Monday, May 01, 2006

The Classic Pianist

This blog has always purported to be about the musical opinions and radio memories of an old Top 40 geek, but thanks to the LastFM playlist box and the more detailed charts you can access by clicking it, the true nature of the stuff I like to listen to is being more fully revealed. One of my readers has noticed a lot of Bill Evans music showing up on the list, and suggests I post a bit about him, so here I go.

Evans is a jazz pianist, and should not be confused with the Bill Evans who plays saxophone. I first heard of him as a member of Miles Davis' legendary late-50s group, the one that recorded the landmark album Kind of Blue. Like many neophyte jazz fans, I adored Kind of Blue from first hearing, and resolved to find as much of the same sort of thing as possible. This led me to start listening to Evans.

Bill Evans can be controversial to some jazz fans, who claim that his touch is so light and delicate that he can't be said to "swing" in the conventional sense. Sometimes, that's true. A few of his records come dangerously close to muzak, but rarely cross the line, because even at his lightest, he's always inventive and often plays with humor, soul, or both. No pianist has been more influential. Other jazz pianists admire the way he composes songs and conceives solos. More than almost any other musician you can name, he's a thinking person's artist.

Kind of Blue is the place to start with Evans. From there, his most famous solo work is Live at the Village Vanguard, a 1961 concert recorded with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. Although Evans often recorded in larger configurations, he's best heard in the trio format. LaFaro and Motian were his most famous collaborators, and one of the things that makes Live at the Village Vanguard special is that LaFaro was killed in a traffic accident only about a week after it was recorded. Together Again, a 1975 collaboration with Tony Bennett, is also worth searching out.

Evans died in 1980, just past his 51st birthday. Like so many jazz musicians who came up in the 40s and 50s, drug abuse was part of his life, and ultimately helped kill him. describes Evans' importance this way:
Borrowing heavily from the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, Evans brought a new, introverted, relaxed, lyrical, European classical sensibility into jazz -- and that seems to have attracted a lot of young conservatory-trained pianists who follow his chord voicings to the letter in clubs and on stages everywhere.
If jazz is America's classical music, Evans is our most classic pianist.


At 11:39 AM, Anonymous Dave P said...

Nice post on Bill Evans. I like him a lot too, but was he the inspiration for that jazz cliche, "It's not the notes he plays, it's the notes he doesn't play"? I'm not sure, but a jazz pianist I know said that to me in describing Bill Evans. If you like Evans, you should check out Ahmad Jamal's "Ahmad Jamal at the Pershing: But Not for Me." He's another fine, expressive player who excels in live settings, and he can also crank up the energy level (as he does on "Surrey With the Fringe on Top").

At 6:42 PM, Blogger homercat said...

Nice post and am learning new stuff all the time. I have very little jazz in my collection. What I do have I love intensely. Some of it I don't get. I'll have to check Evans out., soundsa like I could get into that. Thanks!


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