“Jazz is not a what, it is a how. If it were a what, it would be static, never growing. The how is that the music comes
from the moment, it is spontaneous, it exists at the time it is created. And anyone who makes music according to this
method conveys to me an element that makes his music jazz”. (Evans)
Nat King Cole
These students around the world became aware of this quiet, introverted man who, at a time when so many others were attacking the keyboard, only caressed it. The calm, reflective nature of his work was the very element that focussed attention on him. He had something in common with the gifted actor who, irritated by to much coughing in the audience, begins to speak his lines so softly that the audience is virtually obliged to subside into respectful silence. (Leonard Feather: Bill Evans: The Gentle Giant, in Contemporary Keyboard, December 1980)
He spawned a school of “Bill Evans style” or “Evans inspired” pianists, who include some of the best known artists of our day, including Richard Beirach, Warren Bernhardt, Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Fred Hersch, Keith Jarrett, Andy Laverne, Brad Mehldau, Michel Petrucciani, Enrico Pieranunzi, Steve Kuhn and Danny Zeitlin. Herbie Hancock attributes hearing the modal concepts of Evans’ solo on “So What” as a turning point in his own approach. Chick Corea considers him as one of his main inspirations and acknowledges Evans’ great musicianship as a factor in his own musical development. "Bill was the first jazz pianist whose fine touch set a standard of silky, velvety piano texture for me. I hadn't listended to classical pianists very much when I was growing up in Boston, and so hearing a touch as smooth and beautiful as Bill's really grabbed my attention" (Chick Corea).
"The most influential jazz pianist to emerge after Bud Powell was Bill Evans. The most widely imitated pianists after Bill Evans were McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Keith Jarrett. All four men showed the combined influence of Powell and Evans. These pianists attracted large popular followings and had record sales and concert receipts that exceeded the recognition of both Powell and Evans". (Mark C. Gridley, in Jazz Styles, Prentice Hall, 10e edition, 2008)
After the untimely death of Bill Evans in 1980, fourteen contemporary pianists recorded in 1983 an impressive tribute album, including their statements on his music and personality. Bill Evans' influence on modern music is still growing as more musicians absorb his original ideas and study his music scores. Bernard Maury opened in 1996 the "Bill Evans Piano Academy" in Paris. This academy has flexible courses of study on several levels ranging from 5 to 20 hours per week spread over 33 weeks a year for both jazz pianists (professional or amateur) and teachers as well as those with classical training interested in jazz and musical improvisation.
BILL EVANS, THE TEACHER
From a letter written by Bill Evans in 1967 to a classical trained woman who inquired about piano lessons from him: “Teaching jazz is a very touchy problem, the least troublesome aspect of which is not the stylistic question. That it is exceedingly difficult to teach improvisation without imposing style on the student. Therefore, it seems that general study of music would be most advisable with application to jazz. After all, music theory transcends style. So, a good conservatory curriculum would provide a jazz interested person with a great many tools with which to work in the idiom. I will only say that I believe, one must understand one’s materials clearly and thoroughly in order to take steps on the road of development. From there on, it is the familiar learning process of concentrating consciously on the thing being done until it becomes subconscious and the conscious can be directed at the next deeper level of the problem".
