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Bill Evans

Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings

Copyright Date: 1998
Published by: Yale University Press
Pages: 366
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  • Book Info
    Bill Evans
    Book Description:

    This enthralling book is the first biography in English of Bill Evans, one of the most influential of all jazz pianists. Peter Pettinger, himself a concert pianist, describes Evans's life (the personal tragedies and commercial successes), his music making (technique, compositional methods, and approach to ensemble playing), and his legacy.The book also includes a full discography and dozens of photographs.

    eISBN: 978-0-300-18558-4
    Subjects: Music

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Preface
    (pp. ix-xvi)
  4. Prologue
    (pp. 1-6)

    William John Evans, the younger of two brothers, was born on August 16, 1929, in Plainfield, New Jersey. Although little is known of the forebears of his father, Harry Leon Evans, born in Philadelphia in 1891, Harry instilled in his sons a strong sense of Welsh Protestant ancestry. In the renowned vocal tradition of Wales, he gave rein to his own musical talents by singing regularly in a barbershop choir. The family of Bill’s mother, Mary, came from Russia, a country nurturing a rich choral heritage of its own, and one with a mighty pianistic pedigree as well. Mary Soroka...

  5. Part I. Birth of the Sound, 1929–58

    • CHAPTER 1 The Kid from Plainfield
      (pp. 9-19)

      Harry and Mary’s firstborn, Harry Jr., inherited the solid, chunky features of his father, but Bill, born two years later, took on the narrow bone structure and sharper countenance of his mother. He became her favorite. When Harry Sr.’s drinking bouts brought abuse and financial strain, Mary often took the boys to stay in nearby Somerville with her sister Justine and the Epps family.

      Here, too, there was music. In the evenings, Earle Epps’s father, who held a bachelor of music degree in piano and organ, would sit down at the piano and play through the great classics, an indulgence...

    • CHAPTER 2 Swing Pianist
      (pp. 20-30)

      Evans took up Mundell Lowe’s trio invitation and called him in New York. The guitarist recalled: “So we met at the old Café Society downtown, Bill Evans and a young kid from New Jersey he had known, a bass player by the name of Red Mitchell. We put this trio together, and it was really a good group. The only problem was it was so good we couldn’t get booked. Val Irving tried to book us for a while. He booked us in Dean Martin’s hometown, Calumet City, Illinois. We played there for two weeks in one of those places...

    • CHAPTER 3 New Jazz Conceptions
      (pp. 31-38)

      The whole idea behind “Aeolian Drinking Song” was revolutionary and lay entirely outside the scope of the average swing musician. The one pianist on the scene in the summer of 1956 who was most likely to assimilate the idea and come through with flying colors in the execution was Bill Evans. His first recorded leap into that particular void had already occurred at the end of March, in a sextet led by the composer George Russell.Down Beatmagazine had announced that Russell, who had not been active in jazz since 1951—when he had done “Ezz-thetic” and “Odjenar” for...

    • CHAPTER 4 Sideman
      (pp. 39-48)

      For a year and a half, Evans’s life in New York had been hectic, including much club work and appearances on some half-dozen stylistically varied albums. Tony Scott, whose quartet had provided a regular booking in the pianist’s diary, was now overseas, and Evans retired somewhat from the live scene. AfterNew Jazz Conceptionshe spent endless hours sight-reading Bach as an aid to developing tone control and technique.

      Near the end of his life Evans told Jim Aikin: “Bach changed my hand approach to playing the piano. I used to use a lot of finger technique when I was...

  6. Part II. The First Trio, 1958–61

    • CHAPTER 5 A Call from Miles
      (pp. 51-64)

      The trumpeter Miles Davis, after working through a succession of short-lived ensembles, had finally, toward the end of 1955, formed what turned out to be a settled group, called the New Miles Davis Quintet. The other players were John Coltrane on tenor sax, Red Garland on piano, Paul Chambers on bass, and Philly Joe Jones on drums. It is hard to imagine a more impressive quintet than this one, with Davis and Coltrane riding high on its supremely integrated rhythm section. Garland, although he played flamboyantly, always used his prodigious technique to imaginative ends. He became the perfect complement to Davis,...

    • CHAPTER 6 Everybody Digs Bill Evans
      (pp. 65-73)

      Thanks to his albums with George Russell, Charles Mingus, his ownNew Jazz Conceptions,and his exposure in the Miles Davis band, Evans won theDown BeatInternational Critics’ Poll for the year 1958, in the New Star category. By contrast, the Readers’ Poll placed him only twentieth in the piano section, tidily illustrating the gulf between critical and public reaction to the new pianist. As it happened Miles Davis had won both the Critics’ and the Readers’ Polls for the year, and when he received his plaques from Dom Cerulli during an engagement at the Village Vanguard, he also...

