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Aug 16

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Modes of Bill Evans

Bill EvansOn this day in 1929, the great jazz pianist Bill Evans was born. Yes, I know: I wrote about him last year and yesterday I wrote about another great jazz pianist Oscar Peterson. What can I say? I really like both men.

Listening to Evans is a lot like listening to classical music. He was very modal in his harmonic structure. As a result, a lot of his stuff sounded like Debussy. But Evans owed a great deal to his early work with the jazz composer George Russell. Regardless, Evans work was the basis of Miles Davis’ greatest album (and arguably the greatest jazz album ever), Kind of Blue. It is an album that continues to inspire after decades of listening. It is also, one of those albums that I’ve had to buy repeatedly over the years.

Even at the time of the recording, Evans was in the process of forming his own trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. It is considered one of the great jazz trios. Unfortunately, I can’t find any live footage of them together. So here is “Waltz for Debby” off the album of the same name:

Sadly, just ten days after the performance from which this song was taken, Scott LaFaro died in a car accident. It wasn’t until five years later that he met Eddie Gomez, who Evans played with pretty much to the end of his career. Here he is with drummer Marty Morell, who he worked with for a long period, doing Miles Davis’ “Nardis”:

Just ten years after this performance, Evans died of various ailments related to his lifestyle. I try not to talk too much about his drug use because it really isn’t what defined him. But it is what deprived us of him for the last three and a half decades. Maybe he wouldn’t have made it that long, but we certainly should have gotten another decade. He was only 51 when he died.

Happy birthday Bill Evans!

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2 comments

  1. Norm

    A friend and I saw Bill perform at UCLA in the late seventies. It was a solo. Afterwards we had coffee at Ships (diner) and Bill walked in. We told him we were at the concert and he sat with us for about twenty minutes until some UCLA students arrived that he was meeting with. Not only a great pianist but a very personable and terrific person.

  2. admin

    @Norm – Thanks for sharing that. He seems like he was a nice, unassuming man. There is video of Eddie Gomez recently talking about playing with him, and he mentioned how encouraging he had been to him. It isn’t critical, but I prefer the artists I admire to be good people.

    Thanks again!

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