Bill Evans Explained

Following up on my previous post, The Bill Evans Question, I will discuss the aspects of Bill’s playing that raises him above nearly all of his contemporaries. I will also discuss some of the criticisms leveled against him.

Specifically what I feel makes him great are the following:

*continuity of conception
*motivic mastery
*harmony/inner voice mastery
*pianistic control
*song arrangement conception
*ballad conception
*compositional approach
*ideational permanance
*rhythmic conception

Here are the criticisms against leveled against Evans. Some of them I agree with. Some I don’t:

*Doesn’t swing
*Can’t play the blues
*Time feel issues
*Questionable repertoire
*Lacking spontaneity

This will be a lot to bite off in one sitting so this will be presented in several parts. Let take each area in depth.


As mentioned in the previous post, The Bill Evans Question, the most objective yardstick for artistic contribution is influence on other players. His documented influence on 3 major pianists of our era, Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea and Michel Petrucciani should be enough to dispel any hyperbolic claims to the contrary. Keith Jarrett is often quoted as being influenced but I have never heard him mention it so I leave him out. But other noted jazz pianists for sure would include Richie Beirach, Fred Hirsch, Lyle Mays, Eliane Elias, Bill Charlap, Alan Pasqua, Steve Kuhn, Chucho Valdez, Marion McPartland, Kenny Drew, Jr, George Duke, David Benoit, David Hazeltine, Enrico Pieranunzi, Andy Laverne, Danny Zeitlin and Warren Bernhardt. There are probably countless others, however these are ones I can verify for sure. Much of Bill Evans influence could be best summed up through his own words, that many people can realize styles through his approach. Quoted from the noted NPR Restrospective (narrated by Nancy Wilson):

“I could see where I could be an influence because I think what I’ve done is I’ve put something together which is not eccentric and it’s something that somebody could pass through also;  they could  become influenced by it and its not so highly stylized- I think. At least that’s the way I see it.”

This kind of humility is rare. One more thing to love about Bill.

Generally speaking Bill Evans laid the strongest foundation for the contemporary style of piano we are using today. If not him, who else in the 50s could you attribute it to? Ahmad Jamal to a degree. But this really was the line to Red Garland and Hampton Hawes and Carl Perkins which also intermingled with Oscar Peterson and Phineas Newborn. It was just an entirely different sound and style emphasizing the hard-swinging approach.  As soon as Bill exposed his musical approach with his unique partner, Miles Davis, everything changed. The moody, sophisticated harmonic style of piano was now announced. Where he sat in the continuum and the innovations he introduced specifically when he introduced them (~1957-1961) is very important. He was a very specific voice that was different than his contemporaries who were moving much more slowly on continued lines. Bill’s restraint and flexibility in not pushing 4/4 “tipping” style was just something he heard. He sometimes seemingly moved backwards against the beat and took many unexpected rhythmic turns. Maybe some preferred the straight-ahead style but this was another voice that had obvious impact on the direction of music out of the 50s and into the 60s.

Go to Next Evans’ Post:  Bill Evans Explained – Part 2

Previous Evans’ Post:  The Bill Evans Question

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