Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Bill Evans: Maker of Monumental Music

Bill Evans was born in 1929 in New Jersey, and began piano lessons at an early age. As a child, his music lessons were primarily Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert. He also played several other musical instruments, and studied music at Southeastern Louisiana University.

After his time at the university, he spent several years in the army. Leaving the military in January 1954, he spent a year of intensive practice and composition. In July 1955, he began graduate studies at the Mannes College of Music, and began playing at various venues in New York.

His talent was quickly recognized, but he was hesitant to make commercial recordings. Significant persuasion eventually nudged him into the studio. He made disks which are significant in the history of American music.

His first album, New Jazz Conceptions was recorded in September 1956. Feature Teddy Kotick on bass and Paul Motian on drums, the record contained a piece which would become one of his most famous and most popular: “Waltz for Debbie.” According to Mark Sabbatini, the album sold only 800 copies in its first year.

In December 1958, Bill Evans recorded his second studio album, Everybody Digs Bill Evans. With Sam Jones on bass and Philly Joe Jones on drums, the cover image of this record included signed endorsements by Miles Davis, George Shearing, Cannonball Adderley, and Ahmad Jamal.

Unlike the long periods of cajoling by friends and colleagues which were at first necessary to persuade Evans to record, and which explain the long gap between his first two major studio albums, the interval between the next few disks was brief. In January 1959, he was recording On Green Dolphin Street with bassists Paul Chambers, Ron Carter, and Scott LaFaro. The record also included drummers Philly Joe Jones and Paul Motian. One track contains a saxophonist and guitarist. The album was not released until 1975.

Bill was recording again in December 1959. The album was titled Portrait in Jazz, and it included drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro.

Although Evans would release many more recordings during his career, these four albums represent his foundational and defining work. He died in 1980.