"Obviously," Bill said, "you can't find in jazz the perfection of craft that is possible in other music. Yet oddly enough, this lack of perfection can result in good jazz. For example in classical music a mistake is a mistake. But in jazz a mistake can be - in fact, must be - justified by what follows it. If you were improvising a speech and started a sentence in a way you hadn't intended, you would have to carry it out so that it would make sense. It is the same in spontaneous music". (Gene Lees: Meet Me at Jim and Andy's, Oxford University Press, 1988)
I would say to a young musician: "If you play too many things at one time, your whole approach will be vague. You wan't know what to leave in and what to take out. Know very clearly what you're doing and why - play much less, but be very clear about it. It's much better to spend 30 hours on one tune than to play 30 tunes in one hour. Play anything, read a lot, then break off, try to get into something with one particular tune. Learn the basic structure. You know, you have to repair some things in sheet music - you'll sense a chord or a phrase that seems weak, so ask yourself, why is it weak? Then set about trying to find the right chord, the one your instinct tells you is right. Take an idea - any idea. Play it upside down, backwards, change the register, the key, the rhythm and so on. Take any combination of notes that might occur to you and try to find 18 different ways of doing it." (Interview with Marian McPartland in Down Beat, october 17, 1968)
"Certainly try to master your instrument as much as possible, so that you can express what you want to express. I don't know other than that, because a true talent knows where to select and what to select and they can't really go wrong. I am rather a firm believer in a conservatory approach to music. I think that a real talent knows how to use the disciplines that a really strict conservatory curriculum can give them. It can give them more tools than a more liberal type of curriculum; but that's probably a matter of opinion. I can also see a great advantage to schools like Berklee or Texas State, where you have the constant stimulation of other jazz players - jamming all the time and being able to hear things you arrange. I think that's just a superb opportunity. But along with that I think that there should be some universal principles of music that are taught through traditional disciplines. A person has to become very respectful of the motion of one tone in any place in music, just the step of one tone to another place a half-step away or a whole-step away or whatever. He has to truly respect that and realizer the importance of musical motion and economy and things like that, which can only come from strict theoretical dicipline. But on the other hand, a true talent imposes these things on himself, and there are many examples of unschooled artists or relatively unschooled artists who give evidence of having given great consideration to these problems, and having devoted many years to working on them without someone leading them through, so I think the talent is always the ultimate thing. If the person is really exceptional, they'll find their way." (From an interview with Michael Spector, Contemporary Keyboard, 1977)
Bill Evans: "I focus rather on specific theoretical problems of the piano, on the structure of my phrasing, on the quality of my musical language, and I think this is the key issue on which a musician should concentrate. Those who study the piano should always keep this in mind: first you should have a complete vision of the structure of what you play; then, just expose the structure of the theme in a manner you have determined yourself." Pianist Warren Bernhardt about Bill Evans: "Pianistically, he's beautiful. He never seems to be hung up in doing anything he wants to do, either technically or harmonically. When he's confronted with a choice in improvisation, he doesn't have to wonder which voicing of a chord is best. He knows. A given voicing will have different effects in different registers, especially when you use semitones as much as he does. So he constantly shifts voicings, depending on the register. And he is technically capable of executing his thought immediately. It's as if the line between his brain and his fingers were absolutely direct."
"The people who are dedicated to jazz in Europe aren't encumbered with the inferiority complex that jazz has in relation to classical music in America. There are few grants for jazz students in America whereas in Europe even the state has an attitude of respect to jazz. In Europe there are grants constantly being given to students to compose jazz or tour with a band. Consequently the public there respects jazz in a more serious way". (Bill Evans talking to Frank Everett in Jazz Journal Aug 1968)
THE IMPROVISATION CONCEPT AND STYLE OF BILL EVANS
"Musicians must have the confidence to find their own style, regardless of the prevailing musical style of the day. First of all, I never strive for identity. That's something that just has happened automatically as a result, I think, of just putting things together, tearing things apart and putting it together my own way, and somehow I guess the individual comes through eventually." (Enstice, Wayne and Rubin. Jazz Spoken Here: Conversations with Twenty-two Musicians, LSU Press, 1992.)
Have also a look at the DVD "The Universal Mind Of Bill Evans". Bill Evans teaches the meaning of jazz, through live performance. The registration is filmed as an informal, engaging discussion between Bill Evans and his brother Harry who was professor of music at Louisiana State University. This documentary features in-depth discussion of Evans' internal process of song interpretation, improvisation, and repertoire. Through demonstration on the piano, Bill illustrates his own conception of solo piano and how to interpret and expand upon the melody and underlying chord structure.
From an interview of a private concert in Helsinki, Finland in 1969: "I mean jazz is a certain process that is not an intellectual process. You use your intellect to take apart the materials and learn to understand them and learn to work with them. But, actually, it takes years and years of playing to develop the facility so that you can forget all of that and just relax, and just play."
From an interview with Dan Morgenstern in Down Beat, 1964: "Bill Evans - a man of many parts: the art of playing". Bill Evans is concerned with freedom in music.
