February 5, 2015


The Bill Evans Legacy : 35 years after his death, the pianist remains a huge influence on jazz. (DOUG RAMSEY, Feb. 3, 2015, WSJ)

Evans shaped the most significant music in trumpeter Miles Davis's 1959 sextet album "Kind Of Blue," the best-selling jazz recording in history. His interest in improvisation rooted in scales and modes, rather than in traditional sequences of chord progressions, was the basis of "Flamenco Sketches" and "Blue in Green." Those pieces in "Kind Of Blue" had an effect on Davis's tenor saxophonist, John Coltrane, as he lessened his reliance on standard harmonic structures and became an influence on generations of jazz artists. As for Evans's playing, Davis described it in a widely quoted phrase as "like crystal notes or sparkling water cascading down from some clear waterfall."

In a recent conversation, pianist Bill Mays called my attention to another Evans attribute. "People don't seem to talk about his ability with rhythmic displacement of lines--that is, to play an improvised line that was not hemmed in by two-bar or four-bar phrasing. It might surprise you by starting later and ending later than you would expect."

In his study "The Harmony of Bill Evans," composer and pianist Jack Reilly says: "He changed the approach to the sound of jazz piano by his touch and his attention to pedaling, phrasing and dynamics." Mr. Reilly emphasizes Evans's "remarkable way of handling the possibilities of interplay within the piano-bass-drums trio."

Evans had a vision of that interplay well before he found musicians who could help him achieve it. The work with Davis behind him, in December 1959 he finally formed the trio he had been hearing in his mind for three years. The young New York veteran Paul Motian was the drummer. The bassist was 23-year-old Scott LaFaro. Evans had heard him three years earlier in a Los Angeles audition. He recognized LaFaro in 1956 as talented, but according to Evans biographer Peter Pettinger, likened his playing to "a bucking horse." Now, however, he had fluidity of thought and execution that was ideal for Evans's concept of a trio that would "grow in the direction of simultaneous improvisation rather than just one guy blowing followed by another guy blowing. If the bass player, for example, hears an idea that he wants to answer, why should he just keep playing a steady background?" LaFaro made possible an even more fundamental element of Evans's specifications for his trio: "Especially, I want my work--and the trio's if possible--to sing. It must have that wonderful feeling of singing."

Posted by at February 5, 2015 6:03 PM

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