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Bill Evans

Bill Evans (August 16, 1929 - September 15, 1980) was one of the most famous jazz pianists of the 20th century. His use of impressionistic harmony, his inventive interpretation of traditional jazz repetoire and his syncopated and polyrhythmic melodic lines influenced a generation of piansts, including Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea[?] and Keith Jarrett, and his work continues to inspire younger pianists like Fred Hersch[?], Bill Charlap[?] and Brad Mehldau[?], as well as other musicians such as guitarists John McLaughlin[?] and Gene Bertoncini[?].

Working in New York in the 1950s, Evans gained notariety as a sideman in traditional and so-called third stream avant-garde jazz bands. During this period, he recorded with the composer George Russell and released his first album as a leader, New Jazz Conceptions. Evans joined Miles Davis in 1958, recorded and toured briefly with the band, then left due to conflicts with other band members, problems with drug use, and his desire to pursue his own projects as a leader. At Davis' request, Evans returned to the band to record the highly influencial album Kind of Blue.

In the early 1960s, Evans led a group with drummer [[Paul Motian and Scott LaFaro that has since become one of the most acclaimed piano trios of all time. With this group, Evans' focus settled on traditional jazz standards and original compositions, but with an emphasis on interplay among the band members that often bordered on collective improvisation. Evans' collaboration with the talented young bassist LaFaro was particularly fruitful, with the two achieving an unprecedented level of musical empathy. The trio recorded four albums, Portrait in Jazz, Explorations, Waltz for Debby, and Sunday at the Village Vanguard. LaFaro's untimely death at age twenty-two in a car accident in 1962 left Evans devastated, and he did not record or perform in public again until 1964.

After leading several trios through the 1960s, Evans eventually settled on a trio with bassist Eddie Gomez and drummer Marty Morrell in 1970 which would be his regular group for the next five years. This group recorded several albums, the most important of which is Since We Met, recorded live at the Village Vanguard in 1974. In Gomez, Evans again had a bass player with a natural inclination to spontaneous counterpoint; however, the band's arrangements at this time were more traditional in their focus on specific soloists, and instead built musical interest through changes in tempo, meter and instrumental texture.

Morrell was replaced by Elliot Zigmund on drums in 1976, and the resulting group recorded two albums, I Will Say Goodbye and You Must Believe in Spring, both named for featured tunes by composer Michel Legrand. The latter record highlighted Evans' obsession with self-destruction, including pieces dedicated to his first wife, Ellaine, and brother, Harry, both of whom by that time had committed suicide. Fittingly, the last track on the album is the theme from the movie and television show [[M*A*S*H]], "Suicide is Painless". You Must Believe in Spring was released posthumously after Evans' death.

Gomez and Zigmund left Evans in 1978, and after several rhythym sections, Evans settled on Marc Johnson on bass and Joe LaBarbera on drums. This band was to be Evans' last. The group recorded several records, including the multi-disc set Turn Out The Stars. Evans' music of this period was much less introspective and more driving than his previous work with Gomez and Zigmund, in part reflecting his turning to the drug cocaine to overcome his addiction to heroin.

Evans' substance abuse problems likely began during his stint with Miles Davis in the late 1950s. A heroin addict for most of career, his health was generally poor and his financial situation worse. At one point in the late 1960s, he was forced to perform at the Village Vanguard[?] playing piano with his right hand alone because he had numbed his left arm by shooting heroin into an artery. His body finally gave out in 1980, when Evans died in New York City.

Although the circumstances of his life were often tragic, Evans' music always displayed his complete creative mastery of harmony, rhythym, and interpretive jazz conception. A brilliant classical pianist as well, Evans' work fused jazz repetoire and ensemble performance with a classical sense of form and conceptual scale. His recordings continue to impact the work of pianists, guitarists, composers and interpreters of jazz music around the world.



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