WUSF All Night Jazz, Focus Artist of the Week: Bill Evans

Credit: NPR. Courtesy of the artist.

This week on All Night Jazz, we’ll focus on impressionistic pianist, Bill Evans, who would have turned 90 this week.

Born in New Jersey on August 16, 1929, Evans was classically trained. As a student he was particularly moved by the modern masters like Stravinsky and Milhaud.

Evans got an early start in 1950 working with Herbie Fields’ band backing up Billie Holiday. He moved to New York in 1955 and studied theory with pianist and composer George Russell. In 1958 he joined the Miles Davis sextet just in time to be included in the iconic “Kind of Blue” recording, the best-selling jazz album of all time. His major contribution, the meditative ballad “Blue In Green,” has become a jazz standard.

Later that year Evans formed his “Classic Trio” with bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian. Their collaborations through a series of live and studio recordings have defined the sound of the jazz trio ever since. LaFaro was killed in an automobile accident in 1961. The tragedy devastated Evans and he didn’t record or perform for many months.

Evans reformed his trio in 1962 but by then had fallen victim to the drug scourge that afflicted many jazz musicians of the period. Meanwhile he continued to perform and record with an ever evolving set of trios and also with singer Tony Bennett.

Throughout his life and career his quiet, yet emotional, stylings continued to define his sound. He passed away in 1980 but is still a highly influential stylist with a huge list of players such as Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett and others all indebted to his inspiration.

We’ll hear the introspective piano of Bill Evans all week long on All Night Jazz