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  • John Kelman wrote on August 07, 2008 report

    Posted on behalf of Mario Carrington

    Bill Evans is one of the greatest and most influential jazz pianists of all time. He should be in the one name only pantheon on the Mt. Rushmore of jazz giants such as Louis, Monk, Dizzy, Miles, Coltrane, Duke, Sarah, Ella, Sonny, Billie and Count. Maybe it's because Bill by itself does not sound as sexy as the others; I don't quite know.

    What I do know is that Evans is one of the most underappreciated jazz masters and deserves the one name treatment. Evans; hmmm, has a good ring to it, let's go with that.

    Although he died prematurely in August 1980 at 50 years old, his influence on jazz pianists, the classic jazz trio format of piano, bass & drums and jazz improvisation is far reaching & unmistakable.

    Early evidence of the regard in which he was held by his contemporaries, while still relatively unknown to all but the most ardent of jazz fans of the time, is the title of one of his first albums as a leader recorded in 1958, Everybody Digs Bill Evans. The album cover is a series of signed quotes from Miles Davis, George Shearing, Ahmad Jamal and Julian “Cannonball” Adderley bestowing instant credibility. This trio recording included Sam Jones on bass and “Philly” Joe Jones on drums.

    Additionally, he was the leader or was a side man on some of the seminal jazz albums of the late 1950's and 1960's. You may not realize on some of his side man work that it's Evans you're listening to, just that you really like the person playing the piano.

    Evans rose to prominence as part of the Miles Davis sextet which also included Adderley, Paul Chambers, James Cobb and John Coltrane. Davis's Kind of Blue is a jazz masterpiece and Evans was the piano player on 4 of the 5 tunes on the album, replaced by Wynton Kelly on “Freddie Freeloader.”

    The first track (and one of two signature songs) on Kind of Blue is called “So What.” The famous opening of “So What” features Evans on piano & Chambers on bass in a “simultaneous improvisation,” an innovation that became the hallmark of Evans' work with bassists throughout his all too brief career. Evans also shares a co-writing credit with Davis on the “Blue in Green” composition on the album. Evans was a side man on another defining album of the period; Adderley's Know What I Mean released in early 1961. The album title is an Evans composition and the quartet on this recording also featured Percy Heath on bass and Connie Kay on drums (taking a respite from The Modern Jazz Quartet).

    Once again, the first track of the album, “Waltz for Debby,” features Evans in a beautiful solo introduction of his own composition. We get to hear the swinging and playful side of Evans as he banters with Adderley on a song called “Toy” that is timeless in its' groove. Evans' playing on the album was so strong that even though Adderley was the leader, he received a “with Bill Evans” credit on the album cover.

    Later that same year, Evans recorded an album that deserves iconic status along with Kind of Blue and Know What I Mean, as well as Brubeck's Time Out, Coltrane's Blue Train, Blakey's A Night in Tunisia, etc.

    The album is called The Bill Evans Trio at The Village Vanguard and is among the greatest 60 minutes of jazz music ever recorded. This trio includes Scott LaFaro on bass and Paul Motian on drums.

    It was a live recording from a Sunday in June 1961 and generally acknowledged as the consummate performance by a jazz master. Care must be taken when seeking to buy an album of this concert, as it has been released in various titles such as Waltz for Debby and Sunday at The Village Vanguard. These albums feature alternate takes of songs as part of the package, different track sequences and although interesting, should not be considered the definitive version of the performance.

    The Bill Evans Trio at The Village Vanguard (Riverside FCD-60-017) is the authoritative version of the performance because the song sequence was established by Evans in tribute to LaFaro who died in a car crash 10 days after the concert. This devastated Evans and the album was a salute to LaFaro as Evans felt the choices best represented his talent.

    There are no alternate takes among the ten different songs on the album and Evans felt the sequence best captured the feel of the show over its' two performances. The simultaneous improvisation that was the goal of an Evans trio concert is on display in a sublime manner.

    The entire album is a highlight but stand out numbers include “My Foolish Heart,” “My Romance,” “Solar,” “Milestones,” “Waltz for Debby” and “Jade Visions.”

    There is a 15 second interval about 3 minutes into “My Romance” as they bridge over to another chorus, which is the quintessential example of jazz collaboration. If I had the LP version vs. the CD, the grooves on the record for that song would be worn out.

    Your Evans starter kit should include the following releases: The Bill Evans Trio Live at The Village Vanguard—Riverside records (FCD-60-017), 1961 Everybody Digs Bill Evans—Riverside records, 1958 You're Gonna' Hear From Me—Milestone records, 1969 Bill Evans at the Montreaux Jazz Festival—Verve records, 1968 Blue in Green—Milestone records, 1974 Bill Evans at Half Moon Bay—Milestone records, 1973 Conversations With Myself—Verve records, 1963 (solo piano) Letter to Evan—Dreyfus records, 1992 release of his final concert in July 1980