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Music / Bill Evans

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William John Evans (August 16, 1929 – September 15, 1980) was a jazz pianist and composer, considered to be one of the greatest and most influential of all time. He is best known for his work with Miles Davis in the development of Modal Jazz and later in his own trios which redefined the role of a jazz rhythm section. He was classically trained and it shows: his playing incorporated contrapuntal and textural techniques from the classical piano repertoire and although he could play hard if he wanted to, his famous group recordings tend to feature collective interplay rather than soloing against a rhythm section.

Many of his pieces (most notably "Waltz for Debby") have become standards of the repertoire for jazz pianists and his playing style has influenced numerous pianists to this day. He has been nominated for 31 grammys, winning 7 of them, and was inducted into the Down Beat Jazz Hall of Fame in 1981.

Bill Evans and his music provide examples of the following tropes:

  • Artistic Stimulation: Sadly, a constant presence in his life. He overcame a heavy heroin addiction in the 1960s, only to get hooked on cocaine in the late 1970s, a situation that probably contributed to his fatal bleeding ulcer.
  • Cool Uncle: "Waltz For Debby" was written for his niece.
  • Lighter and Softer: In 1963 Evans' producers forced him to record Bill Evans Plays the Theme from The V.I.P.s and Other Great Songs. It was an ill-conceived attempt to broaden his audience with renditions of TV and movie themes, plus Cover Versions of recent hits, in Easy Listening style, with an orchestra and chorus and almost no jazz improvisation. After it flopped it was quickly forgotten by everyone involved.
  • Lonely Piano Piece: One of his specialties.
  • Significant Anagram: He loved using anagrams of the names of people in his life as song titles. For example, "Re: Person I Knew" in honor of his producer Orrin Keepnews.
  • Token White: During his tenure with Miles Davis, Evans was initially the only white member in the band. This could get awkward during gigs in front of predominantly black audiences as he received little or no applause for his solos in comparison to the others.
  • With Lyrics: There were two very different sets of lyrics penned for "Waltz for Debby". One was in Danish, written for Monica Zetterlund to sing in her collaborations with Evans when he toured in Denmark in The '60s, which are basically about the song itself ("Simple, beautiful, tender is my waltz melody"). Then English lyrics by jazz critic and historian Gene Lees made their debut in the version recorded for The Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album in 1975, alluding to its origin as a piece Evans wrote in honor of his young niece Debby in The '50s.
    In her own sweet world
    Populated by dolls and clowns
    And a prince and a big purple bear
    Lives my favorite girl
    Unaware of the worried frowns
    That we weary grown-ups all wear