Music is an important aspect of our daily life as it can be heard or played in any event. This art incorporates several components including the rhythm, pitch, sonic characteristic of texture and dynamics. In this light, most people choose the kind of music they want to listen to: individuals own sound systems in their residence, radios are listened to at home, work or in the cars. In addition to the music that we hear in our environment, there is an extensive range of music existing in the present time. People can listen to hip hop, jazz, Vivaldi, Beethoven, reggae, and rumba or country ballads. Artists can compose, record, or even produce music. Therefore this paper looks at the life history, music and style of a post-bop jazz pianist, Bill Evans.
William John Evans, also recognized as Bill Evans, was born on 16th August 1929 and died on 15th September 1980. According to ActiveMucisian Evans was among the prominent and influential jazz artists of the 20th century. His exceptional style in jazz music including polyrhythmic melodic lines inspired most of the upcoming pianists in those years and also those who are in the jazz music industry today including Chick Corea, Fred Hersch, Bill Charlap and Herbie Hancock. He released more than fifty albums in which he was able to be granted the Grammy awards. Despite all the hard work and inspirational public image, Bill Evans had a “confidence problem” as he termed it, though he gave himself wholesomely to his piano work (Simpson). To boost his psyche, he opted to take heroin in which he became addicted to in his career work. This lead to a miserable life in which his career and marriages were affected leading to an unexpected early death.
Bill Evans was born in Plainfield, New Jersey in the year 1928. His mother was of Russian heritage and his father from Welsh descent (Hinkle). Because of his mother’s background as a member of Russian Orthodox Church with interest in modern classical pianists, Bill was able to develop an interest in music. Thus his initial training in music, especially the classical piano started at the age of 6 and consequently matured to become informed in the flute at age 13 and could therefore play the violin. During his early teen years, Bill was able to fill a position in Buddy Valentino’s band after his older brother. He performed in several New York clubs in the late 1940’s and later graduated from Southeastern Louisiana University in 1950 with a piano and teaching degree; Evans played in school groups and on his own during the college years. He also mastered compositions at Mannes College of Music (ActiveMucisian). Besides teaching, Evans performed in the Army bands for some time, and later worked at dance clubs with other jazz musicians.
Music and Style
Working and performing in the 1950’s made Evans gain a profile as a second man in conventional and the third stream avant-grade jazz bands. According to Stevens, the first album by this pianist was New Jazz Conceptions (1956), in which Evans’ most sought musical work known as the “Waltz for Debby” was recorded. After two years, Everybody Digs Bill Evans was recorded, though the pianist was self- disparaging hence delaying the release of the album. His original piano sound and style made him slowly become popular in the NYC jazz scene, hence making Miles Davis request him to be one of his. Evans was able to stay in the group while recording and playing an ever captivating classic- Kind of Blue album, with a subsequent composition of “Blue-Green”, which is presently a jazz standard. His cooperation with Davis helped him to strengthen and improve his style, and in 1959, Evans was able to invent a trio which was his collaboration with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian; who are now legendary bassists and drummers respectively.
The albums recorded by the trio were originally the idea of Evans, which in turn remained the most prominent in his wide catalog. Simpson asserts that, Evans’s style has been an invasive influence to the pianists in the past years and remains fairly undetectable; his high nuance touch, his chord soundings and his melodic shapes. Many artists have tried to sound like Evans as compared to his predecessors and even those who came after he made direct reference to his style. Thus Evans’s style in relation to sound, gives us clue of the consciousness and emotional intention that is depicted in the music. In light of this, Evans together with his companions was able to work on two albums following Portrait in Jazz-1959; Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard (1961).
LaFaro’s early death at age 25 in an automotive accident only a few days after Vanguard’s performance, stunned Evans and made him stop recording for some months. Evans formed a trio band later with Chuck Israels as the bassist. As a result the albums How My Heart Sings and Moonbeams were recorded (1962). Another followed, Conversations With Myself, which won him the first-ever award of Grammy in the instrumental jazz concert. His addiction to drugs (heroin) affected his career, although his manager Helen Keane helping to prevent the deterioration. His last trio was effected in 1978, together with Mac Johnson – bass and Joe LaBarbera – drummer. Yet again, he suffered more career and family problems because of drugs. Therefore the albums that he recorded between 1964 and 1978 together with other pianists include Waltz for Debby, The Bill Evans Album, Since We met, The Tokyo Concert, Both I Will Say Goodbye, Together Again and Turn Out the Stars.
Evans was known better for his music and style. This made him sell more records and albums during his career, thus making sufficient money for him and his wife Ellaine. Evans was a five-time victor of Down Beat’s critics’ opinion poll, England Melody Maker Award, 1968, and five Grammy Awards. According to Simpson, his fortunes enabled him to move from Manhattan to a comfy estate, Riverdale. During this period Evans briefly recorded for Columbia. Later, he moved to Fantasy, where his career as pianist matured and a lot of most loved works emerged from there.
Drug Habit, Personal Tragedy and Death
Evans has been engaging himself in heroin addiction since late 50s. Getting married to Elaine stirred the drug habit, because both of them were addicts. He even resolved to borrow money from friends in order to fulfill their urges. In 1970 Evans involved himself more on drugs for some time, specifically after his wife Ellaine committed suicide by hurling herself under a train’s channel. He later got married to Nanette and was blessed to have a son who inspired the “Letter to Evan” tune. However the marriage broke after a few years and Evan moved to Fort Lee, NJ, (Simpson). In the last years of his life, Evans tried to avoid drugs following advice from his doctor.
In 1980 Bill Evans involved himself in cocaine usage which he perceived as being “safe” compared to heroin. But this drug is much stronger than cocaine as it wears the body without proper blood replenishment. Cocaine became much serious and consequently a fatal issue for Bill. Therefore, in the summer of that year, Bill was pronounced dead.
The contribution of Bill Evan to the music industry has been evolving by making many pianists in various musical styles follow his style. Bills’ music often depicted his innovative mastery of harmony, jazz conception, rhythm and pitch; though, his life status was always difficult. In his collaborations with other artists, Bill was able to build a distinct view of classical sense of style and conceptual scale in exceptional ways. In this light, it is clear that the works of this great pianist influence other musicians who are interested in jazz music around the world.
“Bill Evans Biography” Active Musician. 2000. web.
Hinkle, Win. Bill Evans Biography. 1998. Web.
Simpson, Joel. Bill Evans: 1929-1980. 2004. Web.
Stevens, Jan. A Brief biography of Bill Evans. 2000. Web.