    • CHAPTER 7 Miles Calls Back
      (pp. 74-85)

      Any day can be a working day for a musician, and the day before New Year’s Eve 1958 was one for trumpeter Chet Baker and his assembled group. The occasion was the completion of a Riverside album with the singer Johnny Pace,Chet Baker Introduces Johnny Pace,and the location was Reeves Studios, the company’s regular recording venue.

      Afterward Baker—along with Herbie Mann, who had been playing flute—stayed on into the evening for a further session. A fresh group, now including Evans (who indeed is mistakenly listed in some sources as having played on the earlier record), convened...

    • CHAPTER 8 Portrait in Jazz
      (pp. 86-96)

      In the summer of 1959 Evans found himself in an artistic limbo. He was thrilled by the discovery that he could express himself emotionally through his instrument, but he had no ongoing outlet for that promise. What he needed now was his own trio, the ideal forum for any pianist with something to say—and Evans had more to say than most. For the time being, though, like all musicians, he had to earn a living from his talent. Biding his time before the next creative ignition point, he undertook a number of sideman jobs.

      On the delightfulLee Konitz...

    • CHAPTER 9 Explorations
      (pp. 97-106)

      As the sixties dawned a new form of music began to dominate the airwaves and jukeboxes of clean-living America. Born in the previous decade, it was a mutated amalgam of rhythm and blues, gospel, and country. As the nation’s youngest elected president, John F. Kennedy, invoked the passing of a generational torch, the new youth craze swept all before it. But after he was assassinated, in November 1963, the floodgates were opened onto the vulgarity and excess of a musically permissive era.

      Looking back in 1994, Art Farmer spoke for many in confessing that he regarded the late 1950s and...

    • CHAPTER 10 Sunday at the Village Vanguard
      (pp. 107-116)

      Before makingExplorationsin 1961, Evans had teamed up with Cannonball Adderley, who wanted to make an album that would break away from his own popular soul style, as typified by his work with the pianist Bobby Timmons. Although the Riverside record that resulted was nominally Adderley’s, the concept was built around his friend Bill Evans, and in a far more positive way than onPortrait of Cannonball,their previous collaboration for that company. Orrin Keepnews recalls that it was Adderley’s idea to use Percy Heath and Connie Kay from the Modern Jazz Quartet, as well as Evans, to bring...

  7. Part III. On the Road, 1961–77

    • CHAPTER 11 Moonbeams
      (pp. 119-130)

      After the death of Scott LaFaro, the summer of 1961 became one of the extreme low periods in the life and career of Bill Evans. “I didn’t realize how it affected me right away,” he said. “Musically everything seemed to stop. I didn’t even play at home.”¹ He became increasingly withdrawn, a condition reinforced by his drug use. The tragedy threw the significance of what the trio had been doing together—the infinite possibility that both Evans and Paul Motian had felt—into stark relief. They had achieved such a plateau of artistic communion that Evans was shocked and numbed,...

    • CHAPTER 12 Conversations with Myself
      (pp. 131-144)

      Evans now embarked on a long period of concentrated recording. As Orrin Keepnews, chronicler of the Riverside years, says: “Between April and August 1962, the traditionally reluctant Evans entered three different studios on a total of eight occasions and recorded the equivalent of four and a half albums. One key factor in this spurt was undoubtedly his narcotics dependency and consequent financial needs.”¹ Were it not for the pianist’s extremity, it is doubtful whether some of these albums would ever have been conceived, let alone achieved. Riverside’s trust in its artist was unwavering, a faith in the knowledge that he...

    • CHAPTER 13 An American in Europe
      (pp. 145-166)

      The extreme turmoil of Evans’s life in the early 1960s was reflected in the diversity of his playing, as his financial needs led to his most concentrated period in the studios under his own name. Fortunately, he could present himself in a variety of formats, seemingly able to face most challenges with ease. In the past year alone he had coped with solo piano (including himself in triplicate), duo with guitar, two trio lineups, and two quintets, as well as small and big bands. He was even shortly to flirt with the glittering, if shallow, role of Hollywood-style star pianist....

