A guest post by @Jazzman1108 on Instagram.

Downbeat Hall of Fame pianist, composer and leader, jazz icon William “Bill” John Evans (August 16, 1929 – September 15, 1980) was born on this date in 1929.

With the passage of time, Evans has become an entire school unto himself for pianists and a singular mood unto himself for listeners. There is no more influential jazz-oriented pianist, only McCoy Tyner exerts nearly as much pull among younger players and journeymen and Evans has left his mark on such noted players as Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Brad Mehldau.

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. Indeed, classical pianists like Jean-Yves Thibaudet have recorded note-for-note transcriptions of Evans’ performances, bringing out the direct lineage with classical composers.

In interviews, Evans often stressed that pianists should thoroughly learn technique and harmony so that they can put their inspiration to maximum use. Since he already had those tools in hand, he worked very hard on his touch, getting the special, refined tone that he wanted out of a piano. He also tried to democratize the role of the bassist and drummer in his succession of piano trios, encouraging greater contrapuntal interplay.

Bespectacled, shy, soft-spoken, and vulnerable, Evans was not a good fit into the rough-and-tumble music business. In part to shield himself from the outside world, he turned to drugs — first heroin, and later, cocaine — which undoubtedly shortened his life. In interviews, though, he sounds thoroughly in control, completely aware of what he wanted from his art, and colleagues report that he displayed a wicked sense of humor.

Nowadays, Evans seems to be immune from criticism, but there was a time when he was accused of not being able to swing, or pilloried for an “effete” approach to jazz that was alien to its African sources.

More Information

Wikipedia Entry for Bill Evans
ALL Music Biography of Bill Evans
Grammy Awards page for Bill Evans
Gene Lees Jazz Letter Vol 3 No 7.
(pdf) includes Bill Evans Conversations and the Grammy Award incident.
Bill Evans: How My Heart Sings – Evans autobiography (free to loan)
Conversations With Myself [Discogs Master Release]

TO WATCH

Universal Mind of Bill Evans (Youtube)
– Bill Evans on the Creative Process and Self-Teaching Conversation With His Brother Harry, 1966

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