Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The Universal Mind of Bill Evans

My Xmas present to you: The Universal Mind of Bill Evans
... Here is Evans, his hair slicked back, his terrible teeth uncapped, a cigarette waving in the air, in intense conversation with his composer brother Harry Evans (a professor of music at Louisiana State University) on the nature of creativity in jazz.

This documentary features in-depth discussion of Evans' internal process of song interpretation, improvisation, and repertoire. Through demonstration on the piano, Bill uses the song 'Star Eyes' to illustrate his own conception of solo piano and how to interpret and expand upon the melody and underlying chord structure.

Onstage, Evans was famously reticent about speaking, but here he's surprisingly, stirringly provocative.

Best introspective bits about his development, improvisational ability, intellectual / analytical approach versus raw talent @30 min and thereafter.

Not bad for a heroin junkie (like Chet Baker: see earlier post Time After Time).
All About Jazz: ... He played an equal role with Miles Davis in composing Kind Of Blue, the top-selling jazz album ever, yet the association proved disastrous as Evans' shyness and pressures of the stage fed a drug addiction that led to his death in 1980. His intelligence allowed him to surpass other players with more raw talent and he inspired a rare cult-like following, but also endured critics who saw him as a fraudulent lightweight.

Evans is generally acknowledged as the most influential pianist since Bud Powell, and a primary influence on players such as Keith Jarrett and Chick Corea. Many consider his Sunday At The Village Vanguard the best piano trio album ever and compositions such as "Waltz For Debby" are all-time standards. He is also credited with advancing harmonic and voicing structures. and pioneering modern trio format elements such as giving sidemen equal interplay during improvisations.

His career peaked early during the late 1950s and early 1960s, then went through a series of peaks and valleys for the rest of his life. The best of those latter periods were probably during the early 1970s and right before his death, although neither reached the pinnacle of his early days.
The Bill Evans Web Pages: ... Throughout his entire professional career, Evans was also hopelessly addicted to drugs, a fact that was no secret while he was alive, but one that remains difficult to absorb even today. Obviously drugs are not foreign objects in the jazz ambient, but it is too easy to simply throw Evans onto jazz’s steep junkie pile. He was too intelligent, too administrative over his physical and emotional capacities to allow himself to succumb to an addiction which he did not really want. Why then was the man whose shimmering touch and blush-hued harmonies were responsible for transforming the piano into a jazz instrument as expressive and beautiful as any sighing horn such an afflicted soul? For those who have truly fallen under his spell, this lingering question weighs on his entire legacy.


Michael Bacon said...

One of the best jazz pianists ever. Thanks Steve! Have a great holiday.

tractal said...

What a wonderful find. Thanks!

gide07 said...

White vs black jazz. When Monk wasn't jazzy as in his Greatest Hits he was the greatest and that he is W. Marsalis's favorite makes perfect sense. But when he got jazzy, to me, a white guy, it was crap.

Jay Ham said...

As a jazz musician myself (I play piano and guitar), I've always found Bill Evan's drug abuse difficult to reconcile with his obvious musical talent (and perhaps even genius). Although highly educated and also an autodidact, he seemed deeply troubled by personal demons.

He probably had a high IQ but seriously high psychoticism, too.

gide07 said...

Aren't musicians more likely to be addicts? The explanation is that music good to the extent it is affecting and requires affection to play well? No. The result is emotional wrecks. Because music affects artificially the world would be better without it.

David Backus said...

Not quite the same, I know, but I saw the Keith Jarrett Trio in Newark a few weeks back. Really something special. Also almost all of the trio recordings.

Michael Bacon said...


A little late with this, but here is a link to an NPR "Piano Jazz" show from many years ago. Bill Evans at his best:

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