    • CHAPTER 14 A Simple Matter of Conviction
      (pp. 167-181)

      The trio returned to America, almost immediately flying west to revisit Shelly’s Manne Hole, then on to a six-week run at the Trident in Sausalito. Evans wanted to sort out some new repertoire, but halfway into the engagement, drug-induced illness struck again. He was hospitalized, diagnosed as suffering from, among other things, malnutrition. Two weeks at the Plugged Nickel in Chicago, booked well in advance, had to be canceled, Jon Hendricks stepping in at the last minute. This incident prompted Larry Bunker to quit the trio.

      Meanwhile, in New York, an exciting project was under way as the next Bill...

    • CHAPTER 15 Quiet Now
      (pp. 182-197)

      In October 1966, after a Village Vanguard engagement (with Arnie Wise at the drums), Evans took his new bass player to Scandinavia. They were joined in Copenhagen by the drummer Alex Riel, who had played with Bill the previous year and who since had spent a semester at Berklee in Boston, studying with Alan Dawson. Riel, who had just been voted Danish Musician of the Year, had, with Ørsted Pedersen and the pianist Kenny Drew, a regular trio that accompanied all the great American guests at the Jazzhus Montmartre.

      Among the Bill Evans Trio’s engagements was a charity show for...

    • CHAPTER 16 Living Time
      (pp. 198-212)

      A promising turning point in Evans’s physical condition came at the beginning of 1970, as he sought help to end more than a decade’s use of heroin. (Ironically, there was about to be a record influx of the substance onto the New York City streets.) Brian Hennessey observed: “It was probably the deep personal desire to acquire a family home away from New York and have children of his own that provided the impetus to defeat his dependency.”¹

      After embarking on a methadone program at Rockefeller University he lived for several years free of heroin. The opium-based substitute slows the...

    • CHAPTER 17 You’ve Been a Fine Audience
      (pp. 213-226)

      The First Trio’s Village Vanguard albums had made a tremendous impact on a young pianist and percussionist from Sheffield, England. The young man, who had picked up the elements of music in the Black Watch military band, was by the early sixties leading his own local jazz group. His name was Tony Oxley, and his most celebrated and ongoing association has been with a fellow Yorkshireman, the guitarist Derek Bailey. Oxley has been called a champion of rhythmic freedom. From 1967 he became well known as the house drummer at Ronnie Scott’s in London, playing with many of the great...

    • CHAPTER 18 You Must Believe in Spring
      (pp. 227-246)

      At the end of 1973, Evans and Gomez had visited Europe as a duo, playing a large part of the trio’s current repertoire. The pianist had long cherished an ambition to make a duet album with his colleague, and in November 1974 the two of them went into Fantasy’s California studios to that end. Evans used the Fender-Rhodes again, not just for color now, but for whole numbers.

      To him, the electric piano was “kind of fun.” At the same time it was, in his hands, capable of considerable expressive shading. He owned one of the original models (the smaller...

  8. Part IV. The Last Trio, 1977–80

    • CHAPTER 19 Reflections in D
      (pp. 249-259)

      Eddie Gomez had made his last recording with Evans, but he continued to play in the trio for a few more months. In autumn 1977 a date at the Eastman School of Music at Rochester, New York, was scheduled. But Gomez had a recording session fixed in California and was unable to play. Evans asked his former bassist Chuck Israels to fill in and, confident that the problem was solved, discussed repertoire with him on the flight from New York City.

      Although it had been more than ten years since they had played together in a trio, it was easy...

    • CHAPTER 20 Twenty-One Cities in Twenty-Four Days
      (pp. 260-272)

      Evans had found his bass player in Marc Johnson, but he was still looking for his drummer. He asked Eliot Zigmund to stay with the band, but Zigmund wanted to test his wings, feeling that there was not enough variation in the trio’s repertoire and that in the course of a four-year span he had done what he wanted. In any case, he had a group going with Richie Beirach and Frank Tusa called Eon. Evans takes up the story:

      Marc came into the trio about six months before Philly Joe left, and we had some magnificent times with that...

    • CHAPTER 21 Letter to Evan
      (pp. 273-286)

      In one respect, Evans had been fortunate throughout his life: he had always had work. This is no mean achievement for any freelance musician, but it is all the more remarkable considering the uncompromising dedication he brought to his art. As a trio leader over two decades he had thrilled a dedicated band of enthusiasts, and their consistent following gave the lie to the value of fashion, a commodity that never touched him. Through the sheer quality of the music he had to offer he was able to maintain a full diary.

      “The market doesn’t influence my thinking in the...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 287-294)
  10. Discography
    (pp. 295-336)
  11. Index
    (pp. 337-346)