Bill Evans with Symphony Orchestra
… under this motto I present you my music tip for the weekend.
Maybe one or the other discovers something new.
Consciously listening to music is, in my opinion, as important as reading a good book.
Today: Bill Evans with Symphony Orchestra
Bill Evans is considered one of the most influential pianists in modern jazz and a style-setter for an entire generation of musicians, including Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea and Brad Mehldau. Strongly influenced by role models such as Lennie Tristano as well as the impressionism of Claude Debussy and Maurice Ravel, Evans brought an introverted and lyrical sensibility to jazz.
In his piano trios, he transformed bass and drums from accompanists to equal partners. Besides his first trio (1958-1961) with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian, his last formation (1978-1980) with Marc Johnson and Joe LaBarbera is seen as the highlight of this interplay.
William “Bill” Evans grew up in a white middle class family. His father, Harry L. Evans, had ancestors from Wales and ran a golf course. His mother, Mary Saroka Evans, came from a(Ruthenian) mining family that had immigrated to Pittsburgh. She introduced her two sons, the elder Harry and the younger William, to the piano as an amateur pianist. The family owned an instrument on which the sons took turns practicing. Bill Evans had his first engagement at the age of twelve, when he filled in for his older brother in Buddy Valentino’s band. This band occasionally featured young Don Elliott, who later brought Evans into his band. At the age of thirteen, Evans began learning the flute and violin in addition.
Beginning in the fall of 1946, Bill Evans and his brother Harry attended Southeastern Louisiana College in Hammond, Louisiana, which their parents had chosen because of its good teaching program for music students. It was there that Evans became interested in African American music. Later, Bill Evans considered this period one of the most gratifying in his entire life:
“I was on my own then, and Louisiana really made an impression. Maybe it was the laid-back way people lived there – things moved at a very leisurely pace. That eventually transferred to me, too. There was a certain permissive lifestyle, very different from that in the North. The relationship between blacks and whites was friendly, often even confidential.”
Evans graduated from Southeastern Louisiana College with a classical music degree and a bachelor’s degree in piano and music education in 1950. In college, Evans met Mundell Lowe, who then hired him at 18 for his trio with Red Mitchell. In the late 1940s, he played boogie-woogie piano in New York clubs.
In college, he first heard the records of saxophonist Lee Konitz and the “Lennie Tristano School. “For the first time, I experienced listening to jazz that was not learned by osmosis, but was making an attempt to create something [Neues].”
A key role in his compositional studies and development was played by music professor Gretchen Magee; pieces written at that time, such as Peace Piece and Waltz for Debby, are “due to Ms. Magee’s teaching methods. She taught Evans basic theoretical knowledge and advanced compositional theory at that time.” A letter that Bill Evans later sent to Gretchen Magee illustrates her importance to the pianist’s development. It said, “Always I have admired your teaching as that rare and amazing combination that combined extraordinary knowledge with the ability to bring that knowledge to life inside a student. I am certain that you, of all people, were my greatest inspiration in college, and the seeds of insight you sowed have borne fruit in practice many times over.”
In the summer of 1950, the Evans brothers parted ways. While Harry pursued a career as a music educator and later became a teacher in Baton Rouge, Bill finished his flute studies. He then joined Herbie Fields ‘ dance band before completing his military service, playing flute with the 5th Army Band at Fort Sheridan. Off duty, he frequented jazz clubs in nearby Chicago; by 1951, he was playing with Tony Scott during a visit to New York’s Café Society. Beginning in 1951, he had the opportunity in Chicago and New York to familiarize himself with the then newest trends in modern jazz; after the bebop years, pianists such as Lennie Tristano, Horace Silver, Dave Brubeck, and others dominated the scene. He was also influenced by the great pianists of the swing era such as Teddy Wilson, Earl Hines, Art Tatum and Nat Cole. Evans later recalled:
“Lennie Tristano’s very early recordings made an enormous impression on me – pieces like Tautology Marshmellows and Fishin’ Around. I noticed how the musicians in his group built their improvisations within a structure that was quite different from anything I had heard before. I think I was even more impressed with Lee Konitz and Warne Marsh than with Lennie himself; it was the way they brought things together.”
After his discharge from the army, he therefore decided to move to New York. First, however, he returned from Chicago to his childhood home in New Jersey to improve his piano technique. In 1954 he worked with Jerry Wald, with whose orchestra he made his first recordings that, like Mad About the Boy or Porter’s I Love Paris, can be described as popular music.
In 1955, he finally moved to New York to begin his professional career. He moved into an apartment in a tenement building on 106th Street. Street and earned his money by performing at societies and parties. Bassist George Platt, whom he met in the Buddy Valentino band, became a teacher for his further development. He began studying theory on the side at Mannes College of Music, worked as an accompanist for singer Lucy Reed, and made his first appearances as a solo pianist at the Village Vanguard as a “stopgap” for the stars. He also recorded with Dick Garcia, Tony Scott and George Russell. He was also involved in the premiere of Russell’s suite All about Rosie and played in his Jazz Workshop in 1956.
There are many beautiful recordings by and with Bill Evans. Also very interesting from a compositional point of view. His piano playing is very “elegant”. Unfortunately, his life was strongly marked by drug use.
If you want to learn more about him, I recommend the full Wikipedia entry, and also the video footage on YouTube.
Have fun listening to music !
Your Chris Weigold
P.S.: Maybe you enjoy the listening pleasure together with a glass of wine from our “Orchestra of Cultures Edition”.