"The only way I can work is to have some kind of restraint involved, the challenge of a certain craft or form, and to find the freedom in that, which is a hell of a job."
The improvisation concept of Bill Evans is a result of hard analytical process that started in Bill’s college years and finished at his death in 1980. Bill was a musician that was never satisfied with his own playing, resulting in constant development in his own music. In interviews, Evans often stressed that pianists should thoroughly learn technique and harmony so that they can put their inspiration to maximum use. Since he already had those tools in hand, he worked very hard on his touch, getting the special, refined tone that he wanted out of a piano. "Any musician who is outstanding has had to put together a total picture out of a million pieces he has picked up - it's cumulative - you accept and reject. There are no magic moments that, sort of, solve all problems, you know. It's just a long hard trip. But it's a wonderful trip if it's what you want, otherwise it would be incredibly impossible." Bill Evans about romanticism: "Discipline and freedom have to mix in a very sensitive way. I believe all music is romantic, but if it gets schmaltzy, romanticism is disturbing. On the other hand, romanticism handled with discipline is the most beautiful kind of beauty."
http://www.danpapirany.info/billevans.htm Jazzpianist and composer Dan Papirany (1967, Tel Aviv, Israel, later Australia) has identified 3 different stages of Bill Evans' musical development:
• The first period (1956-1970) were he sounds like Bud Powell with “horn like” phrases, and an economical harmonic approach.
• The second period is from 1970-1978 were Bill’s harmony consist of mainly 3 and 4 tone voicing,and the melody is characterized by more forceful rhythm, longer pauses between phrases, usage of chromatic intervals mixed with large intervals.
• In the third period that lasted only two years Bill’s playing was more adventurous and consisted of phrases that he never used before, more variations in his rhythm (aggressiveness), and less structural development of phrases in the improvised choruses.
In 2000 Alain Gerber (France 1943) produced 50 radio broadcasts about Bill Evans for France Musique: Death and Resurrection of Bill Evans. In 2001 he published his 350 page book Bill Evans (Fayard, 2001). Among the five “resurrections” that Evans experienced as recorded by Gerber were:
• His acquisition of a modal jazz aspect to his playing, which he acquired with composer George Russell and which caused Miles Davis, who wished to go a bit the modal route, to replace Red Garland with Evans in his group—as Gerber put it: “putting a tightrope walker where a weightlifter had performed marvelously.” This move “made” Evans’ early career owing to his role in Davis’ historic modal recording Kind of Blue in 1959.
• His going farther than earlier examples of Nat Cole and Oscar Peterson in moving the trio from an accompaniment of the piano to a three-way conversation between piano, bass, and drums. The happy coincidence of collaborating with the immensely talented Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian brought this innovation to a degree of high art that continued after LaFaro’s untimely death in 1961.
• His very successful innovation of overdubbing in Conversations with Myself and later uses of this technique in some others of his solo piano pieces.
• His ability not to rely exclusively on jazz standards but to contribute an impressive array of original compositions to the jazz repertory, e.g., “Waltz for Debby,” “Peace Piece,” and many others.
• His revolutionary approach to voicings. Gerber alluded to this several times in his book, giving some credit to George Shearing as an influence on this aspect, as well as on Evans’ occasional block chord usage. According to Frank Tirro: “Postwar jazz piano took a quantum jump in the late 1950s when Bill Evans revoiced keyboard chords by omitting the root as the lowest sounding pitch and replacing it with the seventh or the third of the chord on the bottom.”
