Gigi Gryce and "Oleo" by Sonny Rollins.

The real classic during that session is his original "Peace Piece," which was originally conceived as an extended introduction to Leonard Berstein's standard "Some Other Time." It became a jazz standard, and he performs it during a 6 minute 41 second piano solo on the album. The tune is based on a succession of scales, which the player extends at will before going onto another scale, a new kind of balance at the time between structured and free (although similar in concept to Indian ragas) The tune, therefore, would never be played the same way twice.This is the nature of a free piece: the structure as well as the melody is unique to each individual performance occasion.

Along with the more driving swing in this album came a more personal, more nuanced touch. Evans was moving away from the dominant influences of his jazz formation-Bud Powell, with his extended horn lines, and Horace Silver, with his bluesy percussive approach-and toward the sound that would characterize his mature years. It testifies to a large amount of exploration and growth in the 26 months between the two recording sessions, including the assimilation of the influence of Lennie Tristano's long flowing lines into his playing.

Since the stint with Miles had only benefited Bill's reputation, Keepnews decided to title the album Everybody Digs Bill Evans and put testimonials from Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal and Cannonball Adderley on the cover. Issued in May, 1959, it sold much better than the first one.

Miles Davis' Kind of Blue


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