Orrin Keepnews (1923) is an American writer and jazz record producer. In 1952 Keepnews and his partner Bill Grauer produced their first records. The following year they founded Riverside Records. Grauer handled the administrative side of Riverside and Keepnews the artistic side. They published together A pictural History Of Jazz (Spring Books, London, 1958). With Keepnews as producer, and adding such significant young artists as Bill Evans, Cannonball and Nat Adderley, Wes Montgomery, Johnny Griffin, Jimmy Heath, the label soon developped into the leading New York-based independent labels. Evans’s first album as a leader, when 26 years old, New Jazz Conceptions was recorded for Riverside and released in 1957. In 1961, Keepnews produced what many regard as one of the greatest live jazz recordings of all time with the Evans Trio, Sunday At The Village Vanguard and Waltz for Debby. The Village Vanguard and Bill Evans have been linked in jazz history since the pianist’s first trio recorded these albums at the club in 1961. Evans returned often, and was later asked by owners Max and Lorraine Gordon to select the house piano. 

Bill Evans who made more recordings at the Vanguard than any other musician. The late Max Gordon, owner of the Village Vanguard: “The first time Bill Evans played the Vanguard, twenty-five years ago, he was the intermission piano player opposite the modern Jazz Quartet. When the MJQ was on, the crowd, who’d come to hear them, was quiet. When Bill took over, a buzz started ’round the room. Who in hell is Bill Evans? They’d never heard of him. He was filling space between sets for the star attraction. Today, Bill is the star attraction. He plays at the Vanguard four, five times a year. Now when he’s on, the Vanguard is Town Hall” (Live at the Village Vanguard, 1980). Keepnews and Grauer were working with very small capital and they borrowed from the banks to try to expand. Keepnews: “Our goal wasn’t to sell a lot of records and get rich. Our goal was to sell enough records to make the next one”. They went too far and ended up bankrupt. After this period Orrin Keepnews started Milestone Records in 1966. Late in 1972 he relocated to San Francisco as director of jazz at Fantasy Records, which had just acquired the Riverside masters. Milestone was bought by Fantasy in the same year. (Photo Bill Evans and Max Gordon in the Village Vanguard in 1977, © Hayashi)

Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1959), was his second album for Riverside as a leader. It was a trio date, recorded with Sam Jones and Philly Joe Jones, but for a couple of numbers Evans had the space to himself with as highlight “Peace Piece”. The gentle two opening chords of “Some Other Time” composed by Leonard Bernstein served as the building blocks to “Peace Piece”. He used the refrain as the basis for his startlingly inventive improvisation and did a beautiful rendition of this song. Many of the stylistic musical manifestations of Debussy and Ravel are apparent: modes and other scalar collections. The piece starts out spare and melodic and is also a modal tone poem equal to anything Erik Satie composed. This modest and ultimately quiet “Peace Piece,” is a timeless, meditational, reverent, pastoral improvisation that is more a mood than a composition.

The tune “Nardis” on the album Explorations (1961) became famous by Bill Evans, who played it for the first time in a trio setting. There is a mystery behind the identity of it’s original composer. It’s been said by Bill Evans that Miles Davis originally wrote the piece, but it has also been said by Miles himself that Evans wrote the piece. Davis wrote the song for Cannonball Adderley and the song was originally on Portrait of Cannonball (Riverside 1958) with Blue Mitchell (tp), Cannonball Adderley (as), Bill Evans (p), Sam Jones (b), Philly Joe Jones (d). It seems Miles composed it, but never recorded it and Bill Evans helped out with the harmony. Bill Evans did indeed announced it in one of his concerts as “a Miles Davis piece” – he did so on the Jazz at the Maintenance Shop DVD from Iowa, 1979. He recorded “Nardis” on innumerable albums and reworked the piece with modal explorations each time it served as the final tune of his performances.

Just a week before Evans’ death on September 15, he recorded “Nardis” between August 31 and September 8, 1980 at San Francisco’s Keystone Korner, the jazz club of which Todd Barkan was owner and artistic director. His closing signature “Nardis” is heard here in six different versions in one week on an eight-CD set, each of them with a different exploration, from a brief seven-minute version to a last performance that stretches as his swan song of nearly 20 minutes with extended unaccompanied introductions on the piano. He summarizes his entire musical experience, from jazz to Bach’s contrapuntal strictness to Bartok’s sense of dissonance. Evans introduces the tune: “We’ve learned from the potential of the tune, and every once in a while a new gateway opens and it’s like therapy.” Here he gives birth to a new music that goes beyond any genre distinction. Shakespeare used the swan tale in The Merchant of Venice: Let music sound while he doth make his choice; then, if he lose, he makes a swan-like end, fading in music. As the German jazz pianist, journalist and radio presenter Michael Naura describes in his book Cadenza (2002): “The death is already among the audience in the Keystone Korner”.

