Jazz Profiles from NPR
Bill Evans
Produced by Beth Schenker

Bill Evans  

Bill Evans is one to the most influential pianists in modern jazz. His introspective lyricism and subtle Western classical flourishes have influenced a legion of jazz pianists He also broke new ground with his piano trios, expanding the roles for the bass and drums.

Listen to writer Gene Lees, bassist Eddie Gomez, and pianists Andy LaVerne and Warren Bernhardt describe Bill Evans' piano innovations

Born William John Evans on August 16, 1929 in Plainfield, New Jersey, Bill was fascinated by music -- even as a toddler, he would eavesdrop on his older brother's piano lessons. By the time Bill was six, he was taking lessons himself and displaying an uncanny ability to read and absorb music.

Listen to Bill recall his early piano lessons

I went through a lot of mental pains and anguish about choosing between jazz and classical. I realized that where I functioned was where I should be, and where I functioned was in jazz, so that was it.
--Bill Evans  

Bill followed his brother to Southeastern Louisiana University. He left college for a brief stint in the army, and then, in 1955, enrolled at New York City's Mannes College of Music. The New York jazz scene allowed him to hone his craft and mingle with pianists such as Bud Powell, Horace Silver, Lennie Tristano and George Shearing. Evans soon landed a record deal with Riverside Records and his debut album, New Jazz Conception, came out in September 1956.

Miles Davis  

New Jazz Conception impressed trumpeter Miles Davis enough to call Evans and invite him to join a band that included saxophonists Cannonball Adderley, John Coltrane, bassist Paul Chambers and drummer Jimmy Cobb. Together with pianist Wynton Kelly, they recorded the seminal Kind Of Blue.

Listen to Evans remember Miles inviting him to join his band

The success of Kind of Blue, paired with Miles' worldwide popularity, put the shy Evans in the spotlight, which later proved to be too much for him. His response was self-destructive -- he developed a cocaine and heroin addiction that subsequently led to his departure from Riverside Records.

Listen to Lees and Keepnews reflect on Evans' drug addiction

It may have been that Miles found a sympathetic ally in me for something that was lying latent in himself too. And with my presence there as a pianist, which directed a sort of a flavor of what's happening, he knew that we would be able to create this thing.
--Bill Evans  

Evans continued performing, mostly in trio settings. With bassist Scott LaFaro and drummer Paul Motian, he revoluntionized a new concept for trio playing creating greater roles for the bass and drums. Evans' new approach received high praise from audiences, critics and fellow musicians.

Listen to Laverne, Lees and Evans talk about the first Bill Evans Trio

LaFaro's untimely death at 25 in a 1961 car accident devastated Evans and he nearly stopped playing music altogether. But he regrouped and formed another outstanding trio, replacing LaFaro with two bassists: Chuck Israel and Eddie Gomez. In 1977, Evans formed yet another trio with bassist Marc Johnson and drummer Joe LaBarbara.

Bill Evans' career was cut short by poor health, aggravated by his addiction to cocaine, and he died in 1980 at the age of 51. But his innovative ideas and his musical influence live on -- Evans' style can be heard in the playing of contemporary pianists like Clare Fischer, Andy LaVerne, and Brad Mehldau among countless others.

Listen to Lees, Bernhardt, Johnson, Gomez, and George Shearing remember Bill Evans


View the Bill Evans show playlist


ListenListen to the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library entry for Bill Evans & Jim Hall's Undercurrents

ListenListen to the NPR Basic Jazz Record Library entry for Tony Bennett/Bill Evans Album

More InfoBrowse the NPR Jazz Web site -- NPRJazz.org


More InfoBrowse The Bill Evans Web pages