Peace Piece: On Discovering Bill Evans

Bill Evans made beautiful music. Among jazz greats, he is near the top. Jazz pianists can be lauded for technical skill, lyricism, and innovation. All the greats show evidence of each, but usually, one area stands out. For me, Bill Evans stands out for his lyricism and the subtle intimacy of his playing. There is a gentleness that comes through even with relatively uptempo pieces. Improvisations seem thoughtful while being entirely spur of the moment. One gets the impression he is somehow living within the tune in real-time and just reporting what he is experiencing with his fingers.

Kind of Blue, released in 1959, is the best-selling jazz album ever (sales continue steadily today). It introduced me to Bill Evans. He played keyboards on that album, and the piano parts on “Flamenco Sketches” were captivating. Listening to that song is the closest thing I can imagine to an out-of-body experience—the world and its cares slip away for those minutes.

Though I loved the piano segments, it took a while before curiosity and a budget surplus allowed me to explore the sidemen from that album. Even then, it wasn’t a straight-line action. I was discovering jazz and went after the trumpet guys first, starting with Miles and progressing through Wynton to Roy Hargrove—the three of whom form the core of my trumpet collection.

From trumpets, I moved on to the piano and guitar. With piano, Bud Powell jumped to first, with Monk close behind. I discovered blues and jazz guitar around the same time with BB King and Pat Metheny, respectively. While my blues collection is diverse, the jazz investigations centered on Pat Metheny, with some Wes Mongermoy and Lee Ritnerour and a few others. It was Pat Metheny who finally made me seek out Bill Evans.

“September 15th,” a poignant, reflective piece from Metheny’s As Falls Wichita, So Falls Wichita Falls album, commemorates the death of Bill Evans (Metheny was a huge fan). Its sparse, elegantly melancholy cadences reminded me of the piano segment in Flamenco Sketches, heralding my foray into the works of Bill Evans. There was no searching on my part. I bought one album,  and soon my wife gave me the legendary box set from Riverside—marvelous!

As I have gotten older, I spend more time in thought, contemplating and considering. Many times, there is a need to shut the world out and linger inside a melody. The music of Bill Evans provides a space to experience life’s gentleness–with wistful remembrance and a hint of wonder–removed from everyday cares.

Bill Evans died September 15th, 1980, only 51 years old, leaving behind a monument in music to his genius, lyricism, and sensitivity.

With gratitude—Thank you.

Have a Listen:
Peace Piece (YouTube)
Flamenco Sketches (YouTube)
September Fifteenth (YouTube)
My Foolish Heart (YouTube)

Bill Evans (Wikipedia)

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