Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings
Several examples of bad pianos are cited throughout the book, and professional and semi-professional musicians alike will find sour mirth in an Evans quote used by Pettinger as a chapter epigram. "Many clubs," Evans pointed out, "pay more attention to their trash cans than the house piano." If Pettinger succeeds in making some non-musicians (and maybe even a couple of club owners) more aware of this, he will have performed a great service to his fellow ivory-ticklers everywhere.
After his time with Davis, Evans went on to lead a series of groundbreaking trios with a string of now legendary bassists (Scott LaFaro, Chuck Israels, Eddie Gomez and Marc Johnson) and drummers (Paul Motian, Marty Morrell, Philly Joe Jones, Jack DeJohnette, and Joe La Barbera). His concept of the triooften described as conversationalwas much more egalitarian than was usual at the time. Evans gave the bassist and drummer more active roles, encouraging greater interplay among the musicians.
In 1961, shortly after a famed live recording session at the Village Vanguard, LaFaro died in a car crash, an emotionally crushing event that sent Evans into seclusion for several months. This was but one of several devastating deaths of loved ones that he was to experience. As both his former lover Ellaine and his brother Harold committed suicide, there was a special poignancy to his definitive rendition of the "Theme From M*A*S*H" (aka "Suicide Is Painless"), which eventually became one of his signature performance pieces.
Evans was in constant demand as a sideman and recorded with Charles Mingus, Art Farmer, Stan Getz, Oliver Nelson, Jim Hall, George Russell, Shelley Manne, Toots Thielemans, Kai Winding and J. J. Johnson, along with two memorable dates backing singer Tony Bennett.
Evans also broke ground in ways now considered commonplace. On two solo albums he overdubbed his piano. Although it offended many purists, this recording technique was subsequently employed by other jazz musicians like saxophonists Paul Desmond and guitarist John McLaughlin and now scarcely raises an eyebrow. The foray earned Evans the first of five Grammy awards and elevated him to international stardom as he drew adoring audiences from Paris to Tokyo.
Like Davis, who was recently inducted into the Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame, and who stirred up the wrath of the jazz establishment during his lifetime by using an electrified trumpet and wah-wah pedal, Evans committed the ultimate offense against orthodoxy when he began dabbling with the Fender Rhodes electric piano.
At the time, the electric revolution was sweeping both rock and jazz. Under the sway of the revolutionary zeitgeist of the 1970s, tenor saxophone players like Coltrane and Shorter were reaching for soprano saxophones, and keyboardists like Josef Zawinul were testing their musical creativity against the first analog synthesizers. Bass clarinets and bass flutes, long obscure and under-employed instruments, were dusted off to striking effect by Bennie Maupin and Hubert Laws, two ranking wind players of the era.
Evans was open to new musical approaches that would not compromise his musical and artistic vision, such as his brief associations with avant-garde composer George Russell and his occasional use of electric piano. The ringing quality Evans brought to his right-hand melodies, which at times evoked the celeste, made for a good fit with the bell-like timbre of the Fender Rhodes. As Pettinger describes it, the electric instrument, with its soft attack, slow fade and plucked quality, actually permits pianists to mold smoother lines and control touch shading more easily than the acoustic piano.
Evans brought his exquisite sense of touch, tone and melodic line to the instrument, garnering him what might be considered the supreme accolade: a gushing testimonial from its inventor, Harold Rhodes. "The ultimate vindication for a lifetime of effort spent in the development of a new musical instrument is the thrill of hearing it respond to the deft and sensitive touch of such an artist as Bill Evans," wrote Rhodes. "I have experienced that thrill.... Evans is the musician's musician, the pianist's pianist."
Since the synthesizer explosion of the 1980s, fans of all contemporary musicjazz, rock, new age, even country & westernhave become accustomed to seeing keyboardists play two instruments simultaneously. Before Evans, it was rareone thinks of Ray Manzarak, organist for the Doors, who played a stripped-down Farfisa while pumping out bass lines on a separate, smaller keyboard, but few others.