“It was one of those magic moments in your life when you expect a horror story, and the doors of heaven open up. I knew there and then he [Bill Evans] wasn’t going to get away.” —George Russell
The usual names always pop up at the mention of jazz: Miles, Coltrane, Bird, Monk, Mingus, Dizzy. But purists, especially piano purists, worship Grammy-winning master Bill Evans.
Besides producing an astounding amount of recording material and impressing the hell out of Miles Davis, Evans fascinated the jazz world with his ability to voluminize melodies and harmonies in an Impressionistic manner, while letting the bassists do more than keep time. He practically invented the trio format, giving equal measure to each instrumentalist’s contribution on any given piece, and did wonders with block chords and overdubbing.
While everyone else was busy trying to break down jazz into spare parts for the next, great fad, the classically trained Evans stayed true. Within the framework of traditional jazz, one of the most influential post-WWII musicians maintained his love affair with acoustic piano until his dying day.
Back in the late 1950s, Evans suffered from reverse discrimination as the white boy in a black crowd when he joined Miles Davis’ sextet (John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Philly Joe Jones, and Paul Chambers) as Red Garland’s replacement. Even though Davis found the modest, self-effacing Evans good enough to join the sextet, Coltrane didn’t agree and neither did the band’s black fans. Nevertheless, Evans began to fit right in, earning his place, surprising the doubters, and getting Davis to shift into a softer, receptive style.
When Evans died, and he died way too early, he left behind a legacy as profound, full, and creative as “Waltz For Debby,” “Conversations With Myself,” and “Blue In Green.”
Bill Evans is the next legendary focus of the Piano Starts Here series, curated by Wayne Horvitz and Tim Kennedy. The series pays tribute to legendary jazz pianists, featuring their music—in original recordings and through a variety of takes by some great Northwest artists—all on the Royal Room’s Steinway B grand piano. Past legends included Duke Ellington and Thelonious Monk.
Piano Starts Here: The Music of Bill Evans features solo performances by Dave Peck, Randy Halberstadt, Nelda Swiggett, and Joe Doria, November 28, 8 p.m.
Tickets are $8 in advance and $10 at the door for audiences of all ages (until 10 p.m.). Get to the gig early to assure seats. Or better yet, make dinner reservations and stay for the show.