Have Piano, Will Travel – Bill Evans

Posted on 27 de octubre de 2020
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Your Story from the Molde Jazz Festival, Norway, August, 9 1980. Bill Evans, piano; Marc Johnson, bass and Joe LaBarbera, drums.

Nardis, Molde Jazz Festival, Norway, August, 9 1980. Bill Evans, piano; Marc Johnson, bass and Joe LaBarbera, drums.

With the passage of time, Bill Evans has become an entire school unto himself for pianists and a singular mood unto himself for listeners. There is no more influential jazz-oriented pianist — only McCoy Tyner exerts nearly as much pull among younger players and journeymen — and Evans has left his mark on such noted players as Herbie Hancock, Keith Jarrett, Chick Corea, and Brad Mehldau. Borrowing heavily from the impressionism of Debussy and Ravel, Evans brought a new, introverted, relaxed, lyrical, European classical sensibility into jazz — and that seems to have attracted a lot of young conservatory-trained pianists who follow his chord voicings to the letter in clubs and on stages everywhere. Indeed, classical pianists like Jean-Yves Thibaudet have recorded note-for-note transcriptions of Evans’ performances, bringing out the direct lineage with classical composers. In interviews, Evans often stressed that pianists should thoroughly learn technique and harmony so that they can put their inspiration to maximum use. Since he already had those tools in hand, he worked very hard on his touch, getting the special, refined tone that he wanted out of a piano. He also tried to democratize the role of the bassist and drummer in his succession of piano trios, encouraging greater contrapuntal interplay.

Bespectacled, shy, soft-spoken, and vulnerable, Evans was not a good fit into the rough-and-tumble music business. In part to shield himself from the outside world, he turned to drugs — first heroin, and later, cocaine — which undoubtedly shortened his life. In interviews, though, he sounds thoroughly in control, completely aware of what he wanted from his art, and colleagues report that he displayed a wicked sense of humor. Nowadays, Evans seems to be immune from criticism, but there was a time when he was accused of not being able to swing, or pilloried for an «effete» approach to jazz that was alien to its African sources. However, there are plenty of Evans recordings which show that he could indeed flash the technique and swing as hard as anyone when he wanted to, especially early in his career. He simply chose a different path for himself, one entirely reflective of his inward personality — and that’s what seems to touch listeners inside and outside jazz the most. Indeed, the cult for Evans’ recordings is big enough to justify the existence of six large, expensive boxed sets of his output: four from Fantasy’s archives, one from Warner Bros., and the biggest one from Verve. A newcomer, though, would be better-advised to sample Evans in smaller doses. Since the bulk of his recordings were made with the same piano-bass-drums instrumentation, and his career was not marked by dramatic shifts in style, prolonged listening to hours upon hours of his trio recordings can lead to monotony (after all, you can even overdose on Bach, as great as he was).

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