Bill Evans marked the jazz of his time with his trademark impressionistic harmonic language and subtle rhythms. He led the trio ensemble in a new and more expressive direction.
Bill Evans grew up in a musically fertile environment. His parents loved music and encouraged him to take up not only the piano but also the violin and the flute. As a teenager, he became interested in jazz and in particular Bud Powell, Nat King Cole and Lenny Tristano. In 1954, when he was demobilised after spending three years in the army, he started playing and recording in minor New York bands. The following year, he caught the attention of George Russell, who hired him for a recording session. In 1956, he cut his first record under his own name, called New Jazz Conceptions, with the Riverside label. His idiosyncratic harmonies could already be heard. He started to be hired by jazz greats like Tony Scott, Helen Merrill and Charlie Mingus for recording sessions or concerts. In 1958, he playing in Miles Davis's regular sextet when he was called in for the album Kind of Blue. He continued his career as a "sideman" up until 1963, playing alongside Cannonbal Adderley, Chet Baker, Lee Konitz and Michel Legrand.
In 1959, Bill Evans formed a regular trio with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. This ensemble immediately stood out for its novel interplay: instead of the usual hierarchy of a piano backed by bass and drums, the three musicians were all on the same footing and constantly improvising. In 1961, the trio recorded the legendary Waltz for Debby and Sunday at the Village Vanguard albums at the Village Vanguard. Days later, Scott LaFaro was killed in a road accident. This tragic event marked Bill Evans deeply. LaFaro was replaced by a succession of bassists, including Chuck Israels, Gary Peacock and Teddy Kotick. In 1963, Bill Evans left Riverside for the Verve label and in 1966 he found a perfect fit in bassist Eddy Gomez. The band also had a string of drummers. After having tried Larry Bunker, Arnold Wise, Philly Lee Jones and Jack De Johnette, Bill Evans finally formed a second regular trio in 1969 with Marty Morell. The Evans/Gomez/Morell trio remained together until 1975. Among other successful albums, it laid down The Bill Evans Trio in 1971.
In 1979, Bill Evans formed his final regular trio with drummer Joe Labarbera and bassist Marc Johnson. This band returned to the interplay approach. It did not do any studio recordings, but instead left live recordings, notably Turn out the stars: the final Village Vanguard recordings, a 6 CD set recorded in 1980 and released posthumously in 1996. This last trio was the pianist's swan song. Bill Evans died on 15 September 1980 at the age of 51, worn out by chronic hepatitis that was probably a legacy of drug addiction.
Six landmark dates in the life of Bill Evans:
• 1955: noticed by George Russel
• 1958: played with Miles Davis
• 1959: formed his first regular trio with Scott LaFaro and Paul Motian
• 1961: death of Scott LaFaro
• 1969: formed his second trio with Eddie Gomez and Marty Morell
• 1979: formed his third and final trio with Joe Labarbera and Marc Johnson
Six key recordings by Bill Evans:
• 1956: New Jazz Conceptions
• 1959: Kind of Blue, by Miles Davis
• 1961: Waltz for Debby
• 1963: Conversations with Myself
• 1970: From Left to Right
• 1971: The Bill Evans Album
Web pages: http://www.billevanswebpages.com/
Biography compiled from Radio France Documentation (August 2015)