(From the thesis: French stewardship of jazz: The case of France Musique and France Culture by Suddarth, Roscoe Seldon, M.A., University of Maryland, 2008)
Throughout the years however, Evans's style has remained remarkably constant. His playing is cool in the sense that everything he plays seems to be exquisitely balanced and controlled. The peaks of intensity are lyrical, and even the fastest, most dazzling lines are executed with absolute precision. A high percentage of the titles he records are not show-stoppers but ballads and waltzes, and the Evans touch is at its best when the tempo is slow, the mood casual and affectionate, and the changes rich in harmonic implications. He has worked unceasingly to arrive at a clearer, less cluttered jazz conception, one with no false starts, no side issues, no merely showy licks. The logic with which one phrase follows another is impeccable. Though he sometimes uses locked-hands chords or moving left-hand figures, a typical Evans solo consists almost entirely of a single line in the right hand (occasionally incorporating some thirds) supported by sustained voicings in the left hand that have been almost brutally pared down untill all that remains is the naked skeleton of jazz harmony. The right-hand lines, long and intricate, have grown out of the bebop tradition, and in fact on some early recordings Evans's similarity to one of his two main idols, Bud Powell, is more apparent than on his mellower work. (Jim Aikin, Keyboard magazine, June 1980)
Two excerpts from an interview with Bill Evans by Les Tomkins (Copyright ©, 1972):
The thing that sets apart Bill Evans from other keyboard improvisers is the astonishingly high level of his spontaneous composition. Everything he plays has meaning and structure and such is the coordination of mind and hands that every improvised chorus emerges as a lyrical and skilfully wrought composition in its own right. There are no moments of "marking time", no ritual vamping until another favourite phrase is called to mind; and if there are cliches, then they are beloved phrases of Evans' own invention and part of the distinctive character of his music. (A comment by Mike Hennessey on a review by Stan Britt about the work of Bill Evans in Jazz Journal International, november 1980)
Bill Evans' unique piano style is problably best summarised by Leonard Feather's Encyclopedia of Jazz: "The most personal characteristics of his work were his uniquely delicate articulation, his oblique harmonic approaches and manner of voicing chords, his occasional use of the left hand in rhythmic duplication of the right-hand line, and the ability to create a warm, beautiful mood within the framework of a popular song, a jazz standard or an original work".
Twenty master theses have been published about the style of Bill Evans and his trio:
• The Jazz Piano Style of Bill Evans by Joe Utterback (University of Kansas, 1979)
• Homer, Gregory, and Bill Evans? The theory of formulaic composition in the context of jazz
piano improvisation by Gregory Eugene Smith (Harvard University, 1983)
• Bill Evans: Portrait of his life, Example in his Style of Motivic Development and
Rhythmic Displacement from "Solar" and "Autumn Leaves" Solos, A Harmonic Analysis from
"When I Fall in Love by Ann Brinkerhoff Beatty (University of Denver, 1985)
• Bill Evans: An analytical study of his improvisational style through selected transcriptions; by
Stephen Widenhofer (University of Northern Colorado, 1988)
• Bill Evans: His Contributions as a Jazz Pianist and an Analysis of his Musical Style by
Paula Berardinelli (NY University, 1992)
• Impressionism in Jazz: from Bix Beiderbecke to Bill Evans by Philippe Fourquet (University of
Paris, 1993) Concerning Bill Evans chapter 3, page 162-203
• Interactive Jazz Improvisation in the Bill Evans Trio (1959-61): A Stylistic Study For Advanced
Double Bass Performance by Wilner, Donald L. (University of Miami, 1995)
• Jazz Stylistic Features Through The Identification Of Vertical Structures In Bill Evans's Work
by Marcelo Gimenes (University of Campinas, Brazil, 2003)
• Form and model in the piano improvisation of Bill Evans: An analytical and comparative study of
Bill Evans and Keith Jarrett by Cvetkov, Vasil A. (Southeastern Louisiana University, 2004)
• New Jazz Conceptions: Bill Evans's Unique Mark on "Blue in Green" by Hall, Brian D. (The
Brigham Young University, 2005)
• Dynamic consonance in selected piano performances of tonal jazz by McGowan, James John
Ph.D. (University of Rochester, Eastman School of Music, 2005)
• A comparative analysis of selected piano solos by Red Garland, Bill Evans, Wynton Kelly and
Herbie Hancock from their recordings with the Miles Davis groups, 1955--1968 by Perry, Justin
Clay D.M.A. ( University of Miami, 2006)
• The Poet and The Priest: The Divergent Piano Styles of Bill Evans and Thelonious Monk by
Michael Conklin (Rutgers University, 2007)
• Bill Evans and his influence on Jazz Music by Kaewalin Prasertchang (Kingston University, London,
• A Fragmented Parallel Stream: The Bass Lines of Eddie Gomez in the Bill Evans Trio by
Holgate, Gary David (Sydney University, 2009)
• An analysis of Bill Evans' approach to playing the melody of selected jazz ballads by Cankaya,
M. I. Can M.M., (The William Paterson University of New Jersey, 2009)
• Harmony and Voice Leading in Jazz Improvisation: Formulating an Analytical Framework
For a Comparative Analysis of a Bill Evans and Herbie Hancock Performance of Hancock's
"Dolphin Dance" by Dunn, Tony M.A., (University of Ottawa, Canada, 2010)
• Bill Evans and the craft of improvisation by Gross, Austin Andrew Ph.D., (University of Rochester,
Eastman School of Music, 2011).