The same composer discussion concerns about “Blue In Green” , the third track on Miles Davis’ modal album Kind of Blue (Columbia, 1959). It has long been speculated that pianist Bill Evans wrote “Blue in Green”, even though the LP and most jazz fakebooks credit Davis only with its composition. In his autobiography, Davis maintains that he alone composed the songs on Kind of Blue. For a matter of fact Bill Evans wrote the liner notes for the album. The version on Bill Evans’ trio album Portrait In Jazz (Riverside, 1959), credits the tune to ‘Davis-Evans’. A comment by Evans: “One day at Miles’s apartment, he wrote on some manuscript paper the symbols for G-minor and A-augmented. And Miles said, ‘What would you do with that?’ I didn’t really know, but I went home and wrote ‘Blue in Green.'” (Brian Hennessey, The Bill Evans Memorial Library). Earl Zindars, in an interview conducted by Win Hinkle, said that “Blue in Green” was 100-percent written by Bill Evans. In a 1978 radio interview, Evans said that he himself had written the song. Evans said “The truth is I did (write the music)… I don’t want to make a federal case out of it, the music exists, and Miles is getting the royalties.” Either way, for all of us, it’s a beautiful tune and we’re honored to present it.

In 2007, Concord Records launched a new series, The Keepnews Collection. This collection is a reissue series of albums produced by Orrin Keepnews. It features titles recorded by such titans of jazz as Thelonious Monk, Wes Montgomery, Cannonball Adderley, Joe Henderson, and Kenny Dorham, originally released on Riverside and Milestone Records. All reissues, with 24-bit remastering from the master tapes, include original liner notes and Orrin Keepnews’ voluminous new commentaries; when available, the original tracks are supplemented by bonus cuts from the sessions, including the albums Portrait in Jazz and Everybody Digs Bill Evans. “Listen, says Orrin with a smile, I’m 84 years old. I’ll take my legacies where I can get them”. Concord has released a series of video podcasts of his interviews with famous jazz artists. Portait of Bill, Mar 23, 2008, is an interview on Bill Evans’ first trio recording with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian: Portrait in Jazz. In 1990 he published The View from Within: Jazz Writings, 1948-1987″, a collection of his jazz writings and recollections over the years.

beautiful collector’s item 18 LP-Box Set of The Complete Riverside Recordings (R-018) is issued as a limited edition of 5000 in 1984. The set covers 151 performances containing over 13 hours of music during 20 recording sessions from 1956-1963 with lots of previously unreleased recordings and includes a 32 page fully illustrated booklet. This complete collection of Bill Evans’ wonderful work for Riverside is reissued in 1991 on a 12-CD box set: The Complete Riverside Recordings.

A hand-written score by Bill Evans of “My Man’s Gone Now” in preparation of a recording session.

For a detailed discography of Bill Evans recordings refer to The Bill Evans Webpages created by Jan Stevens: “Bill Evans – The Complete Catalogue Of Recordings 1954 through 1980″.

Below the original album covers of the Riverside releases by Bill Evans in the periode 1956-1964. On the album Know What I Mean Julian Cannonball Adderley was featured, Interplay is the only larger-than-trio album issued on Riverside with Freddie Hubbard, Zoot Zims and Jim Hall. Krista Nico appears as the cover model on Bill Evans’ 1962 album, Moon Beams. She was a German singer, composer, fashion model, actress, and Warhol Superstar. She had roles in a handful of films, including Federico Fellini’s La Dolce Vita (1960) and Andy Warhol’s Chelsea Girls (1966).

New Jazz Conceptions
cover 1957

New Jazz Conceptions
cover 1962

Everybody Digs Bill Evans

Portrait In Jazz


Sunday At The Village Vanguard

Waltz For Debby


Know What I Mean


How My Heart Sings

At Shelly’s Manne Hole


Paul Chambers

Photography copyright:

Burt Goldblatt
Jim Marshall
Steve Schapiro
Fred Seligo
Donald Silverstein
Lee Tanner