Bill Evans was (along with
McCoy Tyner) the most influential
pianist in jazz during the 1960s and '70s, and since his death in
1980 his influence has exceeded Tyner's. Evans, who was the
next step beyond Bud Powell, had a sophisticated way of
voicing chords that has been adopted by a countless number of pianists. Very popular even among nonjazz audiences to his sensitive interpretations of ballads, Evans could always swing as hard as anyone when he was inspired.
After attending Southewestern
Louisiana University, working
with Mundell Lowe and Red Mitchell and serving in the Army,
Evans first emerged on the New York scene playing with Tony
Scott in 1956 and that year he made his first trio album, New
Jazz Conceptions. After working with
George Russell and recording with Charles Mingus, Evans was part
of the 1958 Miles Davis Sextet
with John Coltrane and Cannonball Adderley. Other than a
few live dates and "So What" from the
1959 classic Kind of Blue, Evans did not record all that much during his months with Davis but he made a strong impact and contributed one future standard, "Blue in Green," which ranks with "Waltz for Debby" as his most famous original.
By 1959 Bill Evans was leading
his own trio which soon utilized the great bassist Scott LaFaro
drummer Paul Motian. The interplay between the three musicians
(with an almost equal role by each
of the players) was highly influential and nearly telepathic.
Tragically, shortly after they recorded
extensively at the Village Vanguard in June 1961, LaFaro was
killed in a car accident. Evans went
into isolation for the remainder of the year. In 1962 he
re-emerged with Chuck Israels as his new
bassist and recorded the first of two classic albums in duet with guitarist Jim Hall. In future years Evans would continue touring and recording with his trio which included such sideman as bassists Israels (1962-65), Gary Peacock (1963), Eddie Gomez (1966-77) and Marc Johnson (1978-80) and drummers Motian (1959-62), Larry Bunker (1963-5), Philly Joe Jones (1967), Jack DeJohnette (1968), Marty Morell (1969-75), Eliot Zigmund (1975-78) and Joe LaBarbera (1979-80). Drug addiction cut short Bill Evans' life prematurely but he fortunately had recorded extensively from 1956 on, most notably for Riverside, Verve, Fantasy and Warner Bros. Several videos are also available of this major force in modern jazz whose innovations helped form the styles of Herbie Hancock and Keith Jarrett.
-- Scott Yanow, All-Music Guide