• Bill Evans (1929-1980), Miles Ahead to The Last Trio by Sean Gough, (The State University of
New Jersey, 2011)
• Billy's Touch: An Analysis of the Compositions of Bill Evans, Billy Strayhorn, and Bill Murray
by J. William Murray (Towson University, March, 2011)
• Classical influences on the jazz styles of Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock, Cecil Taylor, and Dave
Brubeck by Peters, Jason (Northern Illinois University, 2013)
Michael Conklin in the preface of his study: "I delve into one of the vital aspects that came to define the mature piano style of Bill Evans, his constant attention to counterpoint and subsequent use of sophisticated voice-leading techniques. More specifically, I illustrate that much of Evans’s improvisations may be viewed as polyphonic textures with three or four melodic lines moving independently as well as the resultant harmonic voicings falling easily under hand due to good voice-leading".
Pascal Wetzel, a French pianist and teacher, made for more than 35 years note-for-note transcriptions of compositions and standards played by Bill Evans. Four books of his work on Bill Evans' music have been released at this time, three of them being devoted to his own compositions, following a book of standards: The Artistry of Bill Evans (CPP/Belwin, 1989), Bill Evans Fake Book (TRO, 1996), Bill Evans at Town Hall (TRO, 2004) and The Mastery of Bill Evans (TRO, 2006).
"Despite the analysis of Evans' music, despite the explanatary attemps of critics, despite the piecing together of data, you will not find Bill Evans on pieces of paper. You will find Bill Evans in his music. Catch him - if you can". (Don DeMicheal in the Bill Evans Fake Book with 60 original Evans' compositions transcribed and edited, with also lyric versions of 10 tunes, 1969).
"That's why it bugs me when people try to analyze jazz as an intellectual theorem. It's not. It's feeling.” (Bill Evans)
"The trio's music enveloped me with a magic aura. I took off and my consciousness seemed to dissolve in sound - mind and body became one huge ear, the music streamed through me, so that Bill's observation that music is nothing but feeling never was clearer to me."
(Critic Ira Gitler, when hearing the Village Vanguard recordings).
"Classical music created and adapted new streams through the ages like Baroque, Romantics, Impressionists, and when Bill Evans made his debut on the Jazz scene, a new sound was introduced and with it a distinctive new stream of Jazz. It can be said that this is the moment that Jazz Romantics were created. It has been almost half a century since his first trio came together which included greats such as Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian. The appearance of his followers is unending, however, and they continue to wonder the universe of Evans music groping for the next tide of Jazz". (The Japanese Swing Journal Magazine, issue June 2010, the last before suspending publication!)
Some authoritative statements about Bill Evans:
• Evans is the first genius of the piano since Art Tatum. (Leonard Feather)
• Evans has brought piano jazz forward to a new plateau of lyrical beauty. (Leonard Feather)
• The revolution that comes to jazz piano. (Gene Lees)
• He sounds like love letters written to the world from some prison of the heart. (Gene Lees)
• One of the most influential musicians in jazz today. (Dan Morgenstern)
• Bill Evans is the most influential stylist in jazz piano. Melodic improvisation that rings in your
ears for days after you hear him. (Ralph Gleason)
• When Bill Evans is in town, one goes not to listen so much as to worship. (Brian Priestley)
• Evans has become so deeply influential a force in jazz by sheer force of integrity." Miles Davis,
characteristically direct, once said of Evans: "He plays the piano the way it should be played."
• Bill Evans has created a music that is the most profound and exhilarating expierence jazz has to
offer. (David Rosenthal)