Happy birthday Bill Evans!

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Bill Evans (August 16, 1929—September 15, 1980) was an American jazz musician and composer. He worked mostly in trios, and is generally considered one of the greatest jazz pianists of all time. He worked closely with Miles Davis, as well as with Tony Scott, Charles Mingus, and many others.

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Evans was born William John Evans in Plainfield, New Jersey to Harry and Mary Evans. His father abused alcohol, taking a toll on the family. Evans first began playing piano at his mother's sister's house, where his mother often took him and his brothers to escape his father's volatile personality. Soon, he and his brother were taking piano lessons at Dunellen. Although Evans became a very good sight-reader, his brother was often considered the better pianist of the two. Before long, Evans also began violin, flute, and piccolo lessons.

Evans started out playing composers like Mozart, Schubert, and Beethoven, but by high school graduated to works by more modern composers like Stravinsky. He played in his high school band.

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After high school, Evans attended Southeastern Louisiana University on a flute scholarship. Around his junior year, he composed his first piece of music, titled "Very Early." He graduated with a Bachelor of Music, majoring in piano, and a Bachelor's degree in Music Education.

 

After he graduated, he formed a trio with guitarist Mundell Lowe and bassist Red Mitchell. The three moved to New York to pursue their music careers. But finding it too difficult to get exposure, they relocated to Calumet City, Illinois. Soon, Evans joined Herbie Fields' band, giving him the opportunity to perform at some of the country's most popular clubs. A major highlight of his tenure with Fields' band was a three-month tour backing singer Billie Holiday.

In 1951, Evans was drafted into the U.S. Army. He played flute, piccolo, and piano in the Fifth U.S. Army Band at Fort Sheridan in addition to hosting a jazz program on the camp radio station. During his time in the Army, he received harsh criticism of his musical concepts and playing. This resulted in his experimenting with drugs and later secluding himself for a period after his departure from the military. It was during his time in the Army, though, that he composed perhaps his most famous piece, "Waltz for Debby," in 1953.

 

After taking a sabbatical at his parents' home, Evans returned to New York to complete postgraduate studies in music composition. He got gigs at weddings and other events, but eventually landed bigger performances such as playing opposite the Modern Jazz Quartet and the VIllage Vanguard.

Soon he was playing in clubs around New York with Tony Scott, Charles Mingus, Don Elliott, and Mundell Lowe. In 1955, Evans performed and recorded in the band for singer Lucy Reed. It was through Reed that he met George Russell, the composer with whom he would later work. In September of 1956, Evans released his debut album, New Jazz Conceptions, under Riverside Records, the first of several recordings.

 

In February of 1958, Evans was whisked to the Colony Club in Brooklyn to play alongside Miles Davis, John Coltrane, Cannonball Adderley, Paul Chambers, and Philly Joe Jones as an audition. By May, Evans and Davis appeared on their first studio album together, Jazz Track (1958).

Eventually, Evans was exhausted by his experiences with Davis' band. He retreated to his parents' home, and when he returned to New York, and soon released Everybody Digs Bill Evans (1959).

 

Soon, he was back playing with Davis and his sextet. They recorded Kind of Blue in 1959, and it is now widely regarded as the best jazz album ever to be produced.

Following the success of Kind of Blue, Evans formed a trio with drummer Paul Motian and bassist Scott LaFaro. They released Portrait in Jazz that same year (1959). The early 1960s was dominated by Evans' work with Motion and LaFaro, until LaFaro died in a car accident.

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In 1966, Evans met Puerto Rican bassist Eddie Gomez and the two collaborated for the next 11 years. Some of their albums include Bill Evans at the Montreux Jazz Festival (1968) and The Bill Evans Album (1971).

Evans was addicted to heroin for much of his life, as was his longtime companion, Elaine. He was also deeply affected by the suicide of his brother, who was a schizophrenic, and of Elaine, who had killed herself after learning Evans was in love with another woman. Evans died at the age of 51 of hepatitis and other drug-related health problems, in what a friend called "the longest suicide in history."

 

 

 

 

Additional Info

  • Birthday Date: Saturday, 16 August 2014
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